Home >> The-normal-life-1915 >> Accidents to Working Conditions >> Widowhood


social, death, life, prevention, tragedy, family, widows and wife

WIDOWHOOD Widowhood in itself is not necessarily a social problem. On the contrary, it is the normal conse quence of marriage, and must ordinarily be the ex perience of either husband or wife for at least a brief period at the close of life. More often it is the wife who survives, both because she is usually younger than her husband, and because women have profited more than men by the general im provements which have been reducing the death rate. Ordinarily, too, it is probably better for the family that it is the mother who survives.

Widowhood which comes prematurely, whether to husband or to wife, at the beginning or in the midst of the normal course of life, is, and has been from ancient times, a matter of serious social con cern. There are comparatively few widowers under forty-five years of age, and over sixty-five there are less than half as many widowers as wid ows. Among girls fifteen to nineteen years old one in five hundred is a widow. The proportion in creases to eight per cent among women thirty-five to forty-four; twenty-one per cent at forty-five to sixty-four; and fifty-eight per cent among those above sixty-five years of age.

Most widows, like most widowers and most un married adults of both sexes, in this country nor mally take care of themselves or are taken care of by their relatives. But many widows who are suddenly called upon by a husband's death to support themselves and several little children, without assistance, are unable to do so because in their youth they have had no training, because the occupations open to them—such as sewing, clean ing, washing, housework—are abominably un organized and generally underpaid, and because there are few well conducted employment and in telligence offices to direct capable applicants to desirable positions.

The charitable societies and churches and over seers of the poor have been coming but slowly to realize what are the essentials of constructive relief giving, how serious are the dangers to health and to child-welfare of an inadequate income and a low \ standard of living. My own conviction is that there should be a recognized and organic relation between the death or chronic disabling illness of the father of a family and the provision made for the support of the family during a period—often, when there are young children, a prolonged period —of readjustment to new conditions. If a man is killed or disabled at his work, for example, the in dustry should provide a substitute for his wages, as the compensation laws now provide. If he dies from disease, there should be an insurance fund, to which he himself and his employer and the state may all have contributed in just and reasonable / proportions, so that the expenses of his illness and the care for a time of his wife and children may be met by a fund which represents some sacrifice and saving, some thrift and foresight, on his own part.

With such compensation laws and social insur ance of sickness and death in full operation there would be comparatively few widows who could not manage their own difficulties, with the natural help of friends and relatives. Those few could be helped by private charity or by public relief as each com munity prefers, and the public relief might be called widows' pensions if that term is preferred, though there is something inherently dishonest or naively childish in all such attempts to disguise a transaction by giving it a different name; and money paid from the public treasury to meet in dividual or family needs will remain what it has always been, whatever it is called. The answer 13 to the old puzzle as to how many legs a horse has if you call his tail one, is not five but four.

Premature death is the great social tragedy whether it occurs in adult life or in youth or in infancy. The widowhood and orphanage and the bereft parenthood which are its deep scars are but the scars after all, the evidences of the tragedy, not the tragedy itself. The prevention of accidents on railways and in mills, the prevention of tubercu losis, the prevention of typhoid and malaria and the hookworm disease, the prevention of rheuma tism and colds and headache and all their disabling sequebe, the prevention of cancer and of those other diseases of later life about the causation of which so little is yet known,—these are still the big campaigns of social work.

Divorce and desertion, intemperance and crime, insanity and disease, widowhood, overcrowding in tenements and alleys, unemployment and irregular employment, uncompensated accidents, sweating and exhaustion from overwork, disaster, in a word, from exploiting industry on the one hand and from broken homes on the other, are the tragedies of maturity, as neglect is the tragedy of infancy, the lack of nurture of childhood, and the perversion of character of adolescence. The aim of normal life is to anticipate and prevent these tragedies. The aim of social work is to mobilize the forces of so ciety for honest, straightforward, persistent, com prehensive attack upon them as pathological ab normalities which no self-respecting society will ever deliberately tolerate.