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those who have given scarcely a thought as to the principles on which
its solution depends? Is the unfolding of a human being so simple a
process that any one may superintend and regulate it with no
preparation whatever?... Is it not madness to make no provision for
such a task?"

Horace Mann speaks out plainly, and straight to the point. "If she is
to prepare a refection of cakes, she fails not to examine some
cookery-book or some manuscript receipt, lest she should convert her
rich ingredients into unpalatable compounds; but without ever having
read one book upon the subject of education, without ever having
sought one conversation with an intelligent person upon it, she
undertakes so to mingle the earthly and celestial elements of
instruction for that child's soul that he shall be fitted to discharge
all duties below, and to enjoy all blessings above." And again,
"Influences imperceptible in childhood, work out more and more broadly
into beauty or deformity in after life. No unskilful hand should ever
play upon a harp where the tones are left forever in the strings."

In a newspaper I find this amusingly significant sentence:
"Truthfully, indeed, do the Papists boast that the Episcopal Church is
training-ground for Rome. The female mind is frequently enticed by
display of vestments and music; and, if the Ritualists can pervert the
mothers, they know that the next generation is theirs." This is
significant, because it signifies that, however weak and easy of
enticement the "female mind" may be, it has a mighty power to
influence the young.

But we can show not only opinions and prophecies, but the results of
actual scientific experiments. A recent number of "The Popular Science
Monthly" contains an account of experiments made in Jamaica upon the
mental capacity for learning of the different races there existing.
The experimenter found, he says, "unequal speed," but saw "nothing
which can be unmistakably referred to difference of race. The rate of
improvement is due almost entirely to the relative elevation of the
home circle in which the children live. Those who are restricted to
the narrowest gauge of intellectual exercise live in such a material
and coarse medium that their mental faculties remain slumbering; while
those who hear at home of many things, and are brought up to
intellectual employments, show a corresponding proficiency in
learning."

This, and the editor's comments, bear directly on our side, that is to
say, the culture side. The editor says it is inevitable "that the
medium in which the child is habitually immersed, and by which it is
continually and unconsciously impressed, should have much greater
value in the formation of mental character than the mere lesson
experiences of school. Home education is, after all, the great fact;
and it is domestic influences by which the characters of children are
formed. Where men are exhausted by business, and women are exhausted
by society (or other means), we may be pretty sure that but little can
be done to shape and conduct the home with a reference to the higher
mental needs of the children who live in it."

Now, who, more than any one, "shapes and conducts the home"? Who
creates these "domestic influences," this "medium in which the child
is habitually immersed"? Woman. In the name of common sense, then,
throw open to woman every avenue of knowledge. Surround her with all
that will elevate and refine. Give her the highest, broadest, truest
culture. Give her chances to draw inspiration from the beautiful in
nature and in art. And, above all, insure her some respite from labor,
and some tranquillity. Unless these conditions are observed, "but
little can be done to shape and conduct the home with reference to the
higher mental needs of the children who live in it."

I once heard "Grace Greenwood" tell a little story which ought to come
in here, for our own object is to make out as strong a case as we
possibly can. We want to prove that mothers must have culture because
they are mothers. We want to show it to be absolutely necessary for
woman, in the accomplishment of her acknowledged mission. When this
fact is recognized, then culture will take rank with essentials, and
receive attention as such.

"Grace Greenwood" said that a friend of hers, a teacher "out West,"
had in her school four or five children from one family. The parents
were poor, ignorant, and of the kind commonly called low, coarse sort
of people. The children, with one exception, were stupid,
rough-mannered, and depraved. The one exception, a little girl, showed
such refinement, appreciation, and quickness of apprehension, that the
teacher at last asked the mother if she could account for the striking
difference between this child and its brothers and sisters. The mother
could not. The children had been brought up together there in that
lonely place, had been treated alike, and had never been separated.
She knew the little girl was very different from her brothers and
sisters, but knew not the reason why. The teacher then asked, "Was
there any thing in your mode of life for the months preceding her
birth, that there was not in the corresponding time before the births
of the others?" The mother at first answered decidedly that there was
nothing; but after thinking a few moments said, "Well, there was one,
a very small thing, but that couldn't have had any thing to do with
the matter. One day a peddler came along; and among his books was a
pretty, red-covered poetry book, and I wanted it bad. But my husband
said he couldn't afford it, and the peddler went off. I couldn't get
that book out of my mind; and in the night I took some of my own
money, and travelled on foot to the next town, found the peddler,
bought the book, and got back before morning, and was never missed
from the house. That book was the greatest comfort to me that ever
was. I read it over and over, up to the day my child was born."

