Margaret Sanger, "The Unrecorded Battle," ca. 1912.
Source: " Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Library of Congress Microfilm, L131:0087."
This short story was drafted by Margaret Sanger around 1912, but never published. No additional pages were found.
"A case a case--My kingdom for a case" were the words which rang through the room, where several nurses were gathered one afternoon in June. The words were uttered by a small, fair and healthy specimen of the female sex, and tilting her nose a trifle more, if possible than it was naturally inclined, threw the stockings she was darning from her, gathered her knees within her folded hands and continued: "No joking girls, its three weeks to day since I've had a case, and tomorrow not only my rent here is due, but"--she was interrupted by the telephone--"yes, --yes, certainly, I'll take it, I'll go right down good bye." She turned from the phone, and the light in her eyes, the expression of happiness on her face, made one who saw it, say what a pretty girl she is. "Lucky Dog" said the girls in a chorus, "Where is it?" said one. "What is it?" said another, "No time for questions girls, I must don my best togs and see if I can cinch that job--get out of here all of you and come back later on I must dress." A half hour later, she was neatly attired, boarding a downtown car, in her hand was a card upon which was written the address of the Physician who wanted an office nurse.
She arrived at the address given. "Ah yes she thought, I expected a brownstone front well so be it, now Peggy Taylor smile your prettiest." A colored butler took her card, told her to be seated but before she had time to glance at her surroundings, the Dr. stood before her, in operating gown, "Ah Miss Taylor yes Im glad to see you, Yes I want an assistant nurse, one who is capable and understands her business, I require a certificate of health, a reference from two reliable Physicians, and your Hospital diploma, I wish it understood that I pay well for your services Miss Taylor, twenty-five dollars a week and board, five dollars for every operation done outside, and two and a half for all done in the house, we average ten operations a day." At this information she beamed happiness, her heart beat so loudly she straightened in her chair to get control of herself; he saw the look and was satisfied, yes he thought to himself, she will do nicely. "Is there anything you do not understand Miss Taylor? Very well, then if you wish to accept the position bring the required references at ten A.M. tomorrow and consider yourself engaged." He arose, shook hands in a most business like way, ushered her to the door, closed it upon ↑after↓ her, watched her as she boarded an uptown car, smiled as only he could smile, and went back to his work.
Peggy had no knowledge of when she got back to her room, she had known what it was to be happy, but never before had she been so favored by the gods that she called herself "lucky" until now. "Me" she said aloud, "me Peg Taylor to fall into such luck, and what a dress I'll give to Kit for her graduation,–-I'll write at once to mother and tell her about it," she wrote the following:
Dear dearest mother mine:
Stop that garden work get a man to do it for you, and I'll pay him, or get one to peddle the milk and let father do the garden work, delay your trip to New Haven until my next letter, when I shall send you money enough to buy a new dress for yourself and one for Kit, I want her graduation dress to be a real dress, Muddy dear, a point de spirit over silk with baby ribbon, would be right, I should think, oh I'm so happy. Don't you worry about that horrid old mortgage and note which fall due soon, for I'm coining money. Will write you about it later on, love to all the kiddies and be happy, your devoted Peggie.
She finished writing this and with pen upraised she sat pondering for a moment then brought forth another sheet of paper and wrote:
Dear old Dick;
Yours rec'd, if I had answered it yesterday as I was inclined to do, you should have had "yes" for an answer instead of the one I am going to give to you today.
Dick for three weeks I have not earned one cent, all the nurses were desperate, I have had only a few cases so far this spring and short ones too. I was foolish to come to New York when I did summer is always bad so I am told. Yesterday I felt I could keep up no longer and was strongly tempted to shake it all off and go back to the farm and-–be--yours.; but the thought of the mortgage due shortly, of mother bending over the strawberry bed trying to sell enough to make ends meet, the thought of the thousand little things needed for those little [ones] and I their only hope,--I thought of all these Dick and I just could not give up; but today I am well rewarded, for Yours truly is to be [assistant] to a M. D. and you Dick dear must be content to wait, oh, just a little longer and then I'll be forever your Peg.
She caressingly sealed this letter, took her hat and gloves and departed to get the required references.
