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“More Work for Mother”?: Scientific Management At Home

In the early 20th century, new household technology was both accomplished and inspired by the tremendous increase in American industrial production. As in industry, mechanization and scientific management were part of a larger reorganization of work. And as in industry, efficient housekeeping was partially a response to labor unrest—both the “servant problem” and the growing disquiet of middle-class wives. A major proponent of the new housekeeping, Christine Frederick was consulting household editor for Ladies Home Journal from 1912 to 1919 and the author of numerous books and pamphlets on scientific management in the home. First published in 1913, Frederick’s The New Housekeeping opened with her conversion to the “efficiency gospel” under the tutelage of her husband and a male efficiency expert. In chapter 12, Frederick exhorted middle-class women to escape the drudgery of housework by shedding their bad attitudes—and as she enumerated those, she revealed some of the pervasive discontents of women in the home.

Efficiency and the New House-Keeping

I was sitting by the library table, mending, while my husband and a business friend were talking, one evening about a year ago. I heard them use several new words and phrases so often that I stopped to listen.

“Efficiency,” I heard our caller say a dozen times; “standard practice,” "motion study,“ and”scientific management," he repeated over and over again. The words suggested interesting things, and as I listened I grew absorbed and amazed.

“What are you men talking about?” I interrupted. “I can’t help being interested. Won’t you please tell me what’efficiency' is, Mr. Watson? What were you saying about bricklaying?”

“Your husband and I were just discussing this new idea developed in business, called ‘efficiency,’ or ‘scientific management’,” Mr. Watson replied. “A group of men, Emerson and Taylor among others, have come to be known in the business and manufacturing world as ‘efficiency engineers.’ These men are able to go into a shop or factory, watch the men at work, make observations and studies of motions, and from these observations show where waste and false movements occur and why the men lose time. Then they go to work to build up the’efficiency' of that shop, so that the men do more work in less time, with less waste and greater output or gain to the owners, while the workers have shorter hours, higher pay, and better working conditions.”

“Just how do they find out what is wrong?” I asked, laying my sewing on the table, and listening eagerly, “and how do they actually increase this’efficiency'?”

“Well, for instance,” answered Mr. Watson,“this is how they improved the method of laying bricks: Formerly a workman stood before a wall, and when he wanted to lay a brick he had to stoop, pick a brick weighing four and a half pounds from a mixed pile at his feet, and carry it to the wall. Suppose he weighed one hundred and eighty pounds; that worker would have to I lower his one hundred and eighty pounds four feet every time he picked up each of the two thousand bricks he laid in a day! Now an efficiency expert, after watching bricklayers at work, devised a simple little table which holds the bricks in an orderly pile at the workman’s side. They are brought to him in orderly piles, proper side up. Because he doesn’t need to stoop or sort, the same man who formerly could lay only one hundred and twenty bricks an hour can now lay three hundred and fifty bricks, and he uses only five motions, where formerly it required eighteen.”

“That sounds like a fairy tale,” I laughed skeptically.“ What else wonderful can they do with this magic wand of’efficiency'?”

“It does sound like magic,” Mr. Watson replied, “but it is only common sense. There is just one best way, one shortest way to perform any task involving work done with the hands, or the hands and head working in cooperation. These efficiency men merely study to find that one best and shortest way, and when they have found it they call that task’standardized.' Very often the efficiency is increased because the task is done with fewer motions, with better tools, because of even such a simple thing as changing the height of a work-bench, or the position of the worker.”

“Yes,” my husband put in, "by applying the principles of efficiency, manufacturers are enabled to save thousands of dollars. You know, Brandeis, in the famous railroad rate hearing at Washington, showed that if the railroads would work under conditions of scientific management, they could save a million dollars a day."

“Why, I suppose you smart men and efficiency experts will soon try to tell me and all the other women that washing dishes can be ‘standardized,”’ I bantered, “or that you could save a million dollars if we would run our homes on’scientific management'!”

“Now, Mrs. Frederick,” replied Mr. Watson seriously, “that is really not too much to imagine. There is no older saying than’woman’s work is never done.' If the principles of efficiency can be successfully carried out in every kind of shop, factory, and business, why couldn’t they be carried out equally well in the home?”

