Survey Associates.

The Survey (Volume 58) online

. (page 8 of 130)
Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesThe Survey (Volume 58) → online text (page 8 of 130)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

AJ early experience was my first attendance at a Socialist
meeting. It was in the old part of the city, on the sec-
ond floor of a modest little eating-place, permanently so clean
that one could literally have eaten off the floor. As I took
my seat I was so trembling with excitement that I grasped
the sides of my chair and held them firmly, for the speaker
was Eduard Bernstein, then exiled editor of the organ of
the German Socialist Party, several leaders of which were
also present; and here was I in the World of the Future!

The subject was Bismarck's proposed high tariff for Ger-
many. The room was filled by about twenty students from
a dozen countries, and rather more skilled wage-earners,
men and women in the textile and railroad industries
centered in Zurich.

Before midnight every aspect of the tariff that I had
ever heard or read of was presented, plus one which was
utterly new to me, as a serious middle-aged Swiss railroad
man argued: "There is an objection that has not been
mentioned. We are internationalists ; we are intimately
acquainted with the textile industries ; we should not fail
to consider the effect on the producers of raw silk in the
Orient that the tariff will involve, if prices of silk products
in Germany are to be raised. The livelihood of the pro-
ducers of raw silk in China and Japan will obviously have
to be crowded down at least enough to meet the tariff
charges in German custom houses. As internationalists,
should we give our assent to this lowering of the standard
of living of fellow workers on the other side of the globe ?"

This might well have been a Quaker meeting. Here
was the Golden Rule! Here was Grandaunt Sarah!

My eager plunge into the enthusiasm of the new move-
ment that was beginning to kindle throughout all Europe
did not blind me to certain fundamental differences. Mine
was after all an American background ; those youthful
years of talk with Father had whetted whatever discern-
ment Nature had given me and those differences were to
determine my later thinking.

I was, however, not to turn directly from my novitiate
in American and European universities to a part in the in-
tellectual life of my generation, nor the political, nor the
economic life. Instead, having married a Russian physician,
I returned to America in 1886 with him and my elder son,
and the ensuing five years were devoted to domestic life.



Can Mother Come Back?


SCARED voice over The Survey telephone
started the discussion. "No, you don't know
me, so it's no use telling my name. But
I've been reading what The Survey says
about married women working and I thought
I'd call you up. You see, Grace is sixteen
now and neither she nor the doctor need me at home like
they used to, so I thought I might get a job. We could
use the money and it would be something to do. But the
trouble is, I never did have a job, and I don't know where
to go. I once did a lot of studying though, by myself, about
scientific housekeeping, and I thought I might brush that
up and do something with it."

Then a letter from another reader put a slightly differ-
ent angle on the question raised by the Woman's Place issue
of Survey Graphic (December, 1926).

"Why don't you say something," she asked, "about the
woman who wants to spend six or eight years at home
while her children are little, but expects to go back to work
when they get in school?"

And a mother who has left an enviable professional posi-
tion put her belief in general terms in a magazine article.
"The woman who has gone far enough in her field before
she marries to be known, at least among her confreres, for
the quality of her work, will have something marketable
to offer in the work-a-day world at any time, provided she
does not allow herself to 'grow stale' during the infancy
of her children," wrote Eva vB. Hansl in the January
Harpers. Mrs. Hansl suggests spending from six to ten
years after college in establishing one's self in a profession ;
then a period of concentration on the home, with spare
time and strength devoted to keeping up vocational inter-
ests as a recreation or hobby; and a return to outside pro-
fessional work when the youngest children embark upon
school. "I have known any number of women who have
done it," she declares.

