Abby Morton Diaz.

A Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household online

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An Englishman, Lord Rosebury, in a recent address, insists on a
special preparation for the hereditary rulers who sit in Parliament;
and, if those who are to rule mind need this, how much more do they
need it who are to stamp mind, and give it its first direction! Horace
Mann shall close this chapter with one of his impressive sentences.
Says this truly great man, "If we fasten our eyes upon the effects
which education may throw forward into immortal destinies, it is then
that we are awed, amazed, overpowered, by the thought that we have
been placed in a system where the soul's eternal flight may be made
higher or lower by those who plume its tender wings, and direct its
early course. Such is the magnitude, the transcendence, of this



Some persons have asked, after hearing or reading the foregoing
suggestions, "Do not _men_ also work too much and read too
little? Is not the influence of _fathers_ on their children to be
considered? Should not _fathers_ be educated for their vocation?"
To these questions there can be but one answer. Yes! and the yes
cannot be too emphatic. But the paper which formed the nucleus of
these chapters was written by a woman at the request of women, to be
read before a woman's club assembled to consider the question, "How
shall the mother obtain culture?" The very fact that such a question
had suggested itself to them, shows that women feel the need of more
than their present opportunities for culture. If men feel this need,
there is nothing to prevent them from assembling to discuss their
unsatisfactory condition, to devise ways of improving it, to consider
their responsibilities, and to inquire how they shall best qualify
themselves to fulfil the duties of their vocation. The writer is under
the impression that men's clubs do not meet especially with a view to
such discussions.

The following paragraphs comprise the first part of a letter published
in "The New York Tribune."

"These letters will speak to the hearts of thousands of women all
through the country, and particularly to the women "out West," as they
have already to my own. This problem has been revolved in my mind
again and again, but no clew has appeared by which to solve it; and I
have laid it down hopelessly, feeling that there is no alternative but
to submit and carry the burden as long as strength endures, and seeing
no outlook for the future but in a brief period of old age, when care
and labor must come on younger shoulders.

"I want to speak only of the condition of women with whom I am best
acquainted, - the wives of farmers in this part of Illinois. Many
instances I have known of women who received in the East an education
in some cases superior to that of their husbands, but a life of
constant care and drudgery has caused them to lose, instead of gain in
mental culture, while the husbands have grown away from them; and it
is only in subjects of a lower nature that they have a common
interest. A man, in his every-day intercourse with other men, and his
business calls into all kinds of places and scenes, must be a fool not
to receive new ideas, not to become more intelligent on many subjects.
But what can be expected of the wife, almost always at home in the
isolated farm-house, in a sparsely settled community, and if poor and
struggling with debt, as many are, with no reading except, one or two
newspapers? If she had a library of books, it would make but little
difference, for she has no time to read them. All through the Western
country there is an absolute dearth of women's "help." "A girl" can
hardly be obtained for love or money. Girls in towns or cities will
not go into the country, and country girls are too independent. If
they have a father's house, they will not leave it for any length of
time, as actual want is not known here in the country. Within a radius
of five miles in every direction from my home, where I have lived
eight years, I have never known or heard of a family or person
suffering for any thing to eat, drink, or wear; and have never had a
call for help in that direction. A house-mother of my acquaintance,
whose husband owns a "section" farm, suffers much from illness, and
has a large family, yet for months has been without any help in her
work but that of her little girls, - the oldest not over
twelve, - simply because she could not get a servant. The farmers
themselves are under less necessity to labor than in many other parts
of the country. Farms are comparatively large, and produce large
crops, and it pays them to hire laborers. Many farmers work in the
field very little, while the wife and mother does the housework not
only for her own family, but for from one to three laborers. During
the rush of crop raising and harvesting, from April to August, she
must be up at four in the morning, and she cannot have her supper
until the farm work is all done; and by the time her children are put
to bed, the milk cared for, and dishes washed, it is nine o'clock or
after. It is hard for a woman who is hungry for reading to see how
much leisure even "hired men" have to read, - their winter and rainy
days, their long noonings and evenings, and odd bits of time, while
she has comparatively none."

It seems, then, that it is with women as with men: at the West too few
workers for the work, at the East too little work for the workers.
Now, in the case of the men, there is a regularly organized plan to
bring the workers to the work. Laborers are taken from the East where
they stand in each other's way, and carried to the West where their
services are needed. Why not have some arrangement of this kind for
the women? In the present condition of things, destitute women and
girls congregate in our cities, and in dull seasons depend on charity
for their daily food. In Boston, during the last winter, this
charitable feeding was reduced to a system, and, according to
published reports, immense numbers were thus supplied with food. It
seems a pity that women and girls should starve or live on charity in
our cities, while so many families in the West are suffering for their
help. Can there not be some concerted plan between these widely
separated sections of the country whereby at least a portion of our
destitute ones can be conveyed to the West, and there provided with
comfortable homes?

By private letters received from "Tribune" readers living in different
parts of the country, it appears that many thoughtful people are
considering our problem, and devising ways of solving it. One of these
letters says, "You sprinkle rose water where you should pour
aquafortis. You say husbands '_don't know_' that their wives are
overworked. The truth is, they don't care." The writer recommends that
the laws be so altered as to make second marriages illegal, assuming
that, if a man could have only one wife, he would take good care of
that one. This is an unpleasant view of the case, and would not be
presented here, only that, from the earnest downrightness of the
letter, it seems probable that its writer speaks from knowledge, and
represents a class, - a small one, let us hope.

Three private letters, coming one from the South, one from the East,
and one from the West, declare that woman's present state of
invalidism and thraldom to labor is occasioned by the too frequent
recurrence of the duties and exhaustive demands of maternity. The
writers of the letters affirm, that, in these matters, women are often
made the slaves of sensual husbands, and earnestly entreat that this
shall be mentioned among the "causes of the present state of things."

The only sure and lasting remedy for the above-mentioned evils, and
others similar to them, is a wise education. When man is wisely
educated, and not till then, will he have a proper consideration for

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