"The trouble with Jeff is that he lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."

“One Woman in a Thousand Years”

(Editor’s Note: The is the fourth in an ongoing grouping of posts dealing with my research on 22nd MVI veteran, draftee and Springfield resident Orrin Cook. See the series of posts under the “Orrin Cook” category here.)

Orrin Cook, late of the 22nd Massachusetts, was a well-lettered man. His war diary belies his literacy and his education in public schools starting in 1853, Cold River Union Academy in Paper Mill Village, New Hampshire in 1858, and Westmoreland Valley Seminary in Westmoreland, New Hampshire in 1859. Aside from his diary and obsessive financial record-keeping, Cook wrote a tremendous number of letters to the editor of local papers throughout his life. Some were treatises on economics– written under the pseudonym “Hasseky Marsh”– presumably after the marshland that defined the eastern border of his town of Springfield Massachusetts throughout its early development.  Others were more personal in nature.

As explored in earlier posts, Cook had serious post-war issues with his wife and daughters, possibly springing from his nascent PTSD. Whether his opinion on women in general led to his increasingly emotionally abusive treatment of his wife and daughters, or vice-versa, Orrin left  a record of his misogyny. Cook’s letters to the editor under the pseudonym of “He-Man Wilkins”, derived from his own middle name and an obvious machismo-driven reference, decried all things female. One such letter, reproduced below from the New York Times Saturday Review, published 4 May 1901 is an example of this.

   In the notable controversy which waged about your clever correspondent “Cynic” two years ago it was said that woman is the equal of man “in everything but physical strength and selfishness.” This assertion of equality, varied by one of superiority, is frequently made. Let us suppose that some audacious person makes this declaration: Woman is more inferior in man in intellectual strength than she is in physical, and more inferior morally than she is mentally. Women’s rights women and their male abettors are backward about claiming superior  muscular strength for woman. Brazen impudence is abashed before the dynamometer. For the determination of the relative intellectual status of the two sexes there are methods and measurements hardly less decisive than the dynamometer in the other field. Take Librarian Foster’s books of power as one of these measurements. Doubtless the list is unbiased and made without thought of the woman question. It contains 103 titles, as printed, in your paper of April 6. Of these three are the names of women. According to this, women have contributed a little less than three per cent to the classical literature of the world. But in six or more cases the books are names of multiple authorship– the Bible, the Mahabharata, The Federalist, &c. Adding these grouped and unnamed writers, all of them men so far as known, we shall have perhaps 150 individual authors and leave the proportion of women at least 2 per cent. Mr. Foster’s list covers some 3,000 years of human effort, and he finds worth including one woman to a thousand years.

HEMAN WILKINS
Springfield, Mass.,April 25 1901

While to the modern eye, Cook’s stance is one that is fully off-base and misogynistic, it was not unique to its historical context– but his dismissal of the contributions of women to the literary canon is reflective of his feelings towards women as a whole, in the opinion of this writer. It also brings to bear some light on the situation as it must have existed in the Cook household– one of dismissal and condescension– a situation that the equally literate (if not a prolific) Harriet “Una” Butterfield Cook clearly must not have taken well– further escalating the emotional violence between the pair.

When Harriet and her daughters Jennie and Mary finally left Orrin in 1887, it must have come as a deep relief to all of them.

 

 

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