I published a collection of poetry by Charlotte Becker, a poet who was most active in the first quarter of the twentieth century, back in 2021. While conducting some new research, I came across a poem of Becker that I had not seen when collecting and re-printing 34 of her poems for my first article. Becker’s Business Women was published in More Toasts: Jokes, Stories, and Quotations, a compilation of humorous stories, poems, and quips compiled by Marion Dix Mosher, then librarian of the Genesee Branch of the Rochester New York public library, and published in 1922. Becker’s poem appears on pages 73 and 74 of the book. The book contains no note on whether Becker’s Business Women poem had previously been published elsewhere.
Below, I re-print Becker’s Business Women with some additional thoughts based on having read a good number of her published poetry for my summer 2021 research project.
“Business Women” by Charlotte Becker
Kate's running a tobacco-shop, Jane draws a wage from carpentry, And Amaryllis' patent mop Defies domestic anarchy; Marie's so capable that she Keeps foundry laborers from strife; She heads a motor company— But where am I to find a wife? Eradne's made a wondrous top That's framed from Maine to Italy; While Wanda's jointed rabbits hop Through every modern nursery; May has a mock canteen, where tea Is served to sound of drum and fife Grace reaps from etymology— But where am I to find a wife? Maud's raising a world-famous crop Where honors tie 'twixt bean and pea; At Daisy's restaurant each chop Would rouse a muse from apathy; Babette's a broker, who must be Where rumors arent stocks are rife; There all most useful, I agree— But where am I to find a wife? I do not know on land or sea, A girl who'd stay at home with me— In any varied walks of life, So how am I to find a wife!
Thoughts and Reflections
Before launching into an analysis of Business Women, we should bear in mind that the poem was published in a volume for humorous toasts and stories. That is, while the poem touches on trends of more women joining the workforce and the effect that has on the poem narrator’s marriage prospects, I do not read it as a work that is serious in tone, but there are nevertheless interesting ideas to explore.
Our narrator, an unfortunate single man, lists the names and accomplishments of many apocryphal successful working women. There is Amaryllis the inventor, Grace the etymologist, Daisy the restaurateur, and many more. Our narrator readily concedes that these women and their accomplishments are “all most useful…” To be sure, he may enjoy a meal at Daisy’s restaurant prepared with the fruits of Maud’s crop – perhaps punctuated by a cigarette from Kate’s shop, but the narrator has a different primary concern which serves as the culminating refrain of the first three stanzas of the poem:
“But where am I to find a wife?”
The lonely narrator, surrounded only by busy business women (at least as one would believe from the poem), fears that he will be unable to find someone who would marry him among them. See the final stanza:
I do not know on land or sea, A girl who'd stay at home with me— In any varied walks of life, So how am I to find a wife!
How ever will he find a wife?
The poem reads very well, and some of the descriptions of the business women and their work are quite charming. I most liked “And Amaryllis’ patent mop / Defies domestic anarchy.” The source of the humor was the change in society stemming from there being more business women (perhaps suggestive of Becker having written this poem close to the 1922 publication of the book in which it appeared), which at least in the mind of the poem’s narrator, came with some personal downsides.
Business Women strikes me as unique among the now-35 Becker poems that I have re-printed here in The New Leaf Journal. The style is unmistakably her own – it reminds me of A Street Song, wherein an old piper punctuated each stanza with the refrain “Ah Colinette / Do not forget!” However, the themes are a bit different. Most of Becker’s love poems were melancholy, focusing on the inability to find love, love lost, or gaining an appreciation for something once it is gone. While there were exceptions – see the piper in A Street Song – most of her love poems were either explicitly or implicitly written from a woman’s perspective, and none dealt directly with men’s issues involving women in the workforce. Thus, while the poem has the distinct hallmarks of Becker’s writing, it stands apart from the rest of the poems we have reviewed to date.
It would be interesting if we knew a bit more about Becker herself in considering the poem. As I noted in my first review of the poet and her work, there is no indication from the limited, readily available evidence, that Becker herself had ever married or had children – no spouse or children were noted in her obituary or in other small biographical materials. That is, in many respects, Becker may have been close to the business women her unfortunate narrator described seemingly favorably while bemoaning the fact that he could not find a wife among them. Assuming some of my guesses about her own circumstances – based on biographical information and her generally melancholic take on love and love-lost in her writings – are correct, she may have had an interesting personal perspective on the themes in her comic poem.