Abby Morton Diaz.

A Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household online

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Perhaps by sitting up later, by getting up earlier, by hurrying more,
and by never setting her foot outside the door, she might follow this
suggestion. "Every married woman" whose boys take to reading should
snip such newspaper articles into shreds, burn them up, and bury the

Another cause of the present state of things is the lowness of the
standard which has been set up for woman to attain. We have glanced at
some of the things which are expected of the woman who carries on the
family. What is not expected is a point of no less significance.
Neither husbands nor company claim the right to expect, in that
smooth, agreeable surface mentioned at the beginning, the results of
mental culture. They may be gratified at finding them; but so long as
the woman is amiable, thrifty, efficient, and provides three good
meals every day, they feel bound not to complain. Here are the ten
"Attributes of a Wife," as grouped by one of the world's famous
writers: note what he allots to education: "Four to good temper, two
to good sense, one to wit, one to beauty; the remaining two to be
divided among other qualities, as fortune, connection, education or
accomplishments, family, and so on. Divide these two parts as you
please, these minor proportions must all be expressed by fractions.
Not one among them is entitled to the dignity of an integer."

The prevalent belief that woman is in some degree subordinate to man,
is rather taken for granted than expressly taught, as witness a
certain kind of legend often told to young girls: "Once upon a time a
young man, visiting a strange house, saw a damsel putting dough into
pans, and saw that the dough which stuck to the platter was left
sticking there; whereupon the young man said, 'This is not the wife
for me.'" In another house he sees a damsel who leaves not the dough
which sticks to the platter; and he says, "This is the wife for me."
Another young man offers to successive maidens a skein of tangled silk
to wind. The first says, "I can't;" the second tries, and gives up;
the third makes a quick job of it with her scissors; the fourth spends
hours in patiently, untangling, and is chosen. Now, what shows the
state of public sentiment is the fact that in none of these legends is
it intimated that the young man was fortunate in securing a thrifty or
a patient wife. It was the thrifty or patient young woman who was
fortunate in being selected by a young man, - by any young man; for the
character of the youth is never stated. There is an inference, also,
in the second one given, that the "hours" of a young woman can be
employed to no better purpose than that of untangling a skein of silk.
All this is throwing light on our problem, for so long as so much is
expected of woman physically, and so little in the way of mental
acquirements; so long as it is taken for granted that she is a
subordinate being, that to contribute to the physical comfort and
pleasure of man, and gain his approval, are the highest purposes of
her existence, - it will not be considered essential that she should
acquire culture. These aims are by no means unimportant ones, or
unworthy ones; but are they in all cases the highest a woman should



Having glanced at the present state of things, and at some of its
causes, let us show reasons why it should be changed.

A sufficient reason is, because it dwarfs the intellect, ruins the
health, and shortens the lives, of so many women. Another reason is,
that whereas the husband may keep himself informed on matters of
general interest in literature, art, science, and progress, while the
wife must give her mind to domestic activities, there is danger of the
two growing apart, which growing apart is destructive of that perfect
sympathy so essential to the happiness of married life. A certain
librarian remarked. "If a man wants a book for himself, I pick out a
solid work; if for his wife, a somewhat light and trifling one."
Third, because human beings have so much in common, are so closely
connected, that the good of all requires the good of each, and each of
all. And here is where the shortsightedness of the aristocracy of
wealth and the aristocracy of sex are strikingly apparent. They fail
to see that the very inferiority of what are called the inferior
classes re-acts on the superior classes. We all know how it is in the
human body. An injury to one small bone in the foot may cause distress
which shall be felt "all over," and shall disturb the operations of
the lordly brain itself. So in the body social. The wealthy and
refined, into whose luxurious dwellings enters no unsightly, no
uncleanly object, may say to themselves, "Never mind those poor
wretches down at the other end, huddled together in their filthy
tenements. They are ignorant, they don't know how to get along; but
their condition doesn't concern us, so long as our houses are light,
clean, and airy."

Those poor wretches, however, because they are ignorant, because they
don't know how "to get along," because they live huddled together in
filthy tenements, breathing foul air, starving on bad food, become a
ready prey to infectious diseases. The infectious diseases spread. Men
of wealth, from the refined and cleanly quarters, encounter in their
business walks representatives from the degraded and disgusting
quarter, and take from them the seeds of those diseases; or, on some
fatal day, a miasma from the corruption of the degraded quarter is
wafted in at the windows of the luxurious dwellings, and the idols of
those dwellings are stricken down. So in the body politic. The wise
and well-to-do enact laws, obedience to which is for the general good.
The ignorant and poverty-stricken, because of their unenlightened
condition, cannot see that obedience is for the good of all, and break
those laws. Hence crimes, the effects of which the wise and well-to-do
are made to feel, and for the punishment of which they are made to
pay. It is the same with man and woman. Man says, "Let woman manage
her domestic concerns, attend to her children, and gain the
approbation of her husband. These are her chief duties, and for these
little culture is needed." But woman becomes the mother of sons who
become men; and the character, condition, and destiny of those sons
who become men are, as we have seen, determined largely by the
condition, pre-natal and post-natal, of the mothers. So that the
ignorance in which woman is kept by man re-acts on man.

