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. Machines offered salvation through technology; scientific housework promised satisfaction through systematic and efficient methods. But middle-class wives themselves voiced a discontent that could not be addressed through new purchases or better systems. In 1923, Woman’s Home Companion solicited readers' letters for a series that offered the magazine as a clearinghouse for women’s household problems and solutions. In response, nearly two thousand women wrote letters to the magazine. Skeptical of the solutions afforded by washing machines and efficiency methods, many of them called for cooperative housekeeping, paid work, help from children and husbands, and equality in marriage—solutions not contemplated by the enthusiasts of either scientific housekeeping or the new household technology.
This Page is for You
If you are a home-making, housekeeping woman
Beginning with the February issue, this magazine will publish a series of vitally important articles, some of which, we hope, will be written by some of you who read this page.
The Companion has won its place as a necessity in your home by consistently presenting in its pages the most practical expert information available in your special job as home-maker and housekeeper. Home-making has taken its official place among the great industries of America. The Department of Labor has estimated the actual work performed by American home-making, housekeeping mothers as worth, in dollars and cents, not less than ten billions of dollars annually.
The purchasing power of home-keeping women has also been reduced to hard figures. It is conceded that 85 per cent of all the money in circulation passes through women’s hands.
With the growing recognition of her responsibility, the home-making woman has consistently improved her technique as a matter of course. In many homes the budget has long since departed from the realm of theory, and has become a living part of the daily régime, exactly as it is in a business office. The arrangement of equipment in a modern kitchen is as carefully thought out as is the arrangement of tools in a cabinet-maker’s shop.
More Time for Everything
In fact, the routine of housework in the up-to-date home is so systematized as to give the maximum amount of time for matters other than housework. Time for clubs, time for politics, time for play, time for reading, for travel, for motoring, for theatres and lectures and music; this is what we all want. Housework is no longer considered an end in itself; it is merely the thing that has to be done in order that we and our families may have attractive homes and satisfying food and clothing.
But, notwithstanding the strides that have been made in administering, financing, and operating many enlightened households, there is left, even in these, an irreducible minimum of work for the individual that sometimes reaches staggering proportions.
A woman, for instance, with six children and a husband, and with no help save an occasional day worker, and no money for the more costly labor-saving devices, simply cannot organize her necessary duties so that she will have leisure for pleasures and activities outside the daily routine. In such a household the most modest requirements for food, shelter, and clothing become a driving force that pushes aside relentlessly any irrelevant longing. In short, there is a point below which the most efficient executive in the world cannot cut costs, and steps and hours of labor. Many households face that situation.
Is There Any Answer?
Throughout the fifty years of its history, the Companion has maintained its leadership in every progressive step toward less and better housework.
Just as our campaign for Better Babies helped to establish the standards of normal infant health; as our campaign for Clean Groceries was the forerunner and initiator of the well-kept corner store, the immaculate city market of to-day; so this campaign is the opportunity for women once more to work together for a common end.
That housework may be better done and more easily accomplished is our immediate goal. And our ultimate purpose is the creation of more leisure and a freer attitude of mind for the essentials of home-making.
The true labors of the home are those of the heart; its real products are companionship, understanding, love. But buried beneath these, like the roots of a tree, lie the great fundamental necessities of mankind—food and shelter. It is with these that women work, and it is the problems they offer that must be solved.
What is the answer? Is there any answer?
We believe there is. We believe that we have yet to master the one big essential: the art of pooling our problems. Home-makers, 95 per cent of them, are playing a lone hand. They are not only doing their work, but meeting their problems—alone.
We get together for church work, for civic and charitable and political work; but when it is a question of the worries and deprivations of our daily lives as women, most of us shut them up in our hearts instead of putting them to the test of neighborly discussion and invention.
What the Companion Purposes to Do
But here and there are indications of a new order of things. Small groups in widely scattered communities have found ways of working things out together. The Companion has published accounts of several experiments that have proved successful. Every such experiment is a step, even if a short one, toward the goal of more leisure, greater economy of time and money more opportunity for inspiration because of less drudgery.
The purpose of the Companion’s new series for 1923 is to work out on a big, practical scale the best possible solution of the household drudgery problem.
