Dora Montefiore Justice 1910

Unemployment Among Women

Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, February 19, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

To those of us who are working at the problem of unemployment, especially among women, Mrs. Eustace Miles’s article in a daily contemporary of February 3 is of extreme interest, in that it shows up some of the difficulties between would-be employers and unsuitable employees in the domestic world, and because it emphasises the extreme (I would add national) importance of a more scientific study on the part of women of the chemical processes of cookery, of food values, and of food tests, in order to be able to choose the good and reject the adulterated and impure. A few practical words first on the domestic problem and all the friction that it at present entails. Mrs. Eustace Miles describes her varied experiences in search of a cook-housekeep to do the work of, the small flat inhabited by her husband and herself; and relates how diplomatic relations invariably broke off when the question of “Who should do the dirty work?” was broached. I should like to suggest that the reason for this gulf of misunderstanding between mistress and maid lies not so much at the door of the human elements involved, but in the material nature of the present-day scheme of things, where house construction and house-planning are concerned. To put the proposition boldly: There should be no dirty work in a well-designed, up-to-date, modern house or flat; and every house or flat that does not come up to thos4 requirements should be modernised. Furnaces in the basement should warm with hot-water radiators every room in the building, and should supply a constant supply of hot water for cooking and cleaning. Window cleaning and step cleaning should be contracted for from outside; and in the case of flats the cleaning of boots and knives should be arranged for by the owners of the building at contract prices, just as they now arrange for the cleaning and keeping in order of the stairs. An educated woman need not then mind giving eight or ten hours of the day in return for board, lodging, and a salary, during which hours she would cook on a gas stove, clean rooms, and wash up for a small family, provided she might use the rest of the twenty-four hours as she liked. What is wrong with our home organisation is that industrial organisation and scientific discovery have combined to make home and domestic arrangements out of date. The young woman seeking employment feels subconsciously (even if she does not reason logically on the matter) that she will have a better time, less solitary and dirty work, and more leisure if she goes into a chocolate factory or makes electric light fittings than if she engages as cook-housekeeper in a flat, where from morning till night she is fighting with mediaeval appliances against the baneful influences of coal dirt — which, if we organised our homes on modern lines, as we organise our factories, should never be brought inside our dwellings. We have to face the fact that education is levelling up, and that it is a right and proper rebellion that rebels against unnecessary “dirty work” We must .also realise that the desire for leisure and human intercourse are natural and right desires, and no servant should be kept on continuous duty for more than ten hours in the day; otherwise employment in the factory or shop, where hours are regulated by law, will always have superior attractions over domestic service.

Both domestic service and cooking have to be raised in the scale of employment, not only for the domestic servant, but for the housewife in lower middle-class and working-class families where no servant is employed. What I have written, therefore, about the doing away with dirty work applies equally to the organisation of these humbler homes. All workmen’s dwellings and flats should be warmed from furnaces in the basements, and a, constant hot water supply should be included among other conveniences, These improvements would set the mother and housewife free, to give proper attention to marketing and cooking, instead of, as she too often does under present pressure, sending a toddler of three or four years old with a message and some coppers to get whatever a tradesman chooses to palm off on the unconscious child. Much of the distaste and revolt against domestic work arises also from the fact that technical; and specialised training does not come into the scheme of County Council instruction. I am aware that what is called cookery and domestic instruction is given in some of the County Council schools, but much of that teaching is wasted on children who are too young and too undeveloped to benefit by it, and who have not reached the age for specialised studies. The kind of instruction I mean is what I saw in Finland, where special training is provided for girls of fourteen who have finished their elementary school course. A technical training of three years is then entered upon, the course including cooking, marketing, and the choice of food, scientific cutting and dressmaking, drawing from models, domestic cleaning and renovation, besides two hours a day devoted to secondary studies. The girls take all the subjects, because each lesson is given with the object of stimulating and developing the intelligence; but those who are specialising in cooking give most time to that study; those who are specialising in dressmaking give naturally most time to cutting and fitting. In connection with the cookery schools are inexpensive restaurants, where I have often obtained an excellent midday meal cooked by the girl students, and provided for the public at the cost of a shilling. I was assured that it the end of a three years’ course the cookery pupils obtained situations immediately. In Berlin I saw at the school of domestic instruction tables laid out, on which lay type-written lists of the food used in the making of the various meals arranged, the comparative nutritive value of the foods used, and the cost per head of the food. There were three grades of prices, varying from a shilling to twopence per head; and the pupils were expected to arrange and cook meals every day according to these grades. In the choosing of the foods the scale of food values was never allowed to be lowered. All this practical instruction in the science of cookery is (it is scarcely necessary to point out) of extreme value where the health of the community is concerned, but it must not be, forgotten that the higher the standard of professional proficiency of the trained cook the higher will be her demand for a specialised medium and specialised surroundings through which to express her art. The French flat-topped range is a far more convenient fireplace on which to cook than is our English kitchener. Our kitchens, even in the smallest homes, should be lined and floored with tiles that can be washed down with a mop, and every labour-saving appliance should find an honoured place in the modern English home.