Whose Duty Is It? Mother’s or Daughter’s

This is the forth article in September of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on September 26, 1909, and is an article on the importance of teaching daughters how to be housewives before they are married.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Whose Duty Is It? Mother’s or Daughters

FIVE years ago the question was asked in my hearing concerning a girl graduate: “What will she do with herself now?”

She was the only single daughter in the family. Three older sisters had married and gone to homes of their own. The mother is not strong, and the father, although not rich, makes a comfortable living for house household. They keep but one servant—a maid-of-all-work—and much of the dining room and the upstairs works falls upon the mistress of the modest establishment on washing and ironing days.

With these facts in mind, I asked: “Why need she do anything except stay at home, take her share of the labors of the household and be a comfort and joy to her parents in their declining years?”

My companion looked at me with a sort of patronizing pity. “You can’t expect a lively, independent young girl, who is college-bred and full of ambitions of her own, to settle down in that humdrum fashion. The day for that kind of thing has gone by.”

“I held my peace even from good,” says the Psalmist of a season when silence seemed to him to be “golden.”

Ignorance—Not Bliss.

In humble imitation, I refrained from speaking out what was in my mind that instant, assured as I was that what I would have said were the words of truth and soberness. But, like Paddy’s dumb parrot, I “kept up a moighty dale of thinking.” And when my mind and heart are very full, I have a habit of talking both out to my family.

To finish the story begun above: The young girl in question took an expensive course of tuition as a trained nurse in another city than in which her parents lived, and within three months after graduating married a resident of that place and set up housekeeping. I met her mother the other day in a shop. She is a great sufferer from rheumatism, and walks with pain and difficulty. But she had just returned from a visit to Clara,

“Who, poor child! is having a fearful time with housekeeping. She had no time to learn anything of it before her marriage, of course. No girl has, nowadays.”

One Among Many.

When I got home, oddly enough, I found awaiting me a letter from a friend whose niece married, last spring, a young doctor with whom she had become acquainted while taking her course in a training school for nurses. They were married the week after she received her diploma.

“I cannot help thinking it would have been wiser to postpone the wedding until Emma had an apprenticeship in her mother’s kitchen,” wrote my correspondent. “She is as ignorant as a baby of the rudiments of what a woman must know, unless she has abundant means and can employ trained servants. I foresee a grievous novitiate for the young bride. We—you and I—know what trials await her who sets up in business for herself before she has mastered the a b c of her trade.”

I read the letter to a youthful matron whose mother insisted upon putting her into training in active housewifery on Saturdays and in vacations while she was still a schoolgirl. In the year that elapsed between her graduation and her marriage the apprenticeship was steady and systematic.

“I used to gird at her rules sometimes,” commented the matron in harking back to her experience. “I bless her hourly for it now. My knowledge of practical housewifery saves hundreds of dollars yearly, to say nothing of sparing me time, nervous tissue and temper.”

“Among other duties that developed upon me during the last year of my novitiate was marketing. I set forth gayly the first day, with my memorandum in my pocket and a careless smile on my lips. It was the easiest matter in the world to walk into a shop and ask for what I had written down before leaving home. So I entered my butcher’s salesroom and ordered ‘a nice roast of corned beef.’ My mother was an old customer, and the butcher had seen me with her from the time I was a child. So he took the liberty of saying, with a kindly, amused smile: ‘Excuse me, Miss Blank, but corned beef is never roasted. Are you sure you don’t want fresh?’”

Multiplied Responsibility.

That was a minor mortification by comparison with the great fight of worries that are genuine afflictions which beset the woman who, to quote one of our speakers, sets up a business of which she is profoundly ignorant. It is not true, as some persons who should know better affirm, that “any girl with a fair outfit of common sense may learn practical housewifery, including cookery, as well after marriage as before.”

