The Visionaries, Madmen, and Tinkerers Who Created the Future That Never Was
WOMAN IN THE YEAR 2000
En L'An 2000 by Jean-Marc Côté
Edward Bellamy was born in the small city of Chicopee, MA, in 1850. He dropped out of college after four months and failed at studying law as well, so he had no choice but to become a writer. His family had enough money for him to spend a formative year in Germany before he came back home. He was in every way a small-town intellect, glorifying the quiet life and despising the roar and noise of cities full of people not like him. After a stint at a newspaper he wrote novels, well-received but hardly well-known.
In 1883, John Macnie wrote a utopian novel called The Diothas; or, A Far Look Ahead under the pseudonym of Ismar Thiusen. In it, mesmerism sends the hero to the 96th century, where he tours the city of the future, in which people live communally, and falls in love with a young woman at a time when women have (mostly) equal rights.
In 1887, Edward Bellamy wrote a utopian novel called Looking Backward: 2000-1887. In it, mesmerism sends the hero to the year 2000, where he tours the city of the future, in which people live communally, and falls in love with a young woman at a time when women have (mostly) equal rights.
Guess who won.
Bellamy is the greatest one-hit wonder of the 19th century. Looking Backward sold over 500,000 copies at a time when such numbers boggled. All utopian and dystopian futures - like science fiction - are really about the present. Waiting 10,000 years for the world to improve made Macnie's America too distant to connect with readers' life. Somehow the year 2000, at a time when thoughts of a new century of progress were seeping throughout American consciousness, hit home.
Bellamy also knew his fellow citizens. Socialism was as dirty a word to most people in 1887 as it is in America today. Bellamy called his blatantly socialistic society by the patriotic term of Nationalism, not yet a word spoiled by future events. National Clubs sprang up by the hundreds. They faded away after the devastating Panic of 1893, although the Populist Party – founded in 1892 – incorporated many of their political planks for its short lifetime and the City Beautiful movement expressed similar approval for carving park-like expanses into crowded urban centers. The Depression brought the ideal of governmental communal help back into vogue. In 1935 radical historian Charles Beard, philosopher John Dewey, and Edward Weeks, editor of the conservative Atlantic Monthly Press, each independently proclaimed Looking Backward the most influential American book of the last half-century.
Although Bellamy tried to follow his success with a sequel, Equality was twice as long and twice as boring. He couldn't compete with himself. Nobody could.
His other efforts to write about his idealized future are equally forgotten. A short essay, "Woman in the Year 2000," appeared in the February 1891 Ladies' Home Journal magazine. To be honest, it reads like something an undergraduate hastily scribbled after realizing at midnight that they had to turn in 1200 words for an 8 am class. Despite the repetitious pretentiousness of the prose, its core idea was shockingly radical for the era; radical ideas forever keep their curiosity factor. Bellamy argues that his scheme of what we call today a universal basic income, with every adult getting the same salary and no other source of wealth, would wipe out what he in almost so many words calls the prostitution behind marriage. Most woman, he says, marry for security and money rather than love. Give them the same income as men and this degradation would no longer be necessary. Bellamy was by no means what we think of as a feminist - in Looking Backward, the love interest Edith Leete (E. Leete/elite) spends most of her time and money shopping. Saving women from marriages of convenience was the one button he kept hitting.
I can't find the full text of the article anywhere online so I've copied it out to make it easily findable and copyable. It's in the public domain and appears here in full.
Those who get deeper into Bellamy probably encounter another piece with a similar title, "Christmas in the Year 2000," published four years later in the January 1895 Ladies' Home Journal, which sounds as if it should be relevant to futurists. No such luck. Wholly about religion in his present, it's not even of peripheral interest. For completists, the original can be found on Google Books. Click on page 6.
WOMAN IN THE YEAR 2000
It is assumed that the year 2000 will see Nationalism fully established as the basis of the industrial system and of society, so far as dependent upon it. Judging from the signs of the times I think it would be quite safe to make the date seventy-five years earlier, but for the benefit of those weak in the faith it is set well ahead. As there are doubtless some who do not understand very clearly what Nationalism is, it may be well enough just here to explain, so far as may be done in a phrase, that it proposes turning over all the business of the country to a single firm, of which all the people, women as well as men, shall be employees, and in the proceeds of which all shall be equal partners. Leaving wholly aside for the present purpose, all explanations as to the details of this plan, and all questions as to its feasibility, it is simply proposed to point out certain ways in which the position of women would be affected by its successful introduction.
