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without fostering self-conceit. How to encourage prudence and economy,
and at the same time discourage parsimony. How to combine firmness
with kindness. Implicit obedience a good basis to work on. How to
enter into a child's life, and make it a happy one. How not to become
a slave to a child's whims. The different amounts of indulgence and of
assistance which different temperaments will bear. How shall
liberality be inculcated, and extravagance denounced? On deceitfulness
as taught by parents. On lying as taught by parents. On the
impossibility of making one theory work in a whole family of children,
or always on a single child. Shall obedience be implicit, and how
early in the child's life shall it be exacted? On marriages. On the
true issues of life. When shall ambition and the spirit of emulation
be encouraged, and when repressed? The possibility of too much
fault-finding making a child callous. If mere common sense discovers
so many subjects, what number may not learning and wisdom discover
when their attention shall be turned in this direction?

The "nursery-girl" topic might come up again, and be considered in its
moral and intellectual aspects. Some mothers see their small children
only once or twice a day, while the nurse is with them constantly.
This fact might be made strikingly significant by placing it side by
side with Horace Mann's words: "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," - also with a previously quoted assertion,
founded on actual experiments, that "it is the medium in which a child
is habitually immersed" which helps most in forming the child's
character. The kind of reading which falls into the hands of the young
would be found to be a lecture topic of appalling interest. Striking
illustrations for such lectures could be taken from the advertisements
and statistics of story-paper and dime-novel publishers. The
illustrated papers which can be bought and are bought by youth are
crammed to overflowing with details of vice and barbarity. They have
columns headed "A Melange of Murder," "Fillicide, or a Son killing a
Father," "Lust and Blood," "Fiendish Assassination," "Particulars of
the Hanging of John C. Kelly," "Carving a Darky," "An Interesting
Divorce Case in Boston," "A Band of Juvenile Jack Sheppards." And the
pictures match the reading, - a jealous lover shooting a half-naked
girl; a father murdering his family; an inquisitive youth peering into
a ladies' dressing-room. If the contents of these papers are bad for
us to hear of, what must they be to the youth who read them? Dime
novels are advertised in these same papers as being issued once a
month, and supplied by all the news companies, "Sensational stories
from the pens of gifted American novelists!" "The Sharpers' League,"
"Lyte, or the Suspected One," "The Pirate's Isle," "Darrell, the
Outlaw," "The Night Hawks, containing Midnight Robbery, Plots dark and
deep," "The Female Poisoner," "Etne of the Angel Face and Demon
Heart," "The Cannibal Kidnappers, a Sequel to the Boy Mutineers,"
"Life for Life, or the Spanish Gipsy Girl," "Tom Wildrake's
School-days." Some of these papers are entitled "Boys' and Girls'"
weeklies. The old saying is, "Build doves' nests, and doves will
come." What kind of "nests" are being built by the young readers of
these publications, of which it may almost literally be said, "no boy
can do without one"? The boy at school has one between the leaves of
his geography; the boy riding, or sailing, or resting from his work or
his play, draws one from his pocket; the grocer's boy comes forward to
serve you, tucking one under his jacket. In the way of statistics, it
might be stated that nineteen tons of obscene publications and plates
for the same were seized at one time in New-York City. Should
representatives of "our best families" ask, "How does this affect us
and ours?" it could be answered that catalogues of academies and
boarding-schools are obtained, and that these publications are then
forwarded to pupils by mail.

Topics of this kind would naturally suggest those of an opposite kind,
as modes of awakening in children an appreciation of the beauty, the
sublimity, the wonderfulness, of the various objects in the world of
nature; also of cultivating in their minds a taste for the beautiful
and the refined in art, literature, manners, conversation. These
considerations could be effectively introduced into a lecture or
lectures "On the Building of Doves' Nests." Is it not "essential" that
mothers should have the time, the facilities, and the knowledge
necessary for accomplishing what is here suggested, and that they be
made sensible of its importance? But there is many a busy mother now
who can scarcely "take time" to look out when her children call her to
see a rainbow, much less to walk out with them among natural objects.