“Because,” I answered,"in a factory the workers do just one thing, like sewing shoes, or cutting envelopes, and it is easy to standardize one set of operations. But in a home there are dozens, yes, hundreds, of tasks requiring totally different knowledge and movements. There is ironing, dusting, cooking, sewing, baking, and care of children. No two tasks are alike. Instead of working as she would in a factory, at one task, the home-worker peels potatoes, washes dishes, and darns stockings all in the same hour. Yes, and right in the midst of peeling the potatoes she has to drop her knife, and see why the baby is crying.

“You men simply don’t understand anything about work in a home,” I continued, heatedly."One day a woman sweeps and dusts, and the next she irons, and the next she bakes, and in-between-times she cares for babies, and sews, answers call bells and phones, and markets, and mends the lining of her husband’s coat, and makes a coconut cake for Sunday!

"Perhaps she can afford one maid—perhaps she belongs to the fortunate but very small class that can afford two. But even then she has to see that servants don’t waste, that they work the best way, and, in addition, put up with their foibles, which is almost as bad as having to do all the work herself.

“Do you mean to tell me that so many kinds of household tasks could be ‘standardized,’ or that the principles of scientific management could be applied in the home?” I concluded a little triumphantly. "I’ve talked with numbers of maids, and they all have the same complaint: that there are too many kinds of work to be done by the same person, that they never have any dependable ‘off hours,’ and that no two families do the same task in the same way. That is why they prefer to work in factories where one set of operations can be standardized; and there you have the whole crux of the servant question."

Mr. Watson shifted his chair with a realization that he had been put up against no simple problem, nor one in which he had experience. Then he answered, "Well, I hadn’t considered the idea before, but I believe so strongly in the principles of efficiency and have seen them work out so satisfactorily in every kind of shop where there are different kinds of work and where the owners have said just what you say, that I absolutely know that these principles must have application to any kind of work, and that they could be carried out successfully in the home if you women would only faithfully apply them.

“I must leave now, but I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll come over some evening to talk to you, and see what we can figure out on home efficiency. I certainly don’t see why you couldn’t work out some of its principles in a mighty interesting way. Suppose you read this book on scientific management?”

After Mr. Watson had gone, I turned eagerly to my husband. “George,” I said, "that efficiency gospel is going to mean a great deal to modern housekeeping, in spite of some doubts I have. Do you know that I am going to work out those principles here in our home! I won’t have you men doing all the great and noble things! I’m going to find out how these experts conduct investigations, and all about it, and then apply it to my factory, my business, my home."

The more I thought about it, the stronger hold the idea took upon me. Just a few days previous I had been reading an article by a prominent clubwoman who was solving the servant problem by substituting expensive household equipment in place of her three servants. Another review discussed the number of women who were living in apartments and boarding-houses, and who refused to shoulder the burdens of real homemaking. A third writer enlarged on the lack of youthful marriages, a lack which he claimed was due to the fact that young women of this era refuse to enter the drudgery of household tasks. On all sides it was the problem of the home, the problem of housekeeping and homemaking.

The home problem for the woman of wealth is simple: it is solved. Money, enough of it, will always buy service, just as it can procure the best in any other regard. The home problem for the women of the very poor is also fairly simple. The women of the poor themselves come from the class of servants. Their homemaking is far less complex, their tastes simple, and society demands no appearance-standard from them. Added to this, organized philanthropy is by every means teaching the women of the poor how to keep house in the most scientific, efficient manner. Settlements, domestic science classes, model kitchens and tenements, nursing stations, slum depots, charity boards, health boards, visiting nurses, night schools, and mission classes are teaching, free, the women of the poor how to transmute their old-world ignorance into the shining knowledge of the new hemisphere.

The problem, the real issue, confronts the middle-class woman of slight strength and still slighter means, and of whom society expects so much—the wives of ministers on small salary, wives of bank clerks, shoe salesmen, college professors, and young men in various businesses starting to make their way. They are refined, educated women, many with a college or business training. They have one or more babies to care for, and limited finances to meet the situation.