We are to suppose that every adult woman in the United States - while required, like every adult man (except as modified by sex conditions) to perform some self-elected useful work - had coming to her a regular annual income in the form of credit, to e expended as she pleased, equal, say, to the present purchasing power of $1000, $3000 or $5000, more or less, according to the prosperity of the national firm, said income to be the same in amount with that received by her brother, husband or father, but not to come to her through them or through any other intermediary, but directly from the national administration, as a matter of constitutional right.
Now, considering the fact that woman, owing to her comparative physical disqualifications as a worker, has hitherto been, as a rule, wholly or partly dependent upon the favor of affection of men for the means of a secure and comfortable existence, it is evident that a system like that described, would, by rendering her entirely independent of men in this respect, make a great alteration in her position.
Obviously the most important single respect in which it would be altered would be as to her attitude toward marriage. She would no longer be obliged, as most women now are, to look forward to marriage as offering, if not absolutely her only means of support, yet at least as constituting her main hope of a secure and comfortable life. The only possible motive which would then impel her to give herself to a man would be that she loved him. May and December might still mate. Beauty may still wed the Beast, but the sourest cynic would no longer be able to attribute an unworthy motive to the bride. However sordid she might become under temptation, then there could be none, for not only would she be under no necessity of marrying at all but the wealth of all her possible suitors being the same, she could have no motive, save love or admiration for marrying one more than another.
Not only, however, would Nationalism guarantee woman dignity and independence before marriage, but equally afterward. That event in no way would affect her rights as a citizen and a partner in the national concern. The humiliation of complete pecuniary dependence upon their husbands, of being obliged to ask for all they have, beyond bare board and meat, which the best and noblest of wives now have to endure, the wife of the year 2000 would never know.
Let us suppose, on the other hand, that her heart, remaining untouched, she had preferred to remain single.
At the present time, a popular presumption exists that all girls wish to marry, and fail to do so only because they lack an eligible opportunity. The presumption exists on account of the obvious fact that women, being able with difficulty to support themselves, have in general a greater material interest than men have. Surely there can be few incidents of an unmarried woman's condition more exasperating than her knowledge that because this is the undeniable fact it is vain for her to expect to be popularly credited with the voluntary choice of her condition. She must endure with a smile, however she may rage within, the coarse jest or innuendo to which it would be worse than vain to reply. Nationalism, by establishing the economic independence of women, without reference to their single or married state, will destroy the presumption referred to by making marriage no more obviously desirable to one sex than another.
Would you gain a realization of the position of the "old maid" in the year 2000? If so, look at the lordly bachelor of to-day, the hero of romance, the cynosure of the drawing-room and of the promenade. Even as that bright being, like him self-poised, severely insouciant, free as air, will the "old maid" of the year 2000 be. It is altogether probable, by the way, that the term "old maid" will by that time have fallen into disuse.
But while the unmarried woman of the year 2000, whether young or old, will enjoy the dignity and independence of the bachelor of to-day, the insolent prosperity at present enjoyed by the latter will have passed into salutary, if sad, eclipse. No longer profiting by the effect of the pressure of economic necessity upon woman, to be him indispensable, but dependent exclusively upon his intrinsic attractions, instead of being able to assume the fastidious airs of a sultan surrounded by languishing beauties, he will be fortunate if he can secure by his merits the smiles of one.
In the year 2000 no man, whether lover or husband, may hope to win the favor of maid or wife save by desert. While the poet, justly apprehending the ideal proprieties, has always persisted in representing man at the feet of woman, woman has been, in fact, the dependent and pensioner of man. Nationalism will justify the poet and satisfy the eternal fitness of things by bringing him to his marrow-bones in earnest. But, indeed, we may be sure that in the year 2000 he will need no compulsion to assume that attitude.
It implies no disloyalty to the womanhood of to-day to believe that the personal dignity and moral freedom, unknown before to her sex, which will be the birthright of woman in the twentieth century, cannot fail to react most favorably upon herself, ennobling her graces, clothing with a new majesty her beauty and making her in every way more worthy than ever before of the reverence and devotion of man.
There is another and profoundly tragic aspect of the relation of the sexes, which by no means may be passed over in considering what Nationalism will do for womanhood. The same economical pressure which brings the mass of women into a relation of dependence upon men, rendered more or less tolerable according to the degree of mutual affection, reduces a great multitude of women, who are not fortunate enough to find adequate masculine support, to a form of slavery more morally degrading than any other, and more complete in its indignity. This most ancient form of bondage, which has grown up with the race and flourishes to-day in the face of civilization and Christendom as widely and vigorously as ever, which no wisdom of the economist, no zeal of the philanthropist has ever availed to diminish, Nationalism, by the necessary operation of its fundamental principle, will at once and forever extirpate. Want on the one hand will then no longer drive the virtuous woman to dishonor, nor on the other will wealth, in the hands, of unscrupulous men, tempt her frivolous sister.
October 24, 2022