From an Average Woman

IT is comforting to find a contributor to the February Atlantic intimating that the real domestic problem is in print. That has been my own impression, but the hue and cry — in print — has been so long and so persistent that I had almost begun to doubt. I have always considered myself an average American woman, but of late I have been curious to know how many women there are in America whose working hypothesis is similar to mine.

Perhaps it is only fair to state, before formulating my hypothesis, that I am a free sample of our much maligned modern education, a graduate of a public high school and of a New England college for women. I am mediæval enough to be glad that I studied both Latin and Greek. The effort I made to translate the thoughts of the immortals meant more to me than mere discipline; all along the way I received little flashes of inspiration and illumination which enrich and sweeten life for me even to-day.

I have no quarrel with my alma mater, as has one of my contemporaries with hers, because she did not teach me “that if one is able to afford two vegetables with one’s joint, they had better not be rice and potatoes.” I learned that in my mother’s home before I went to college, together with other domestic accomplishments, including the making of bread and the darning of stockings. Bread-making I consider of economic importance in my own home, and I look upon darning as “a good restin’ job” (to quote my colored maid), very favorable to meditation.

My college training, whatever else it may have accomplished, and however faulty it may have been, has made me immune to boredom. It has also transformed in me the vulnerable snow-white of innocence to the invulnerable sunlight of scientific knowledge. This important transformation took place in the laboratories of botany and zoölogy, where there flashed upon me a knowledge of myself which has resulted in a sounder body and a saner mind. Quite aside from this, college increased my earning power, my sense of responsibility, my joy in literature and in life.

For five years after graduation I was a business woman, very happy in my work; but I have been far more happy in my five years of married life, and more independent than when in business. I have a housekeeping allowance and one for my personal needs, as regular as my salary used to be; I have the control of my time, my work is not so monotonous, and my workshop is what I choose to make it. I do not feel like a “paid housekeeper,” nor “an unpaid domestic.”

Now for my hypothesis: I believe that housework is an interesting and worthy craft, and that the majority of women, those who are not fitted for a career, enjoy it, or would if it were considered fashionable. I believe that housekeeping is a stimulating profession. I believe that home-making is an art. I believe that motherhood is a divine mission. All these are platitudes; is there any woman, out of print, who really has a different opinion ?

I believe that marriage is a life-partnership, to be entered upon only where there is mutual liking as well as love; a partnership of square dealing and equally shared responsibilities, dissoluble only by death, or by some disease, moral or physical, more dire than death.

It seems to me only reasonable that a young woman should not marry unless she is both able and willing to keep house; even as she studies typewriting and shorthand before taking a position as stenographer. There are schools of domestic science reasonable in price, if one cannot learn at home. Why should not the question of the young woman’s father, “Can you support her in the style to which she is accustomed ?” be supplemented by one from the young man’s mother: “ Can you so administer my son’s salary that he will have as comfortable a home with you as with me?”

I believe — and here I may be considered a rank heretic, even by other average women — that housewives do not have a monopoly of the drudgery of life. My personal definition of drudgery is compulsory work that one does not know how to do well. “What one can do is always pleasant to do,” says no less an authority than Robert Louis Stevenson. Nor is the varied routine of the work of a house more monotonous than heating one iron bar after another, hour after hour, day after day, for instance; or adding up one column of figures after another. To my mind, who have tried both, the reading and editing of manuscripts grows monotonous and wearing sooner than the doing of all my “own work” without a maid.

Possibly women are less able to bear monotony than men, but if they are it is time they kept it to themselves. Women will do work far more monotonous and fatiguing, and even housework itself, to beautify the face or form or reduce the “tonnage;” — at least, women in print will (see the “Beauty Columns” in those most humorous of publications, pages and journals for women and the home).

In the conduct of my household I have dealings with the Chinaman, the Italian, the Greek, the African, the sons and daughters of Ireland and Germany. All the problems of race and creed are at my back door, and I am willing to follow where they lead; but if I do, and if I continue to make old age less a barren waste for the aged in my home, and start the young in the right way to independence and happiness, and share my home with all the relatives and friends who have a claim upon my hospitality, am I neglecting the “real work of the world” ? I ask in all humility, for myself and for all the average women I represent, who rejoice with me that there are women of larger leisure and greater ability to espouse the cause of the working girl, and the child who should not work, and to secure better conditions in town and state.