The soaring cost of living and the necessity for keeping up a fair standard of appearances obligatory on the middle class prevent any but the more than“average” well-to-do from employing regular help. Among ten average families I know (scattered the country over) whose incomes range from $1,200 to $2,500 a year, the occupations range as follows:

Two high-grade mechanics

One young doctor

One salesman in photo supplies

One lawyer

One salesman in office equipment

One advertising man

One artist and illustrator

One literary man

Only one family of the ten employs regular help. The others depend on intermittent cleaning and a woman to do the washing. It is this better class of refined but small-salary-family woman who becomes “all tired out,” who never has any“time to herself,” or who is forced to endure the slipshod methods of one retreating Lizzie after another because she cannot afford experienced help. According to figures compiled by the Business Bourse, there are 1, 677,150 families in the country employing domestic help, while there are 19,023,952 families keeping house. In other words, only 8 per cent. of the families in the United States keep domestic help!

Figures of the United States Census show that each decade fewer women are entering service, chiefly because many new and apparently more attractive fields of employment are constantly being opened to the class who formerly confined their work to service alone. That is, there are fewer servants, there will continue to be less, and the wages of those few will be higher than at present.

After Mr. Watson’s talk on efficiency I began to consider this middle class—to which I belong—and whose difficulties I faced every day. I had two babies and was struggling with young and inexperienced help. If’efficiency' accomplished such marvelous results for the shop and factory, would it not accomplish as much for my home, if I studied its principles carefully, and practiced them intelligently?

I determined then to give this gospel of efficiency a fair trial, but first I wanted Mr. Watson, himself an efficiency engineer, to explain it thoroughly.

“Now, Mr. Watson,” I said a few evenings later,“ I want you to explain the principles of efficiency to me—the how, the why—so that I and all the other homemakers can understand it fully.”

“Gladly,” replied Mr. Watson;"I’ll begin by stating the twelve principles on which the science of efficiency rests:

1. Ideals

2. Common Sense

3. Competent Counsel

4. Standardized Operations

5. Standardized Conditions

6. Standard Practice

7. Dispatching

8. Scheduling

9. Reliable Records

10. Discipline

11. Fair Deal

12. Efficiency Reward

"You notice that the first principle is that of ‘ideals.’ The first thing an efficiency expert finds out when he wishes to improve the standard of a plant is, what are its ideals? What is it running for? These experts say it is astounding how many people are running businesses and don’t know why they are running them! I sometimes think that many women don’t consciously know why they are running their homes. The ideal should be so strong, so clearly kept in mind, that it will overweigh any present petty difficulties. Ideals look to the future, they are the’something' that guides, directs, propels the whole machinery, whether of business or the home—do you get my meaning?

"Women do have ideals as to why they run their homes,“ Mr. Watson continued ”only they are not always concretely expressed to themselves. It may be health, it may be spotless cleanliness, social progress, or something else. I know a woman who takes her babies out for a morning’s airing and leaves the parlor undusted, even though she dislikes untidiness. But her ideal of health comes first. Then another woman has turned her guest-room over to her two boys for their wireless and electricity apparatus. You know what a pretty guest-room means to a woman! But this mother has such a strong ideal of the future training and habits of her boys that she is willing to sacrifice a present pleasure for a remote end. Ideals can be so strong as to buoy up, overweigh difficulty, and be a vital spur to effort, in the home particularly. The clearer a woman’s ideals, the easier her work, the greater her strength and success. She must know the’why' of her business.

“Common Sense is the next principle, and some people think this homely term covers all the principles. It is only common sense not to stoop for a pot if you can hang it where you don’t need to stoop—and it is efficiency as well.”

“And what does’competent counsel' mean?” I questioned.

“Competent Counsel means expert advice and help. The efficiency engineers who are called in to large factories to find what is wrong, or suggest better methods, are one kind of competent counsel.”

“Yes, but there are no efficiency experts in housekeeping, are there?” I inquired.