HOW to amalgamate the professional and domestic in-
terests of college women or work out a stagger-tread
system so that each may have the major emphasis in turn, is
the aim of the Institute for the Coordination of Women s
Interests at Smith College. Detailed studies are in progress
of the kinds of jobs which college women are holding 01
might hold, especially on a part-time basis; and of devices
such as nursery schools or cooperative kitchens, which can
free the house-wife and young mother from some of her
duties at home to carry outside interests as a side-line until
again she can devote her major attention to them,
same points are being considered in another extensive study
by the American Association of University Women. Both
of these pieces of research, however, are properly aimed
at a long-range study of the subject rather than the here
and now with which many women are struggling, and they
deal with a comparatively small and favored group. So
I set out to try to get a glimpse of the situation as it is
working out now in New York City.

I went to see the statistician of a downtown company,
who has made elaborate studies of a personnel of 40,000;
the heads of three non-commercial employment bureaus, the
Part-Time Bureau, the Vocational Bureau of the New
York Women's Exchange, and that of the Y.W.C.A.,
which consider the social aspects of placement ; the "house
mother" who knows the stories of many of the 9,000 em-
ployes in the home offices of the Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company and the statistician who studies them in the ag-
gregate; two women who are responsible for the training
and placement of workers in one of the large and en-
lightened department stores, and the former director of the
Bureau of Vocational Research. In no case were married
women considered routinely as a separate group for purposes
of reporting or management; their employment is a com-
paratively new thing in business and few exact facts have
been ascertained. Hence the replies to my questions must
be regarded chiefly as the opinions of individuals whose
experience qualifies them to speak.

ON two points there was general unanimity that many
married women want jobs as an outlet for energy or
interest or as a source of income; and that in individual
instances almost any handicap lack of special training or its
long disuse, for example can be overcome.

"We can find a place for any woman who has something
definite to sell which the labor market wants," said Mrs.
Amy Hobart, secretary of the Part-Time Bureau, "if she
has not been away from her work too long." Of the 2 4 oc
registrants at this bureau last year, the largest group, 864,
were married women who wanted part-time work
dovetail into duties at home. The part-time jobs in which
nearly 1,900 placements were made in 1926 included
majority (1,200) in office work of all types, a small number
each as teachers, tutors, clinic assistants, laboratory assis-
tants, dieticians, librarians, shoppers, translators proc
readers, social workers, cafeteria managers, housekeepers
personnel workers, interior decorators, and other speciahzed
jobs totalling twenty-three varieties in all; and a long 1
headed "non-specialized work," with such categories as
routine work in a cafeteria, hostesses, models ushers, i
ceptionists, sales positions, sewing, the care of children even-
ings or to relieve a nurse, companions, and so on.
half the applicants were graduates of colleges or prc
sional schools. Yet for a list of 361 women regist
"unclassified," the largest number of them college graduate;
the placement column shows that only 11 temporary
2 permanent positions were found A general education
and a general desire to work seemed msufficien

It is the impression of Mrs. Hobart and of Mrs Bennett
Epstein who has assisted Eleanor H. Adler '" directing
The work of the Bureau in New York, and its Philadelphia
branch, from the beginning, that there are comparatively
few mothers of very young children among the women
whom they place in positions.

"Ordinarily a woman does not earn enough in a part-




time job to pay for help at home if there are young children
or old people who need continuous care," said Mrs. Hobart.
"Of course some have relatives who can help them out.
Most of our clients would like to work about a two-thirds
day say from 10 to 4, and earn two-thirds of a regular
day's salary. 'But the office positions are chiefly for either
morning or afternoon, the cafeteria positions from n to 3.
At present most of our part-time jobs do not pay as well
as a full-time job, hour for hour, because the part-time
worker in an organization which works a regular day can-
not take responsibility she is not there to carry it con-
tinuously. The women who have been responsible secretaries
in large offices, for example, usually cannot get back to
a half-time job at half their former salary." Many of the
part-time positions, however, are in organizations with
limited schedules, like those of a clinic, a special school, or
a cafeteria which serves luncheon only and in these special
skill more often is adequately paid.

