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Jo's Boys

Chapter 17: Among the Maids
Although this story is about Jo's boys, her girls cannot be neglected, because
they held a high place in this little republic, and especial care was taken to fit
them to play their parts worthily in the great republic which offered them wider
opportunities and more serious duties. To many the social influence was the
better part of the training they received; for education is not confined to books,
and the finest characters often graduate from no college, but make experience
their master, and life their book. Others cared only for the mental culture, and
were in danger of over-studying, under the delusion which pervades New
England that learning must be had at all costs, forgetting that health and real
wisdom are better. A third class of ambitious girls hardly knew what they wanted,
but were hungry for whatever could fit them to face the world and earn a living,
being driven by necessity, the urgency of some half-conscious talent, or the
restlessness of strong young natures to break away from the narrow life which no
longer satisfied.
At Plumfield all found something to help them; for the growing institution had not
yet made its rules as fixed as the laws of the Medes and Persians, and believed
so heartily in the right of all sexes, colours, creeds, and ranks to education, that
there was room for everyone who knocked, and a welcome to the shabby youths
from up country, the eager girls from the West, the awkward freedman or woman
from the South, or the well-born student whose poverty made this college a
possibility when other doors were barred. There still was prejudice, ridicule,
neglect in high places, and prophecies of failure to contend against; but the
Faculty was composed of cheerful, hopeful men and women who had seen
greater reforms spring from smaller roots, and after stormy seasons blossom
beautifully, to add prosperity and honour to the nation. So they worked on
steadily and bided their time, full of increasing faith in their attempt as year after
year their numbers grew, their plans succeeded, and the sense of usefulness in
this most vital of all professions blessed them with its sweet rewards.
Among the various customs which had very naturally sprung up was one
especially useful and interesting to 'the girls', as the young women liked to be
called. It all grew out of the old sewing hour still kept up by the three sisters long
after the little work-boxes had expanded into big baskets full of household
mending. They were busy women, yet on Saturdays they tried to meet in one of
the three sewing-rooms; for even classic Parnassus had its nook where Mrs Amy
often sat among her servants, teaching them to make and mend, thereby giving
them a respect for economy, since the rich lady did not scorn to darn her hose,
and sew on buttons. In these household retreats, with books and work, and their
daughters by them, they read and sewed and talked in the sweet privacy that
domestic women love, and can make so helpful by a wise mixture of cooks and
chemistry, table linen and theology, prosaic duties and good poetry.
Mrs Meg was the first to propose enlarging this little circle; for as she went her
motherly rounds among the young women she found a sad lack of order, skill,
and industry in this branch of education. Latin, Greek, the higher mathematics,