Friday, June 26, 2009

Women and Virtue in California -1854

"The total disregard of the marriage tie by the majority of the men of California puts the husband, who is foolish enough to take his wife with him to that countr}r, in a painful and embarrassing position. Should the wife be pretty, she is the more liable to the persecution of attentions which will shock her if she be virtuous, and flatter her into sin if she is not. She is surrounded at once by hosts of men, who spare neither money, time, nor art to win her affections from her husband. What wonder if they often succeed ?

Female virtue or chastity, in the conventional sense of the word, is known to every one, who is familiar with the internal history of society, to be a very complex idea. There are women who are chaste only for want of the opportunity to be otherwise. There are others who are kept chaste by the force of public o/pinion, the dread of exposure, and the general fear of consequences; while a third class preserve their persons untainted by an innate purity of soul, which shrinks instinctively from all indelicacy, and feels contaminated by an unclean thought, and degraded by a lustful look. It is not our business to inquire into the relative proportion of women embraced in these three classes. It is enough to know that they exist, to appreciate the effect which the society of California will exert upon them.

As for the first class, it is not necessary to speak of them. They fulfil their shameful destiny every where, and California only ripens their depravity a little earlier. It is the second class who suffer chiefly from the peculiar moral atmosphere of the land of gold. In the Atlantic States, hedged in by a healthy public opinion, guarded by jealous laws, flattered into chastity by the respectful attentions which that virtue ever commands, they might retain to their dying day that physical purity which satisfies the great majority of husbands. In California, however, these restraints are all removed. Public opinion arrays itself on the side of vice; the laws are powerless to punish the sins of impurity; and all the attentions the women receive are based upon the hope of their ultimate fall. How are such women to resist? Cut loose at once from all those restraints which kept them in the right way, will they not dart off into the devious paths of error and of sin ? It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and the man who would keep faithful to himself a wife of this type in California, must have wealth enough to gratify her most extravagant whims, time to devote exclusively to watching her, eyes keener than those of Argus, and cunning sharper than that of Vidocq.

The third class—of whom, I regret to say, I have met with but few in the Eureka State- have also peculiar trials to undergo. Society in that country is a reproduction, on a large scale, of the morals of the courts of Charles II of England and Louis XV of France. Vice only is esteemed and lauded, virtue is treated as an idle dream, an insulting pretence of superiority, or a stupid folly beneath the notice of men of sense. People do not believe in it—they scorn it, they insult it; they consider it a mere avaricious attempt to dispose of venal charms above their market value, so that the chaste woman has not only to suffer the persecution of insulting proposals, but the doubt of that virtue which repels her pursuers, and the sneers and scandal of a depraved and debased community."

From California The Land of Gold - Hinton R. Helper (1855)

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