Facing a Stubborn Fact

This is the second article in October of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on October 10, 1909, and is the first article in a series on economy.

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

Facing a Stubborn Fact

This is the first of a series of articles by Marion Harland, the object of which is to aid housewives toward economy in the household during the present reign of high prices for necessities.

The second article of the series, to be published next Sunday, will be entitled, “Economy in Buying.” The third and fourth, to be printed on following Sundays, will be entitled “Economy in Cooking” and “Economy in Hired Labor.” Correspondence on the general topic and suggestions along the lines of these articles will be welcomed by the editor of the page.

An able editorial in one of the leading papers announced some weeks ago:

“The stubborn fact that confronts every American is tat the era of waste has ended, and economy is henceforth not to be a voluntary method of accumulating wealth, but a daily necessity to escape pauperism.”

A hard saying, this, but the statistic by which our prophet sustains it are harder still.

“The mom ca’ed me a leear!” spluttered an Irate Scotchman to a friend.

“And ye didn’t knock him doon!” reported the other.

“Nae, nae, mon! The warst of it was that he proved it!”

The anecdote recurred to me as I finished reading the summary of stubborn facts. We have been shutting our eyes and ears to them for six years and more, saying to legislators, political orators and fearless press, ‘Prophesy until us smooth things.” When the price of flour climbed steadily from $5 a barrel up to $8, we cried but upon the authors of trusts and the manipulators of corners. As surely as it is recorded in Holy Writ that the wages of iniquity shall not prosper, so certainly, we argued, prices must come down with a run, bringing the violent dealings of trust factor and corner dealer upon his own pate. And pending a consummation so devoutly to be desired that we had full faith in its coming before we should ourselves feel the pinch of poverty, we went on buying the finest of the wheot and using it with as free a hand as when it was the cheapest.

I was waiting for my turn in the shop of a highly respectable meat merchant on day, when a woman who stood net the counter asked the price of spring lamb.

“Twenty-eight cents a pound,” was the answer.

“And three years ago you sold it to me for twenty!” ejaculated the customer. “I wonder where you butchers expect to go when you die after robbing us at this rate?

“We give ourselves little concern on that score, madam,” returned the man, respectfully. “We shall find friends in both places.”

I laughed, as did others who heard the repartee. But, as Bunyan hat it, “I fell amusing,” and when the shop was cleared of other customers, I fell into quiet, serious talk with the vendor of flesh-foods. Without calling his attention to the possibility that some of his fellow-creatures might precede him to some of the “places” of which he spoke with such philosophical composure, if prices kept on rising, I asked him plainly why it costs me 35 per cent more to feed my family than it did three years agone.

Waiting for the Drop.

“We were assured that prices must fall with renewed public confidence. Capitalists were afraid of Roosevelt’s strenuous measures. Nobody could tell what he would be about next. Wait until Taft or Bryan is safe in the White House and the seething caldron will settle into a great calm,” and so on through the thousand-and-one etceteras with which we have been quieted until the soothing syrups have lost their efficacy.

The man is intelligent, and he had begun to take the state of the market seriously before I awoke to the “stubborn facts” in the case.

He talked to me of the increased cost of breadstuffs and feed; of the consequent rise in butter and milk, and in cattle of all kinds; of the absolute necessity that farmlands and lay laborers in other departments should receive higher wages to keep the life in themselves and families.

“It’s like arrow of bricks—don’t you see, ma’am?” he wound up by saying. “If one goes down, the rest must tumble. Where is it all to end?” with a despairing shrug. “I’ve long ago given up guessing as to that!”

I thanked him, and (perhaps ungratefully) ordered a piece of beef for a pot roast instead of the spring lamb I had promised myself for Sunday’s dinner. Then I went home deep in thought, and sat down that evening for a second reading of the editorial I had scarcely glanced at a breakfast time.

Here is a lurid sidelight gained by the second perusal:

“A few weeks ago a New York newspaper reported that hundred of small butcher shops in the city have been closed simply because the increase from 2 to 5 cents a pound in the price of meat has put it altogether out of the reach of thousands of people.”

A significant and gruesome item of information succeeds the announcement:

“A Washington estimate was that the advance amounted to an increase of $1,600,000 in the daily receipts of the Beef Trust.”

A Question of Pride.

This very plain and familiar talk with my fellow-housemothers does not soar (or sink?) to the contemplation of the stupendous figure I quote at close connection with the paltry []e of 5 cents per pound in the poor man’s meat.

