May Wood Simmons 1900
Co-operation and Housewives
Source: The Masses, December, 1911;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2002.
THE married woman, who still works in the home, has no opportunity for development. She prepares three meals a day and washes three sets of dishes. If she has any desire to do other work it is constantly interrupted. Her power to fix her attention on the accomplishment of mental tasks is destroyed.
The glories and beauties of the life of the housewife are continuously lauded by more than one antiquated editor. That beauty does not exist. In fact, the great mass of women engaged in industry as well as the men have a silent contempt for the lot of the housewife. If she is a mother she soon falls behind her children and they have little regard for her opinions. Not all facts are pleasant. This is an extremely disagreeable fact, for the housewife.
The larger part of the agitation, even in the socialist movement, among women has been directed toward whom? Why, the girls in industry. Not the housekeepers.
Much of the failure to produce work that equals man’s work in art, literature and mechanics is due to the fact that so large a proportion of the women of the race spend their lives in housework. To dust, scrub, wash dishes. Where is the inspiration? Less even than in digging ditches. But the patient woman keeps up her flagging courage by saying, “It is womanly. It is woman’s place.”
Grandmothers, some of them, still think stockings should be knit at home. Our children will look back with the same amusement that we do at stocking knitting, should we persist in arguing that cooking should all be done at home.
Think but for an instant how the world of industry has advanced; no man now makes his own ax or chisel. These are struck out by thousands in great steel works. So all the work of the world is being better done by great bodies of men co-operating. But each woman in nine-tenths of American homes is still over her own cook stove, preparing some little culinary concoction for her particular group.
The home could be greatly improved if, instead of a drabbled, tired, nervous woman with petty thoughts and petty cares, it had a strong, capable wife and mother freed from the easily avoidable drudgery that now exists in the home; if it had a woman with a trade or profession, as men have, large enough to broaden her outlook on life and her sympathies.
The young woman hesitates to-day to become a housewife, for it means the end of her outside, more agreeable work.
The home was not destroyed when the spinning and weaving went to the factory and it will not be destroyed when the family takes its meals in co-operative dining halls or at home, with food prepared in co-operative kitchens; when the cleaning is done by machinery and when each wife, mother and single woman has work outside the home as well as in the home.
Sad! There is no sight in all the world so sad as the wasting of a woman’s strength, mental and physical, in household toil when this “belated” industry could so easily be put on the same basis as other modern industries.
It is only when women, instead of glorying in their domesticity as they do to-day, despise it as a destroyer of women’s best energies that the first move will be made to put the economy of homes on a scientific foundation.
Domestic science in the schools is not now the last step. What we want is food experts, trained men and women to take charge of co-operative establishments and prepare wholesome well-cooked food.
But the children? What would happen to the children? They would have a far better chance of life with the poorly prepared food they get to-day from the hands of ill-trained housewives, and moreover, there would be fewer hysterical mothers.
Socialize the household industry. Bring all the modern appliances to serve the home and let all the work that can be done co-operatively leave the home.
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