The magazine will act as a clearing house for experiments tried and found good. Generous prizes will be offered to readers who bring us reports of successful ventures in getting together. We will send trained investigators to watch the working out of any especially new and practical ideas. We will devote our ingenuity and our resources to the furthering of such plans as prove practicable.
If there is a way of bringing help right to the doorstep of every busy mother who reads the Companion—and we believe there is—no effort will be spared to accomplish this.
For the past six months two women have been investigating the progress already made along these lines.
Enough information has already been unearthed to convince us that there is a mine of material of the most vital concern to every woman who believes herself to be overburdened with home duties.
The Companion's plan is:
(1) To bring this information in workable form to every reader who needs it.
(2) To promote, by means of special experiments and the cooperation of various organizations, the extension of practical cooperative work in cooking, cleaning, laundering, taking care of children, nursing, and in some cases housing.
The women who will develop the work and assist in conducting it are Ethel Puffer Howes and Myra Reed Richardson. Mrs. Howes is a well-known writer and was formerly a teacher of psychology at Wellesley and Simmons Colleges; and one of the original organizers of the National Women’s Land Army [World War I organization promoting home-front conservation], Mrs. Richardson was, until her marriage, editor of a woman’s magazine; and previously made extensive sociological investigations in industry and in the home, in connection with her newspaper work.
The first article in this series by Mrs. Howes and Mrs. Richardson will appear in the February issue, together with further details of the plan and an important announcement of prize offers.
by Ethel Puffer Howes and Myra Reed Richardson
On the editorial page in January, the Companion sent a message and a promise to its readers. The message went straight to the hearts of many thousand women, who eagerly welcomed any plan that would gain for them more leisure, greater economy of time and money, more opportunity for inspiration. The promise was that the Companion would act as a clearing-house for experiments tried and found good; and that it would bring the desired information in workable form to its readers.
In the February issue of the Companion, in an article entitled “We Women,” we issued a call to the mothers of America to get together and find a way out from under our heavy load of household drudgery. We saw the goal, and some of the roads that would lead to it, and we promised to open up these trails to the readers of the Companion who would tell us something of their problems.
The magazine was no sooner out than the letters began pouring in, practical, sensible, pathetic, hopeless, inspiring letters, nearly two thousand of them. From every section of the country they came, and from every kind and size of community. We have spent weeks analyzing and classifying the wealth of fact and suggestion contained in these communications, and it is now evident that through the interest, the ideas, the will to arrive, of these millions of American women, wonderful ways are opening up.
There Must Be a Solution
“Yes, we have a problem, and we do need help” these women have written to us.“We cannot wash and iron and scrub and cook and garden and can and sweep, and still be the mothers and wives and citizens we ought to be. For ages we have endured and accepted this endless routine as inevitable, but now suddenly we know there must be a solution and that if we work together we shall find it.”
The Companion reader who sent us the following letter expresses the thought of many:
We should stop looking at our reading, our club work, our visiting, our playing, our companionship with our families as selfish pleasures; mere relief from necessary drudgery. These things are just as necessary in our home-making as are the mechanics of housekeeping. There can be no higher “must” in our lives than that of keeping the love and respect of our husbands and children, and good housekeeping is only one of the means of attaining our ideal. When“we women” realize this we need not worry long about our accomplishing it, for the way always follows the will.
“Together!”—that was our goal in the beginning. But effective cooperation means many minds and many hands; it means the will to work together. We could not guess the extent of that will; but now we know, from the letters that have filled our mail bags since the publication of“We Women,” that it exists as a tremendous force.
Reading these letters was to us an amazing experience. It was a revelation of unrealized power in our American homes. We read testimony from thousands of these brave women, carrying without complaint, almost without question, a weight of work that would tax a longshoreman, and with responsibility added to it, for twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day; planning their time and their incomes to a hair’s breadth, and still keeping sweetness and understanding for their children and husbands.
A remarkable thing about the letters was their uniform excellence—which fact made the task of the judges very difficult. The messages, almost without exception, were forthright, clear-cut, every word charged with feeling—and conveying it. If we could but print them all!
But most clearly, perhaps, they showed that we had uncovered something new, something till now half-conscious or repressed, on the part of these women; a sense of something unsound in the home situation with its irreconcilable demands, a call for a reorganization of purposes, in the home. (And this is not to undervalue the many accounts of courageous facing and solving of problems.)
