Don’t neglect your ugly duckling (1910)

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Don’t neglect your ugly duckling

There is, in nearly every family, one ugly duckling, and in the generality of cases it is a daughter who seems to be held back, or kept down, as it were. She is not the plainest of the brood; yet there is invariably one who is the Cinderella in every family, one who is either not thought so much of as the rest, or who is kept in the background for various motives.

It is, as a rule, the one who is mother’s girl, she who is everything in that home circle; the one that cannot be done without, who is most useful to all at home. Father wants her, mother needs her, the children long for her to room with them, join in their games; and she is likewise expected to be in the kitchen to superintend and help when there is company, or in the drawing room to entertain her brother’s friends, or play propriety for her sisters and their sweethearts.

There are many girls who spend their lives in continual drudgery, who, from their earliest years, have never known a peaceful, happy youth. Girlhood was not for them, for almost from their cradle they have been made to carry the burden of life — the cares, troubles and worries of their elders have been placed upon their childish shoulders. In fact, from the first dawn of reason they seem to have been surfeited with woes and troubles, tales of poverty and misery, perhaps, which at least need not have been communicated to them at so lender an age.

It is nice, of course, to be father’s confidante or mother’s right hand, but there are things that should be kept from children. Life in childhood should be made as bright and happy as possible. It is not right or fair for the young to have to share their elders’ troubles on all occasions; childhood does not last long, and it is wrong to embitter a young life too early.

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Too old in wisdom

Many children are made old in wisdom and knowledge of the world’s troubles ere they are advanced enough to see and understand the reason of these crosses — all this trouble and grief. The consequence, then, is an embittered, soured life. They have known no happy childhood’s days: all is sordid, black and unhappy memories of what should base been the happiest, brightest years of their life.

Naturally, as such a girl grows up she is old beyond her yours — a regular little old woman — and in consequence, the heart of a young child is not in her, the games of frolic and innocent youth are not entered into, not enjoyed by her. The games of other children of her own age seem frivolous in her eyes; they are not palatable, her tastes have grown too old, she is constantly with her elders and her ambitions lie in the same direction as theirs.

If mothers and fathers were wise, they would encourage their children to remain as children; not make them old beyond their years.

A Cinderella in every family is a thing to be deplored; there should be no particular slavery amongst brothers and sisters. All the children of a household should share and share alike; the plain one should not be kept in the background because she is plain. No one should be considered the “ugly duckling,” or, providing they are, they should not be made to feel or realize this. In fact, any counterbalancing good quality or talent should be fostered — brought forward — to make up to such a child.

Favoritism an evil

Favoritism among children should never be shown, for it is this oversight of parents — this habit of making favorites, preferring one child to another — which often rankles in children’s minds and is later the cause of jealousy and dissension in families.

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Often enough the early treatment of one of these children by the parents causes the younger ones to expect too much from the Cinderella of the family.

She should, they think, give in at all times to them, relinquish her own desires and tastes in their favor; and, so used are they to her giving in to than that they almost fall to recognize the fact that she is their sister — that she should possess any individual rights, an opinion of her own.

Many a young girl’s life has been spoiled in this way, her youth and girlhood blighted. Such a girl, down-trodden and subdued, naturally thinks little of herself, and not realizing that she possesses good qualities, prepossessing features that might attract, becomes old-fashioned in her style, dress and manner, and often as not her very unselfishness in not seeing after herself, dressing better, is the cause of her being looked down upon as a dowdy and a fright.

Men, even in seeking a wife, often enough fall to notice the good qualities beneath that plain costume, and many suitors recognize when too late that they would have been wiser in choosing that loving, tender, sympathetic girl who was only considered the “ugly duckling” for their wife, than any of her more showy and brilliant sisters.


Photo: Alice Deon, little sister and Eva Deon, age 11. The older girls work as doffers in a spinning room of the Ayer mill. 95 Springfield Street, Lawrence, Massachusetts. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine, September 1911.

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