"If the housewife would only realize it, there is more expert advice being offered her free than is being offered any manufacturer. Take the pages in all the best publications devoted to the science of home management. The finest specialists and experts are retained by magazines to tell women how to care for babies, prepare foods, how to economize and how to make clothing. Both the booklets and the advertisements of various advertisers inform the housewife of new methods, recipes, devices, materials. The so-called ‘Farmers’ Bulletins‘ issued by the Department of Agriculture are many of them equal to a correspondence course in home economics, as for instance, ’Eggs and Their Uses as Food,‘ ’Economical Cuts of Meats,‘ which are sent free to any one on application. Perhaps you do not know how to use youroven properly. Large corporations like the gas company and others are only too glad to send a representative to tell you just how to use your stove, and inform you on other points. I learned the other day that it costs a certain sum an hour for the large burner, so much for the small burner, and so much for the little ’simmerer.‘ This exact knowledge should help one to save fuel. Demonstrators of other concerns, food and household shows, all act as’competent counsel’ to the housewife and homemaker.

“Then comes Standardized Operations, which includes the oft-mentioned ‘motion study,’ ” Mr. Watson continued. "The homemaker takes countless steps and motions in every task, many of which are entirely avoidable. She may walk twenty feet to hang up the egg-beater; she may wash dishes in a way that wastes time and effort; or she lifts separately each piece of laundry from the basket at her feet, when the efficient thing would be to place the whole basket at her own level. Standardized conditions mean the right height of work-table, proper light, ventilation, and the correct tool for the purpose. In shops and factories where the experts have studied the manner in which work is done, and where, after repeated experiment, the one best method and best set of conditions has been determined, this best, shortest and most efficient way is written down so that all workers may read it. That is, the task is reduced to’standard practice,' and the housekeeper can find countless tasks which she can reduce to standard practice, with a saving of effort, time, and vitality."

“What is this next point of ‘Dispatching ’?” I asked.“ I know the best way to do a number of things, but I never can plan my work so as to get it done without interruption. I begin to cut out a waist, and the children want a drink and I have to stop and get it, and when I come back my pattern and goods are all upset, and I have almost forgotten what I was doing.”

“There,” laughed Mr. Watson, "is just where you need the principles of ‘dispatching,’ and ‘scheduling.’ Planning and arranging work come under these points. For instance, a train starts from New York at 4 P. M., and arrives at Chicago the next morning at nine. The’dispatching' consists in moving the train along so that it will reach every station at the right time. Applied to housework it would mean that there was a definite regular time for each task, so that each task was done at a certain time in relation to other tasks. You wouldn’t cut out your waist unless you were sure you wouldn’t be interrupted, you see.

“The’Schedule' is the eighteen hours it takes the train to reach Chicago, and it is based on various trials and methods which enable it to make Chicago in just eighteen hours and no less. A housewife can find out her schedules for various tasks, how long it takes to make a cake, or clean the bathroom. Then, when she knows her schedule, she can more accurately plan or dispatch her work without fear of interruption.”

“Very often I read some helpful article in the magazines,” I remarked,“but when I want it, I can’t find it.”

“Ah, I thought so,” Mr. Watson laughed. "You need’Reliable Records‘ in your home- management, I see.’ We will take that up in detail later.

“And if the remaining principles of ‘Discipline,’ ' Fair Deal ‘ and ’Efficiency Reward‘ could be carried out in the home,’' he concluded, ”I venture to say that this whole awesome’servant problem' would be solved. One of the remarkable things about scientific management is that there have been few, if any, strikes in the shops where its principles are in practice. The men remain because they are treated fairly, and their interests looked out for by the owner.

“Ninety per cent. of servant troubles are at bottom the fault of the mistress,” Mr. Watson declared. “Now if a woman knew and applied scientifically the principle of ‘fair play’ her help wouldn’t leave her, sick, in bed, as I have heard some maids have done. An efficient mistress would handle her help as scientifically as the manager of a big shop. She will use the principle of ‘efficiency reward’ with her helpers, and know how to secure from them that’initiative'—that something over and above mere work which is essential, while at the same time she improves the conditions under which they work.”

Mr. Watson looked at me across the table.“Now you understand clearly what efficiency means—not expensive equipment or impractical theories, but simple principles of work which enable you and every homemaker to do her household tasks in the best way, with least effort and greatest success.”

“If efficiency in the home can accomplish all you make me believe it can,” I replied,“a new housekeeping will have come, and homemaking will be the greatest profession.”

Developing the Homemaker’s Personal Efficiency

We have talked a great deal about methods and systems, plans and schedules in the household: now comes the most vital, the most difficult point of all, and yet the keystone of the whole matter—the personal attitude of the woman toward her work.