The object of these lectures should not be to teach any particular
theories on which to act in the management of children, but to so
instruct, so to enlighten young women, that when the time for action
comes they will act intelligently. With the majority of women the
management of children is a mere "getting along." In this "getting
along" they often have recourse to deception; thus teaching
deceitfulness. They are often unfair, punishing on one occasion what
they smile at or wink at on another; thus teaching injustice. They
lose self-control, and punish when in anger; thus setting examples of
violence and bad temper. It is probable that a young woman who had
been educated with a view to her vocation would be more likely to act
wisely in these emergencies and in her general course of management,
than one who had not. There would be more chance of her taking pains
to consider. She would not work so blindly, so aimlessly, so "from
hand to mouth," as do some of our mothers.

Such enlightenment is an enlightenment for which any good mother will
be thankful. She wants it to work with. She feels the need of it every
hour in the day. Why, then, is it not given to young women as a part
of their education, and as the most important part? They are
instructed in almost every thing else. They can give you the areas,
population, boundaries, capitals, and peculiarities of far-away and
insignificant provinces; the exact measurements of mountain ranges,
lakes, and rivers; statistics, in figures, of the farthest isle beyond
the farthest sea. They are lectured on the antediluvians, on the Milky
Way, on the Siamese, Japanese, North Pole, on all the ologies; on the
literature, modes of thought, and modes of life, of extinct races.
They can converse in foreign tongues; they are familiar with dead
languages, and with the superstitions, observances, and quarrels of
certain races, barbarous or otherwise, who existed thousands of years
ago. In fact, they are taught, after some fashion, almost every thing
except what their life-work will specially require. Little will it
avail a mother in her seasons of perplexity or of bereavement to
remember "what wars engaged Rome after the Punic Wars, and how many
years elapsed before she was mistress of the Mediterranean." This and
the following questions are taken from the "Examination Papers" of a
popular "Institute" for young ladies.

"Give names and dates of the principal engagements of the Persian
wars, with the names of the great men of Greece during that period."

"Show cause, object, and result of the Peloponnesian war."

"Give names and attributes of the seven kings of Rome."

"After the kings were driven out, what does the internal history
mainly consist of?"

"What were the social, and what were the civil wars?"

Common sense might ask why every child born in the nineteenth century
must go to work so solemnly to learn the minute particulars of those
old wars! Still common sense would not declare such knowledge to be
altogether worthless; it would only suggest that woman wants the kind
which will help her in her special department, more than she wants
this kind. Said a lady in my hearing, - an only child reared in the
very centre of wealth and culture, - "I was most carefully educated;
but, when I came to be the mother of children, I found myself utterly
helpless."

It is gratifying to know that in regard to these matters common sense
has very respectable learning and wisdom on its side. A celebrated
writer and thinker says, "If by some strange chance not a vestige of
us descended to the remote future, save a pile of our school-books, or
some college examination papers, we may imagine how puzzled an
antiquary of the period would be on finding in them no indication that
the learners were ever likely to be parents. 'This must have been the
curriculum for their celibates,' we may fancy him concluding: 'I
perceive here an elaborate preparation for many things; especially for
reading the books of extinct nations (from which, indeed, it seems
clear that these people had very little worth reading in their own
tongue), but I find no reference whatever to the bringing up of
children. They could not have been so absurd as to omit all training
for this gravest of responsibilities. Evidently, then, this was the
school-course of one of their monastic orders.' Seriously, is it not
an astonishing fact, that though on the treatment of offspring depend
their lives or their deaths, and their moral welfare or ruin, not one
word on such treatment is ever given to those who will hereafter be
parents? Is it not monstrous, that the fate of a new generation should
be left to the chances of unreasoning custom, impulse, fancy, joined
with the suggestions of ignorant nurses and the prejudiced counsel of
grandmothers? To tens of thousands that are killed, add hundreds of
thousands that survive with feeble constitutions, and millions that
grow up with constitutions not so strong as they should be, and you
will have some idea of the curse inflicted on their offspring by
parents ignorant of the laws of life. With cruel carelessness they
have neglected to learn any thing about these vital processes which
they are unceasingly affecting by their commands and prohibitions; in
utter ignorance of the simplest physiological laws, they have been,
year by year, undermining the constitutions of their children, and
have so inflicted disease and premature death not only on them but on
their descendants. Consider the young mother and her nursery
legislation. But a few years ago she was at school, where her memory
was crammed with words, names, and dates; where not one idea was given
her respecting the methods of dealing with the opening mind of
childhood. The intervening years have been passed in practising music,
in fancy work, in novel-reading, and in party-going; no thought having
been yet given to the grave responsibilities of maternity. And now see
her with an unfolding human character committed to her charge, - see
her profoundly ignorant of the phenomena with which she has to deal,
undertaking to do that which can be done but imperfectly even with the
aid of the profoundest knowledge.... Lacking knowledge of mental
phenomena, with their causes and consequences, her interference is
frequently more mischievous than absolute passivity would have been."