Also would come in well here that oft-told story of a pauper named
"Margaret," who was once "set adrift in a village of the county ...
and left to grow up as best she could, and from whom have descended
two hundred criminals. The whole number of this girl's descendants,
through six generations, is nine hundred; and besides the 'two
hundred' a large number have been idiots, imbeciles, drunkards,
lunatics, and paupers."

Friends, to say nothing of higher motives, would it not be good policy
to educate wisely every girl in the country? Are not mothers, as
child-trainers, in absolute need of true culture? In cases where
families depend on the labor of their girls, perhaps the State would
make a saving even by compensating these families for the loss of such
labor. Perhaps it would be cheaper, even in a pecuniary sense, for the
State to do this, than to support reformatory establishments, prisons,
almshouses, and insane-asylums, with their necessary retinues of
officials. Institutions in which these girls were educated might be
made self-supporting, and the course of instruction might include
different kinds of handicraft.

It was poor economy for the State to let that pauper "grow up as best
she could." It would probably have been money in the State's pocket
had it surrounded "Margaret" in her early childhood with the choicest
productions of art, engaged competent teachers to instruct her in the
solid branches, in the accomplishments, in hygiene, in the principles
and practice of integrity, and then have given her particular
instruction in all matters connected with the training of children.
And had she developed a remarkable taste for painting, for modelling,
or for music, the State could better have afforded even sending her to
Italy, than to have taken care of those "two hundred criminals,"
besides "a large number" of "idiots, imbeciles, drunkards, lunatics,
and paupers."




CHAPTER IV.

THE OTHER PART OF "WOMAN'S MISSION." - RUFFLES VERSUS READING. - THE
CULTIVATION OF THE FINGERS.


Let us leave for a while this matter of child-training, and consider
the other part of woman's mission, - namely, "making home happy." It
would seem that even for this the wife should be at least the equal of
her husband in culture, in order that the two may be in sympathy. When
a loving couple marry, they unite their interests, and it is in this
union of interests that they find happiness. We often hear from a wife
or a husband remarks like these: "I only half enjoyed it, because he
(or she) wasn't there;" "It will be no pleasure to me unless he (or
she) is there too;" "The company were charming, but still I felt
lonesome there without him (or her)." The phrase "half enjoy" gives
the idea; for a sympathetic couple are to such a degree one that a
pleasure which comes to either singly can only be half enjoyed, and
even this half-joy is lessened by the consciousness of what the other
is losing. In a rather sarcastic article, taken from an English
magazine, occur a few sentences which illustrate this point very well.
The writer is describing a honeymoon: -

"The real difficulty is to be entertaining. The one thirst of the
young bride is for amusement, and she has no idea of amusing herself.
It is diverting to see the spouse of this ideal creature wend his way
to the lending library, after a week of idealism, and the relief with
which he carries home a novel. How often, in expectation, has he
framed to himself imaginary talks, - talk brighter and wittier than
that of the friends he forsakes! But conversation is difficult in the
case of a refined creature who is as ignorant as a Hottentot. He
begins with the new Miltonic poem, and finds she has never looked into
'Paradise Lost.' He plunges into the Reform Bill; but she knows
nothing of politics, and has never read a leading article in her life.
Then she tries him, in her turn, and floods him with the dead chat of
the town and an ocean of family tattle. He finds himself shut up for
weeks with a creature who takes an interest in nothing but Uncle
Crosspatch's temper and the scandal about Lady X. Little by little the
absolute pettiness, the dense dulness, of woman's life, breaks on the
disenchanted devotee. His deity is without occupation, without
thought, without resources. He has a faint faith in her finer
sensibility, in her poetic nature: he fetches his Tennyson from his
carpet-bag, and wastes 'In Memoriam' on a critic who pronounces it
pretty!"

