Any discussion of the equality of the sexes as to intellectual capacity seems frivolous and useless, both because it can never be decided, and because there would be no possible advantage in the decision. But one topic, which is often drawn into this discussion, is of far more consequence; and that is, the relative importance and difficulty of the duties a woman is called to perform.
It is generally assumed, and almost as generally conceded, that a housekeeper's business and cares are contracted and trivial; and that the proper discharge of her duties demands far less expansion of mind and vigor of intellect than the pursuits of the other sex. This idea has prevailed because women, as a mass, have never been educated with reference to their most important duties; while that portion of their employments which is of least value has been regarded as the chief, if not the sole, concern of a woman. The covering of the body, the convenience of residences, and the gratification of the appetite, have been too much regarded as the chief objects on which her intellectual powers are to be exercised.
But as society gradually shakes off the remnants of barbarism and the intellectual and moral interests of man rise, in estimation, above the merely sensual, a truer estimate is formed of woman's duties, and of the measure of intellect requisite for the proper discharge of them. Let any man of sense and discernment become the member of a large house-hold, in which a well-educated and pious woman is endeavoring systematically to discharge her multiform duties; let him fully comprehend all her cares, difficulties, and perplexities; and it is probable he would coincide in the opinion that no statesman at the head of a nation's affairs had more frequent calls for wisdom, firmness, tact, discrimination, prudence, and versatility of talent, than such a woman.
She has a husband, to whose peculiar tastes and habits she must accommodate herself; she has children, whose health she must guard, whose physical constitutions she must study and develop, whose temper and habits she must regulate, whose principles she must form, whose pursuits she must guide. She has constantly changing domestics, with all varieties of temper and habits, whom she must govern, instruct, and direct; she is required to regulate the finances of the domestic state, and constantly to adapt expenditures to the means and to the relative claims of each department. She has the direction of the kitchen, where ignorance, for-getfulness, and awkwardness, are to be so regulated that the various operations shall each start at the right time, and all be in completeness at the same given hour. She has the claims of society to meet, visits to receive and return, and the duties of hospitality to sustain. She has the poor to relieve; benevolent societies to aid; the schools of her children to inquire and decide about; the care of the sick and the aged; the nursing of infancy; and the endless miscellany of odd items constantly recurring in a large family.
Surely it is a pernicious and mistaken idea that the duties which tax a woman's mind are petty, trivial, or unworthy of the highest grade of intellect and moral worth. Instead of allowing this feeling, every woman should imbibe, from early youth, the impression that she is in training for the discharge of the most important, the most difficult, and the most sacred and interesting duties that can possibly employ the highest intellect. She ought to feel that her station and responsibilities in the great drama of life are second to none, either as viewed by her Maker or in the estimation of all minds whose judgment is most worthy of respect.
She who is the mother and housekeeper in a large family is the sovereign of an empire, demanding more varied cares, and involving more difficult duties, than are really exacted of her who wears a crown and professedly regulates the interests of the greatest nation on earth.
There is no one thing more necessary to a housekeeper, in performing her varied duties, than a habit of system and order; and yet the peculiarly desultory nature of women's pursuits, and the embarrassments resulting from the state of domestic service in this country, render it very difficult to form such a habit. But it is sometimes the case that women who could and would carry forward a systematic plan of domestic economy do not attempt it, simply from a want of knowledge of the various modes of introducing it. It is with reference to such that various modes of securing system and order, which the writer has seen adopted, will be pointed out.
A wise economy is nowhere more conspicuous than in a systematic apportionment of time to different pursuits. There are duties of a religious, intellectual, social, and domestic nature, each having different relative claims on attention. Unless a person has some general plan of apportioning these claims, some will intrench on others, and some, it is probable, will be entirely excluded. Thus some find religious, social, and domestic duties so numerous, that no time is given to intellectual improvement. Others find either social, or benevolent, or religious interests excluded by the extent and variety of other engagements.
It is wise, therefore, for all persons to devise a systematic plan which they will at least keep in view and aim to accomplish, and by which a proper proportion of time shall be secured for all the duties of life.
In forming such a plan, every woman must accommodate herself to the peculiarities of her situation. If she has a large family and a small income, she must devote far more time to the simple duty of providing food and raiment than would be right were she in affluence, and with a small family. It is impossible, therefore, to draw out any general plan which all can adopt. But there are some general principles, which ought to be the guiding rules, when a woman arranges her domestic employments. These principles are to be based on Christianity, which teaches us to "seek first the kingdom of God," and to deem food, raiment, and the conveniences of life as of secondary account. Every woman, then, ought to start with the assumption that the moral and religious interests of her family are of more consequence than any worldly concern, and that, whatever else may be sacrificed, these shall be the leading object, in all her arrangements, in respect to time, money, and attention.