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Despite the popularity of the Southern woman-on-a-pedestal myth, it never fit Texas lower- and middle-class women; the conditions and demands of their lives required a different response. The struggle to come to terms with the disjunction between that myth and reality was addressed by novelist Dorothy Scarborough, a Texan born in 1878, a Baylor graduate and teacher, an Oxford scholar, and a professor of English at Columbia University. Miss Scarborough was Annie Jenkins Sallee's neighbor in Waco and classmate at Baylor. Both their fathers were trustees of Baylor University; both had older sisters who married pastors who served as presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention (Dorothy Scarborough's sister Douglass married George W. McDaniel, Jr., whose primary pastorate was Richmond, Virginia). Dorothy Scarborough's papers are in the Texas Collection, Baylor University, and merit closer examination by some scholar. Her novel, The Wind , published in 1925, gives two women's responses to the west Texas frontier of the 1880s. Letty, the apparent heroine, is a delicate, mannered beauty from Virginia, thrust by tragic circumstances out of her bucolic childhood home to live as the ward of a cousin in Sweetwater, Texas. Letty's female antithesis is Cora, "thoroughly a woman," but brash, egotistical, and aggressive. Lettie's nervous, sensitive nature and her expectation that others will take care of her leave her totally defenseless against the rawness of her new life, and she is mentally and physically destroyed by its symbolic essence, the wind. The

"climate that so terrifies and dwarfs [Letty's] spirits and energies,"
however, is an
"intoxicating stimulus"
to Cora, who survives--not with a pedestal image intact, but by dint of a fierce, dominating spirit that is a match for nature's force.

Dorothy Scarborough, The Wind (New York: Harper, 1925; reprint ed., Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979), quotes from pp. 94, 117.

This juxtaposition was a fictional exaggeration, but it demonstrated the total inadequacy of a passive, self-effacing feminine model in the Texas setting, as well as the real possibility of female egotism and strength. At the turn of the century Baptists found themselves equivocating between the two options, clinging nostalgically to the outdated ideal while experimenting with new powers and capabilities.

By 1895 there were frequent references to the emergence of a "new woman," but she was usually identified in the Texas Baptist newspapers of that time as one who exemplified frivolity rather than demanding rights. This version of the new woman traded her interest in home and church for a preoccupation with

"fine dress and all the gaudy trappings of social life."

BS , January 30, 1902, p. 4.

Although her appearance indicated some anxiety over a shift in morality and a rise in income and class among Baptists or Texans in general, she drew more humorous asides than serious confrontation. Characterized as "Miss Bessie Societyqueen," she sought constant pleasure among rough company at dances or devoted all her energy to club work.

BS , March 1, 1900, p. 5.

The type who demanded expanded privileges were discounted as
"old maids,"
trying to make others as unhappy as themselves by organizing movements for causes as silly as
"the right of women to wear beards."

BS , July 4, 1895, p. 4; BS , April 18, 1895, p. 4.

These new women, Baptist Standard editor Cranfill concluded, were just like
"the first and oldest woman who was easily beguiled by Satan"
except Eve wore fig leaves and they wore bloomers.

BS , September 19, 1895, p. 4.

The "woman question" touched Southern Baptists, but as women of conservative orientation, not many responded by either embracing high society or becoming militant feminists. Instead, they expanded their roles in education and organization, utilizing both to promote their traditional belief structure. Although they claimed to be simply

"the old woman adjusted to the times,"

BS , December 24, 1914, p. 1.

they actually experienced a growing sense of equality with men, but their reaction was to insist that men meet their standards rather than their attempting to become more mannish. Indicative of this trend was an editorial in the 1897 Baptist Standard on
"Fallen Women and Fallen Men"
that drew more response from women than any other substantial or potentially controversial article printed between 1880 and 1920.

BS , April 1, 1897, n.p.; responses continued in the BS through April, May and June, 1897.

Women denied (as had the editor) that it was more shameful for a woman to commit a sexual offense than for a man to do so. They called for the same rehabilitation and acceptance of
"reformed women"
that society had always granted
"reformed men."
Mrs. J. L. Vredenburgh succinctly summed up their message in an Austin speech:

. . .there is no double standard with God. His laws are the same for men and women, the penalty the same. What is right for one, is right for the other; what is wrong for one is wrong for the other; there is no sex in God's code.

BS , February 24, 1898, p. 11.

The radical element of their emancipation lay in their insisting that a single standard of morality applied to both sexes and that it closely matched the loving, faithful, self-sacrificing ideal associated with women. Although it may bespeak a measure of defensiveness, the following statement by a woman also bears the mark of self-confidence and of congruence between Christian ideology and its expression in women's lives:

Did you ever think how Christ Himself is a type of the feminine nature? Do not misunderstand me, not an effeminate Christ, but a manly Christ, taking the feminine attributes, the heroism of the Son of Man is the heroism of ideal womanhood and motherhood. The very virtues which He lifted to the Mount, were precisely the same virtues which the past ages had scorned as feminine[:] meekness, poverty of spirit, peacemaking, purity.

BS , August 28, 1913, p. 15.

Self-satisfaction did not run so deep that women felt they had monopolized Christian virtues. Another writer, for instance, emphasized spiritual equality by choosing attributes associated with each sex to describe a common moral standard:

The glory of Christianity is that it is fitted to make both men and women stronger, braver, more gentle to each other and to their suffering brethren, and more loyal to the Divine Master, who recognized in men and women alike the capacity for spiritual life.

BS , December 28, 1911, p. 9.

These "new" Baptist women did not imagine or propose that the pursuit of a single Christian ideal would eliminate psychological or occupational differences between the sexes any more than it would the physiological. They assumed (even preferred) that a diversity in orientation and activities along sexual lines would continue to be manifested. Particularly was that true regarding women's maternal role; their model of Christian womanhood did not exclude

"loving babies and loving home."

BS , December 24, 1914, p. 1.

But they celebrated their identity as women and enlarged their definition of that identity without divesting themselves of their
"sacred canopy."

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Patricia martin thesis. OpenStax CNX. Sep 23, 2013 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11572/1.2
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