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- A Domestic Problem - 2/12 -
what seem simple are complex. Make a loaf of bread. That has a simple sound, yet the process is complex. First, hops, potatoes, flour, sugar, water, salt, in right proportions for the yeast. The yeast for raising the yeast must be in just the right condition, and added when the mixture is of just the right temperature. In "mixing up" bread, the temperature of the atmosphere must be considered, the temperature of the water, the situation of the dough. The dough must rise quickly, must rise just enough and no more, must be baked in an oven just hot enough and no hotter, and must be "tended" while baking.
Try clearing off tables. Remove food from platters, care for the remnants, see that nothing is wasted, scrape well every plate, arrange in piles, carry out, wash in soap and water, rinse in clear water, polish with dry cloth, set away in their places,--three times a day.
Taking care of the baby frequently implies carrying the child on one arm while working with the other, and this often after nights made sleepless by its "worrying." "I've done many a baking with a child on my hip," said a farmer's wife in my hearing.
But try now the humblest of household duties, one that passes for just nothing at all; try dusting. "Take a cloth, and brush the dust off,"--stated in this general way, how easy a process it seems! The particular interpretation, is that you move, wipe, and replace every article in the room, from the piano down to the tiniest ornament; that you "take a cloth," and go over every inch of accessible surface, including panelling, mop-boards, window frames and sashes, looking-glass-frames, picture-frames and cords, gas or lamp fixtures; reaching up, tiptoeing, climbing, stooping, kneeling, taking care that not even in the remotest corner shall appear one inch of undusted surface which any slippered individual, leaning back in his arm-chair, can spy out.
These are only a few examples; but a little observation and an exceedingly little experience will show the curious inquirer that there is scarcely one of the apparently simple household operations which cannot be resolved and re-resolved into minute component parts. Thus dusting, which seems at first to consist of simply a few brushes with a cloth or bunch of feathers, when analyzed once, is found to imply the careful wiping of every article in the room, and of all the woodwork; analyzed again, it implies following the marks of the cabinet-maker's tools in every bit of carving and grooving; analyzed again, introducing a pointed stick under the cloth in turning corners. In fact, the investigator of household duties must do as does a distinguished scientist in analyzing matter,--"continue the process of dividing as long as the parts can be discerned," and then "prolong the vision backward across the boundary of experimental evidence." And, if brave enough to attempt to count them, he must bear in mind that what appear to be blank intervals, or blurred, nebulous spaces, are, in reality, filled in with innumerable little duties which, through the glass of observation, may be discerned quite plainly. Let him also bear in mind, that these household duties must be done over and over, and over and over, and as well, each time, as if done to last forever; and, above all, that they every one require mind.
Many a common saying proves this last point. "Put your mind on your work." "Your mind must be where your work is." "She's a good hand to take hold, but she hasn't any calculation." "She doesn't know how to forecast her work." "She doesn't know how to forelay." "Nancy's gittin' past carryin' her mind inter her work. Wal, I remember when I begun to git past carryin' my mind inter my work," said an old woman of ninety, speaking of her sixty-years-old daughter. The old couplet,
"Man works from rise till set of sun, But woman's work is never done,"--
tells the truth. "Woman's work," as now arranged, is so varied, so all-embracing, that it cannot be "done." For every odd moment some duty lies in wait. And it is generally the case, that these multi-form duties press for performance, crowds of them at once. "So many things to be done right off, that I don't know which to take hold of first." "'Tis just as much as I can do to keep my head above water." "Oh, dear! I can't see through!" "My work drives me." "I never know what 'tis not to feel hurried." "The things I can't get done tire me more than the things I do." Such remarks have a meaning.
And those who keep "a girl" have almost equal difficulty in always presenting the smooth, agreeable surface just now spoken of. With the greater ability to hire help comes usually the desire to live in more expensive houses, and to furnish the same with more costly furniture. Every article added is a care added, and the nicer the article the nicer the care required. More, also, is demanded of these in the way of appearance, style, and social civilities; and the wear and tear of superintending "a girl" should by no means be forgotten. At any rate, the complaint, "no time to read," is frequent among women, and is not confined to any one class.