A fourth reason for a change is, that we live in a republic. In a
republic every man has a voice in public affairs. Every man is first a
child; and children, commonly speaking, are what the mother's
influence helps to make them. Therefore, if you would have the country
wisely, honestly, and decently governed, give the children the right
kind of mothers. If the community knew its own interests, it would not
merely permit women all possible means of culture, but would force all
possible means of culture upon them. It would say, "We can't afford
that you exhaust yourselves by labor, that you fritter yourselves away
in vanities; for by your deficiencies we all suffer, by your losses we
all lose."

But mark how stupid the community is. It desires that all its members
shall possess wisdom and integrity; it declares that, in regard to
character, a great deal depends on early training; it declares that
this early training is the duty of mothers; and yet it does not take
the next step, and say, _Therefore_ mothers should be qualified
for their duty, and have every facility for performing it
satisfactorily. It asserts with great solemnity, "Just as the twig is
bent the tree's inclined," then gives all its twigs into the hands of
mothers, saying, "Here, bend these: it makes a terrible difference how
they are bent, but then it is not important that you have given any
attention to the process." Or, to vary the statement, the community
virtually addresses woman in this way: "A fearful responsibility rests
upon you. It is the responsibility of training these young, immortal
souls. This is your mission, your high and holy calling. You will,
however, get little time to attend to it; and, as for any special
preparation or knowledge of the subject, none is required. There's a
great deal of delicate and complex machinery to superintend, and a
mistake will tell fearfully in the result; but, never mind, we'll
trust luck." "Do we not," as Horace Mann once asked, "do we not need
some single word where we can condense into one monosyllable the
meaning of ten thousand fools?" Some deny the power of early training.
"Look!" they say, "there is a family of children brought up just
alike, and see how differently they all turn out." But a family of
children should not be brought up just alike. Different temperaments
require different treatment. And this is exactly the point where
knowledge is necessary, and a wisdom almost superhuman. That character
is the result of "inherited traits," as well as of education, does not
affect the case, since children "inherit" from mothers and the sons of



But suppose we leave this part of our subject, and endeavor now to
find a way out of this present state of things. Let us keep the
situation clearly before us. As things are, woman cannot obtain
culture because of being overburdened with work and care, and also
because of her enfeebled condition physically. To what is this present
state of things owing? Largely to the unworthy views of both men and
women concerning the essentials of life, and concerning the
requirements of woman's vocation. And these unworthy views of men and
women, to what are they owing? In a very great measure to early
impressions. Who, chiefly, are responsible for these? Mothers. They
are also, as has been shown, responsible for the larger part of the
prevailing invalidism of woman. Let us be sure to bear in mind that
these evils, these hinderances to culture, can be traced directly back
to the influence and the ignorance of mothers; for here is where the
whole thing hinges. Here is a basis to build upon. Child-training is
at the beginning. Child-training is woman's work. Everybody says so.
The wise say so. The foolish say so. The "oak and vine" man says so.
The "private way, dangerous passing" man says so. Very good. If this
is woman's work, _educate her for her work_. If "educate" isn't
the right word, instruct her, inform her, teach her, prepare her; name
the process as you choose, so that it enables her to comprehend the
nature of her business, and qualifies her to perform its duties. She
requires not only general culture, but special preparation, a
technical preparation if you will. Let this come in as the
supplementary part of what is called her education. Many will
pronounce this absurd; but why is it absurd? Say we have in our young
woman's class at the "Institute," thirty or forty or fifty young
women. Now, we know that almost every one of these, either as a mother
or in some other capacity, will have the care of children. The
"Institute" assumes to give these young women such knowledge as shall
be useful to them in after life. If "Institutes" are not for this
purpose, what are they for? One might naturally suppose, then, that
the kind of knowledge which its pupils need for their special vocation
would rank first in importance. And what kind will they need? Step
into the house round the corner, or down the street, and ask that
young mother, looking with unutterable tenderness upon the little
group around her, what knowledge she would most value. She will say,
"I long more than words can express to know how to keep these children
well. I want to make them good children, to so train them that they
will be comforts to themselves and useful to others. But I am ignorant
on every point. I don't know how to keep them well, and I don't know
how to control them, how to guide them."

"It is said," you reply, "that every child brings love with it. Is not
love all-powerful and all-sufficient?"

"Love does come with every child; but, alas! knowledge does not come
with the love. My love is so strong, and yet so blind, that it even
does harm. I would almost give up a little of my love if knowledge
could be got in exchange."

