‘A “Dundee Working Man” Criticised’, Letter to the Editor (29 April, 1882)

The following letter is a response to a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). This riposte from a correspondent in Louisiana criticises the 5th entry in the series which appeared in the March 4th 1882 edition of the paper.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—The People’s Journal of March 4th is now before me, having reached me from my home in Massachusetts last night. On page 5 I find the following:—“A Dundee Working Man on America—No. 5.” “American Ladies and Divorces.” It is to correct the erroneous statements therein contained, and to prevent, if possible, the mischief which may be caused by their dissemination if uncontradicted that I now address to you this letter. By allowing it a place in your paper you will prevent the formation of opinions prejudicial to a true knowledge of the social status of the country. I am myself a Scotchman (a native of Dundee), and from a ten years’ residence in America, in several States, I think I have had a good opportunity to estimate the character of the average American—man or woman. I will not indulge in personalities, nor will I criticise the literary hash of “Dundee Working Man’s” letter. I write simply to correct statements which are untrue and likely to produce erroneous impressions. The ignorance of Americans and Englishmen respecting each other’s country is to be regretted, and every statement likely to increase or confirm this ignorance should be corrected. The first statement of the “Dundee Working Man” that American girls are “pert.” &c., is to a certain extent correct, but it is almost entirely among the lower class of people. “Dundee Working Man” evidently forgets that although politically all men here are “equal,” they are not so socially. There are classes here, as everywhere else, and it is evident that “Dundee Working Man’s” observations have been confined to a class of people not very high in the social scale and not a representative class. He has gathered a few incidents about some American women, and by a sweeping generalisation has extended the conclusions drawn therefrom to all American women, for “woman” is a name I never knew an American lady to be ashamed of, although I have seen American servant girls bristle at the word. But the young American lady is no more pert than young ladies of other countries, as far as my observations lead me to believe, and I have had extensive opportunities to observe, being acquainted with women of five or six countries. The third remark in “Dundee Working Man’s” letter I can but pass over, with a blush that any countryman of mine should speak of a woman in that way. The statement that “in their homes they (American women) are, generally speaking, slovenly-looking,” &c., is simply untrue. That condition is not general, but exceptional. In the rough towns on the rugged coast of Maine, in the farming districts and cultured cities of Massachusetts, in the proud “City of Elms” (Newhaven), in Connecticut, made classic by the shades of Yale University, and here on the rolling prairie where every spot is a “garden of flowers,” it has been my lot to meet American women of the highest social standing, and sometimes those of the lowest order in society, and I have found them as neat, and cleanly, and womanly as ever I found women anywhere else. Of course, as I have said, there are exceptions, but they are few in proportion to the whole. Among American girls the wearing of cheap jewellery is a too prevalent custom; but if any countryman had observed closely, he would have found that the habit is by no means confined to Americans; other girls—Irish, Scotch, English, German, all do the same. As to women’s speaking in meetings, although I have attended meetings of Methodists in three different States, I have never seen one—not even the most ignorant—get up and rattle on “until the sheer want of breath” she sank “exhausted into her seat.” Nor have I ever seen such a thing happen in the meetings of any other denomination. The anecdote which illustrates their “’cuteness” is disgusting, and reveals the nature of the sources whence your correspondent obtained his information. Need I be more explicit, and say that only a woman of a very low order would ever do what a “Dundee Working Man” attributes to this one? Moreover, the fact that a husband or wife would tell such a thing to outsiders shows their character and class too well to necessitate further comment. I will not criticise farther. If your correspondent, as he says, has, to his own mind, “neither extolled their virtues nor exaggerated their follies,” all I have to say in, either his judgment [sic] is at fault or he judges all from a very few examples of a very low class. This is the first of “Dundee Working Man’s” letters that I have seen. I may not get another People’s Journal soon, as this section is so overflowed with water as to prevent the running of trains. If I do, however, and find such absurd statements I shall feel bound, with your permission, Mr Editor, to correct them, I hope “Dundee Working Man” will be more careful hereafter to be sure that a fact which be represents as generally true is really so, and not exceptional.

Hoping you will publish this, I am, Mr Editor, yours, &c.,

D. Kinlay, jun.

New Iberia, Louisiana, United States,

April 2, 1882.

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