As immigration dropped sharply during World War I and many native-born women left domestic service for wartime jobs, middle-class women lamented the shortage of domestic workers. New experts offered their advice to the middle-class woman who decided to tackle housework without the assistance of paid help. Gladys Hutton Chase , writing in Good Housekeeping in 1918, explained the new middle-class housekeeping. Chase celebrated her newfound freedom from the “work and worry” of employing domestic workers. Notably, her solution was doing her own work with the help of a professional home economics course, rather than getting other household members to pitch in. And even as she enthused about the efficiency of her new methods, Chase revealed the escalating standards that expanded and complicated middle-class housekeeping.
After Mary, our maid, summoned me into the kitchen one night last December, and announced that she was leaving the next morning, I went upstairs to think it over.
There were five of us in the family and it wasn’t an “easy” place from a maid’s standpoint. We had engaged seven girls during the preceding twelve months and they had stayed for periods varying from one week to six months each.
As I recalled all the work and worry I had gone through to “break in” each one of these maids, I began to get “mad.” And before I left the room I made up my mind that if my strength would permit there would be no further “maid-problem” at our home. I was so tired of considering the maid instead of myself, or hearing eternal complaints, enduring veiled impudence and sullenness, having no family privacy and being in constant fear they would “quit on the spot” if I pointed out faults in their work or conduct that I felt I couldn’t endure it any longer! So I began to do my own work again.
The first three weeks were hard. I hadn’t been without a maid longer than two or three days in five years. And the marketing, meals, dishes, cleaning and bedroom work in addition to my regular sewing, mending and taking care of the three children proved almost too much for me. But I stuck it out!
Today I wouldn’t have a maid in the house—except in case of sickness. I have done all my own work for six months and never had so much time to myself. Our bank account is bigger by $300 and we are all healthier and happier than ever before.
Soon after Mary left, I found a wonderfully easy and practical way to keep house without a maid, and I know other women, whether they do their own housework or not, will be glad to hear about it.
My husband, who was afraid I would work myself ill, came home from the office one night and read me an article about an institute of domestic arts and courses that had developed a successful new method of teaching any woman right in her own home, during spare time, how to put her grocery, meat and fuel bills in order, how to select, buy, care for, prepare and serve her family healthful, appetizing food and how to do her work more easily, quickly, and pleasantly.
Somehow I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. In the first place, I thought I knew pretty well how to do my own work and had done it for ten years before we could afford a maid. And while I was not an “expert” on cooking, I thought I knew enough about it to satisfy all the needs of our home. As far as I could see, we weren’t spending an unreasonable amount of money for our groceries, meat or fuel.
I told Will I didn’t believe the Woman’s Institute was meant for women who had done their own housework for ten years or more. But he wanted me to at least learn more about this new plan. He said he had been in business for 25 years and was constantly finding more efficient ways of doing his work. So I yielded and had one of the children mail the coupon on the way to school next morning.
Well—to make a long story short—I joined the Woman’s Institute and took up the course in Foods and Cookery just to satisfy Will. But there was a surprise in store for me!
I had no idea any lessons could be so practical and fascinating! The very first one showed me how to make two pailfuls of coal go as far as three had formerly gone, how to arrange my kitchen to make my work easy and pleasant, what utensils and equipment I needed; which are the best and how to plan my work to save time.
The first two lessons alone settled the maid problem for me. And the rest of them were just as interesting and helpful. They taught me how to select, buy and care for all kinds of meats and vegetables—this has saved us at least $18 a month right along—how to plan means and make each one appetizing and wholesome as well as delightful to prepare and to serve; 40 different ways to prepare and serve appetizing, healthful cereal dishes; how to make 19 kinds of bread and 26 varieties of hot breads, waffles and biscuits; how to select good eggs, buy them when prices are low and preserve them; how to make 25 kinds of wholesome economical soups; how to get the best cuts of meat without paying the highest price, and 70 different ways to prepare and serve beef, pork, veal, mutton and lamb. Knowing so many ways to prepare things, you see, I know the least expensive ways. I can furnish my family an appetizing variety of dishes, and I know how to utilize every bit of food I buy—nothing goes to waste.
I also learned every point in the selection, preparation, serving, cooking and carving of poultry—all about fish and shellfish—the economy of using them and 60 of the best ways to serve them; how to utilize more vegetables than I ever knew existed—this revolutionized our diet, for none of us knew before how delicious and nourishing and super-healthful a vegetable diet can be!
Then there were the salads. I can now make 43 kinds of salads and 29 kinds of sandwiches; over 125 kinds of puddings, ices, pies and cakes, and 47 kinds of fruit desserts.
The success of the national campaign for food conservation [a home front effort during World War I] depends very largely on home-canning and preserving. My course gave me two intensely practical and complete lessons on this subject and taught me just how to can 40 kinds of fruit and vegetables and how to make 50 varieties of jellies, conserves, marmalades, jams and pickles. I keep our cellar full of these nourishing, economical, delicious foodstuffs. They save me many an anxious time when unexpected guests arrive. I love to get at my canning and I know now it isn’t “luck” but science that determines success in canning and preserving. No one could possibly make a mistake if they follow these clear and complete instructions my lessons give.
In short, this simple, practical, fascinating course of the Woman’s Institute taught me just how to make easy and pleasant the very tasks that had always been distasteful to me. And the delightful part of it is that I learned all these things right in my own home!
I was never so well and strong as after six months of doing my own work—my friends all speak of it. I enjoy my work and can accomplish twice as much as I ever could before. I am convinced that my training with the Woman’s Institute improved the children’s health at least 50 per cent. They are making better progress in school and are more active and robust. My husband says he no longer has dull days at the office. His head is clear and his salary has been increased twice this year—an almost unheard-of thing in the old conservative business house where he is employed! He says it’s all due to my knowledge of foods and cookery and that if other women would only realize that the stomach has just as much to do with success as brains, their husbands and sons would be more likely to “make good” in business. We haven’t been on a disagreeable, corrective diet, either. We never had such delicious meals and never enjoyed them so much as since Mary left.
These are some of the things my membership in the Woman’s Institute has meant to our home. I am going to take up Dressmaking or Millinery next—I haven’t quite decided which. I think every woman owes it to herself and her family to find out about this new plan. You don’t even have to write a letter unless you want to. If you just fill out and mail the convenient coupon below, you will receive by return mail—without obligation or expense—the full story of the Woman’s Institute and what it can do for you. Please say which subject interests you most.
Dept. 8K, Scranton, Penna.
Please send me one of your booklets and tell me how I can learn the subject marked below.
(Please specify where Miss or Mrs.)
Source: Gladys Hutton Chase, “How I Keep House Without a Maid,” Good Housekeeping, October 1918, 103.The New Housekeeping: Solving the Servant Problem