How Can I Do It?
In hundreds of letters comes the question: "How can I do all that I have to do, and still be a right mother to my children?“ Well, as Doctor Johnson countered on the excuse,”A man must live“—”I do not see the necessity of it;" so we women are coming not to see the necessity of much that has been in the past assumed for us. Not that housework is unnecessary, or that women are unwilling to do it. But, if the grocery gets more customers, another clerk is hired. If the village grows, the postmaster takes an assistant. The world expects of a man no more than one man’s work.
But what these letters have brought out clearly is the fact that the house mother must take the same responsibility for the well-being of her family whether she has two or ten children, a four-room flat, or a farmhouse of ten rooms, and five hundred chickens to boot. Public opinion and family feeling have not measured her situation as they measure the man’s.
When Husbands Need to be Educated
And public opinion often begins at home, with the so-called partner in the family enterprise. The need of educating husbands occupies a conspicuous place in the correspondence received. Here are two typical letters:
The partnership of marriage should be always conducted on the fifty-fifty basis. If John works eight hours a day so should Mary and then, if there is still two hours' housework to be done, they should do it together. If Mary spends two hours at a social in the afternoon she should expect to work two hours longer than John that day. If John can afford an afternoon at golf, then Mary should have an afternoon to herself. The greatest immediate need in the home to-day is the proper mental attitude of fair play and justice by all members of the household and the spirit of cooperation in the home. Then this spirit can more easily develop into the larger cooperation of community life.
I would not change my life if I could. I mean I had rather be married than not be: I adore my baby and love all children; and home to me is the most wonderful place this side of heaven. These are the things that absolutely satisfy me. Nothing else could.
But how quickly I would seize an opportunity to change some of the things of my life! For instance, I hate“being provided for.” And not for one minute do I consider myself provided for. But everybody else does, except other mothers and housekeepers. There’s the rub, and it isn’t a square deal. Any woman who keeps her own house, does her own cooking, and cares for her children, has a harder job than the average worker. But it isn’t a paying job. Should it be?
I have no cause to grumble about this, because my husband gave me a check book and asked me to use it when I needed it. But I have just as strong feelings on the subject as the woman who has to beg pitifully for every cent, and then be browbeaten because she has to have it. We pay a terrible price for acknowledging we are“provided for”—our self-respect. And when you have no self-respect you cannot command respect.
Many and valuable were the suggestions offered by Companion readers for individual devices and systems to lighten work; but the practical reorganization these women are looking for, with keen hope and firm determination, must come, we are more than ever sure, through cooperation, not only in thinking, but in definite action.
Cooperation in one form or another has existed since the world began. Cooperation in the form of cooperative stores that give back to the consumer the profit on the goods he buys have been known since the little band of flannel weavers started the first cooperative store in Rochdale, England, in 1843; but cooperation in household service as an organized general movement is just now in the process of birth in the minds and hearts of American mothers.
The Time is Ready for It
Many signs indicate that the time is ready for it and that the cooperation idea, working in the minds of a group here, an individual there, an organization somewhere else, is laying a foundation that will bear up well under the practical bricks that must be laid upon it.
Here is a suggestion from a Companion reader: a straw which shows which way the wind is blowing:
It is sudden illness with its heartbreaking worries, it is the extra sewing, or the unexpected guest, that breaks a woman’s morale. Why can’t we, since the factory has disposed of the servant problem by elimination, follow the Lord’s example and serve one another.
I would suggest that each neighborhood be divided into groups of from twelve to twenty women, with a definite time for weekly meeting, banded together with the idea of solving in turn the greatest needs of every member.
In larger groups two or more might bring their extra sewing, mending or preserving to be disposed of easily and merrily by a band of eager helpers, each knowing that her own problems would be likewise solved in the near future. An all-day meeting would be feasible, with a picnic lunch for husbands and children, meaning wonderful things in the way of social contact and uplift.
Don’t you imagine in this group there would be several older members whose families have grown, women with traveling husbands or without children, who could form themselves into an emergency committee to help out for a reasonable wage, in the home of trouble? What an inspiration and relief such an organized force would be in every village and city community. I can only dimly visualize, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to work for?