MRS. HOBART and Mrs. Epstein felt that except in
unusual cases, six years away from a job made read-
justment very difficult, ten years made it all but impossible.
Specialized skill, such as shorthand, is quickly lost without
practice; perhaps even more formidable is the loss of a
professional attitude during the years at home when at-
tention is scattered over many and diverse duties. As it
was put by Mrs. Marion T. Brockway, the only woman
on the staff of the president of the Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company, "Middle-aged women are terribly
hard to place because they are so set in their ways. They
think they can do anything because they have been in the
habit of doing almost everything." Even more drastic in
her opinion of the speed at which personal marketability
declines was Helen Winne of the Y.W.C.A., who felt
that even six months away from a job was a decided handi-
cap. Miss Winne believes, however, that many of the
younger women who pass through her bureau are not plan-
ning to stop work when they marry.

In some firms the matter of age operates strongly against
the employment of married women who have stayed at
home with young children, since it affects group insurance
and pension plans. One large business concern will not
take on any new employe, man or woman, who is more
than 29 years old, since their calculations are based on the
younger ages.

THE Metropolitan Life Insurance Company takes on its
new employes at the home office at about eighteen and
trains them as they work. Each June about 200 girls drop
out to be married ; no one knows how many marry and
stay. The married women who enter its employment are
chiefly former workers who are taken back if they are
physically fit, because of the death of their husbands or
some other reversal of circumstances. In the middle-aged
applicants who have no previous history in the company,
whether married or unmarried, Mrs. Brockway found lack
of a professional attitude. "Their friends tell them they
have charm and personality and ought to get good jobs in
business," she said, "but it is very rare to find one who
will take the time to acquire definite training even though
she may have the necessary means. And you would be dis-
couraged to see the middle-aged nurses who come in here,
tired of private duty, and think that industrial nursing is

just sitting in a first-aid room, knitting between emergencies,
and drawing a steady salary."

This matter of attitude was stressed also by Miss Winne,
who told as an illustration the story of one inexperienced,
but charming applicant whom she chanced to know per-
sonally. One of those rare unspecialized jobs came along
in which personality counts the chance to serve as a recep-
tionist and hostess in an art center. She called up Mrs.
Blank's home and found she was having tea with a friend,
then called her at the friend's to urge her to apply at once.
"But I can't go today," Mrs. Blank replied, "I've just
got here and Elizabeth has tea all ready." Miss Winne
urged her to excuse herself and go at once, and finally she
did so reluctantly. She got the job and has developed it
into a really responsible and pleasant p ition. But with-
out the urging she would have chosen tea.

If specialized skill is what matters in getting a good posi-
tion, are there not techniques in the hom which can be
put on the employment market? The directors at the
Part-Time Bureau made a clear distinction between older
women who were proud of their ability as housewives and
eager to use it in tea-room or cafeteria, and younger women,
many of whom had been employed before marriage, to
whom the years at home had seemed to mean a disintegra-
tion of old interests without the addition of new skills.
"They are so discouraged and so fearful when they come
in. They doubt their ability to go back to any job. They
have been lonely in their dark little flats, without enough
interesting things to do, too far from their friends or too
tied down with a baby to get what sociability they could
afford." Very few mothers express a desire for work
involving other people's children.

AT the Vocational Bureau of the New York Exchange for
Women's Work, which was established almost fifty
years ago to aid "distressed gentlewomen," a special effort
is made by Marguerite Rowe, the director, to help the older
women without specialized training as well as women with
professional or semi-professional experience. For the 2O
per cent of their active cases who are more than fifty years
old and untrained, the outlook is dark, though occasionally
someone does want a companion of sixty or so. For the
middle-aged women there are jobs as visiting housekeepers,
house-mothers in schools and institutions, social secretaries,
selling positions in gift and antique shops, and the like, in
which often their domestic and social experience is an asset.
But when it comes to a really well-paid position, such as
the managing housekeeper of a large establishment with
eight or ten servants, or a cafeteria manager, of course a
background of something more definite than one's own home
is required.