Here, perhaps, you inquire, somewhat sarcastically, if no instruction
on these subjects was given at the "Institute." She opens wide her
astonished eyes. "Oh, no! No, indeed, - surely not."

"What, then, were you taught there?"

"Well, many things, - Roman history for one. We learned all about the
Punic Wars, their causes, results, and the names of the famous
generals on both sides."

Now, if a Bostonian were going to Europe, it would do him no harm to
be told the names of all the streets in Chicago, the names of the
inhabitants of each street, with the stories of their lives, their
quarrels, reconciliations, and how each one rose or fell to his
position. Acquiring these facts would be good mental exercise, and
from a part of them he would learn something of human nature. But what
that man wants to know more than any thing is, on what day the steamer
sails for Europe: is she seaworthy? what are her accommodations? is
she well provisioned, well manned, well commanded? are her
life-preservers stuffed with cork or shavings? So, if a man is going
to build a boat, you might show him a collection of fossils, and
discourse to him of the gneiss system, the mica-schist system, or talk
of the atomic theory and protoplasms. Such knowledge would help to
enlarge his views, extend his range of vision, and strengthen his
memory, but would not help the man to build his boat. He wants to know
how to lay her keel straight, how to hit the right proportions, how to
make her mind her helm, how to make her go; and he has been taught
that the great pachyderms are divided into paleotheria and
anoplotheria. The same of our young mother: she wants to know how to
bring up her child, and she has been taught "how many Punic wars there
were, their causes, results, and the names of the famous generals on
both sides."

It may be asked here, in what way, or by what studies, shall the young
woman's class at the "Institute" be taught the necessary knowledge? It
would be presumption in one like me to attempt a complete answer to
that question. But the professors, presidents, and stockholders of our
"Institutes" are learned and wise. If these will let their light shine
in this direction as they have let it shine in other directions, a way
will be revealed. But, while learning and wisdom are getting ready to
do this, mere common sense may offer a few suggestions. Suppose the
young woman's class were addressed somewhat in this way: "It is
probable that all of you, in one capacity or another, will have the
care of young children, and that for the majority it will be the chief
duty of your lives. There is, then, nothing in the whole vast range of
learning so important to you as knowledge on this subject." This for a
general statement to begin with. As for the particular subjects and
their order, common sense would ask, first, What does a young mother
want to know first? First, she wants to know how to keep her child
alive, how to make it strong to endure or defy disease. She needs to
be taught, for instance, why a child should breathe pure air, and why
it should not get its pure air in the form of draughts. She needs to
know if it makes any difference what a child eats, or how often, and
that a monotonous diet is injurious. She needs to know something of
the nutritive qualities of different kinds of food, and why some are
easy of digestion and others not, and in what way each kind builds up
the system. She needs to understand the chemistry of cookery, in order
to judge what kinds of food are calculated to make the best blood,
bones, and muscles. She needs to have some general ideas in regard to
ways of bringing back the system from an abnormal to a healthy state;
as, for instance, equalizing the circulations. Learned professors,
women physicians, will know how to deliver courses of lectures on all
such subjects, and to tell what books have been written on them, and
where these books may be found. And, as for the absurdity of teaching
these things beforehand, compare that with the absurdity of rearing a
race to hand over to physicians and undertakers, and choose between.
And even apart from their practical bearing, why are not such items of
knowledge as well worth learning, as simply items of knowledge, as the
hundreds of others which, at present, no young woman's course can be
without? There is no doubt that if mothers were given a knowledge of
these matters beforehand, instead of being left to acquire it
experimentally, the present frightful rate of infant mortality (nearly
twenty-five per cent) would be reduced. Plenty of light has been
thrown on this subject, but the community does not receive it. Here is
some which was contributed to one of the Board of Health reports by a

"The mother," he says, "requires something more than her loving
instincts, her ready sympathies. With all her good-will and
conscientiousness, mistakes are made. The records of infant mortality
offer a melancholy illustration of the necessity of the mother's
previous preparation for the care of her children. The first-born die
in infancy in much larger proportion than their successors in the
family. The mother learns at the cost of her first child, and is
better prepared for the care of the second, and still better for the
third and fourth, whose chances of development into full life and
strength are much greater than those of the oldest brothers and

Think of the mother learning "at the cost of her first child," and of
the absurd young woman learning beforehand; and choose between. Also
please compare the "previous preparation" here recommended with the
mere bureau-drawer preparation, which is the only one at present
deemed necessary. Another writer, an Englishman, speaking of the high
rate of infant mortality, says, "It arises from ignorance of the
proper means to be employed in rearing children," which certainly is
plain language. Such facts and opinions as these would make an
excellent basis for a course of lectures at the "Institute," to be
given by competent women physicians. The advertisements of "Mrs.
Winslow's Soothing Syrup" would be remarkably suggestive in this
connection. A mother of three little children said to me, "I give the
baby her dose right after breakfast; and she goes to sleep, and sleeps
all the forenoon. That's the way I get my work done." We all know why
the baby sleeps after taking its dose. We do not know how many mothers
adopt this means of getting their work done; but the fact that the
proprietor of this narcotic gained his immense wealth by the sale of
it enables us to form some idea.