Let me see there is Dr. Clark, yes I'll go to him I nursed his wife and sick baby and he will be glad to hear of the turn of fortune I've had. She had not long to wait before she was telling this great specialist of the wonderful opportunity before her and the part he was to have in her realization of it.
This man of experience looked at her fondly as he would a child he hesitated to dampen the spirits of this happy girl, and yet he was suspicious of the location, and urged her to delay going there until he could find out for her a little more concerning this generous Physician who was not registered among the legitimates.
She laughed at his concern and called him "stupid" assured him she was capable of judging conditions better than he was as she had seen the person in question and if he would just jot down a few words which would serve as a reference, she would be off and not trouble him again,--until she wanted something else. At which they both laughed, and she is soon on her way to the general practitioner where she obtained the required health certificate and reference. Back again to her little room to say goodbye to this "dinky box" and dream the dreams which should have come true to so faithful generous and loyal a girl. She had not long to dream however for she was soon aroused from her reveries by a loud knocking at the door, and girls voices saying "hallo Taylor, let us in--" "Say did you get the Job?" "Bully for you." "Tell us about it." She told them simply. "Ye gods!" said one girl a Miss Ryan "was ever such luck. I'll give you all fair warning girls if I don't get a case in twenty-four hours Ill marry--a street cleaner." "Indeed," said Miss Willets a auburn-haired girl with a twinkle in her eye who was a staunch Suffragist "You'd have done that long ago had you the slightest opportunity."
"Well" said Miss Ryan "so would you Willie if you were on twenty-four hour duty, with a typhoid for six weeks without one cent, and then after you had pulled this living skeleton out of the jaws of--well it might be presumption on my part to say just where, but the nerve of those people to refuse to pay me twenty-five dollars a week, to question the right of a Woman to demand such a price, and Willie you"-- "Oh yes, of course," interrupted Miss Willetts "they dispute your right they question your price but would they dare to question a Doctor? Would they refuse a man the salary he asks? No" she continued, "rising from the bed on which she was sitting, they would not dare to, but we Women,-–we are so alone and foolishly divided, that not until we demand our rights politically, will we be respected in any vocation."
"Hooray, hooray," cheered the voices, "Go on Willie." "Keep it up." She was willing to but was silenced by the tall figure of the Matron of the Registry, who had knocked several times and receiving no response--walked in. She smiled as she heard the closing words of the enthusiastic orator, upon seeing Miss Daly who was next on the list, informed her she had been called by Dr. Russell for an obstetrical case, to report at once. A groan from the crowd, "beat it Daly" and "twins for yours." She was off. The Matron told Miss Ryan to get her bag ready, for it was her turn next. "Ready, why Mrs Robinson I've been ready for weeks." They all laughed and the Matron, a kindly woman of middle age, left them to their follies.
Miss Willetts had not forgotten her subject, she began; "No Ryan there is no use in kicking about abuses, here and there, the first thing all working women must do is to Organize, do you hear girls, to organize That's the first step out of the darkness for Women."
"Why look at us, we nurses do practically all the work in many cases, and what do we get out of it? We pay, first five dollars to belong to a Registry, then out of every case we pay the Registry ten per cent, on all our earnings, and our room rent and telephone, figure it up how much we get out of it. We do the work that's the point, and what right has these parasitical registrys to take ten percent, or any percent? Why not work together, have one Central Registry, where all nurses register and any Doctor wanting a nurse can call for one there, how much more economical, think of the three hundred or more registrys with there three hundred telephones, clerks, and other encumberances, and a Doctor not knowing where to get a nurse, and hundreds of nurses hanging in the air lots of them on the verge of starvation waiting for a call. Isn't it foolish? Why even Taylor, the Innocent from Conn. can see it can't you Hon?"
"If you mean me Miss Willetts," said Miss Taylor, "I can see that point all right, but I cannot understand why you are so hard on the Matrons of the Registrys, they must do something in order to live, why not that?"
"Yes" said the Suffragist sarcastically, "they must live that is true, but don't you, personally find it rather expensive charity? Could not such an intelligent woman as Mrs. Robinson for instance, be doing something worth while? And I dare say if you talk to her you will find she is longing to do something, some service to humanity. Instead of this monotonous existence."
"Say Willie," said Miss Ryan, who had been closing her eyes in boredom "if ever you get a patient with insomnia, reel off that rot you just gave us and he will either be cured, or he will be compelled to change his residence,--to Bellevue. For heaven's sake, cut it out and let us hear about Taylor's case."
