Average Woman

The Average American Woman (1878)

“Now is the time when the average American woman begins to negotiate for a handsome Christmas present for her husband —at some store where his credit is good.”— The Boone County (Iowa) Republican.

Exactly! It is the “average American woman” who tends the babies, washes, cooks, scrubs, washes dishes, irons, bakes and sews, and sits down in the evening tired and discouraged, to take up the weekly paper and read such cruel and insulting taunts and jeers, because in spite of her care and toil, she is unselfish enough to wish to give her husband a Christmas present.

It is the ‘average American woman” who takes ten cents worth of flour and converts it into thirty-five cents worth of bread.

Who earns the bread for the family, the husband who gives ten cents worth of labor, or the wife who gives twenty-five?

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

It is the “average American woman,” who, when her husband brings home five yards of calico for a child’s dresss, does seventy-five cents worth of sewing to make a dress of it. Who earns the most of that dress, the husband who gives thirty cents worth of toil, or the wife who gives seventy-five?

The husband is considered a generous man if he gives his third without grumbling, while the wife’s services are accepted as a matter of course, and considered worth nothing.

If you want to know how much the “average American woman” earns, go into a restaurant and find out the difference in price between cooked and uncooked food, or into a store and inquire the difference in price between ready-made clothing and the same quality of cloth unmade.

It is the unpaid labor of the average American woman which makes it possible for a poor man to raise a family of children in tolerable comfort. If you don’t believe that two-thirds of the labor of the home and family is performed by your wife, Oh, average American man, just try the experiment of paying her for all the actual labor she performs, laundry work, housekeeper’s work, nursery work; will your wages pay it do you think?

“At some store where his credit is good.”

Can it be that the chivalrous husband who provides his third of the family earnings, and votes himself all the control of the money, and two-thirds of the real estate and all the family authority, would be so unutterably selfish and mean as to give to her care no part of the joint earnings, but compel her to wander about, often fruitlessly, to find “some store where his credit is good,” to buy this selfish robber a nice Christmas present?

Can it be that the wages of the “average American man” would be found wholly inadequate to pay the market price for the services of the “average American woman” in her several capacities, as matron, housekeeper, cook, seamstress, servant girl, laundry woman, all high-priced labor, you perceive, as compared with shop girls and teachers’ wages. And can it be that his “credit is good” simply because he keeps his own earnings and robs her of hers, and that all the vices and indulgences of which he is guilty, beer, billiards, tobacco, etc., are made possible by the unpaid labor of the “average American woman.”

Julia M. Dunn,
Moline, Ills.

Source: National Citizen and Ballot Box, March 1878

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