The government home demonstrator is playing her part in this great movement, as shown in the article“First Aid to Home Women,” in the March issue. All over the country the home demonstrator has been leading the woman to add her neighbor’s problem to her own, and then to solve them together. Community sewing-rooms, community canneries, community kitchens—they are the contribution of the home demonstrator.
They do not mean that now Mary Smith can sit back in leisure and see her house cleaned, her children fed, and her garden dug by some magic fairy; but they do show progress toward the time when, through the general practice of cooperation in household service, Mary Smith will have an eight-hour day, and that not completely filled with the heavier forms of drudgery which now drag her through so many hours of toil.
How? Every woman will want to put the word in capitals. Some of the ways that a few communities here and there have already tried and found successful were told in “The Revolt of Mother,” in the April Companion, and“A Day Off for Mother,” in May. These include cooperative laundries, bakeries, kitchens, nurseries, and exchanges. No woman in a town where a cooperative laundry exists would ever even consider breaking her back over her own washtub. The laundry could do it as well as she, and at a cost far below that of the commercial laundry. The farmers' wives particularly have developed these laundries, running them in connection with their cooperative creameries.
Is This a Wild Prophecy?
In fact, a prophet might say that the time is not far distant when every woman with a house to run, like any good executive, will sit down and figure out her time thus:
"Because of the need of my time for my children and because of my own health and nerves and good temper, I can’t afford to give more than eight hours a day to my actual housework.
"Housecleaning: In ten hours a week it can be done, because I will persuade three of my neighbors to club together in a vacuum cleaner.
"Washing: I can’t afford the time for that: my subordinate, the cooperative laundry, can do that much more easily than I.
"Ironing: If I do only the most necessary pieces, it will take two mornings a week. Well, that means that those days I shall have the meals sent over from the community kitchen.
"Gardening: No, that stays, because it is good for my health to be working outdoors and I can watch over the children at the same time.
"Sewing: I like to sew anyway; but I certainly don’t intend to stay in the house with it every other afternoon. I’ll take it over to the community sewing-room, put the baby in the cooperative nursery in the next room, let the children go with the others to the cooperative playground, and get my sewing done twice as quickly on the power machines; and I’ll have my neighbors to talk to at the same time.
"One afternoon a week I shall have to take my turn overseeing at the cooperative playground; then there’s one afternoon a week for the club—And so it goes.
This is not altogether a dream. All over the United States efforts along exactly these lines are actually being started and, best of all, thousands of women are waking up to the fact that it is their own fault if they continue to spend all of their precious vitality, through which the real values of the home must be created, in physical drudgery.
In the July and succeeding issues the Companion will describe in detail some of the plans that have been worked out most successfully.
My Everyday Problems
Letters from “Companion” readers in response to the prize offer in February, selected by Ethel Puffer Howes and Myra Reed Richardson.
In the February issue we asked the home women of America who felt themselves to be unreasonably handicapped by the drudgery, the long hours, and the loneliness of housework to write us letters on “My Everyday Problems and Where I Need Help.” In this way we felt that we could arrive more quickly at a knowledge of actual individual problems, and thus, together with our readers, find the way out. More than two thousand letters were received in response to this call. The following were selected for publication because they seem to have covered the ground most thoroughly. “Together” is the solution to this very real and general problem. The “Companion’s” function is to serve as a clearing-house for the various practical ways in which similar problems have been worked out.
How to Regain the Vision
Every woman who begins her married life earnestly and prayerfully has a vision or ideal toward which all of her efforts are directed. As long as she can keep that vision her duties do not seem irksome. . . [My] problems are like those of every other mother of a family having a small income.
Especially, my problem is to shelter, feed, clothe, educate, provide amusement and keep in health a family of seven on an average income of fifteen hundred dollars a year.
Physically—to keep enough energy in one hundred and twenty pounds of human flesh to cook, wash, scrub, make and mend the clothes, nurse, and do all the other numerous jobs for the family.
Mentally—to assist with lessons.
Morally—to keep from slighting the pots and pans that I may satisfy my selfish longing to practice for a few minutes the music that was such a part of my life of the days gone by. Also, to keep from saying ugly words when everything goes wrong.
Spiritually—to keep my soul clean when the surroundings are dirty. To be sweet and cheerful when I don’t even have time to say my prayers.
