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Ethics for Young Girls: Lesson 3: Rights of Family Members

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 31, 2012

Ethics for Young Girls

Young Woman’s Journal, 1900-1901

Lesson 3: Rights of Family Members

In our last lesson the ethical relations existing between husband and wife were touched upon. It was decided that the husband is at the head of the family, the little unit of society, and that it is the duty of all in the home circle to respect the authority which he has the right to exercise.

Children that are taught to respect authority in the home will become young men and women respectful to the authority of school teacher, Bishop, their superiors in temporal offices, and the authority of God, which is manifested through His prophets.

It is the object of this lesson to discuss the rights of the individuals composing the home circle.

It is a law of ethics, the science of right living, that every one must recognize and respect the rights of others, but just what the rights of others are, one is often times blinded to, because of his own selfishness. This is especially true in the home, whose members have permitted familiarity to gain such a strong ascendancy, that fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, have apparently no rights at all.

One of the indisputable rights a citizen has is to own and accumulate property, which is sacred to him. No one would dare go into another’s house and help himself to the contents, unless he is a common thief; and even he, if found guilty of taking another’s possessions, is punished by law. Let us see if a member of the household has the right to own property over which he exercises absolute authority.

Mary and Kate, two sisters, have been given each a dozen handkerchiefs. Mary, who is careful of her things, always has a clean handkerchief when she wishes to use it. Kate, the careless, uses four or five a day, throwing them down anywhere, and losing them. Before the week is over she has no handkerchief. What does she do? She goes to Mary’s box and helps herself to the handkerchiefs. Mary goes to her box. All her handkerchiefs are gone. She must go without. Is it just? Are Mary’s rights respected?

Mother has company for dinner unexpectedly. She thinks she can get along nicely because sufficient dessert was left from yesterday’s dinner. What is her dismay when she finds her hired help and companions have eaten it the night before. Are the rights of the mistress respected?

Mary is going to a party. She thinks she will wear the pretty collar she has made. When she goes to her drawer for it, it has vanished. “Kate must have worn it,” is the thought that fills her with indignation.

“Boys’ ties are all the style,” ponders Kate. “I think I’ll wear John’s today. He is at work and will never know”; so John’s spotless white tie is worn to school and is brought home covered with ink stains, and a family feud ensues.

In all the preceding cases the right of the individual to accumulate and retain property was not respected. What were the results? Anger, quarrels, selfishness. Selfishness? Yes, indeed. If a girl is afraid all the time that her sister will take her things, does it make her generous enough to offer them to her sister? No, on the contrary, it creates a desire in her to keep her things, hide them, do anything with them rather than her sister should take them.

When each member in the household has been taught that he has entire control of his things, but that he must touch no one’s else without permission, the children are generous, and offer their things to each other without the asking.

A young girl once said to a friend, “I haven’t a handkerchief.” Her attention was called to a number of handkerchiefs on her dresser. But she answered, “Those are my sister’s” in a manner which silenced all questions. Yet there never were more generous sisters than these were. “Wear my waist tonight.” “You may take my pin, comb, etc.,” were the expressions always heard when they were dressing.

It would be a terrible thing to say we steal from our brothers and sisters. It isn’t stealing, it is pilfering. We mean to return it. So does the man who borrows thousands of dollars from his employer. He will invest it in business and pay it back in a few days. Business fails, and he is lodged in jail – a thief. Would he have respected the rights of his employer, had he been taught that he should not touch a thing belonging to his brothers and sisters, without permission?


1. What things have you a right to use in your homes?
2. What things have you a right to use in your friend’s home?
3. At what age should a child be taught to respect his brother’s possessions?
4. To whom does one-tenth of your income belong?
5. Have you the right to use it?
6. Why has not the maid a right to take pins, hairpins, from her mistress’s dresses?
6. Has the boy a right to take things from the room of the servant girl?
7. Should the servant’s room be sacred to her?
8. Why has not the mother a right to give her little girl’s toys to a visiting playmate?



  1. Wow. This installment really emphasized how I tend to read these texts through the lens of current conditions.

    It was jarring to my middle-class American sensibilities to be reading a discussion of relations within the nuclear family and then all of a sudden have maids and hired help included in the discussion.

    And this author is very self-assured! Every opinion is stated as an incontrovertible truth.

    Comment by Amy T — May 31, 2012 @ 7:30 am

  2. I think it’s funny that this is framed as a discussion of property rights (I would have gone with common courtesy). Then again, this whole series has a rather legalistic, natural rights bent to it.

    Comment by E. Wallace — May 31, 2012 @ 7:44 am

  3. After I got to “family feud” I was really hoping the author would bring up the Hatfields and the McCoys.

    Comment by Mark B. — May 31, 2012 @ 9:55 am

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