Continuing our review of the gigantic strides made in the admission of women to trades and professions which were supposed to be outside feminine capacity, we turn to the world of business and finance.
Women are proving themselves to be capable accountants and auditors. They can secure degrees at the London and Manchester Universities which qualify them to act in that capacity, and they can also secure a similar degree at the School of Economics, Kingsway, London.
A further triumph may confidently b e expected when the Bill now before Parliament (1912) having for its object the registra tion of public or professional ac-coun tants, is passed. This will have the effect of enabling women to become members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and of the Society of Incorporated Accountants and Auditors. They will thus gain admission as practitioners through the authorised doors, and be able to avail themselves of the more lucrative avenues of this protected profession.
The term of articles is five years, except in the case of a University graduate, when it is reduced to three years. Therefore this profession, when fully opened, will afford a special field for the college girl who has taken a University degree, and paterfamilias will have practical proof that the time spent on mathematics has not been thrown away by his daughters any more than by his sons.
The little pleasantries with regard to women's inability to manage accounts have become out of date with the progress of higher education, and the up-to-date head of the home on the domestic side has ceased to employ the rule of thumb in her housekeeping accounts. Still, the young wives of the past, who puckered their pretty brows over those "hateful" columns of figures, by reason of imperfect training, often laboured through much tribulation into accurate accountants, and as experienced matrons kept all departments of their establishments up to the mark, and won wholesome respect from their servants and the local tradespeople.
Women have received through a long line of ancestral housekeepers an hereditary faculty for calculating ways and means, and dealing with details; and the quickness of perception, amounting to intuition, which is allowed to be a distinguishing feminine quality, helps in the mental equipment of the woman accountant.
One refrains from saying that it is a "womanly" occupation. There are few callings which are not womanly if followed in the right spirit, and scarcely any, indeed, which do not ultimately touch the sphere of home. As soon as a new profession is opened to women it is found to have a special bearing upon feminine life, one not hitherto realised.
How eminently fitting it seems, for example, that the lady of wealth and position should employ a woman to audit the accounts of her household, check tradesmen's bills, and act as general adviser in her domestic finance. The managers of women's social, philanthropic, and political societies generally prefer to employ a woman auditor, while dressmakers, milliners, tea-shop keepers, and other tradeswomen, seek the services of qualified women to manage their books and accounts.
In France, "Madame" has long held sway in all kinds of business concerns, and "Monsieur" has been content to be, in innumerable cases, the unpredominant partner, leaving to his clever, obliging wife the chief conduct of affairs. There can be no question that this partnership has worked well for the national prosperity. And Madame, too, still retains her reputation as a thrifty housewife and an excellent cook, and she dresses her hair with care.
The work of Madame Boucicault, of the Paris Bon Marche, furnishes a notable example of a woman's business enterprise. Germany, too, has a large and increasing number of business women.
The United States does not, I fancy, furnish striking examples of the triumph of women in this particular field; at least, the American woman is more usually credited with touring Europe with the dollars made by the hard-working husband and father. Still, when our Transatlantic sisters do devote themselves to the management of business, they show engaging and original qualities, and invite the chivalry of men. It need not be added that the American man, in his treatment of women, is the bright exemplary star in the world's firmament.
"Girls," said Mr. Dombey, "have nothing to do with Dombey & Son." So Dickens depicted the prevailing attitude of the hard-headed business man of our own nation towards women in the commercial world.
But things are changing, and the note of the future is struck by Miss Elizabeth Baker in her clever little play, "Edith," in which a deceased draper bequeaths his prosperous business to a daughter who has struck out for herself and founded bonnet shops in several European capitals. The son thus passed over, and his mother, are full of indignation and amazement when the will is read, but a maiden aunt naively observes: "Perhaps her father thought Edith was the cleverest!" That elegant but shrewd young lady undoubtedly proves the wisdom of her father's confidence.
We need not enumerate the different businesses now successfully followed by women as principals. They meet us in the fashionable shops of the West End and in the thriving little shops kept by women in our back streets; and who shall dare to hint that the buxom dame displaying her goods in Petticoat Lane is behind her male confreres in driving a bargain?
Women have now entered the banking community, which hitherto has been considered exclusively a masculine sphere. There is, I am told by competent authorities, a big outlook in the future for the work of women in this direction.