In cases of this kind, the half-joy is strikingly apparent. We see
that a husband possessing culture is likely to be lonesome among his
poets and his poetry, his works of reform, and his lofty ideas,
unless - she is there too.

If it be said that learned women are prone to think lightly of home
comforts and home duties, to despise physical labor, to look down on
the ignorant, let us hasten to reply that learning is not culture, and
that we want not learned mothers, but enlightened mothers, wisely
educated mothers. And let us steadfastly and perseveringly assert that
enlightenment and a wise education are essential to the accomplishment
of the mother's mission. When the housefather feels the truth of this,
then shall we see him bringing home every publication he can lay his
hands on which treats intelligently of mental, moral, or physical
training. Then shall we hear him saying to the house-mother, "Cease, I
pray you, this ever-lasting toil. Read, study, rest. With your solemn
responsibilities, it is madness thus to spend yourself, thus to waste
yourself." In his home shall the true essentials assume that position
which is theirs by right, and certain occupations connected with that
clamorous square inch of surface in the upper part of the mouth shall
receive only their due share of attention. For in one way or another,
either by lessening the work or by hiring workers, the mother shall
have her leisure.

And what will women, what will the house-mothers, do when they feel
this truth? Certainly not as they now do. Now it is their custom to
fill in every chink and crevice of leisure time with sewing. "Look,"
said a young mother to me: "I made all these myself, when holding the
baby, or by sitting up nights." They were children's clothes,
beautifully made, and literally covered with ruffles and embroidery.
Oh the thousands of stitches! The ruffles ran up and down, and over
and across, and three times round. Being white, the garments were of
course changed daily. In the intervals of baby-tending, the mother
snatched a few minutes here and a few minutes there to starch, iron,
flute, or crimp a ruffle, or to finish off a dress of her own. This
"finishing off" was carried on for weeks. When her baby was asleep, or
was good, or had its little ruffles all fluted, and its little
sister's little ruffles were all fluted, then would she seize the
opportunity to stitch, to plait, to flounce, to pucker, and to braid.
Wherever a hand's breadth of the original material was left visible,
some bow, or band, or queer device, was fashioned and sewed on. This
zealous individual, by improving every moment, by sitting up nights,
by working with the baby across her lap, accomplished her task. The
dress was finished, and worn with unutterable complacency. It is this
last part which is the worst part. They have no misgivings, these
mothers. They expect your warm approval. "I can't get a minute's time
to read," said this industrious person; and, on another occasion,
"I'll own up, I don't know any thing about taking care of children."
Swift, speaking of women, said that they "employ more thought, memory,
and application to become fools than would serve to make them wise and
useful;" and perhaps he spoke truly. For suppose this young mother had
been as eager to gain ideas as she was to accomplish a bias band, a
French fold, or a flounce. Suppose that, in the intervals of
baby-tending, instead of fluting her little girls' ruffles and
embroidering their garments, she had tried to snatch some information
which would help her in the bringing up of those little girls. The
truth is, mothers take their leisure time for what seems to them to be
first in importance. It is easy to see what they consider essentials,
and what, from them, children are learning to consider essentials. The
"knowingness" of some of our children on subjects connected with dress
is simply appalling. A girl of eight or ten summers will take you in
at a glance, from topmost plume to boot-tap, by items and
collectively, analytically and synthetically. She discourses, in
technical terms, of the fall of your drapery, - the propriety of your
trimmings, and the effect of this, that, or the other. She has a
proper appreciation of what is French in your attire, and a proper
scorn of what is not. She recognizes "real lace" in a twinkle of her
eye, and "all wool" with a touch of her finger-tips. Plainly clad
school-children are often made to suffer keenly by the cutting remarks
of other school-children sumptuously arrayed. A little girl aged six,
returning from a child's party, exclaimed, "O mamma! What do you
think? Bessie had her dress trimmed with lace, and it wasn't real!"

