Homemaking and Careers

"All women should receive instruction in the art of homemaking as a matter of course... But it should be equally understood that many will wish to earn their living in productive work outside the home."

If a keen student of society of the eighteenth century, like Adam Smith, came back to live among us for a while, two things, I believe, would impress him more than anything else. The first would obviously be the great wealth of our mechanical equipment, the ten thousand external aids of our daily life. The automobile, the telephone and telegraph, steam locomotion, and the use of electricity for power have made us incomparably more comfortable and prosperous. The second thing he would observe would be the remarkable change in the status of women.

These two phenomena are very closely related. Both take their origin from the Industrial Revolution, which was ushered in at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In this paper I shall discuss principally the second of these remarkable changes.

The changed status of women constitutes a major revolution in the history of the world. When Adam Smith lived women had their definite place, and that was the home. They did not vie with men in directing the external affairs of the world. Within the home there were activities enough; but beyond that it was a man's affair. With the development of invention and the consequent growth of industry, women in large numbers were called out of their homes to participate in the new life. It was found that their labor in many fields was as efficient as that of men and much cheaper. The simplification and standardization of the processes of production, moreover, have made possible the employment of increasingly large numbers of women in recent decades. 1n 1870, which is the first year for which census data are available, there were 1,800,000 women gainfully employed, of whom nearly a million were engaged in domestic and personal service. In 1880 there were over two and a half million; by 1900 the number had increased to more than five million; and in 1920 there were over eight and a half million women gainfully employed. The number would have been even greater if the large number of employed married women were listed in their gainful occupations rather than as housewives. Every year now sees an increase in the number of gainfully employed women; in fact, the proportion is increasing faster than that of men.

In 1920 over a million women were engaged in professional service in the United States. They were represented in virtually all of the major professions, including medicine, the law, science, and the arts. Teachers were the largest single group, with well over 600,000, followed by almost 150,000 trained nurses. Musicians and teachers of music were represented by 73,000; religious, charity, and welfare workers by 27,000; librarians by 13,000; physicians by 9000; authors, editors, and reporters by nearly 9000. The list of professions in which women have established themselves would be a very long one. There are in addition several hundred thousand students in professional schools and colleges, many of whom are preparing themselves for professional careers. They were not included in our figure of a million.

The whole aspect of woman's life has been changed, and community life has been correspondingly transformed. A hundred years ago women had only one career to look forward to, and that was homemaking; today the average American girl thinks of many other fields for her activities. Homemaking as a career is being relegated, for the most part, in the minds of young people to a secondary place. Even if most educated women still look forward to marriage as an ultimate goal, their first and immediate choice is very often along other lines.


The participation of an ever increasing number of women in industry and in the professions has unquestionably made a great impress upon our social economy. These women are producers. They have added materially to the world's goods and to the general stock of ideas. To the women themselves this new activity is an expression of their inward power. I imagine most of them get great satisfaction out of the feeling of equality and ability to compete with men in various fields. But, on the other hand, such activity on the part of women in the professions and in the world at large carries with it certain very definite consequences to society.

Of the eight and a half million women gainfully employed in 1920, less than two million were married; of the rest, a very large number will ultimately marry, but a very large number will also remain unmarried. Of the one million professional women, less than 125,000 were married and a much larger proportion of them will remain unmarried. The average professional woman is older than her sister in industry, and therefore her chances of being married are already much reduced. The very economic independence of the average professional woman acts as a deterrent in many cases. Marriage will often involve a sacrifice of her comfort and independence. The woman who earns a competence in congenial work insists on economic standards which are often beyond the capacity of the men whom she knows and might possibly marry. Therein lies the problem which disturbs so many people today. Educated women have a choice to make or rather they are too often forced into a situation where they must make a choice. Shall they seek the opportunity of marriage or shall they set for themselves the goal of a professional career, which, perhaps even in the majority of cases, involves a distinct impediment to marriage and homemaking? We have not yet developed a condition in which both of these possibilities namely, the pursuit of a career and marriage are readily and successfully combined in the life of the same woman.

From the point of view of the individual concerned, the pursuit of one of these alternatives as against the other involves inevitably the impoverishment of life. However great may be the success of a woman in the professions, the price is too high if she must forgo marriage and the raising of a family. Professional women generally miss the homemaking activities of their married sisters and regret the incompleteness of their personal experience. They admit the richest life includes the normal family relationships, and I have often been touched with the sense of defeat of highly successful women who have missed the privileges of motherhood and of normal family responsibility. On the other hand, there is possibly just as much regret on the part of an ever increasing number of married women who find themselves on the shelf all too soon and unable to participate in the many outside activities for which they feel themselves amply prepared. Educated women insist on using their training, and apparently many of them find that a confining marriage limits their activity and intellectual growth. There is, therefore, a real conflict which most women have not yet learned how to adjust, resulting in the complexes and unrest which are so striking a characteristic of the modern woman.