Without properly applying the modern ideas of efficiency to her own mind (which is in itself a complete and separate organization) the whole plan of “the new housekeeping” falls to pieces. No stream can rise higher than its source, and no household efficiency can be greater than the personal efficiency of the woman who directs it. This explains why there are literally millions of women in the world to-day who feel “up against it” about their households. They have helpful household magazines a-plenty, and labor-saving devices a-plenty, but the never-ending-ness, the detailed-ness, the wearing-ness of their work become too much for them. It closes over women like water over a drowning person, and women confess themselves overcome, actually assuming the mental attitude, in regard to their work, of slave to master, instead of master to slave.

I never realized how terribly true and wide spread this condition is until I became consulting staff contributor on the greatest woman’s magazine in the country, and received hundreds of letters from women of all classes, incomes, and temperaments, from all over the world. The burden of their story has always the same terrible minor note of cowed despair in it, whether they live on the plains of Nebraska or on the Scotch heaths across the sea—the same outcry against something that seems to stifle and bind them; the same despairing resignation that there is no possible relief; the same feeling of personal helplessness. And, I am not at all ashamed to say, I have experienced the same feeling with regard to my own household, especially with the problem of caring for small children with but little help.

The actual, widespread state of mind of many millions of women may be classified and divided about as follows, as I have excellent reason to believe after the closest and most confidential correspondence with many hundreds of women everywhere:

(1) A general feeling that they are weighted down by fate and circumstances, and that their housework is a kind of ogre who has them in his grip, from which they cannot escape, or against which they do not seem to be making any headway.

(2) An attitude which mistakes the physical work of housekeeping for the real ends of homemaking—which thinks it is making a home when in reality it is only keeping a house; which measures housekeeping ability by the amount and exhaustiveness of the physical work accomplished.

(3) An automatic, dull sort of attitude which goes through the routine with as little thought or analysis as possible, following any traditional methods, aiming only to get it finished as soon as possible, and skeptical of any new way of getting work accomplished.

(4) A mania for some one phase of housework—such as cleanliness, decoration, cooking, etc., on which all originality and effort is spent, to the neglect of general efficiency.

(5) A puttering love for all housework, to the extent that work is prolonged, elaborated, and repeated, which takes up several times more energy than necessary.

(6) A general lack of confidence, and inability to find and apply remedies for conditions they know to be wrong; a procrastination in applying remedies they already know to be effective; a half-heartedness and lack of patience and thoroughness in applying any new methods or routine; failure to maintain discipline over themselves.

(7) An attitude of mere tolerance toward housework—preferring business or other careers, looking impatiently and contemptuously on all housework, hoping to be relieved of it entirely some day, and exchange it for something“more interesting.”

Every one of these attitudes of mind is really poisonous and antagonistic to either efficiency or the highest personal happiness and character. These seven typical attitudes of mind have hung like millstones around the neck of the real emancipation and development of women. The first great work of efficiency in the home, and of liberation of women from household drudgery, is to exchange any or all of these attitudes for the efficient attitude, my interpretation of which I write down here in italics so as to give it every possible emphasis:

First of all, the efficient attitude of mind for the housewife and homemaker is to realize that, no matter how difficult and trying are the household tasks and burdens she finds placed upon her, there positively are ways to meet and conquer them efficiently—if she approaches these problems vigorously, hopefully, and patiently.

Second, that far from being dull drudgery, homemaking in all its details is fascinating and stimulating if a woman applies to it her best intelligence and culture.

Third, that no matter how good a housekeeper and homemaker a woman may already be, she will be eager not only to TRY, but to persistently and intelligently keep on trying, to apply in her home the scientific methods of work and management already proved and tried in shop and office throughout the world.

The inefficient attitude of mind always shows itself by the tendency to “run around in circles” without getting anywhere. It doesn’t start out right in making a judgment, because it doesn’t deliberately put the problem before the various viewpoints of mind which ought to pass on it. It flies like a shuttlecock from one consideration to another, never arriving at a conclusion which it itself can trust. We must come to conclusions and definite plans of action on a problem before we really can say we have done good, efficient thinking.