All of these jobs were possible in a way so long as I could see the“vision”; but that is the greatest problem of all. As the years have passed, so has it gone. Like the mirage of the weary desert traveler, it has gradually faded from my sight. Who can help me to regain it?
No time to train my children, and now the traits of heredity and environment are mocking me. No money to give them anything but the bare necessities of life, so that they are trained for no special work. No energy left, after the day’s work, to play with them, so that we have grown far apart.
Can someone devise a plan by which the world may keep going without the bulk of the labor falling on the weakest shoulders?
The Things I Want to Do
My personal problem is the old riddle inverted:“How can a woman not a housekeeper be a housekeeper?” It is rather a spiritual than a material problem, and is of course harder to solve. Even though I reduce my household duties to such a system that I get through them quite creditable, how can I find inspiration and happiness in them, when there are other things I want to do and can do better? I want to write; I know full well that I am not a genius, or I would write; but I love to. But I must do my housework and by the time the afternoon leisure comes those things which bubbled and glowed with life in the morning have about the consistency and elasticity of a cold fried egg.
I would not change my lot if it meant giving up home and children: I am convinced that there is nothing in the world that can remotely compare with the joys of parenthood. But if there is any way in which one may fulfill one’s destiny in that respect, and in lesser ways also, may the Companion be successful in helping us find it. . . .
Star vs. Grindstone
Now I’ve my job—the job I’ve always dreamed of and planned for—the raising of a family and the changing of a house into a home; only I fear I’m not big enough for it.
My problems are: How to make a home out of a very dilapidated old farmhouse; how to keep it so as not to be ashamed when callers unexpectedly drop in; how to feed and care for my baby daughter according to modern scientific methods, and yet enjoy her to my heart’s content.
How to provide two live wires of six and four enough constructive work to counteract the destructive tendencies inherent in every boy’s nature; how to find Johnny cutting a new bed sheet with an old safety-razor blade, when he is supposed to be taking his afternoon rest, and yet not believe in corporal punishment.
How to stretch every dollar of a school-teacher’s salary until it does the work of two; how to wash, iron, mend, clean, and cook for a family of six, and not get over-tired; how to do all the sewing necessary.
How to be superintendent of the Sunday-school, and yet keep the man of the family from feeling he is being imposed upon (staying home and keeping the baby Sunday afternoons).
How to have husband come home on a day that has gone backward all day long, to a house whose chief characteristic is things being at sixes and sevens and a wife worn to a frazzle, and remark with a martyred air,“I don’t say it is too much family and I don’t say it is poor management, but I do say there’s something wrong somewhere!” and not feel like cussing.
How to be an active community worker in a passive country neighborhood, and still be truly charitable.
How to do all this and yet keep youth, health, beauty, and wits, and find time ever and anon to pull my nose off the grindstone of facts as they are to gaze at the star of hopes as they were dreamed, is my job.
The Unbroken Circle
For two weeks I’ve taken down my Companion every night and reread the conditions about this letter and dropped to sleep with my head on my desk from sheer weariness before I had written a single line. I am cook, housemaid, laundress, and nurse for my family of four, and this morning I’ve parked my baby with a neighbor for an hour in order to add my problem to those up for solution.
My husband is a teacher and our income is from thirty to fifty dollars short of comfort every month. There is no hope of a change in this matter for years to come, unless I can do it myself. Like most teachers, my husband is absorbed in his work and would be the most surprised person in the world if he knew I was writing this letter.
My children are bright and normal in every way and I love them dearly, but I know there isn’t a woman who will read this letter who doesn’t understand me when I say that I have no personal life. I am only a piece of machinery that nobody realizes the value of, unless I should stop. There are three people who look to me for nourishing food, for clean, mended clothes, for a tidy home, and for an audience. It is an endless circle with no break in it where I personally come in at all.
Now the question is, when shall I take my time off? That is what I need most, just a short time every day when my whole family can be comfortably out of my thoughts and sight, and I can rest or read or shop, visit, and in some way spend a little while building my own life. . . .
Time to Instill Memories
I get so tired trying to get the work all done that I cannot enjoy my children, and my husband must have great difficulty in recognizing in the unhappy, shrill-voiced scold that I am, the intellectual, companionable girl he married. I feel that my children are already emerged from babyhood and only shortly to leave their childhood behind them. I know that no sewing, cleaning, baking, not even the care of their hair, teeth, nails can be as important as teaching them the fundamentals of truthfulness and self-control and locking up in the strong-boxes of their memories recollections of a carefree, happy childhood impregnated with the individuality of a mother who understood and was kind.
