The customs of the American people are more conformed to those principles of the Christian family state which demand protecting care for the weaker members, than those of any other nation. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than in the division of labor to the boys and girls of one family. The outdoor work, all that is most disagreeable, and the heaviest labor, is taken by the boys, while the indoor family-work is reserved for the girls. Of this indoor labor a part is sedentary, such as sewing, and a part is light labor, such as dish-washing, cooking, sweeping, dusting, and general care of the house. The laundry gives the hardest woman's work; but this is not daily, nor so severe as the outdoor employments of men, while it can be so divided among several women, or be so regulated in various ways, as never to involve excessive labor. Young women wash and iron, as a daily business, six and eight hours a day, and yet continue healthful and cheerful. Such is the distinctive construction of woman's form, that labor with the muscles of the arms and trunk, such as is demanded in washing and ironing, is peculiarly favorable to the perfect development and support of the most delicate and most important portion of her body.
But while the general arrangements of family labor have been conformed to the true Christian principle, there have been certain extremes in our customs which it is important to remedy. This is often exhibited in houses when the members of a family assemble in an evening, and the girls all have some useful employment of the hands, while the boys look on and do nothing.
Again, at other times, we see broken locks, windows un-glazed, and furniture needing repair, all making necessary a kind of work women could easily perform, and yet left neglected because the men do not find time or are unskilled for the performance. In a country like ours, the emergencies of the family state often demand the exchange of the ordinary labor of men and women. Frequently, in newer settlements, no servants can be found, while the wife and mother is confined by sickness. In such emergencies, skill in performing woman's work is a great blessing to a man and his family. So the soldiers, sailors, engineers, and all roving men need the skill of the needle that preserves clothing from waste. In our late war, millions would have been saved had all the soldiers been taught to sew in their boyhood.
In this view of the case, industrial schools, to teach both boys and girls all the economic skill of the family state, are of great importance, and a department for this purpose should be connected with every school, especially the public schools, where most of the children will earn their own livelihood and be exposed to many chances of a roving life.
Attempts have been made to introduce sewing into public schools, and usually with little or no success, from many combining difficulties. One of them arises from the increased number of classes for this purpose; which would be relieved by having boys taught to sew in the same class with girls. Another difficulty has been the providing of materials for sewing and the previous cutting and fitting needed, which the parents refuse to supply. A method which meets these and other difficulties, and which has been successfully tried in industrial schools in England, will now be described.
Let a fund be provided by school officers, or by contribution, to provide needles, thread, scissors, and thimbles of various sizes, and place them in the care of the teacher. Let two half-days of the week be devoted to this and other industrial employments, giving, as a reward for success in careful, neat, and quick accomplishment of the duties, the time left beyond that used in the task as holiday hours.
Let the first lesson be the use of scissors, in cutting straight slips of newspaper, thus training the eye and fingers to expert measurement and motion. Whoever excels in the performance of the allotted task in less than the allotted time is to be rewarded with the time, thus gained, for play.
Next, let the class cut broad strips of paper, and practice doubling them in a hem, first narrow and then broad. This also cultivates the eyes and trains the fingers.
Then give a lesson to teach the use of the thimble, using a needle without thread, and paper slips to set the needle through.
Let the class now have pieces of cheap and thin unbleached cotton, and cut off from it strips two inches wide, being directed to cut by a thread. At first a thread may be drawn to guide the eye. Then, these strips are to be cut into pieces five or six inches long, turned down and pinched to prepare for oversewing, and then put together and basted with a needle and thread, the teacher setting the example.
This last operation is intended to prepare two strips to be sewed together by oversewing. In this operation colored thread should be used in order to make the stitches show more distinctly. Meantime, the pupil is trained to make the stitches equal in depth, and also at equal distances.
The teacher is to be provided with a blank book for each pupil, and on the first page is to be inscribed, Oversewing. Beneath this word is to be fastened a specimen of the stitch, as soon as the pupil has attained the degree of excellence and accuracy required.
The next lesson is Hemming. To prepare for this, let the scholars first cut, out of newspaper, pieces three inches square, and fold a hem on each side till it is even and smooth.
Then the unbleached cotton is to be given to be cut and prepared in the same way. Finally, the hemming-stitch is to be taught, and the child be required to practice till the stitches are equal in size and regular in both slant and distances. When this is well executed, the specimen is to be fastened to another page of the child's book, under the word Hemming. In the same way, the various stitches used for running up seams, for felling, darning, whipping, buttonholing, stitching, and gathering, should be taught on small pieces of white or unbleached cotton, using colored thread.
The books in which are fastened the finished specimens of sewing should be preserved by the teacher and exhibited at the school examinations, as an encouragement to excellence. In England, the ladies of wealth and rank take pains to establish and superintend, among the poor, industrial schools in which are taught other domestic work as well as sewing; and, as the consequence, their servants and dependents are well trained for the duties of their station. It is hoped that American ladies will make similar efforts for the children of the poorer classes, and employ all their influence to promote industrial training in our common schools; and also, to see that instruction in these important matters be given to their own daughters, who may become mistresses and directors of future homes, or who, in the constantly changing fortunes of our land, may need to perform as well as to guide the doing of these homely duties.
It is a mistake to suppose that sewing-machines lessen the importance of hand-sewing. All the mending for a family, and much of the altering of clothing and house furniture, must be done only by the hand. In all poor families that own no machine, and in all cases where persons travel, the whole sewing needed must be done by hand.
It is especially for the benefit of the poor who can not have machines, that all the children of our common schools should be taught not only to sew, but to mend and to cut and fit common garments. Hard-working mothers can not teach this art, and the school-teacher is the proper person to do it. Nor should this be added to the ordinary severe and wearing labor of a teacher, but other less important branches should give place to this. It is the constant complaint of all who are seeking to help the destitute, that women are not trained properly to do any kind of domestic work, and there is no way in which philanthropy can be more wisely exerted than in urging the establishment of industrial schools.
It is the hope of the writer that a day is coming when all women will be made truly independent, by being trained in early life to employments by which they can secure a home and income for themselves, if they do not marry or if they become widows. This is what is done for daughters in European countries, and should be done in our own.
Institutions for training women to employments suitable for their sex should be established and endowed, the same as agricultural and other professional schools for men. When this is done, there will be a liberal profession for women of culture and refinement, securing to widows and unmarried women such advantages as have hitherto been enjoyed only by the more favored sex.