This writer, it seems, would also have young men educated with a view
to their probable duties as fathers, and so, of course, would we all;
and much might be said on this point, especially of its bearing on the
solution of our problem; still, as Mr. Frothingham said in a recent
address, "The mother, of all others, is the one to foster and control
the individuality of the child." It was "good mothers" which Napoleon
needed in order to secure the welfare of France. "Such kind of women
as are the mothers of great men," is a significant sentence I have
seen somewhere in print. In fact, so much depends on mothers, that
there seems no possible way by which our problem can be fully solved
until the right kind of mothers shall have been raised up, and their
children be grown to maturity.




CHAPTER IX.

WAYS OF IMMEDIATE ESCAPE.


But is there no possible way by which mothers now living may escape
from this present unsatisfactory condition? Yes; but not many will
adopt it. Simplicity in food and in dress would set free a very large
number. A great part of what are called their "domestic" occupations
consists in the preparation of food which is worse than unnecessary. A
great part of their sewing work consists in fabricating "trimmings"
which are worse than useless, even considering beauty a use, which it
is. Let these simplify their cooking and their dressing, and time for
culture will appear, and for them our problem be solved. We preach
against the vice of intemperance, and with reason. Let us ask
ourselves if intemperance in eating and in dressing is not even more
to be deplored. The former brings ruin to comparatively a few: by
means of the latter the whole tone of mind among women is lowered; and
we have seen what it costs to lower the tone of mind among women. We
must remember that not only is the condition of the mother reflected
in the organism of her child, but that the child is taught by the
daily example of its mother what to look upon as the essentials of
life. "I feel miserable," said a feeble house-mother, just recovering
from sickness; "but I managed to crawl out into the kitchen, and stir
up a loaf of cake." Now, why should a sick woman have crawled out into
the kitchen, to stir up a loaf of cake? Was that a paramount
duty, - one which demanded the outlay of her little all of strength?
This is the obvious inference, and one which children would naturally
draw. A lady of intelligence, on hearing this case stated, expressed
the opinion that the woman did no more than her duty. Said this lady,
"If her husband liked cake, it was her duty to provide it for him at
whatever sacrifice of health on her own part."

Now, it seems reasonable to suppose that an affectionate couple would
have a mutual understanding in regard to such matters. It seems
reasonable to suppose that an affectionate husband would rather
partake of plain fare in the society of a wife with sufficient health
and spirits to be companionable, than to eat his cake alone while she
was recovering from the fatigue of making it.

