In looking for the Edwardian words of Karle Wilson Baker I came across Civil War poet Mary T. Lathrap. We like to think our art survives, but the reality is much is lost before a generation passes. In the case of Mary T. Lathrap her most famous piece, A Woman’s Answer To A Man’s Question, was wrongly attributed to a more famous poet. (Yet another thing we can’t blame the internet for – misattributions.) While that link notes a 1927 publication I found mention of the error during her life. Pirated. How two centuries later of her!
Lathrap’s book is archived online. Her poetry veers to the overblown but c’mon – she was a Michigan Methodist circa the Civil War. I know from my own family papers those dudes can make Casabianca look reserved. Sentimentality aside, Lathrap’s poem endures because it speaks clearly to the power imbalance between the sexes.
“Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing
Ever made by the hand above—
A woman’s heart, and a woman’s life
And a woman’s wonderful love?
Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing
As a child might ask for a toy,
Demanding what others have died to win,
With the reckless dash of a boy?”
– Mary T. Lathrap
How many romantic heroines can you see angrily throwing that at the latest lordling to demand their attention? Mary’s not done with this dude – she details the myriad chores expected of the modern wife before hitting him with this bit here.
“A loving woman finds heaven or hell
On the day she is made a bride.”
– Mary T. Lathrap.
Man, no kidding, Mary. You tell him. Smack that dude again.
“If you cannot do this — a laundress and cook
You can hire, with little to pay,
But a woman’s heart and a woman’s life
Are not to be won that way.”
– Mary T. Lathrap
There’s the door, buddy! Better luck next time! Given that Lathrap’s work was edited and released posthumously by friends it’s hard to say what her work encompassed. The collection contains a fair amount of super spiritual call to action poems as well as some defiant Civil War battle memorials. I like to think Mary left some stuff too hot to handle and time let it drift away. Take this burn she drops in the middle of an anti-drink speech.
“I used to think, before my experience as a reformer, that even a moderately good father would do anything to defend his household and save his boys from evil things; I have given up that idea long ago; the average man will do nothing that will hurt his business or his political party, and the home and children may look out for themselves”. – Mary T. Lathrap.
It’s likely, given the time, faith and political leanings of Mary T. Lathrap, that she crossed paths with my ancestors. (Her husband appears to have served the Union army with my great-great grandfather, then attended his church. From 1865 to 1868, at her own expense, she ran a school for black students. Be interesting to know what closed that endeavor down.) I wonder if my family and Lathrap drove each other mad, the way like minded and strong voiced activists will.