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.


Is it any wonder, then, that educated women do not marry? There are, of course, many reasons; some of them we have already discussed. There is the curriculum, which is clearly not developing an inclination on the part of young women to marry early, if at all. The courses educate girls away from matrimony rather than toward it. Then, too, the environment of girls during the college period contributes to this same tendency. There was until recently relatively little opportunity for meeting young men. Today, I am told, girls in colleges near those for men spend more time in social activities than the faculties think is good for them. But it is doubtful if this affects more than the small proportion of the most popular girls. The great majority are at college with a serious purpose. Especially among girls of strong personality there is early developed a desire to make good in a career.

At twentyfour or twentyfive the college graduate is thinking of other things than marriage, which seems to offer her little or no opportunity for personal development. She would try out her wings at teaching or in business, or in some professional pursuit. As never before, opportunities are opening up in affairs, and these appeal to her. Her whole enthusiasm during these vital years is for making good in her chosen work. Her friendships with men suffer because of her preoccupation. She is very likely, also, to improve her economic condition through her earnings if she is employed, and to develop higher standards of expenditure. She becomes 'economically independent.' In some such way as this there are ruled out of consideration the very young men who are the most likely husbands. These men are usually earning little while they are making roots in their own chosen field. In many cases they are men who have voluntarily turned their backs on the pursuit of riches and have devoted their lives to the scientific professions, to teaching, to the ministry, or to various types of social service. To marry any of them would mean hardships and sacrifice, and I imagine many young women hesitate to take the plunge. They thus lose their best opportunities for a satisfying marriage.

I am very well aware that this complicated phenomenon cannot be explained so easily, and that there are other causes at work than those we have listed. Nor am I an apologist for the critical attitude of many men toward college women, or for the shortsightedness of the community which makes it hard for the professional woman to continue her work after marriage without losing caste. I am attempting simply to single out a number of items which can be controlled and which, I believe, are playing a very large part in bringing about the fact
that all too often in the past women have fitted themselves for special professional activity at the expense of participation in domestic life and especially in parenthood. It has repeatedly been shown that only about half of the women graduates of our colleges and universities marry; and those that do marry give birth to a strikingly small number of children, their average being less than two per couple. This is not a local or temporary condition, but a national tendency on an enormous scale. College women as well as men as a class are not replacing themselves in the next generation. To many it has seemed as if our educational system were an effective method of discovering our best stock and then proceeding at once toward sterilizing it. A new order of celibacy is growing up which is rapidly attracting our best people to its ranks. The education of women is the fashion of the day. Ever greater numbers are availing themselves of the new opportunities. If higher education necessarily involves celibacy or sterility, the seriousness of the situation for society cannot be exaggerated, especially since, as I believe, this onesided development implies a serious misfortune to the people themselves.

What is our solution? Shall we reduce the facilities of education for our young women or discourage careers and training for careers? I can hardly imagine anyone saying such a thing. We could not if we would, for women would have much to say about it. This is no longer the manmade world of our grandfathers. Nor would an impartial consideration of the facts permit any such silly conclusion. What is needed is a thoughtful and clear understanding of the greater social good that would come out of a co├Ârdination of social policy and individual ambition. The community needs educated and efficient women just as it needs educated and efficient men. The modern world can no longer do without either. But its very existence and continuity depend upon good homemakers and mothers. In other words, there can be no solution until ample provision is made in our educational system from the bottom to the top for the training of future homemakers, side by side with the training of women for professional and other careers. One should always involve the other. Homemaking must be considered a profession; in fact, a major profession. Success in it calls for all the ingenuity and intelligence of the best women. It should, therefore, receive the highest public esteem and approval.

All women, whatever their training, whatever their ultimate ambition, should receive instruction in the art of homemaking as a matter of course. It should be assumed by our educators that every woman will marry and have a family. But it should be equally understood that many will wish to earn their living in productive work outside the home. Provision must therefore be made for the training of these women who have special aptitudes in the professions. Lest I appear too practical, I must emphasize the great importance of providing cultural opportunities in the curricula which are not particularly associated with homemaking or practical affairs, but which are dedicated to the enlightenment and refinement of the personality. I can see no conflict among these three courses. And so I think of our colleges, and in fact of our entire educational system from the primary school up, as a mechanism which shall definitely adapt itself to the training of women for life in the fullest sense, and which, while it develops one group of faculties and interests, shall not forget others that are equally valuable.