Speaking of inferences, it is obvious what ones a child will draw from
seeing its mother deprive herself of sleep and recreation and
reading-time in order to trim a suit _à la mode_. And these
inferences of children concerning essentials have a mighty bearing on
our problem. Some ladies defend the present elaborate style of dress
on the ground that it affords the means of subsistence to
sewing-girls. There is something in this, but I think not so much as
appears. Go into the upper lofts where much of this sewing is done,
and what will you find? You will find them crowded with young girls,
bending over sewing-machines, or over work-tables, breathing foul air,
and, in some cases, engaged in conversations of the most objectionable
character. Their pay is ridiculously small, - a dollar and a half for
doing the machine-work on a full-trimmed fashionable "suit." I learned
this, and about the conversations, from a worker at one of these
establishments. Clothes, especially outside clothes, they must have
and will have; consequently the saving must be made on food. Some, too
poor to pay board, hire attic rooms, and pinch themselves in both fire
and food. They often carry their dinner, say bread, tea, and
confectioner's pie, and remain at the store all day. They are liable
to be thrown among vile associates; they are exposed to many
temptations. They enrich their employers, but not themselves. In dull
seasons their situation is pitiable, not to say dangerous. A great
number of them come from country homes. Of these, many might live
comfortably in those homes, and others might earn a support by working
in their neighbors' houses, where they would be considered as members
of the families, have good lodging and nourishing food, and where
their assistance is not only desired, but in some cases actually
suffered for. They prefer the excitements of city life. (Of course,
these remarks do not apply to all of them.) Fashionable ladies may not
employ shop-girls directly or indirectly, but their example helps to
make a market for the services of these girls. Another consideration
is, that the poor seamstress who is benefited directly by the money of
fashionable ladies is taught as directly, by their example, false
views as to the essentials of life; so that what helps in one way
hinders in another. All this should be considered by those who bring
forward "sewing-girls' needs" as an argument for an elaborate style of
dress. Even were this argument sound, it fails to cover the case. A
very large proportion of our women have not money enough to hire their
sewing done, and it is upon these that the wearisome burden falls. To
keep up, to vary with the varying fashion, they toil in season and out
of season. Day after day you will see them at their work-tables, their
machines, their lap-boards; ripping, stitching, turning, altering,
furbishing; complaining often of sideache, of backache, of headache,
of aching all over; denying themselves outdoor air and exercise and
reading-time, - and all because they consider dressing fashionably an
essential of life. With them, what costs only time, health, and
strength, costs nothing.

Think of this going on all over the country. Think of the sacrifices
it involves. In view of them, it really seems as if those who can
afford to hire their sewing done should give up elaborate trimmings
just for example's sake. To be sure, this is not striking at the
foundation. To be sure, this is not the true way of bringing about a
reform. But, while waiting to get at the foundation, would it not be
well to work a little on the surface for the sake of immediate
results? You would refrain from taking a glass of wine if, by so
doing, you made abstinence easier for your weaker brother or sister.
Why not consider the weakness of these toiling sisters? It is not
their fault that they do not see what are the true issues of life.
They have not been wisely educated. If the wealthy and influential
would adopt a simple style of dress, their doing so would be the means
of relieving many overburdened women immediately, and of helping them
to solve the problem we are considering. It is not wicked to dress
simply, and no principle would be sacrificed. Neither would good
taste. Indeed, the latter is opposed to excessive ornamentation,
whether in dress, manners, speech, or writing. Long live beauty! Long
live taste! Long live the "aesthetic side"! But simplicity does not
necessarily imply plainness, nor homeliness, nor uncouthness. There
can be a simplicity of adornment. I am aware that acting for example's
sake is not a sound principle of action; but it is a question if it be
not duty in this particular case. A lady physician of large practice
once said to me, "I see, among poor girls, so much misery caused by
this," - meaning this rage for excessive trimming, - "that I can
scarcely bring myself to wear even one plain fold." If it be asked,
Should we not also relinquish costly fabrics, and the elegant
appointments of our dwellings? it may be answered, that "poor girls"
commonly give up these as being entirely out of their reach. They buy
low-priced material, and call the dress cheap which costs only their
time, their strength, their sleep, and their opportunities for reading
and recreation.