The one place that I hit upon in this series of interviews
in which the home background really did seem to count
was in the department stores. The store which I visited,
Lord and Taylor's, declared that there was no prejudice
against employing married women on either executive or
selling staff, or against the marriage of women while they
are in the service of the store. Should a responsible woman
executive marry, she is asked to train one of her assistants
to take over her work if she wished a leave for a time
to have a child or if her husband's business necessitated a
temporary absence from the city. Probably the majority
of the women employes of Lord and Tavlor are or have



been married ; many of them have children, sometimes left
with relatives, sometimes old enough to be in school.

"With us, personality counts at least 50 per cent," said
Mrs. Isabella Brandow, the director of the Department of
Training. "We need first and foremost the ability to meet
people pleasantly, and often the social experience of the
married woman has seemed to help her in this respect."

At this and other department stores in New York City
there are two kinds of part-time work which fit in espe-
cially well with a domestic schedule the corps of extra
salespeople who come on daily from 1 1 to 4.30, and another
group who are there three days in the week to relieve the
peaks of trade. Hour for hour they earn as much as or a
little more than full-time employes. Almost all are mar-
ried. In the opinion of Elizabeth Johnston of the Employ-
ment Department, who supervises the initiation of the
women over 18 years of age into non-executive jobs, most
of the married women are working not as a matter of abso-
lute necessity, but because they "could use the money" for
the amenities of life, for new living-room curtains, or a
summer vacation, or added education for the children.

Almost every woman knows something of the selling
work of a department store since she has stood repeatedly
on the customer's side of the counter. Perhaps tidiness in
the home might be a useful background for keeping one's
stock in order. At any rate, almost all types drift into
these selling positions and make good, with training, if they
have the personality and interest in the work. There are
actresses who have tired of the uncertainties of their profes-
sion ; teachers who are fed up with children ; trained nurses
who want something sure and regular; young and middle-
aged women who never before have held a paid position.

The bitterest verdict against the returned married woman
which I chanced to hit upon came from an administrator
in one of the New York public schools, who was discussing
the difficulties which arose from the limited outlook or
inadequate training of some teachers. "You know, the
teaching profession is one place where the married woman
always can come back," she said incidentally. "After she
has had her children and got them all into school, the
ex-teacher who has been at home for ten or twelve years
often decides to supplement her husband's salary by going
back to work. In some places the regulations are such that
she can do this without further training, without even
'brushing up' by reading. Nothing in her domestic experi-

ence has served to keep alive her teacher training and at
best it is sadly out of date. Yet back she comes, and we
must re-train her as best we can."

The fundamental trouble on the employment side seems
to be the readjusting of a worker who has been away from
a specialized job, perhaps away from any definite work in
a group of people, rather than a matter of marriage per se.
The old prejudice against the married woman as an em-
ploye, and the old prejudice of the married woman against
an outside job, are breaking down. But a mechanism for
bringing together again the job and the woman has still
to be worked out. It is a problem analogous to that
which presented itself on a large scale when hundreds of
thousands of men came back from the War after months
or years without definite and specific habits of work; the
problem which comes in a minor and transitory way every
autumn when people come back from vacations and take
time to "settle down."

On the married woman's side, the chief difficulty, aside
from her own psychological readjustment, may be the ques-
tion of money. Except in rare though real personal in-
stances, it seems hard for her to go back to work which is
sufficiently well paid to replace work at home, unless she
can afford an interval of training or re-training. She can
supplement her husband's income in her leisure time if she
has relatives to help with the children and the housework
without pay, or if the children are so far grown that they
need little continuous supervision and kitchenette living has
reduced the housework almost to zero. But it seems hard
for women to earn a self-supporting wage in New York
City outside of full-time continuous work.