"Is he handsome Peggy?" said Miss Willetts.
"Well Yes and no."
"That's a bad sign to begin with,--can't you say which?" said Miss Willetts.
Peggy thought a minute and then said "no I can't just tell, he has a peculiar face, but I'm not going to dissect his looks until I know him better. All I know is it's a good job girls and I need the money."
"That's true," Said Miss Willetts, "but are you sure everything is straight down there? You are such a kid in some things Peggy, and yet--and yet" she said thoughtfully, "I sometimes think it is your innocence which somehow protects you."
"Perfect nonsense," said Miss Taylor "I'm sure he is a gentleman,--he's very courteous--, and even if he isn't, nurses must stand the cross and disagreeable, as well as the polite people."
So they chatted, and discussed the problems that trouble the thinking people of all nations, until bedtime, when wishing each other good night and Peggy good luck, they left her; she threw herself upon her knees and poured out her heartfelt thanks to the Great Unknown for this happiness this great and beautiful happiness, of being able to do for others, and especially for those we love--so she slept the sleep that only youth and a clear conscience can sleep.
The next morning promptly at ten she found herself again at the brownstone front, but instead of the dark butler, the Doctor himself opened the door for her, he was immaculately dressed, hair almost shone, mustache curled, which together with the pink carnation in his coat lapel, made her say "dandy" to herself. He bowed low and long over her hand, not quite the business air of the day before.
"Allow me to assist you," he said as he took her suitcase, and leading the way through the house, he summoned Mrs Thomas, the housekeeper, and George the butler, introduced her to them saying, "This is your future Mistress Miss Taylor, hereafter she is to be consulted concerning affairs of the house, and I wish it understood that her wishes are mine." She followed him up the soft luxurious stairs through this house of elegance, to a large spacious, elegantly furnished room the sight of which made her heart beat for joy; he pushed open the door, allowed her to enter, put the bag inside the door, and quickly stepped inside and closed the door. She held her breath a moment not daring to think; then he spoke: "This is your room Miss Taylor, you like this color?" He watched her closely, "these flowers I had sent in for you to day, these books are yours, in fact, little one the desires of your life shall be filled in my house, you are mistress of this entire place." Stepping to her side he said softly, "this is your little bed sweetheart," and stepping to a screen on the other side of the bed pulled it back, "and this is mine," he said pointing to another bed which the screen had so cunningly hidden.
During all this conversation she had stood as one petrified, but at these last words she gave one blood curdling scream, and rushed for the door, he was there before her, caught her by the throat and roughly pushed her against the closed door. "You little Devil," he hissed, "what are you here for? Do you mean to say you did not know what you were coming here for? Ha ha, then here you've come and here you'll stay, Miss-- Scream, kick, cry to your hearts delight, for no one shall heed you," he thundered. At these terrible words the blood left her face, her knees trembled, for she at last realized into what a demons' den she had come.--
She had seen men in joy, sorrow, agony and death, but this was her first experience at seeing a living devil smile. But at that smile the fighting blood of her New England ancestors, arose in her, she knew a time had come to fight, and fight to the death,--rather than that.
Quicker than it takes to tell, these thoughts flashed through her mind, she raised her head, looked him square between the eyes, and said: "Doctor, I have one thing to say, You are mistaken in me. I am not that kind of woman. I came here innocently. I wish to go away. Look into my face, look closely, and should you see in that look other than--Purity, then God help me."
At these words he came closer, anger and passion fighting for posession, "You lie," he said, "You lie, you huzzy, you have come here to spy, you have come here pretending innocense, to pry into my work, but your game won't work with me; Listen," he said hoarsley "Look you into my eyes" Oh, God that horrible face! "and learn what power is; it is greater than the purity which you claim is in yours; one word from me and into this house you'd remain, until I gave the word to release you; a word from me and to the workhouse you would go--as a prostitute. Yes I have that much power, and more far more. Think little fool, could I run an establishment of this kind without power? Could I perform from ten to twenty operations a day, without power? Could I?" He screamed. "No, no, with all your pretended innocence you must know that. And further anything you might say of me, would be laughed at. No newspaper in New York City, dare, I repeat it, dare, to print what I have told you-- Why? Power,--power from on high, high in the world of Capital, influence, and prestige, all of whom I have favored, and in turn favor me."
