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Simplifying Housework

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



BY way of establishing a frank and friendly understanding between writer and reader, we will admit, at the beginning of our talk, that nothing can make American housekeeping easy. At the same time, it is comforting to bear in mind that the easiest things are seldom the best things. There are many reasons why the woman who "runs a house" in this land and at this day should have more and severer duties to perform than a housekeeper in the same station, and with the same means, in Great Britain, or on the continent of Europe. It may reconcile our housewife to her lot and clear away a difficulty or two if we consider a few of these reasons.

The newness of our nation runs through every department of life and labor. Nothing is firmly and definitely settled. The English farmer's wife cooks in the same kitchen and in the same saucepan that her mother used, and occupies exactly the same position filled by her grandmother. She has little new to learn, and knows the old thing well. If both ends meet and a tidy sum goes into the savings-bank every year, she is contented. No thoughts of building a house twice as fine as that over her head keep her awake at night. So long as her boys have steady work, and she sees her girls well behaved, industrious, and, like the Scottish cotter's Jeannie, "respectit like the lave," her ambition for them is gratified.

We hear a vast deal said of the evil effects of American worry upon American women, in crippling their energies and shortening their lives. Comparatively little is written or spoken of the element of restlessness that sets worry a-going. The wife of the farmer, or mechanic, or clerk, or small storekeeper never settles in her own mind just where she belongs. To use a slang phrase-"she never gets there." Consequently, she never finds a resting-place for mind and body. By the time her house is decently furnished, she begins to contrive how it can be made "smart," as the English women say. The American uses a more objectionable word when she calls it "genteel." The girls take music-lessons, and a piano must be bought. Her children have playfellows who dress well, and she would not have her little ones seem mean or shabby.

I wonder, sometimes, what would be the effect upon our bustling, worried housewife, were she to determine, once for all, just what her sphere in life is, and make up her mind to fill the station to which God has called her full, before straining and panting to climb to a higher. When will we study the old, sadly true, and neglected lesson that it is not the duty or trial of to-day that wears us out, but planning and hoping and dreading for tomorrow?

Again, our housekeeper living, as she does always, a little ahead of her actual position and of her strength, if not ahead of her means, does not keep enough servants, considering the size of her house and family. While it is true that the more "help" one has of the kind furnished by intelligence offices and the "wants" columns of the daily papers, the worse off she is apt to be, there is cruelty to herself in undertaking to do all the work of a household that must be kept abreast of the neighbors. It is cruelty of a kind that kills wives and mothers oftener than poverty and want.

The American matron is a wonderful creation, and not to be found out of our favored country; but bones, blood, muscle, and nerve were never made that could bear, without injury, the life she sets for herself when she undertakes to do all of the work of such an American home as she will have.

Another thing that makes her load grievous and hardly to be borne, even when she "tries to favor her strength" by means of hired help and modern conveniences, is lack of proper training for the housekeeper's business.

The life led by our girls up to the time of marriage is ac-countable for much of this deficiency. If mothers of every station were bent upon disqualifying their daughters for what probably lies before them, they could not go more zealously to work to secure the evil end. Our public and private schools and colleges "keep up the standard" so fiercely that she who would rank well in her class has not time to make a pudding, or to hem a handkerchief during nine months of the year, and needs the other three for recuperation. After graduation, the girl's harness is stripped off, and she is turned into the social pasture for a run that lasts until she is caught and noosed for life. . . .

My indignation expends itself upon the inconsiderate, or weakly indulgent, or ambitious mothers who let daughters waste in useless follies time that should be given, in part, at least, to diligent preparation for the calling to which they are directed by nature and public sentiment. Not one girl in ten thousand expects, or is expected, to pass all her life in the home of her girlhood. What censure is too harsh for the conduct of the parent who, ignoring this solemn truth, fails to instruct her in the practical details of the profession she is almost certain to enter?



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