The law, "No child shall walk the street in a plain dress," is just as
practically a law as if it had been enacted by the legal authorities.
Mothers obey its high behests, and dare not rebel against it. Look at
our little girls going to school, each with her tucks and ruffles. Who
"gets time" to do all that sewing? where do they get it, and at what
sacrifices? A goodly number of stitches and moments go to the making
and putting on of even one ruffle on one skirt. Think of all the
stitches and moments necessary for the making and putting of all the
ruffles on all the skirts of the several little girls often belonging
to one family! What a prospect before her has a mother of little
girls! And there is no escape, not even in common sense. A woman
considered sensible in the very highest degree will dress her little
girl like other little girls, or perish in the attempt. How many do
thus perish, or are helped to perish, we shall never know. A frail,
delicate woman said to me one day, "Oh, I do hope the fashions will
change before Sissy grows up, for I don't see how it will be possible
for me to make her clothes." You observe her submissive, law-abiding
spirit. The possibility of evading the law never even suggests itself.
There is many a feeble mother of grown and growing "Sissys" to whom
the spring or fall dressmaking appears like an avalanche coming to
overwhelm her, or a Juggernaut coming to roll over her. She asks not,
"How shall I escape?" but, "How shall I endure?" Let her console
herself. These semi-annual experiences are all "mission." All sewing is
"mission;" all cooking is "mission." It matters not what she cooks,
nor what she sews. "Domestic," and worthy all praise, does the
community consider that woman who keeps her hands employed, and is
bodily present with her children inside the house.

But her bodily presence, even with mother love and longing to do her
best, is not enough. There should be added two things, - knowledge and
wisdom. These, however, she does not have, because to obtain them are
needed what she does not get, - leisure, tranquillity, and the various
resources and appliances of culture; also because their importance is
not felt even by herself; also because the community does not yet see
that she has need of them. And this brings us round to the point we
started from, - namely, that the present unsatisfactory state of things
is owing largely to the want of insight, or _unenlightenment_,
which prevails concerning what woman needs and must have in order
rightly to fulfil her mission.




CHAPTER V.

OTHER CAUSES CONSIDERED. - MASCULINE IDEA OF WOMAN'S WORK.


Another supporting cause, as we may call it, of the existing state of
things is the ignorance of mankind concerning the cost of carrying on
the family, - not the cost to themselves in money, but the cost to
woman in endurance. Of its power to exhaust her vital forces they have
not the remotest idea. Each of its little ten-minute duties seems so
trifling that to call it work appears absurd. They do not reflect that
often a dozen of these ten-minute duties must be crowded into an hour
which holds but just six ten-minutes; that her day is crowded with
these crowded hours; that consequently she can never be free from
hurry, and that constant hurry is a constant strain upon her in every
way. They themselves, they think, could do up the work in half the
time, and not feel it a bit. Scarcely a man of them but thinks the
dishes might be just rinsed off under the faucet, and stood up to dry.
Scarcely a man of them who, if this were tried, would not cast more
than inquiring glances at his trencher; for it is always what is not
done that a man sees. If one chair-round escapes dusting, it is that
chair-round which he particularly notices. In his mind then are two
ideas: one is of the whole long day, the other of that infinitesimal
undone duty. The remark visible on his countenance is this: "The whole
day, and no time to dust a chair-round!"

"The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories, once foiled,
Is from the book of honor razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which _she_ toiled."

Many a toiling housewife, warring against untidiness, has felt the
truth of these lines, though she may not have known that the great
poet embodied it in words.

