Housekeeper's Alliance

Mrs. Chatwitt on Domestic Help (1864)

The want of good domestic help in the United States is a great evil, and one which daily increases; and, were it not for the influx of foreigners, I do not know but necessity would drive all housekeepers to some great boarding-house system, thus banishing the holiest of all places– our homes and our private firesides.

No one can travel through our country towns, especially of the Free States of the West, without being struck with the careworn, faded expression of women scarcely thirty years of age; and the merest glimpse at their cares and duties, and the hard work that inevitably falls to their share, shows plainly, why they are broken down ere they are in their prime; shows why there are so many motherless children; why there are so many men mourning over the beloved of their youth, and the breaking up of their household ties; why there are so many with second and third wives.

The young housekeepers, the day after marriage

The young housekeepers, the day after marriage

Look at a young girl entering upon the duties of matrimony, loving and beloved, and anxious to fulfill her domestic and social duties. Watch her year by year until a little family have clustered around her; see with what energy and amiability she has striven against sickness, poor help, and all the thousand trials and perplexities that no one but American housekeepers can understand. With an infant in her arms and an inexperienced girl to help her, she superintends her housekeeping, receives company, nurses her children, acts the seamstress, and strives for her husband’s comfort; and soften her miserable help deserts her when she can least do without. What wonder health and beauty give way! And she could not retain her spirits, and hope against hope that she will be relieved in time to recruit her failing health and energies, but for that calm trust, which I glory in saying most of my countrywomen possess, in an all-wise Creator, an overruling Providence, and a kind Heavenly Father. Yet, though God overrules all things, He does not wish us to fold our hands over this evil; even with faith in Him, we must endeavor to remove it, and look to Him to bless our efforts, not our passiveness. What can be done? Will not some one take up a pen, and tell us what is practicable?– not theories; something practical?

One thing, as a partial alleviation, I would suggest, returning to one of the good old customs of our New England grandmothers, which, amid all the fashions, and, as they would have said, “new-fangled notions” of the day, seems to have grown nearly obsolete. They used, when first married, to go quietly to housekeeping (and they had been taught domestic duties better, I am sorry to say, than girls are now taught); they used to take a little girl to bring up, often an orphan, or some poor child whose parents were glad to part with her if she found a good home, so that it was a double kindness. And, as ladies did not then disdain attending to some part of their domestic duties from choice, the child was personally taught and superintended, and affectionately treated. Thus situated, she loved and respected her protectors, so when the time of trial came they had one hand at least upon whom they could rely– one who felt an interest that domestic matters should go right, and the wheels of the household roll on smoothly– one who every year would be of more use and more of a friend, morally trained, and trained as a good housekeeper; and when her time came to take charge of a family, she would be a credit to the lady who had brought her up, and a blessing to her own family. Many might object to this as being so much trouble. And so it is; but it is trouble that pays, to use a popular, though not very elegant, expression.

It is a great deal of care and trouble to train a child, to have patience with its waywardness, and forbearance with its failings, and forgiveness for its faults; but there is nothing worth having in this life that is not some trouble; and this taking some of the labor from our hands, taking some of the steps for the wearied feet, disciplining the heart in patient virtues, is trouble that will repay.

Children's Fashions - Godey's Lady's Book - September 1864

Children’s Fashions – Godey’s Lady’s Book – September 1864

I am far from meaning to recommend bringing up a child as a drudge, making her feel herself inferior, and dwarfing her in mind and body by harsh usage and hard work. No truly thoughtful Christian woman is capable of doing this, and she who would use a dependent thus does not know the kindly feelings of a follower of the Savior of love and mercy, and (harsh as it may sound) is not fit to bring up her own children.

But what is the trouble compared to the trouble of continual change from one ignorant servant girl to another? Need I go through the list? Not this time. But these troubles and the trouble of bringing up a child, to have her assistance, love, and respect for eight or ten years, or perhaps more, hardly contrast, and there are hundreds in our crowded cities who would be a blessing to as many housekeepers, if they would only think they could take the trouble to bring them up. Who will try the experiment?

Any one who reads this article will readily understand that I refer more particularly to housekeepers in country towns as being so situated as to try this experiment to the best advantage.

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

Photo:  The Housekeeper’s Alliance (between 1905 and 1945)

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