( Originally Published 1916 )
THERE is no better business, no nobler nor more helpful to mankind, than housework.
And it is one of the curious quirks of the times that while we rank "home" alongside of "heaven," call it the sacredest word in the language and all that, we set housework or home-keeping down as one of the least desirable of occupations.
Nine girls out of ten would rather do anything than cook, make beds, and wash dishes.
Country girls swarm to the cities, and city girls flock to offices, to type and keep books and mind cash; leaving only those who cannot do anything else to attend to homes.
The servant girls are in the rearward of the march of labor. They have few or no organizations, no standardized training, no social standing, no rights any one is bound to respect, and no in-dependent spirit to demand those rights.
Things also are getting worse. The disgusting custom of tipping is on the increase, insulting to the worker and demoralizing to the giver. For the tip is never anything else than a cheap and nasty substitute for paying decent wages.
The housemaid is one of the few laborers who wear distinctive uniforms, emphasizing class distinction.
The home seems to be a little corner where the snows of aristocratic sentiment linger in the spring of democracy. "Housework," says Ida Tarbell, "is the only field of labor in which there seems to be a general tendency to abandon the democratic notion and return frankly to the aristocratic regime."
And that is exactly what is the matter with domestic service. For wherever the vain, vulgar, hoity-toity idea prevails that one class of workers is inferior to another, wherever the segregative, exclusive feeling of artificial aristocracy is found, there is the soiling touch, the dirty fingers of in-justice, the poison of caste.
What housework needs is the redeeming breath of democracy. There is no reason why making good biscuit and maintaining a home in order and beauty should not be as dignified a business as laying brick or attending to the plumbing. Why should not the kitchen girls have their union, their regular hours of service, and their well-defined rights, as well as the bricklayer and the plumber?
There is no department of labor where brains are more needed than in housework. The intelligent, deft, and capable maid-of-all-work can produce quite as much human contentment, joy, and gladness as any of the world's workers.
Those women who burn with the desire to do something to emancipate their sex, to make woman's lot more tolerable and light, are invited to turn their attention to improving the condition of serving girls, who need far more sympathy and get far less than shop girls.