The development of a professional attitude toward one's
own housework and one's own children, such as Dr. Ethel
P. Howes is creating through the Smith College Institute,
would certainly help in making the readjustment of women
who "come back" after time at home. So will research to
discover and create part-time jobs which are economically
justifiable, such as the present department-store and cafeteria
positions. Now there simply are not enough part-time jobs
to go around among the women who cannot afford to
relinquish all their responsibilities at home and yet wish
to, or must, eke out an income as well. The great pro-
cession of professional or semi-professional work is march-
ing in a full-time rhythm, and most of the adjustments of
people who fall out of step rest squarely upon themselves.

Courtesy Lord & Taylor

Many married women find work in department stores

Standard Flashlight Compamy, Inc.

Foot Hills


The first-prize story in the third quarterly Harmon-Survey
Award in the field of public education

Our house before

OUR furniture was half in the truck and half
on the sidewalk. Mr. Sweeny, the reporter
of the "Daily Herald," begged us for some
details of our "flitting." We told him we
were going "over the mountain." Why we
were willing to leave a comfortable Penn-
sylvania Dutch brick house for the doubtful comfort of a
mountain dwelling, he could not understand. We did tell
him that we were going to open a little one-room school
that had been closed for two years, but fearing that he
would confuse us with missionaries, we said no more.

All the stories I had ever read of fairyland came back to
me as our truck plowed through the winding mud road,
forded creeks and finally stopped before a tiny whitewashed
log cabin. The creek, spanned by a rough foot-log, flowed
in front, a pine clad hill rose sharply opposite and a small
peach orchard climbed abruptly from the back door. I am
sure the driver of the truck was relieved to be there, but
gladder than he were the two young "mammy cats" that
had journeyed in hat boxes fastened over the mud guards.
The doors and window frames of the cabin were olive
green and the floors were clean. The house smelled of pine
wood. Food was to be kept in a cave on the hillside. The
chicken house was spacious, with cement floor, but un-
tenanted and uncleaned for two years. Going for water
was like a trip to Titania's palace, a narrow grassy path
between tall pines, the spring coming "out of the rock" and
flowing through a bark trough. With night came the first
flaw. The door had no lock. Our nearest neighbor lived
a mile away. In our city ignorance we were worried but
a large rat trap soon solved our problem. This set firmly
in the door which would not completely close assured us
of safety.

Our first breakfast was exciting. My partner, Emma
Burgess, economically burned up the scraps of paper and
trash found in the house. I was in the act of turning the
eggs when a terrific report shook the house. The stove lids
rattled and the front panels of the stove flew out. A harm-
less looking little pill box of salt must have been priming

That night old Lizette arrived. She was twenty-eight,
but the proud curve of her neck bespoke a spirit of lingering
youth. For hours that day I had labored with the chicken
house. Fifty large boxes full of fertilizer had been cleaned
off that floor and piled in the garden. Lizette's new home
had been scrubbed and whitewashed. My back was stiff,
but I forgot it when I looked at that beautiful old mare.

We three were to live through many experiences together,
some tragic, some humorous, but that moonlight night when
she came to us, she won her way to our hearts.

The first month in the new little home was spent in
learning to know our neighbors. Mattie Thompson came
daily to give me lessons in the care of Lizette. The Urners
invited us to a peach paring and we stayed until the moon
had set. Then we surrendered ourselves to Lizette, who
brought us in inky darkness through seven fordings of the
creek to our cabin. We went to the Sunday School picnic
held on the school grounds, and my heart sank when I
stepped inside that school house. For two years the doors
had been opened twice, once in August of each year for
the picnic. Apparently the windows had been opened more
frequently, for there were evidences that it had been used
as a lodging house by young men whose unsteady legs could
not be trusted to carry them home. A platform stood ai
one end of the room and on it a desk with a slanting top.
The dust-covered books were strewn in disorder on the
floor. A picture of George Washington with the glass
broken hung crookedly over the teacher's desk. The ancient
seats were screwed tight to the floor which sagged alarmingly
beneath the big rusty wood stove.

THE week before school was to open we had a meeting
with the trustees, Columbus Urner and Van Buren

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesThe Survey (Volume 58) → online text (page 8 of 130)