This is my revision of an old folk song, making it far more relevant for the women of the late 20th century and beyond. The woman who is unable to support herself leaves herself vulnerable to great misfortune: and, what is worse, her dogs and her children will suffer along with her. The woman able to support herself has the freedom to marry or not, to divorce or not, and she will have far more equal bargaining power within any relationship and she lead a generally more interesting life.
I dedicate my updated version to my all-time favorite "Supreme", Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long may she persist on the Court "making much good ruling".

The song is usually titled "Old Maid Song" and in turn it dates back to an older version called "Old Maid in a Garret"

to play the song Sister Sarah/Old Maid Song, the version that works with the lyrics :

if that doesn't work (as it might not if you don't have QuickTime), try Old Maid :

. This one does work at the local public library.

to play a version of Old Maid in a Garret, known as Symphony Number 6, 3rd movement (This is a really nice tune, but doesn't work as well with the lyrics. It sounds like Aaron Copland to me, but I have not investigated this.) :

if that doesn't work (if your computer doesn't have QuickTime) try Garret :

finally if that doesn't work , try or use the external link .

I am still trying to figure out why some versions work better than others on non-Mac computers. If you have QuickTime for Windows installed, they all should play perfectly.



(old folk tune, "Old Maid Song" or"Take Her Out of Pity")

by Pam Green , © 1994

(original verse)

I had a sister, Sally, she was younger than I am :
She had so many sweethearts she had to deny them.
But as for sister Sarah, you know she hadn't many,
And if you knew her heart , she'd be grateful for any.

Come a landsman , a kinsman, a soldier, or a sailer
Doctor, a lawyer , a tinker, or a tailer,
Young man, an old man, a fool , or witty,
Don't let her die an old maid, but take her out of pity.



But Sally soon was pregnant, she never finished high school.
The man that she had to marry soon proved himself a sly fool,
A drunkard, a gambler, and oftentimes he beat her,
And everytime he had the chance you know that he would cheat her.

Come a social worker , welfare worker, battered women's shelter,
Doctor , a lawyer, don't leave her helter-skelter.
At sixteen she was innocent, gullible, and pretty,
Now she's old at twenty-one and badly needs your pity.

Sarah stayed in college, earned her Artis Batchelorum.
Juris Doctorae, she tried law in ev'ry forum.
When seated on the High Court, she made much good ruling,
And spoke to young girls ev'rywhere, "Stay single while you're schooling !"

"Be ye landswoman, kinswoman, stock-broker, or banker,
Doctor, a lawyer, or captain of a tanker,
Young woman, old woman, be ye plain or pretty,
Be prepared to earn your living and depend on no man's pity !"



discussion :

The original song and its ancestors reflects a historical time when women had only three choices as to means of gaining a living : the convent, prostitution, and marriage. The few jobs available to unmarried women were arduous and very poorly paid, barely a subsistance wage. To be an "old maid" (unmarried after early 20's) was considered a disaster : girls were indoctrinated to think it would be a disaster.

But to be married meant to become an "unperson" in the eyes of the law. Under the ancient doctrine of "femme couvert", a married woman ceased to exist as a legal individual, but became purely a subsidiary of her husband. Her property, her earnings, and her children became property of her husband, and she herself was essentially property of her husband. Her work would be arduous and she might receive only a bare subsistance (her husband had a legal duty to support her, but there was no legal minimum standard) , possibly far less if her husband was a drunkard or a gambler. Husbands had the right to physically discipline a wife provided that they used a stick no thicker than thumb-thick. The husband had an unlimited right to demand sexual compliance. She might find herself almost constantly pregnant until she died in childbed or until her husband pre-deceased her.

Of course some marriages were happy ones for both parties, husband and wife treating one another with kindness and respect. But it was a gamble for both, a huge risk without much chance of escape through divorce.



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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 1994 revised 7/31/2011
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