The mind must be taken in hand, managed and organized, in order to be efficient. It is a whole world in itself. We, the master of it, whose will it ought to obey, may be (and in thousands and thousands of cases are) as helplessand ineffective as a school teacher unable to manage a roomful of boys. One dare not let the mind doze and dream too much without coming to conclusions; the mind must be commanded and manipulated. It must be stimulated and encouraged and studied. It does not produce fine results by chance or accident or inherited genius. Left alone, the brain tends to idle and to make all our actions and thoughts automatic, dull, and habitlike. Our minds do not ordinarily prefer to think efficiently; they love to see things as they prefer to see them, rather than as they are. They love to dwell in impossible air-castles and imagine themselves in ideal surroundings. Therefore, any one wishing an alert mind must systematically coax, lure, or interest it to concentrate efficiently on problems of life as they are. So many thousands of women let their minds “play hookey,” so to speak, and become unable to think through to the end of a problem and arrive at efficient conclusions in which they have faith.

By far the best and most permanent way to teach the mind to think efficiently is to really interest it. People who are not intensely interested in a subject actually do not see the situation as it really is. They miss many wonderfully interesting elements and details in what they consider the common, uninteresting things of life. That dishwashing involves half a dozen sciences, and that logic, philosophy, and sociology have relation to it, seems silly to many women. Yet that’s what the bricklayers said about bricklaying when Gilbreth revolutionized it with motion study science; and it took Maeterlinck to see the bookfuls of marvelous things in the simple beehive.

A fireman arriving at a fire sees many more things than the ordinary spectator, who usually sees nothing but smoke and flames, and feels excited. The fireman is cool and his mind calmly takes up point after point about the direction of the wind, the draughts, etc.; and while others run around helplessly he is intelligently and often successfully mastering the fire.

The woman who interests herself deeply in the smallest detail and new angle or idea about her work is preparing, like the fireman, to act intelligently and successfully under trial and difficulty. Just as the efficient fireman loves to use his mind against any and all kinds of bad situations, so the efficient housewife loves to tackle anything that confronts her with her trained, efficient attitude of mind, taking hope, zest, and cheer in her job, and using all the knowledge, help, and suggestion from anywhere that promise to prove useful.

Notice that, as in the case of the fireman, it is mind far more than muscle that wins. The only reason that man is not still a savage is his capacity to analyze, study, and plan. Women have, however, relied far too much on custom and their emotions, with the result that they have not lifted their sphere of labor out of the hard physical drudgery era, as man has lifted his office and shop, by scientific management and invention.

We have had plenty of invention for the household, but the great need is now for more science of management, and, above all, for more efficient thinking and analyzing. For in the home, as everywhere else, efficiency must start in the mind of the directing spirit of the establishment. Thousands of men are inefficient, but are made efficient by submitting to the direction of efficient men who stand over them. It is the great misfortune of women as homemakers that each one of them must stand alone as the directing head of a separate establishment, without any trained, efficient mind to guide and direct them. They must apply what efficiency they have or can learn, alone; while men in office and shop can not only be under the guidance of efficient foremen and overseers, but they have in addition the social stimulus of working among other men in competition.

It is therefore immensely, terribly important that women get themselves in connection with modern efficiency science, and, most important of all, bring themselves up to a really efficient attitude of mind.

What are the practical steps which must be taken to get this efficient attitude of mind, and what does the efficient attitude of mind do when it tackles a problem? The methods of efficient thinking about a problem are the same in the home as anywhere else, and may be listed as follows:

(1) To separate a problem carefully into its various parts.

(2) To look all the parts of the problem courageously, fully, and sincerely in the face, missing nothing.

(3) To arrive at definite, positive, practical conclusions about each part of the problem, and then about the whole problem, after looking at it from many angles.

(4) To“check back,” or prove, each judgment or conclusion by going over it again before accepting it as final.

(5) To take definite steps to put the conclusions into a plan of action, and stay by it until it is carried through successfully, or else replaced by another plan of action to fit new conditions.

(6) To refuse to let the mind wallow and dawdle around a problem without arriving at definite, actionable conclusions; or to arrive at conclusions without putting them into practice and testing them out; or to find a plan unsatisfactory without at once re-analyzing the whole matter and getting to work upon another plan of action.

