The Joys of Toil
For women of the "intelligentsia" who have come back to it admit the values and satisfactions, physical, mental and spiritual, of working with their hands. Some of them do hard manual work and like it, and tasks, usually considered menial, are not despised.
For the earlier, so-called genteel modes of working with the hands which were suggested for women in clerical and professional pursuits met the needs of only a small number. It is evident that the majority of women have neither the capacity nor the drive to be artists, they are made of much humbler clay. The talented few, and even the near-talented, can find many satisfying outlets in sculpture, in drawing, in painting, in clay-modelling and in other pursuits, but they constitute a small minority of the total number of women who need a flywheel for the release of tension created by sedentary clerical and semi-professional work and by an apartment house existence. Most of these women express a wish for the simpler tasks of home-making, of outdoor work, and of shop work which they can perform in whatever leisure time they have and which will not make too great demands upon purse or mind or physical strength. They want an easy simple beginning at easy simple tasks. They do not wish to be urged toward creative effort or to skills beyond their reach. They do not wish to create new tensions; they want relief from the tensions which they have already acquired. They want their extra-occupational activities to be play. They want to have a good time but they do not want to work at having a good time. They want to relax and play.
Many wholesome opportunities for relaxation and diversion are closed to women in clerical and professional work because of an occupational bias against them. For the woman who performs work that is "intellectual" in nature is likely to suppose that many forms of manual activity are "beneath" her, that she does not like them, or that she will lose caste if she performs them. Muscular activity in the form of sports is acceptable to the genteel middle class intellectual, but if she lacks the opportunity or the leisure to engage in sports she may imagine that she has no opportunity to take exercise. But if she has imagination and flexibility of outlook she may be able to make play of some of the opportunities at hand and so achieve a more balanced living without the strenuous pursuit of conventional play. For it is not the activity itself which determines whether it is work or play but the mental attitude toward it. The work of some women becomes the play of others when they will it so, and this fact places play opportunities within reach of all. Marie Antoinette played at being dairy maid and farm girl as a relief from the onerous work of being Queen of France while doubtless many French dairy maids of that day played Queen at least in their fancies and dreams. In some of the expensive private establishments where tired ladies go for "rest cures" today they are set to work washing windows, waxing floors, painting, gardening and in general doing the work which they had despised to do at home. Other tired women of today find these homely outlets them-selves and keep their money for their old age.
One woman who had been living in a furnished room for fifteen years began doing all of her own housework when she rented an apartment because she could not afford maid service and she was amazed at the physical and mental benefit which she derived from it. An overworked dean of women in a state university who had remained in her office until eight or ten o'clock in the evening without finishing her work began going home at four in the afternoon in order to work in the rose garden when she had built her own house while her colleagues remarked the improvement in her health, her physical poise, and her general efficiency.
Two women stated that they had found manual work a powerful factor in the recovery of health after a nervous illness. One woman who had been a clerical worker in a box factory suffered a nervous break-down after she had helped to nurse her mother through a long illness while continuing her duties at the office. Her recovery was slow and she was still unable to return to her clerical job when all of her savings were gone. She decided to apply for work at a machine in the factory and was surprised to find that she could not only do the work but that she liked doing it. Her recovery was speedy and she was soon back at her old job. She spoke of the new feeling of confidence, of competence and mental poise which she had derived from working in the factory and of the care which she had taken to continue the experience of working with her hands by taking a course in carpet weaving in her spare time. Another woman—a successful concert pianist—had developed a state of nerves which prevented her from making public appearances and which a number of specialists had attempted to treat without success until all her reserve of money was exhausted. At that time she returned to the home of her mother who owned and managed a small farm. There was a shortage of help on the farm at that time and her mother, who viewed nervous illnesses lightly, requested that she take over the work of bringing in the potatoes and canning the corn. When the rush of work was over this woman found herself in excellent health again and able to return to her usual work.
One woman not yet forty years of age who earned eight thousand dollars a year as an executive in a mercantile establishment, told of her discovery of a new play interest as a great adventure in living. She said that she had become increasingly tired at her work as the years passed. She complained constantly of the amount of work which she had to do and seemed never to come to the end of it. She returned to the office to work in the evenings, and on Sundays she worked at home. Her friends commented upon her drawn and haggard look and her business associates complained that she was always behind with her work. She had been under the care of several specialists who could find no specific ailment but who prescribed rest and fresh air. In order to provide for brief periods of rest in the country she purchased a small farm near the Middle Western city where she lived, and began going out with a maid for intensive rest at the week ends. For the first two weeks she remained in bed from Friday to Monday and took no interest in the life about her. On the third trip she began to notice that the farmhouse which she had acquired was in need of repairs. The front door wanted a coat of paint, the kitchen tiles were cracked and chipped, and the garden borders were full of weeds. She wondered if she should not do something about it and, as she lay trying to rest, the idea teased at her brain. The next week end she brought out a can of paint and a brush. Despite the maid's remonstrances and her reminder of the specialist's "complete rest in bed" prescription she went about scraping the door and preparing it for paint. When the door emerged in bright blue at the end of seyeral hours of work she felt better than she had for a long time. On Sunday she rose early and set about weeding the borders while the day was still cool. She found it pleasant work and the woman who owned the adjoining farm came to the stone fence which separated their gardens to chat with her. As the weeks passed her interest in the country place continued to grow and she began to look forward to the time she would spend there.