But oh, how?
If your counsel can help me to regain my poise, to get the proper focus on my responsibilities, then will I be grateful indeed.
My Everyday Problems and Where I Need Help
I feel sure that my experience in solving the problem of household drudgery will be of value to many women if they will only give it a fair trial.
At twenty-six I found my health hopelessly broken by overwork.
Our salary was so small that it had seemed necessary for me to keep a boarder and do baking and sewing for my neighbors, in addition to my own housework and the care of two small children.
The great question now facing us was how to eliminate a part of this mountain of work. For the physician gave us no hope for my recovery unless I could rest and have time for recreation.
We first“took stock” of the things we could do without, substituting fresh fruit and simple desserts for the fancy pies, cakes, etc.: and instead of the petticoats and dresses that made so much sewing, washing, and ironing, I put overalls on my little girls for everyday wear and the simplest dress for best. This helped some, but the greatest relief came from making everyone responsible for certain duties, and absolutely refusing to pick up after anyone.
I do not pretend to say that this at first was easy. When you have picked up after a family for years and kept your house immaculate, it take real determination to leave a coat or mittens on a chair, or deliberately sweep toys out into the yard when they have been left cluttering the floor. But it brings results.
And it isn’t easy to insist that children finish their work before they go out to play. But that also brings results.
In our case it meant that I slowly regained my health. Better still, I had time for reading without which my very soul seemed to be perishing. I had time to sit down at twilight and read and explain good literature to my children.
And their tasks did not hurt them. Rather were they benefited thereby. When they entered high school the principal came to me and said, “Your girls do not need the course in domestic science. They seem to know how to cook everything, and their sewing is beautiful.” So they were able to take extra studies. A schoolmate once said to my youngest daughter, “Why is it that English literature is so easy for you?” And she replied, “Why shouldn’t it be? My mother was reading’Idylls of the King' to us when I was seven years old, and making me see their beauty and spiritual significance.”
When I think of the years of close companionship and mutual helpfulness that resulted from the forced sharing of responsibilities, I am thankful for the years of suffering. But why must you wait until broken health compels you to demand cooperation in the home? I feel sure that if women could realize the harm they are doing both to themselves and to their children by carrying the home burdens alone, there would be a general reorganization of home life which would be beneficial to all.
We Are to Blame
The article entitled “We Women” treats of a subject in which I take a deep interest. I am a woman past fifty. Have raised a family, so know all about those heartaches; and, dear wives and mothers, looking back over the years, and realizing my own mistakes, I wish to add my“bit.” We are to blame for many of our own troubles. We give too much of ourselves, asking nothing in return but the pleasure of our dear ones; it’s a great mistake.
They are taught from babyhood to take our services as a matter of course, and by the time we realize it, we are too tired and worn out to care; and it does not pay. If we allow ourselves to be left behind, and work so hard we are too tired to take part in the daily lives of our children and husbands, they simply learn to do without us, and by the time they marry and have children of their own, and learn from experience what life means and children mean in a mother’s life, perhaps it’s too late, you may have “passed on:” and, if not, it’s still rather difficult to“teach old dogs new tricks.”
Now, if this evil is to be remedied, it seems to me it’s up to us women to do it, and it must commence with the children when they are babies and the husbands at marriage. It should be a fifty-fifty proposition. It’s so easy when they are small to pick up the playthings from the floor, and the coats and caps as they grow older. After a time it gets to be a burden, for they expect such service, and you keep on giving it until you grow cross and irritable.
The family do not realize your needs—how can they? You need play and sympathy and understanding, along with the monotony of housework. We have cooperative everything else. Why not start cooperative homes?
We ourselves are our own worst enemies, and we do not realize it, yet I can see plainly my own mistakes. It’s too late for me to rectify them. I try to pass on some of the thoughts that come to me—sometimes I get the idea across and sometimes I fail. I shall keep on trying and watch for the articles on“We women” with heartfelt interest.