It is deadly indecisiveness which has held back so many women, and given another arrow to the jokesmith to aim at our sex. Efficient thinking routs out indecision like fog driven before the rising sun. Women are also accused of deliberately cheating themselves by ignoring unpleasant facts and conditions. This has cost homemakers more than they realize.

Woman’s vanity has often kept her from admitting that many of her problems are so distressing simply because of her own lack of personal efficiency, not because of circumstances, fate, or other people. In most cases, however, she never even suspects that she is not as efficient as she might be, and points to the hard manual labor she does as proof of her efficiency—as if that didn’t prove just the opposite!

Many women have hard, even terrible, burdens to bear for which they are in no way responsible; but even if these burdens cannot be lightened, after sincere, efficient thinking and acting, there still remains one solution—to carry these burdens with an efficient attitude of mind. Such an attitude may be the entire difference between happiness and unhappiness.

The efficient attitude of mind is really the balance-wheel to the homemakers' entire life and work. I am more interested in making such an attitude universal among women than I am in urging upon them motion study, dispatching and scheduling, and other methods, for I know well that these will come if the attitude of mind is efficient; while I also know that they cannot come without it.

You see, I am so deeply convinced that the nutshell of the whole matter is that women master their work, instead of letting their work master them, that I am ready to recommend that all methods and schedules occasionally be thrown overboard in order to attain mastery and independence if necessary or advisable.

The end and aim of home efficiency is not a perfect system of work, or scientific scheduling, or ideal cleanliness and order; it is the personal happiness, health, and progress of the family in the home. The work, the science, the system, the schedule, are but some of the means to that end, not the end itself. We must use them, or sidetrack them, just as needs be, to attain the real ends of homemaking. The point I want to make clear is that in trying to master our work we do not want to be mastered by method and system, thus jumping from the frying pan into the fire!

The 100 per cent. efficient person is not the one who ties himself up in a wonderful snarl of method and system—but who makes his mind so clear and efficient that both the work and the system are his slaves, when he gets into action. Therefore I would feel very badly about it if my earnest plea for a more efficient attitude of mind should result in nothing else but increased slavish devotion to work. I do not call that woman efficient who thinks it a sacrilege to change her schedule of work, leave dishes unwashed and house upset to take advantage of a pleasant afternoon for a jaunt in the woods with the children. Neither do I call that woman efficient who complains that her schedule of work leaves her no time to read a good book or attend an afternoon musical or club meeting. Efficiency would be a sorry thing if it simply meant a prisonlike, compulsory routine of duties. But it doesn’t, please believe me. Its very purpose is more liberty, more leisure, a shrewder sense of values, and the elimination of wasted energy.

I once knew a woman who dusted the back of every picture in her home every day. She believed this was real efficiency. I also know a woman who spoiled a delightful camping experience by so elaborating the simple work of camp-caretaking that she rarely had time to enjoy the woods and fields so plentiful about her, and complained after some months of camping that she had never had a single day of rest! This is typical of a large class of women whose sense of values are garbled by inefficient thinking.

Women have need for the very best of logic, culture, and mental training in order that they may judge homemaking values truly.

Men and the Household Efficiency Movement

Because the science of efficiency originated in man’s world of the office, shop, and factory, a large responsibility rests on men to assist women in its application in the home. For centuries women’s work has been carried on in the isolation of the home. Man’s work during the same centuries has been carried on in the outside world of business, which gave him stimulation and encouragement. His world of business interests provided him with business associates with whom he was able to confer, and he was forced by economic pressure and competitive necessity to improve his work or fail.

Until very recently woman has not had the stimulation of other women interested in her work of homemaking, and particularly she has had no competitive spur to urge her to improve her methods or raise her particular work of homemaking to a higher development. If a man ran his business inefficiently he failed; but if a woman ran her home inefficiently the only result was a poorly fed and clothed family, which threw still greater burdens on society.

Because of this seclusion and lack of stimulation, women have come to regard their work more from the emotional standpoint than from the scientific. It is not easy for them to reason, analyze, and minutely study home problems. As even an intelligent friend of mine said to me when I was explaining how I standardized a certain task:“You don’t mean to think I would be so silly as to bother which hand it was I raised first.”