During this time he had released her, much to her relief, and stood a little distance from her in order to use his hands, for he jesticulated much, but as he told her of the favors he had done his face softened, and came toward her with outstretched arms. Here was no longer the frightened bird, here was a woman holding anger and pride in check, standing resolutely against the door, head held high, lips tightly closed ready for fight,--she had aged five years, since she came into that room, here was something new, something worth winning, he thought, his whole being shook with passion as he said, "Forgive me, can't you? You're here, you have all to gain by staying here, why make a mess of this." He kept coming closer as he spoke, and she felt in another second--it would be too late. "Stop!" she cried, as she raised her arm and pointed at him, her eyes blazed, her face was pale and drawn "Stop, I say, not one step nearer; you have had your say, now I'll have mine; I'm not afraid of you. Your tyranny and boasted power are nothing to me."
"Of one thing I am certain," she said calmly, "I leave this room as pure as I entered it or I leave it not at all."
"Your lies about your influece with scoundrels of this City does not frighten me, for I too am protected by men who are men--on high, I have back of me the vast army of Medical men in United States, two of whom know I came here to day, knowing this I defy you to touch me." Her turn had come now, and all fear had gone."
At these words and the reliant look of this slip of a girl the coward cringed, he knew she spoke the truth; he realized she was not the ordinary girl, and not to be bullied; he knew he must give her up, but not until his cruelty had some relief, he folded his arms, put his head cunningly on one side and said; "You are not trying to make me believe you are pure are you?" She looked him fully in the eyes and answered, "I am." He changed his position slightly, by shifting the other foot forward, bent forward and continued; "Do you mean to tell me you are a virgin?" For one second, she gasped at this cruelty, but looked at him and said, "I do."
"Swear it," he thundred,--his right arm raised high, his whole being aroused to anger.
"I swear," she said, with her head erect, and eyes dancing fire, she saw she had won. He stepped to the door unlocked it, threw it open wide, and shouted "go." She went. Then the air was rent with peal after peal of the most diabolical laughter, for a second, her blood seemed to freeze in her veins, she put her hands to her ears to shut out that terrible laugh, but the sight of her suitcase tumbling down the stairs brought her to her senses, and soon she was safe outside that den of torture. On, on she plodded, she knew not where, she cared not where, she was safe, safe, safe. That was enough for the present.
She had won the battle for her soul. ↑God!↓ was ever such a battle fought! Sometime in the afternoon, we see her at the Grand Central Station, buying a ticket for her home town. Later we see her walking along the dusty road nearing the farm. At a distance we can see a figure bending over a green patch, with sunbonnet pushed far back on her head, and we feel it is her mother. Peggy sees her, and a lump comes into her throat as she thinks of the disappointments in store for them all.
She is soon enfolded in the strong arms of that dear mother, and as they sit together under the elm tree, she relates her agonizing experience, to that loyal heart.
A glance at that New England mother will at once tell us better than words where the daughter got her courage and spirit, in time of danger. Proud, brave and tearless, she took her daughter's face in her hands and said; "Peggy," you are a wonderful girl. I'm prouder of you today, than I ever was of your great grandfather, who fought and died so valiently at the battle of Bunker Hill. This unrecorded battle!" she shook her head, "and you my Peggy the Victor!" They sat thus for some time. "I'll not go back again Mother, I'm so tired, of it all, and Dick has waited so patiently, yes I've quite decided to stay."
After the house was quiet that night, the father and mother walked up and down, the kitchen floor, up and down, hour after hour, arm in arm. For miles around this honest and sturdy farmer was called Uncle Sam, so vividly did he remind us of our "Uncle Sam."
On, on he walked, up and down far into the dawn, head bent, eyes fixed on the floor, fists clenched, thinking, thinking. At last he stopped, went to a shelf, took down a rifle he kept there, blew off the dust, wiped it carefully with his sleeve, looked at it fondly, even tenderly, aimed at something on the wall, and wiped it again. "For goodness sake what are you going to do with that gun Tom Taylor"" said the little mother for once greatly agitated.
He gave the gun snother wipe with his sleeve and said, "I'm going to New York wife to take that man's blood."Margaret H. Sanger
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project