From the point of view of the community also, the choice of one of these alternatives as against the other involves serious losses. Society demands mothers and happy families. When, therefore, women of leadership and of ability either do not marry or, when married, have few, if any, children, society is the loser. No community can afford to do without the children of able, welleducated women. These women also set the fashion for many others. On the other hand, the community loses in valuable service when abilities that are available in married women are not utilized. When women have been prepared for professional life and for important social service and fall out of the active world when they marry, there are serious losses. The valuable services which such women can render must not be scrapped. The community and the individual both pay too great a price when there is no adjustment between the two alternatives namely, homemaking and the pursuit of a professional career.


I have already intimated that the conflict which we are discussing arose out of the changed industrial situation which brought so many women out of their homes and gave them a taste of the interesting world outside. But probably equally important was the marked increase in the educational facilities for women which came concurrently with the industrial development of the last century. In America elementary education was available for girls as for boys from the very beginning. It was only eighty years ago, however, that the field of public secondary education was opened up; it was extended rapidly throughout the country. Then came the opening of women's seminaries and colleges. Today the education of women is in full flower. There is scarcely any restriction placed upon the education of our girls except the rather limited facilities of our institutions for higher learning. Hardly any girl of ambition or capacity is checked in her desire for an education, irrespective of the direction or extent of her special interest.

As a result we find this very interesting situation. In 1924 there were 1,963,000 girls as against 1,780,000 boys in the secondary schools reporting to the Federal Bureau of Education. The girls comprised 52 per cent and the boys 48 per cent of the total enrollment. The colleges are very close to telling the same tale. In all institutions of higher education reporting to the Federal Bureau of Education for 1924, including the teachers' colleges and normal schools, there was an enrollment of close to 461,000 young men and 449,000 young women; that is, 51 per cent of the total were young men and 49 per cent were young women. At Columbia University, during the same academic year, 57 per cent of the students were men and 43 per cent were women; although in the summer session at that university in 1923 the enrollment was 67 per cent women and 33 per cent men. Even if the facilities of the girls' colleges are limited, women are now being admitted to many institutions which were heretofore restricted to men, and more and more of them are seeking admission to the state universities, which have generally been open to women on the same terms as to men.

Let us now examine the character of the education which young women have received in our colleges. Perhaps we shall be able to see how this has affected the life of their graduates. The development has been largely, if not altogether, in the hands of women themselves. Those who were responsible for the extension of higher education to women were women with a mission. They had overcome great difficulties themselves and were dedicated to the fine ideal of lifting similar disabilities from their sisters. The result was that the feminist point of view stamped itself upon these institutions from the very beginning. This shaped the curriculum and the atmosphere of the institutions. The faculties of the women's colleges were determined to prove that their students could do anything and everything that boys could do. What was good enough for boys was good enough for girls. Learning, they said, had no sex. What if the educational institutions for men needed thorough revising in their programmes and in the aims to which they were dedicated? The founders of the women's schools apparently had no time to consider this vital matter.

Perhaps it was asking too much of these pioneers, so preoccupied with their own battles and victories, that they should have sufficient detachment to observe the inadequacies of the education offered to men and to correct the defects before duplicating them in the new institutions for women. It was, in any case, easier to transplant whole the entire existing educational structure. The questions whether girls had a different role to play in the community; whether there were certain functions and duties that distinguished the life of women from that of men these questions either were not raised at all or, when raised, found no expression in the course of study provided. Cultural subjects such as mathematics, the classics, the modern languages, and the fine arts, and a bowing acquaintance with the sciences, were provided. Little if any time was devoted to teaching personal and community hygiene. Physics, chemistry, and mathematics were usually so taught as to avoid their practical bearings; as though these sciences would lose their cultural value if they were couched in terms of the everyday needs of modern people. Until Ellen Richards a remarkable woman who has been too little appreciated in the field of woman's education - pointed the way, scarcely any instruction whatsoever was given in domestic science and in the practical arts. The result was that the curriculum almost altogether ignored any preparation for homemaking as a career or the desirability of the married life as the ideal for which women should aim.

For most girls, the college course represented a break in the continuity of their lives. It took the developing girl out of her home and brought her into an artificial environment, where, cloistered in college halls, she was surrounded almost entirely by unmarried women. Their influence on the young people was enormous and, whether they wished it or not, they in many cases set an example for many of the undergraduates. During the four critical years of college the girls were taken out of an environment where they could see young children and family life, and realize through constant association the true importance of the family unit, its innate beauty, its essential primal position in civilization. What was lost through lack of contact was not made good through clearsighted and conscious instruction. No word was said in any of the courses, apparently, about the obligation and responsibilities of motherhood, or about the fundamental position of the family in our scheme of things. Instead, girls became dedicated to a life of purely academic interests; or, if a profession interested them, it was not the profession of homemaking.

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