For ages men have been our scientists and discoverers, the originators and developers of industrial systems and methods. Because of his long experience in the industrial world and his keener scientific aptitude and his knowledge of the efficiency doctrine in the shop, the factory, and the office, man most properly must come to assist woman in establishing her home on bases on which he has for so long maintained his own businesses, and which he created in the first place.

Viewed broadly, is it not a paradox for man to systematize office after office, factory after factory, and never give a thought to the running of his home, which is the object for which all factories and offices exist?

There are exceptions who happily prove the rule, but it is, I think, true that the majority of men are indifferent to the way that a house is run (except from a financial standpoint) and indifferent as to whether their wives drudge or not. I know many cases of wealthy men who indulge themselves in every office convenience, but who refuse their wives permission to purchase kitchen equipment of the better kind; and rarely is it that men who have excellent systems and methods in their business think of discussing them with their wives, or adapting them in their homes.

If for no other reason than selfish interest alone, man should be concerned that his wife or mother manage her household after efficiency principles. One of the frequent complaints of both men and women is that the excess of housework forces a woman to forego much of the pleasure and companionship of her husband’s company. Pressure of housework often prevents her, after marriage, from being the“good fellow” that she was as a sweetheart. Perhaps if man would step in and show a sympathetic understanding of woman’s work in the home, assisting her to apply in it the efficient methods he applies in his own office, he would profit by more of her companionship.

In certain homes I know of, both man and woman are mutually interested in the other’s business. The woman may have worked out a system of home accounts, or her husband has brought from his office various devices like the “tickler,” which she can use in the home. In my own case my husband’s sympathetic cooperation and assistance have put me in touch with the most advanced office systems, have encouraged me to a more businesslike handling of my finances, and stimulated me in every point to regard homemaking a profession of equal importance to his own. Other husbands I know have cooperated with their wives in improving the kitchen arrangement, or in effecting clever contrivances and helps for their convenience.

Too often the woman is “drudgifying”—for what? A man who slavishly accepts her work and sacrifice, or for children who do not understand the effort and work she puts forth. He receives praise for his work from his business associates, but never thinks of bestowing praise upon his junior partner for her equally important share in the business of life which they both manage together.

If man will cooperate and assist woman in bringing about this“new housekeeping,” certainly a greater companionship between them will be created. It is sometimes complained that women are not interested in business. Is it not equally true that man is not interested in the home? If both will become interested in the business of the other it will bring man’s world and woman’s world closer together, and create a stronger tie between the man and the woman.

Some definite things can be done by men who desire to interest their wives in greater efficiency in the home. A visit to a well-managed office or shop, with a homely demonstration of the plans in operation, is very good. Going to hear a lecture on scientific management is apt to start enthusiasm for the movement.

Perhaps most effective of all is to interest other men whose wives are friends. When men succeed in arousing some interest in their wives, such a little social group of women will work out the new idea much more quickly and spiritedly than any woman singly. The purchase of good books is another necessary step.

In all efforts of a “mere man” to lead women toward a new conception of housework and method, much tact and patience are necessary. In some cases women resent male interference or suggestion in house matters, while in many more cases women bear their heavy and troublesome problems alone without sympathy, and quickly respond to a man’s kindly and intelligent interest in them. The most formidable obstacle is the idea of many women that a man“never does, nor can, understand what she is up against,” and that in the business office or factory things can be done that cannot possibly be applicable in the home.

A great deal of responsibility therefore rests on men to help lift women out of this fallacy, and move the world forward. Man’s pay for this will be increased business, for the inefficient woman holds back business development.

Source: Christine Frederick, “New Housekeeping,” Ladies' Home Journal, 13 September, 20 October, 19 November, and 16 December 1912. Reprinted in The New Housekeeping. Efficiency Studies in House Management (Garden City and New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1926), 3–22, 181–203.

See Also:The New Middle-Class Housekeeping: "How I Keep House without a Maid"
Patriotic Housekeeping: Good Housekeeping Recruits Kitchen Soldiers
The "One Best Way" to Wash: A Home Economist Explains
"I Am Only a Piece of Machinery": Housewives Analyze Their Problems
The New Housekeeping: Solving the Servant Problem