The importance of educating nursery-girls for their calling, and the
physical evils which may arise from leaving young children entirely to
the care of nursery-girls, would be exceedingly suggestive as lecture
subjects. Mr. Kingsley asks, "Is it too much to ask of mothers,
sisters, aunts, nurses, and governesses, that they should study thrift
of human health and human life by studying somewhat the laws of life
and health? There are books - I may say a whole literature of
books - written by scientific doctors on these matters, which are, to
my mind, far more important to the schoolroom than half the trashy
accomplishments, so called, which are expected to be known by our

But, supposing a mother succeeds in keeping her child alive and well,
what knowledge does she desire next? She desires to know next how to
guide it, influence it, mould its character. She does all these,
whether she tries to or not, whether she knows it or not, whether she
wishes to or not. Says Horace Mann, "It ought to be understood and
felt, that in regard to children all precept and example, all kindness
and harshness, all rebuke and commendation, all forms, indeed, of
direct or indirect education, affect mental growth, just as dew, and
sun, and shower, or untimely frost, affect vegetable growth. Their
influences are integrated and made one with the soul. They enter into
spiritual combination with it, never afterward to be wholly
decompounded. They are like the daily food eaten by wild game, so
pungent in its nature that it flavors every fibre of their flesh, and
colors every bone in their bodies. Indeed, so pervading and enduring
is the effect of education upon the youthful soul, that it may well be
compared to a certain species of writing ink, whose color at first is
scarcely perceptible, but which penetrates deeper and grows blacker by
age, until, if you consume the scroll over a coal-fire, the character
will still be legible in the cinders."

In regard to inherited bad traits, the question arises, if even these
may not be changed for the better by skilful treatment given at a
sufficiently early period. Children inheriting diseased bodies are
sometimes so reared as to become healthy men and women. To do this
requires watchfulness and wise management. How do we know that by
watchfulness and wise management children born with inherited bad
traits may not be trained to become good men and women? But the
majority of mothers do not watch for such traits. It seldom occurs to
them that they should thus watch. Why not bring the subject to the
consideration of young women "beforehand," when, being assembled in
companies, they are easy of access? It is too late when they are
scattered abroad, and burdened each with her pressing family duties.
"Forewarned is forearmed."

Some are of the opinion that the badness which comes by inheritance
cannot be changed. This is equivalent to believing that there is no
help for the evil in the world. Unworthy and vicious parents are
continually transmitting objectionable traits to their children, who
in turn will transmit them to theirs, and so on to the end of time.
Shall we fold our hands, and resign ourselves to the prospect, while
our educators go on ignoring the whole matter, and leaving those who
might affect a change ignorant that it is in their power to do so?

"But," says one, "the children of those people who thought so much
about education, and who started with model theories, behave no better
than other people's children." This may be true, and still prove
nothing. "Those people" might not have thought wisely about education.
Their model theories might not have been adapted to the various
temperaments often found in one family. Their children might have been
exceptionally faulty by nature; unsuspected inherited traits may have
developed themselves, and interfered with the workings of the model
theories. The failure of "those people" shows all the more the need of
preparation given "beforehand," and given by those who make the
subject a special study, just as the professor of history, or
mathematics, or natural philosophy, makes his department a special

When we consider how much is at stake, it really seems as if learned
and wise professors could not employ their learning and wisdom to
better purpose than in devising ways of enlightening the "young
woman's class" upon any and every point which has a bearing on the
intellectual and moral training of children.



It is not to be supposed that enlightenment on subjects pertaining to
the intellectual and moral training of children can be given to a
young woman in text-book fashion, cut and dried, put up in packages,
and labelled ready for use. But it will be something gained to set her
thinking on these subjects, to make her feel their importance, and to
inform her in what books and by what writers they have been
considered. All this, and more to the same purpose, could be done by
lectures and discussions, for which lectures and discussions even
humble common sense need be at no loss to suggest topics. There are,
for instance, the different methods of governing, of reproving, of
punishing, and of securing obedience; the evils of corporal
punishment, of governing by ridicule, of showing temper while
punishing. Then there are questions like these: How far should love of
approbation be encouraged? What prominence shall be given to
externals, as personal appearance, the minutia of behavior, politeness
of speech? How may perfect politeness be combined with perfect
sincerity? Ways of inculcating integrity. How to teach self-reliance,

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Online LibraryAbby Morton DiazA Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household → online text (page 3 of 6)