We all know that the right way is to so educate woman that she will be
sensible in these matters. The external life is but the natural
outgrowth of the internal. It is of no use cutting off follies and
fripperies from the outside so long as the heart's desire for them
remains. This heart's desire must have something better in its
place, - something higher, nobler, worthier. This something is
enlightenment; and to effect the exchange we shall have to begin at
the beginning, and enlighten the mothers. Follies and fripperies, in
cooking or dressing, will give way before enlightenment, just as do
the skin paintings, tattooings, gaudy colors, glass beads and tinsel,
and other absurdities of savage tribes; just as have done the barbaric
customs and splendors of the barbaric ages. Woman is not quite out of
her barbaric stage yet. At any rate, she is not fully enlightened. The
desire for that redundancy of adornment which is in bad taste still
remains. In the process of evolution, the nose-ring has been cast off;
but rings are still hooked into the flesh of the ears, and worn with
genuine barbaric complacency. When women are all wisely educated, our
problem will melt away and disappear. The wisely-educated woman will,
of her own accord, lay hold on essentials and let go unessentials. She
will do the best thing with her time, the best thing with her means.
She may conform to fashion, but will not feel obliged to do so. In
fact, when women become enlightened, non-conformity to fashion will be
all the fashion. Right of private judgment in the matter will be
conceded. All women shall dress as seemeth to them good; and no woman
shall say, or think, or look, "Why do ye so?" Those having
insufficient means and time will be so wise as not to feel compelled
to dress like those who have plenty of both.

Meanwhile, as an immediate measure of relief, suppose a dozen or
twenty mothers in each town should agree to adopt a simple yet
tasteful style of dress for themselves and their little girls. This
would lighten, at once, their heavy burden of work, give them "time to
read," and would be a benefit to those little girls in many ways.

Another way of immediate escape is by making the present race of
husbands aware that their wives are being killed, or crazed, with hard
work and care, especially husbands in the small towns and villages,
and more especially farmers. In regard to these last, it is no
exaggeration to say that their wives in many cases work like slaves.
Indeed, this falls short of the truth, for slaves have not the added
burden of responsibility. As things are now, the woman who marries a
farmer often goes, as one may say, into a workhouse, sentenced to hard
labor for life.

When these husbands permit their wives to "overwork," it is not from
indifference, but from sheer ignorance. They don't know, they don't
begin to conceive, of the labor there is in "woman's work." It is true
that neither are merchant-princes aware of what it costs their wives
to superintend the complicated arrangements of their establishments;
to see that all the wheels, and the wheels within wheels, revolve
smoothly, and that comfort and style go hand in hand; but let us
consider now the farmers' wives, toiling on, and on, and on, in
country towns, East, West, and all the way between. Their husbands, in
not a few cases, are able to hire at least the drudgery done, and
would if they only knew. A young woman from a New Hampshire village,
herself an invalid from hard work, speaking to me of her mother, said,
"She suffers every thing with her back. When she stoops down to the
oven to attend to the pies, she has to hold on to her back, hard, to
get up again." I said, "Why, I shouldn't think your father would let
her make them." - "Oh," said she, "father don't understand. He's hard."
One day I was sitting in the house of a young woman, - a fragile,
delicate creature, scarcely able to lift the baby she was
holding, - when her husband came in. He was a working man, tall and
robust looking. He walked toward the pantry. "You mustn't cut a pie,"
the little wife called out laughing. Then turning to me, she said,
with a sort of appealing, piteous glance, "He don't understand how
hard it is for me to make pies." I know a young woman, not a strong
woman, who, with a family of very little children, does her own work,
and makes from one to two dozen pies at a common baking, "'cause hubby
loves 'em." I know another, similarly situated, who gives her husband
pies at breakfast as well as at other meals, because "he was brought
up to them at home." Now, all these "hubbies" are loving "hubbies,"
but - they do not know. A friend of mine, an elderly woman lately
deceased, came to her death (so her neighbors said) by hard work.
"Killed with work," was the exact expression they used. She was a dear


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Online LibraryAbby Morton DiazA Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household → online text (page 4 of 6)