Setting aside other duties incumbent upon wifehood, the responsibility of providing what is to be cooked; of judicious selection of materials, consulting times and seasons; of preparing food that is wholesome, palatable and economical; of directing servants who ingeniously and invariably take advantage of an incompetent and inexperienced employer—I appeal to the great army of housewives with whom our familiar chats are held the year round whether or not I am right in declaring that our profession involves all this and so much more of intelligent effort as to demand long previous training before one stepped into the ranks of workers.

It is not a “trick” to be learned in a week or a month of a year. I, for one, have been laboring diligently at it for over half a century, and account myself still a learner.

Answering the question that heads our page, I say, then, without hesitation, that the mother who allows her daughter to grow up without a fair knowledge of practical housewifery is guilty of absolute cruelty to one whose need of the knowledge may be sore in days to come. I add that the girl who fails to appreciate the value of training in the profession that falls to the lot of seventy-five out of every hundred women in America is short-sighted and improvident. She is sowing for herself a crop of tare and bitter herbs.

Where there are several daughters, and the means of the family do not justify the employment of more than one or, at the most, two servants, the xxx to cook girl of a xxx xxx-tion of daily tasks makes the wheels of the machinery run smoothly.

Carry into your profession the systematic arrangement of work that prevails in your father’s factory or your brother’s office. As I say it, the memory recurs to me of one well-regulated home in the great and influential middle class of American social life in which this plan worked to a charm. The mother held the reins of government. No woman who is set at the head of her own household by her husband should ever resign the office unless hopelessly invalided. She is “called” to the place as truly as a queen to her sovereignty.

Rotation in Office.

As time made her subordinates expert, she did less manual labor, but her superintendence never relaxed in vigilance. One girl took charge of the kitchen for one month; the upstairs work devolved upon a second for the same time; a third, the dining-room, china, silver, etc. Rotation in office brought in orderly sequence each department into the hands of each girl during the quarter year. The only outside help brought into the house was a laundress and now and then a housecleaner.

It goes without saying that the house was beautifully kept from top to bottom. Intelligence and personal interest in the matter in hand insured that end. It may seem less credible to some readers that the machinery of daily toil was so cleverly concealed that, as one writer reported to me, “The house appeared to run itself. Mother and daughters were never slovenly in dress or fagged in appearance. Except that one of the girls arose quietly from table at meals to make needful changes in the courses, I should not have missed the services of a waitress. And how swiftly and noiselessly these changes were accomplished no one can imagine who has not seen a trained gentlewoman do housework. It was a fine art, through and through.”

It passes my comprehension—the cool indifference with which some daughters see their mothers toil in the treadmill where they have wrought for fifteen or thirty years while their families were growing into man’s and woman’s estate, carrying upon their shoulders accustomed burdens which their children, with pharisaic superciliousness, “will not lift with so much as one of their fingers.” “Only mother!” The life of many and many a girl is pitched to that key.

It was a refreshing contrast when, last week, I saw a pretty girl put her soft white arms around the withered neck of her mother, and press ripe red lips to the faded cheek, with—

“You know, mother is advanced to the dignity of consulting physicians now? Oh, I might say, lord high admiral. We make her sit still in state, and the tribes come up to her for judgment.”

I forgive the confusion of figures in consideration of the beautiful reverence to one who had earned the chief office. She is too feeble now for active duties, but her children arise and call her blessed for the work she has done.

Home-Making a Profession.

A serious editorial appeared in one of our leading dailies not long ago, headed, “Learning a Profession.” In it the course pursued by sensible parents with respect to preparing their sons for their lifework and their neglect of a similar duty to their daughters were strongly contrasted.

Even the “advanced” advocates of public careers for our sex cannot deny that, for the average woman, Providence has clearly indicated home as her sphere and home-making as her profession. And the school in which this is to be learned is, as unequivocally, her girlhood’s home under the loving tuition of her mother.

By the time the child can handle mop and duster her apprenticeship should begin. When she is of marriageable age she should have her profession so well in hand that the heart of her husband may safely trust in her as a true helpmeet. The calamities of the earlier years of the novice in housewifery would fill a library.

Were I to solicit a comparison of experience on this head from the members of our Exchange I should have no room for any other matter for a year to come.

Marion Harland

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