“What I Need is a Start”
I am confident that, given some time in which to work, I could earn enough money to pay a maid and still be at home with the baby and in a way that would be approved by my husband. But the deadly routine of housework never gives me the opportunity to confirm my belief in myself.
What I need is a start: some time in which to prove my ability to earn more per week than a scullery maid can earn. When I can get this start, I feel confident that I can “carry on!” If“We Women” can make for ourselves more time, we can solve our greatest problem.
When our eldest daughter reached school age the problem of sending her to school alone two miles across the prairies presented itself. Here a sudden inspiration took possession of me and I saw the silver lining behind the cloud of endless household cares. I would teach myself, and get a good girl to do the housework. So I acted on the impulse, secured my certificate in North Dakota, applied for the position, and am now teaching. The two elder children go with me, and my good girl takes care of our home very efficiently.
I now find time to read and study. My Saturdays I spend sewing, or perhaps going to our nearby town with my husband. I now can be a chum to my children, whereas before I had to rush so as to get three good substantial meals for the men-folks, that I could not enjoy with them, and was often cross and irritable.
What fun we have going to and from school. We have little nature talks, and even little son learns to count the jack-rabbits and wild ducks swimming about in the sloughs.
“Women Need Both Love and Work”
I have learned that what one will and must, one can do; and that no possible combination of circumstances can defeat the man—or woman!—who has found his work, and knows that he can do it.
For the sake of the years when I beat like a frantic bird against the wires of an invisible cage, and for the sake of thousands of other women. I would make my suggestion:
The thing that would help most of all is a change in our way of thinking. Women, like men, need both love and work. A woman’s love for her work and her devotion to her family are unlike and incommensurable: to compare them is—to borrow a phrase of Chesterton’s—like “comparing black and triangular.” Our present ways are the result of a rough adjustment between these two distinct sets of instincts and needs—in a man! But our codes and practices do not even recognize the need of adjustment, for a woman. To have the need generally recognized: that would help me and countless others most of all.
The Magic Word
There came a time when I threw myself on the bed and cried and cried at the hopeless mess of it all. The baby cried lustily in his cart, the three-year-old whimpered he was hungry, and the five-year-old screamed loudly that he had hurt himself. A cake burned black in the oven, I cared not. I heard the jangle of milk pails, and I knew the men were coming for an unprepared supper. I was completely tired out with the never-ending work.
I remember vowing to myself that if the children ever did survive, and I should master the housework so that my own problem was solved, then I should devote all my leisure time to being a missionary to mothers of little children. I had an idea I would drop in here and three, and roll up my sleeves and say carelessly: I’ll just do these dishes for you, or make a cake for your supper, or wash out these clothes; or any one of the seemingly endless tasks that belong to every mother of little children. I did not dream then of an organized effort by women for improving the home-workers' condition. That was four years ago.
I have not conquered my problem, but I have kept eternally at it. Belonging to that great class of farm women, I have had the opportunity of watching the farmer husbands lift a most hopeless load from their shoulders by the magic of cooperation. And I have come to realize that the word can hold the same magic for“we women.”
“She Has Used Herself Up”
It is a recognized fact that in many organizations, like Parent-Teachers Associations, Girl Scout and Boy Scout work and welfare work, it is the mothers of the community who are most effective and who are best prepared in hand and brain. But these mothers have less time for outside work than any other class of women. One friend of mine, a college woman and a teacher before her marriage, is the fond and capable mother of four boys. Her mind is teeming with ideas for her children and her community: ways to improve the schools; a plan for better milk inspection; neighborhood club for boys and their fathers; plan for cooperative buying among housewives. All these she could adequately carry out, for she is a born leader. But, after her manual labor is through for the day, she has not an ounce of energy left—she has used herself up in doing the work necessary to keep her boys and husband fed and her house in decent order. What is the solution for the women of limited income and unlimited brains?
The world needs all the help it can get from intelligent wives and mothers, and the wives and mothers need help for the necessary household tasks. May the solution soon appear!
Source: "Editorial, This Page is for You," Women’s Home Companion, January 1923, 4; Ethel Puffer Howes and Myra Reed Richardson, “Getting Together,” Women’s Home Companion, June 1923, 30; Ethel Puffer Howes and Myra Reed Richardson, “My Everyday Problems, Letters from ‘Companion’ readers in response to the prize offer in February,” Women’s Home Companion, July 1923.