Mary T. Lathrap (1838-1895)|
A WOMAN'S ANSWER TO A MAN'S QUESTION.
[Written in reply to a man's poetic unfolding of what he conceived to be a woman's duty.]
Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing
Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing
You have written my lesson of duty out,
You require your mutton shall always be hot,
You require a cook for your mutton and beef;
A king for the beautiful realm called home,
I am fair and young, but the rose will fade
Is your heart an ocean so strong and deep,
I require all things that are grand and true,
If you cannot do this a laundress and cook
A brief biography and a collection of Mary Torrans Lathrap's writings can be found in:
As the book was compiled with the help of her husband and family, I am taking it as authoritative on the details of the poem, her name, and her life history. Such a statement may at first seem odd, but A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question has had a surprisingly rich history of being misattributed and miss-titled.
The most grevious error concerning the poem is replicated in Lawson (1927) where A Woman's Question is credited to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This error dates back to at least 1890 (J. Rose) where it seems that the poem was "generally attributed" to Browning under this title. It is unclear where these mistakes began.
Felleman (1936)and Alexander (1956) both attribute the poem to a "Lena Lathrop", again under the title A Woman's Question. This is at least understandable; in her youth Lathrap used the pseudonym "Lena" when writing for the county paper (reported by Wittenmyer in Willard, 1883). As for the title A Woman's Question is both shorter and the name of another well-known poem of the same period (this other poem is by Adelaide Anne Procter, it is mentioned by R.M.Sillard, 1890, and its text can be found in Bryant, 1927).
Even those sources which correctly identify her as "Mary T." have some disagreements and confusion. Silliard gives an excerpt of a letter by Lathrap in which she gives the correct name for the poem (used above). He also reports that it appeared under that title in the Washington (Arkansas) Post; however, he spells her surname with an "o" (Lathrop) instead of with an "a". This seems rather common at the time, Willard (1883) contains both spellings. Marshall (1985) both gives the spelling with an "o" and reports her maiden name as "Torrans" instead of "Torrance". Finally, Stevenson (1964) mistakenly identifies her as the first female member of the American Bar Association, confusing her with Mary Florence Lathrop of Colorado. The author of this poem, on the other hand, was a licensed Methodist minister in Michigan.
In any case, it seems likely that our poet was not very concerned in correspondence whether people could tell if her name was "Lathrap" or "Lathrop", and also that she usually used simply her middle initial and not her maiden name.