These adaptations will not be so easily accomplished. They will require much thought and attention from our educational authorities, but it is a source of great satisfaction to find that many of the girls' colleges have recently taken this matter under advisement and are adapting their curricula in these directions. The development of the Department of Euthenics at Vassar is a step in the right direction. The work of Professor Ethel Puffer Howes at Smith is of great significance. Other girls' colleges are wrestling with the same problem. Many now recognize that the developments of the past have been onesided and disgenic. Today they are encouraging robust health for the girls and are providing opportunities for developing the physique. They are beginning to emphasize the biological sciences that foster a healthy attitude toward the family. Girls are being taught more and more about community health. Training in the sciences, such as chemistry and mathematics, will be given, I believe, a more practical turn. Greater emphasis on community organization will come through the broad science of sociology. I believe the outlook is good for an early and thorough modification of the curricula in the girls' colleges which will stress the ideas we have been considering.

Personally I believe the greatest progress will come out of the development of the coeducational college. The growth of our state universities offers the best solution. In these, young men and young women see one another and work with one another throughout the college period. In this way is offset the baneful effect of the isolation that has heretofore characterized both colleges for men and colleges for women. Incidentally, and without any special effort, there is developed in the minds of the young men and young women in coeducational institutions a healthy attitude toward the other sex. Provided there is not a disproportionate number of either group, such association is good social hygiene. We have learned to appreciate this in our elementary and secondary schools, but it has even greater value for our students in the colleges and universities. It will result in many friendships and in a large number of early and happy marriages. The salutary effect of such close contact between the sexes during the college years will be as noticeable on the young men as on the young women. There will be greater mutual understanding, and therefore greater respect and sympathy in the management of the details of family life a most desirable thing, not only for the individuals concerned, but for society as well. Under such conditions more and more college women will be encouraged to take on the obligation of marriage and of homemaking at younger ages, and, under the sympathetic encouragement of their husbands, many of them will wish, for a period at least, to engage in outside employment or professional work. I doubt very much that such adventures are likely to be less discriminating than the marriages of older people. After all, the college graduate is of voting age and of above average intelligence. Such evidence as we have concerning early marriage does not indicate any real hazard, but rather real gains for all concerned.

What shall be the community attitude toward these women? I insist on constant accommodation to make the combination of professional activity and homemaking mutually possible. There is no reason why women who are engaged in profitable activity should not, at the same time, engage in homemaking. It should be thoroughly approved in so far as it can be accomplished without injury to the best interests of the home. We are creatures of fashion and do what our community expects us to do. If the community approves of this combination, more and more women will participate in it. There will, of course, be periods of absence from work when the children are coming and while they are young, when the mother's full attention must be directed to their welfare. But, even then, parttime work and freelance jobs are always possible. The investigation which is being conducted under the general direction of Mrs. Howes at the Institute for the Coordination of Women's Interests at Smith College will disclose many opportunities for this type of activity. It is hoped also that investigations into the routine of domestic management will result in labor and time-saving devices and procedures which will add to the freedom and leisure of young married women.

Teaching is the pursuit of the largest number of women outside of homemaking. Six hundred thousand are now engaged in this field, and more and more are entering it. Heretofore they have swelled the ranks of the unmarried. But I can see no good reason for this misfortune. Those teachers who would marry should be encouraged to do so and should by this fact not forfeit their position or standing in the community. Accommodation should be made for continued teaching, either as substitutes or for whole terms, as they find it possible. This will keep their proficiency at a high point until they can later perhaps at fortyfive, when their families have grown up return to their professions with new zeal and without serious interruptions. Women who have brought up their own families should make the very best teachers because they have been mothers. A new vitality and vigor would animate our educational system if we could avail ourselves of the intelligence and sympathy of the large number of splendid women who have all of the pedagogical equipment but until now have not had the opportunity to serve the community in their own special field.

Finally, in the case of the large number of married women who do not participate in either fulltime or parttime gainful employment, provision must be made for their increased participation in the varied activities of the community. There should always be opportunity for these welltrained and experienced women to express themselves in community affairs, which are being rapidly developed in so many directions. In our towns and cities, women's clubs and women's committees can play a more active part in social movements and become a most important factor in civic life. Women can achieve real leadership in educational policy; they can raise the standards of our schools, secure reforms in politics, participate in townplanning in short, bring about a newer and better social order. These opportunities for the educated homemaker will give rare satisfactions, comparable to those which spur professional and business women to higher achievement.

To my mind there is no longer legitimate reason for the conflict that has apparently existed in the past between professional careers and homemaking. There is no necessity for women to make a deliberate choice of one alternative or the other. Why should they not round out their lives with many interests and carry on simultaneously different lines of activity - each in its proper place and each contributing directly to the fuller life? The answer to the question I have raised is to attack directly those items that have sharpened the division between the separate spheres in the past and to remove them. We must above all things learn to pay due honor to the mother and homemaker. Hers is the greatest service. For those who feel the necessity for selfexpression in other fields, let there also be ample reward and honor, but always let us leave the door wide open for interchange between the two spheres, that they may cross and supplement each other. If our educators and leaders of public opinion will make the necessary accommodations and adjustments, the problem, I believe, will ultimately be solved.