Review Of Ancilla's Share

[Printed in Equal Rights, Official Organ of the National Woman's Party

Volume XII, No. 18. Saturday June 13, 1925. Pages 142-143]


Ancilla’s Share—An Indictment of Sex Antagonism

[unsigned review, with excepts in quotation marks, as originally rendered]


Ancilla's Share, anonymous, but known to be written by Elizabeth Robins, is a book that brings joy to the hearts of all feminist readers. Never has the case of women been so clearly and forcefully presented as by this gifted author. The short, pregnant sentences, and concise, telling paragraphs are a style all the author’s own. Unfortunately for American women, the book, published in London, sells here for $6.00, and is in consequence beyond the reach of many of us. It is hoped that an American publisher may soon put it out in a new edition at a lesser cost.

After a graphic preface setting forth the present economic and social status of Europe as a result of the war, which alone is worth the price of the book, the author opens her case like a lawyer pleading a case at bar by stating the reasons which impelled her to write this history of sex antagonism; the reasons follow:

  1. To make the fact of men's antagonism as clear to the many women as it is to the few.
  2. To examine the origin of that antagonism.
  3. To state with plainness its effect.
  4. To decide how most quickly it may be overcome.

The book is too long to attempt a general review of each of these four points, but the following excerpts are a few of the highlights taken at random:

"The world over, in the high realms of politics and the learned professions the mass even of educated women are for the most part merely forgotten. They are not daily called on to acquiesce in, to share, to inculcate in their young, the theory and practice of feminine inferiority, that is reserved for the humbler sphere of action where the common mind functions without taking thought. * * *

"Man's sex antagonism arises from his uncorrected vision, which is but a form of ignorance, expressing itself either by contempt or by fear. Women have mechanically accepted insult and eventually it becomes unconscious with them. This becomes the foster mother of his unconsciousness and the first step is to make women more conscious."

"We can begin at once the process of waking him from his long dream that woman accepts contempt as her fair desert. To nerve her for refusal let her remember every time she insists that, if insult is to be, it shall at least be conscious."

"Man is bewildered and helpless at this new attitude of women. He shows it by his anger and galled wincing when the sure way is taken to scotch his sex contempt. Clearest of all this is so when he takes refuge in cruelty for he then can show woman his heart of fear."

"Man has insisted on seeing in women what he wished to see and what he wished to see was her resigned inferiority."

The author comments on the fact that one can hardly pick up a book, either poetry or history, but to find that it passes slighting and condemnatory judgment on women. The daily papers, likewise. As to this last, she remarks with respect to the so-called woman's column, which most leading newspapers now carry, that this is the "twilight of contempt" and is referred to in England as the Caveman’s Corner, being largely read by men.

"In a modern history of a progressive country, women are mentioned on four out of five hundred pages."

"Man's concern with woman has begun with her sex function and culminated in her use as a cheap and docile servant."

"Men like to encourage women to think meanly of their own sex. It is reassuring to them." To the average man, according to the writer, there are "exceptions and instances" so far as woman's measuring up to the standards of men are concerned, but the rest of the women of the world are lumped into one class of inferiors.

Concerning woman's attitude toward her own sex, the author has some very telling comments. For instance:

"There are three types of women who have the temptation to adopt man's assumption of his own sex superiority: First, the woman who undervalues her own capacity and therefore undervalues that of other women; second, the woman who knows she has capacity and shrinks from the discipline of using it; and, third, the woman who is pursuing her own path in some field not hitherto trodden by women and who likes to think herself exceptional."

"Women inherit man's distrust of woman in any public office. Domesticity or prostitution are the beaten ways. The preponderance of masculine influence, conscious and unconscious, combines with every feminine influence to make women doubt achievements which are out of those beaten ways. * * * * Women have a great deal of natural caution which makes for underestimation of their own sex." But, in the author's opinion, the reason for this woman's instinctive distrust of her own sex in high positions is that man has for so many centuries held the apparition of the inferiority of her sex over her that she has unconsciously accepted it as true, without question.

"Women voters are encouraged to believe that their contribution to public affairs is most effectually made by means of the machinery through which men make their contribution. This is so obviously the easier way that it will greatly tempt newly enfranchised women."

"Lacking leadership women find their political power released only to be harnessed anew to the purposes of man, --mainly to his personal ambitions."

The author recites an instance in New Zealand where a bill was up for putting women justices of the peace on the local bench. The bill was thrown out and the only reason the legislative council passed out to the public was "that the reform had not been pressed."

"The women who can see and properly appraise the achievements of other women have yet to educate the women who do not see. Until education has done its work, the minority who see have to bear the dead weight of the blind."

It was a woman who invented the Jacquard loom; the printer's roller and the printer's press were invented by farmers' wives; Mrs. General Green invented the cotton gin and Whitney seized it; Mrs. Howe invented the sewing machine, and a West Virginia woman invented the reaper. But in history credit with respect to all these is passed to men.

"Man is not ashamed, not yet, to entreat women by their personal self-denial and

[New page] 143  

by every conceivable form of organized effort to constitute themselves the financial backbone * * * * * of the vast system of public charities, many of which are necessitated largely by the exclusion of woman's view from public affairs. She is asked to support by money or menial labor, to subscribe for the very hospitals which debar women from practicing medicine or so much as studying."

"In his fear of her publicly delivered judgment in the sphere of politics she has come upon his weakness and her strength."

"It would seem as though man had long known that when he could no longer successively successfully obstruct the power of women, she would take war from him and if he were deprived of the power to inspire fear what refuge from the fear in his own soul, i. e., the fear that he will lose his home if he cannot compel a slave class to keep it for him; the fear that he will lose his food supply if he can not find a low-paid, low-living labor to cultivate his fields; and the fear that he will lose his country if he can not compel conscripted men to fight--conscripted men."


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[Sue Thomas' bibliography does not list this among the reviews of Ancilla's Share. Punctuation conforms to the original and may look cumbersome to the modern eye. "Cannot," for instance, is rendered as two words.]

An earlier issue of Equal Rights, May 9, 1925, includes the lengthy article by Crystal Eastman, "International Co-operation." There, she covers the initial meeting of Alice Paul with the British Advisory Group, with Robins among the members. Her description of Robins, among the listed and photographed participants, is well known, thanks to the reprint of Eastman's article in Blanche Wisen Cook's volume, Crystal Eastman: On Women and Revolution. (1978). Eastman lists:

Elizabeth Robins: Well-known novelist, author of "Ancilla's Share," a profound satirical study of the position of women through the ages, which is rapidly becoming the feminist "Bible." (Miss Robins is the sister of Raymond Robins of Chicago.) –page 101.

The Library of Congress holds the photograph of Alice Paul meeting with Robins as part of the British Advisory Group. Eastman's article includes a list of those who hosted Paul, including Robins. She ends with this paragraph:

I may add that Alice Paul's visit to London has brightened the lives of such Woman's Party exiles as Hazel Hunkins, Betty Gram and myself. To see this wonder-worker—so quiet, so indefatigable, so sure, --once more beginning to move mountains, revives one's faith in the future.

HathiTrust offers the complete text of Ancilla's Share as Public Domain electronic text.

-- JEG.