One phrase in the extract with which my Talk begins must rivet the attention of the least thoughtful reader who has natural pride in his native end:

“The Era of Waste has ended.”

We fell into the habit of regarding ourselves as a thrifty people so long [] that the imputation stings our self-love. Out of a wilderness we have created a paradise that challenges the admiration of the world. We are proud of our natural resources and vain of the genius and industry that have developed them. No need to put out the question to those who have studied the special and domestic economies of other countries. American prodigality abroad is a byword and a hissing among the nations. American extravagance at home is not confined to the rich by inheritance and by speculation. Nor, let me remark, to the shiftless poor.

In my Talk of last week I defined the term, “Our Great Middle Class.” The Era of Waste has prevailed with them as truly as with the rich who have more money than they know how to spend the the poverty-ridden who live from hand to mouth. Our national proverbs reflect this unflattering truth. We sneer at “Candle-end savers.” We aver that such and such a one would skin a flee for his hide and tallow.” The returned tourist relates, with scornful glee, how he saw an English “tripper” in Switzerland put the remnants of the candles, for which he had been charged in the bill, into his valise, with intent to save that item of cost at the next stopping place. It is certain that if the portable Holland housemother discerned possible profit in a flea’s yield of hide and tallow she could not conscientiously neglect the duty of flaying it.

I asked a farmer’s wife who had the sole care of the poultry yard, if she knew that potato parings, corn cobs—in fact, the refuse of all vegetables—if put into a great pot and cooked soft at the back of the stove, are excellent and fattening food for chickens. I was led to the suggestion be seeing her garbage pail, piled with parings, husks and “scraps,” emptied upon the manure heap.

She laughed in my face. I knew from accent and look that she despised me in her heart.

“More trouble than it’s worth!” she said, briefly. “I ain’t one to look after trash.”

Let us look at the situation squarely in the face. Business optimists ply us with yet another patent of soothing syrup in the prediction that “things will right themselves as soon as this tariff question is settled.”

Perhaps they are right. I am not a political seer. I do know, as a common-sense woman who is in touch with tens of thousands of other women from Nova Scotia to California, that there is a big deficit to be made up before the return wave of prosperity can refresh our households. I speak that which I do know in asserting that the rainy-day fund in hundreds (maybe thousands) of homes was never so low before as now. The shrunken savings-bank account must be drought up to something like the proportions that rejoiced the deposer’s heart prior to the “hard times.” The wind that has blown straight and hot from the desert all these weary months may shift to a quarter promising beneficent showers. But we have the ravages of the drought to repair. And some of us do not forget that the winds that inflate business interests generally are slow in reaching salaries. To change the figure and adapt my meaning to housewifely compression—the brand of yeast that raises trusts and “big” concerns is not available for domestic use.

Briefly, then, it will be a long time before we can hope to rise from the universal depression succeeding the stringent “times” under which we have staggered until we have almost forgotten how to walk upright. She is a wise and prudent woman who accepts “the stubborn fact” and sets about the work of reconstruction without delay.

It is the little leaks in the household that tell upon the stability of the whole. And nobody but a woman can detect and stop them. If your grocer’s bills are too heavy, examine the items closely and see what swells them out of proportion to your allowance. It will be a disheartening task. For you are using no more butter than you thought necessary for the family two years back. You curtailed the quantity of cake made weekly some months ago. But the bills for the ingredients are half as large again as when the children had all the sweets they wanted. And so on and so forth, to the sum total that sickens you, heard and body.

Remedy Lies Ahead.

“We have all been there,” my toiling discouraged sisters! “In point of fact,” as Cousin Feenix says, we are there now, and wading more heavily in the slough of despond than ever before in our housewifely experience. Whether or not the firm land of promise be within hail, our present duty is plain. Each of us owes it to herself, to her family and to her country to learn and practice economies that make for thrift and prosperity in older lands than ours.

One and all, you will bear me witness that I am not an alarmist. But I have watched with growing uneasiness the development of agencies which have brought us up against the reef our sensible editor has lettered “A Stubborn Fact.” And I would not prove myself the true friend I am in heart to every member of our mighty guild if I did not speak out at this crisis.

Let us gird up the loins of our minds and spirits and reason together as to the course to be taken in the grave emergency that is not without terrors to any one of us.

In our next Talk we will discuss practical, everyday ways and means by which we may relegate the era of waste to a past we have out grown.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Family Meals for a Week
Fashion and Fads
The Housemothers’ Exchange