We see, then, that in the present state of things it is impossible for woman--that is, the family woman, the house-mother--to enjoy the delights of culture. External activities, especially the two insatiable, all-devouring ones which know neither end nor beginning,--housework and sewing-work,--these demand her time, her energies, in short, demand herself,--the whole of her. Yes, the whole, and more too; there is not enough of her to go round. There might possibly be enough, and even something left to spend on culture, were she in sound physical condition; but, alas! a healthy woman is scarcely to be found. This point, namely, the prevailing invalidism of woman, will come up for consideration by and by, when we inquire into the causes of the present state of things. It is none too early, however, to make a note of what some physicians say in regard to it. "Half of all who are born," says one medical writer, "die under twenty years of age; while four-fifths of all who reach that age, and die before another score, owe their death to causes which were originated in their teens. This is a fact of startling import to fathers and mothers, and shows a fearful responsibility." Another medical writer says, "Beside the loss of so many children (nearly twenty-five per cent), society suffers seriously from those who survive, their health being irremediably injured while they are still infants.... Ignorance and injudicious nursery management lie at the root of this evil."
We must be sure not to forget that this prevailing invalidism of women, which is one hinderance to their obtaining culture, can be traced directly back to the ignorance of mothers, for this point has an important bearing on the solution of our problem.
ONE CAUSE OF THE SITUATION.--A PART OF "WOMAN'S MISSION" CONSIDERED.
The question, How may work and culture be combined? was recently submitted, in my hearing, to a highly intelligent lady. She answered with a sigh, "It can't be done. I've tried it; but, as things are now, it can't be done." By "as things are now" she meant, with the established ideas regarding dress, food, appearance, style, and the objects for which woman should spend her time and herself. Suppose we investigate the causes of the present state of things, which, as being a hinderance to culture, is to us so unsatisfactory. A little reflection will enable us to discover several. Chief among them all, I think, is one which may require close inspection before it is recognized to be such. It seems to me that the great underlying cause--the cause of all the other causes--is the want of insight, the unenlightemnent, which prevails concerning, not what woman's mission is, but the ways and means by which she is to accomplish it. Let us consider this.
Those who claim the right of defining it never can say often enough that the true, mission of woman is to train up her children rightly, and to make home happy; and no doubt we all agree with them. But have we, or have they, a full sense of what woman requires to fit her even for the first of these duties? Suppose a philosopher in disguise on a tour of observation from some distant isle or planet should favor us with a visit. He finds himself, we will say, on a spot not a hundred miles from New York or Boston or Chicago. Among the objects which attract his attention are the little children drawn along in their little chaises.
"Are these beautiful creatures of any value?" he asks of a bystander.
"Certainly. They are the hope of the country. They will grow up into men and women who will take our places."
"I suppose there is no danger of their growing up any other than the right kind of men and women, such as your country needs?"
"On the contrary, there is every danger. Evil influences surround them from their birth. These beautiful creatures have in them the possibilities of becoming mean, base, corrupt, treacherous, deceitful, cruel, false, revengeful; of becoming, in fact, unworthy and repulsive in many ways. Why, all our criminals, our drunkards, liars, thieves, burglars, murderers, were once innocent little children like these!"
"And whether these will become like those, or not, depends on chance?"
"Oh, no! It depends largely on training, especially on early training. Children are like wax to receive impressions, like marble to retain them."
"Are they constituted pretty nearly alike, so that the treatment which is best for one is best for all?"
"By no means. Even those in the same family are often extremely unlike. They have different temperaments, dispositions, propensities. Some require urging, others checking. Some do better with praise, others without; the same of blame. It requires thought and discernment to know what words to speak, how many to speak, and when to speak them. In fact, a child's nature is a piece of delicate, complex machinery, and each one requires a separate study; for, as its springs of action are concealed, the operator is liable at any time to touch the wrong one."
"And mistakes here will affect a child through its whole lifetime?"
"They will affect it through all eternity." "But who among you dare make these early impressions which are to be so enduring? Who are the operators on these delicate and complex pieces of mental machinery?"
"Oh! the mothers always have the care of the children. This is their mission,--the chief duty of their lives."
"But how judicious, how comprehensive, must be the course of education which will fit a person for such an office!"
"Do you think so? Hem! Well, it is not generally considered that a woman who is going to marry and settle down to family life needs much education."
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