One mistake of man's is, that he does not look upon the tidy state of
a room as a result, but as one into which, if left to itself, it would
naturally fall and remain. We know, alas! too well, that every room
not only has within itself possibilities of untidiness, but that its
constant tendency is in that direction, which tendency can only be
checked by as constant a vigilance. Again, husbands do not always seem
to understand plain English. There are certain expressions in common
use among women, which, if husbands did understand plain English,
would make them sadder and wiser men. "I'm completely used up;" "I
never know what 'tis to feel rested;" "I'm too tired to sleep;" "I'm
as tired in the morning as when I go to bed;" "Every nerve in me
throbs so that I can't go to sleep;" "The life has all gone out of
me;" "I am crazed with cares;" "The care is worse than the work;"
"Nothing keeps that woman about the house but her ambition;" "It is
the excitement of work that keeps her up." Now, how is it that a woman
works on after she is completely used up? What is the substance, the
capacity of this "ambition" on which alone she lives? A friend of
mine, in answer to a suggestion that she should stop and take a few
days' rest, said, "I don't dare to stop. If I let down, if I give way
for ever so little while, I never could go on again." Think of living
always in this state of tension! The dictionary definition of
"tension" is "a peculiar, abnormal, constrained condition of the
parts, arising from the action of antagonistic forces, in which they
endeavor to return to their natural state." Exactly. There are
thousands of women in just this condition, sustained there by the
daily pressure and excitement of hurry, and by a stern, unyielding
"must." In the treadmill of their household labor, breakfast, dinner,
and supper revolve in ceaseless course, and they _must_ step
forward to meet them. And, when more of her vitality is expended daily
than is daily renewed by food and rest, woman does, actually and
without any figure of speech, use herself up. Yes, she burns herself
for fuel, and goes down a wreck, - not always to death; often it is to
a condition made wretched by suffering, sometimes to insanity.

I would not have believed this last had I not found it in print. In an
English magazine occurs the following passage: "Some whose eyes follow
these lines will recollect disagreeable seasons when their attention
was distracted by conflicting cures and claims; when no one thing,
however urgent, could be finished, owing to the intrusion of one or
more inevitable distractions. A continued course of such inroads on
the mind's serenity could be supported but by few intellects. Most
pitiable is the mind's state after some hours of such distracting
occupation, in which every business interferes with every other, and
none is satisfactorily accomplished. Where there is a tendency to
insanity it is sure to be developed by such an undesirable state of
things." This is fitly supplemented by a statement made in an American
magazine: "We are told that the woman's wards in the New England
insane asylums are filled with middle-aged wives - mothers - driven
there by overwork and anxiety."

Not long since, I heard Mr. Whittier tell the story of a woman who
attempted suicide by throwing herself into the water. "Discouragement"
was the reason she assigned for committing so dreadful a
deed, - discouragement at the never-ending routine of household labor,
and from feeling herself utterly unable to go on with it. This, with
care, want of recreation, and long confinement in-doors, had probably
caused temporary insanity.

The "never-endingness" of woman's work is something to be considered.
A wide-awake writer, speaking of husbands and wives, says, "The
out-door air, the stir, the change of ideas, the passing word for this
man or that, unconsciously refresh, and lift him from the cankering
care of work.... His work may be heavier, but it wears him on one side
only. He has his hours sacred to business to give to his brief, his
sermon, his shop. There is no drain on the rest of his faculties. She
has not a power of mind, a skill of body, which her daily life does
not draw upon. She asks nothing better of fate than that whatever
strength she has of body and mind shall be drained for her husband and
children. Now, this spirit of martyrdom is a very good thing when it
is necessary. For our part, we see no occasion for it here." This is
the point exactly. The "martyrdom," too often, is for objects not of
the highest importance. The lack of appreciation of woman's work, as
shown by man-kind in the newspapers, would be amusing, were it not
saddening. Articles, dictating with solemn pomposity "what every
married woman should be able to do," often appear in print, and these
embodiments of (masculine) wisdom editors are eager to copy. "Every
married woman should be able to cut and make her own, her husband's,
and her children's clothes." The husband reads, - aloud of course, this
time, - and nods approval. "To be sure, that would make a saving." The
wife hears, and sighs, and perhaps blames herself that on account of
her incapacity money is wasted. What the newspaper says must be true.


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Online LibraryAbby Morton DiazA Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household → online text (page 2 of 6)