THERE are students of modern social conditions who prophesy that the home and the family will not endure in their present form as social organizations. Moreover, these views have secured a considerable following, and they have obtained a greater publicity than they really merit.
The prevalence of these views doubtless seems greater than it is, partly because newspaper and magazine writers have widely quoted them and thus given them the semblance of more widespread authority than they actually possess, and partly because they reflect a general and very genuine dissatisfaction with many social phenomena apparent at the present time. Such evidence is found in the increasing frequency of divorce, the lowered birthrate, the multiplication of hotels and tenements, the increase of public places of amusement, and the desertion of families, either temporarily or permanently, by husbands and fathers.
On the other hand, it is true that the dependence of the community upon sound family life as the condition of enduring community life is becoming constantly more widely recognized and more frankly acknowledged by persons of large experience in actual dealing with social problems. Those who work among the poor with any appreciation of their responsibility for the consequences of their ministry have long been familiar with the fact that to attempt to serve any member of the family without taking into account the needs of the entire group is generally like pouring water into a sieve. The Charity Organization movement, with its program of "family rehabilitation," is a conspicuous instance of this emphasis upon the family as the ultimate social unit. Another is the Juvenile Court movement, with its theory that inadequate family care amounts to dependency and justifies community interference in behalf of a child, whose claim to normal family life is thus recognized. Moreover, the discussion of the treatment of dependent children, whether by means of pensions so that they may be cared for in their own homes, or after the "placing out" method whereby they are given homelike surroundings with foster parents, has made the necessity of domestic efficiency on the part of the mother very clear so far as the poor are concerned.
In the case of those who suffer from spiritual rather than from pecuniary limitations, the theory has not been so clearly formulated; but the importance of setting higher standards of domestic, social, and administrative efficiency for women who administer incomes ranging from two to ten thousand dollars is becoming constantly more evident. In the first place, these women are the ones who suffer more than any others from the influences which issue from a leisure class based on recently acquired wealth. These are the women whose incomes are most largely drawn from positions of a business rather than of an industrial character, among whom the canons of waste and idleness secure their widest adherence. To be sure, the college graduates belong largely to this group, as do most of the professional women. They are, however, as yet, the exception and not the rule, and, to the domestic women of this pecuniary group, subject to all the pressure of the competitive and wasteful business standards of today, is intrusted the administration of the households from which will come the young people who will be able to take high school and college courses, and so constitute the leadership in political, professional, and business life. It is, therefore, of supreme importance that for women of that group the dignity and responsibility of their tasks should be made clear, and ideals of efficiency and utility substituted for those of waste and social competition. If this can be done successfully, there will be less misapprehension as to the seriousness of the domestic problem.
It is not surprising that great confusion of judgment regarding the subject has prevailed. Household tasks of outgrown value are retained because of their association with the real service to family life which was rendered by them at an earlier period. Archaic methods persist, practices no longer in accord with the demands of the time survive, and belated eighteenth or nineteenth century habits of thought often dominate the household life of the group, when twentieth century business or educational ideals are being applied to problems presented to the members of the group in their experiences outside the home. The inevitable result must be serious difficulty for the young woman who undertakes as wife and mother to direct the affairs of her family, as well as friction among the members of the group. The development of the factory system and the application of its principles to many processes connected with the preparation of foods and the manufacture of clothing have prevented her acquisition of the various kinds of skill which her mother or her grandmother acquired as a matter of course. She cannot spin, weave, card, comb, bake, or brew. She can perhaps sew a little; she can cook but little, and then successfully only if she refrains from "stirring in judgment" and obeys the cookbook literally. Apparently, then, her status has been reduced, her influence narrowed, and her position rendered less dignified and worthy. Moreover, much of the work which the domestic woman once did in the home, the wage-paid woman now does outside the home. Wage-earning is coming to have equal dignity with domestic life, and the wage-paid woman, while perhaps industrially bond, is domestically free.
Yet it is, of course, obvious to the intelligent observer that never was the position of the housekeeper and home-maker in reality more important or her responsibility greater. The tragedy does not lie in the small scope offered for the use of her abilities, but in her lack of preparation to avail herself of her opportunity. For without warning a far more serious change has taken place than has been realized. The domestic tasks of an earlier day have left the home, not leaving behind them a void, but making way for a substitute which has crept in, calling little attention to itself and therefore unnoticed and unwelcomed. This substitute for the older making - of yarn, cloth, bread, and beer - is spending money for ready-made clothing, household goods, and food almost ready to be served. By her making, the housekeeper of two generations ago provided for the wants of the aged, the children, and the other adults in her little group. If she planned wisely and executed well, Johnny had trousers that were warm, durable, and comfortable, Jenny's little dress looked, wore, and felt well, and the husband's homemade shirt lasted until a successor was ready. Today, by her spending, she, with others like her, determines the fate of innumerable child-workers, whose labor, performed perhaps at night, is embodied in the sheets in which her Johnny and Jenny sleep, the table linen from which the husband eats, or the bottles from which the aged parent takes the relieving medicines. By her buying, employers are tempted to continue the use of sweated labor on the curtains which hang in reception rooms like hers, and convict labor is enabled to compete with the union workingman, whose efforts to improve his conditions are thus rendered futile. Surely the position of one who holds such power, though only as she shares it with others who are undertaking a like task, is one of great influence, real dignity, and grave responsibility. And yet it is and must for some time be extremely difficult to equip young women to perform these duties and meet these responsibilities adequately. As has been said, the vacating of the household by the various industries to which reference has been made has sometimes seemed unduly slow, but compared with the long period during which they have been so associated with home life as to seem to be identical with home life, this egress has been accomplished with extraordinary swiftness. Within less than a century, the agelong practice of making in anticipation of a want already.
Because, then, of the significance of her task to the later life of the members of her group, and because, too, of her power to determine the fate of those workers from whose services she benefits either directly or indirectly, the woman who administers the affairs of a household may well regard herself as placed at the real heart of things, responsible for the conduct of that institution which is the unit of social organization.
1. What features of the present form of family life are the object of criticism?
2. In case you think any of this criticism valid, what remedies would you propose?
3. In what respects, if any, may there be said to have occurred a decadence in home life?
4. What are the factors which go to make up sound family life?
5. How generally do you think that your judgment on this point would be accepted in your community?
6. What measures is your community taking to preserve family life?
7. What are the forces of disintegration and of upbuilding to which the present-day household is subject?
8. What archaic methods and belated practices are retained in your household?
The Family. Elsie Clews Parsons. New York: Putnam's Sons.
Woman and Economics. Charlotte P. Gilman. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co.
The Man-Made World; or, Our Androcentric Culture. Charlotte P. Gilman. New York: Charlton Co.
Socialism and the Family. H. G. Wells. Boston; Ball Publishing Co.
Rich and Poor. Helen Bosanquet. New York: The Mac-millan Co.
The Standard of Life. Helen Bosanquet. New York: The Macmillan Co.
Preventive Treatment of Neglected Children. Hastings H. Hart. New York: Charities Publication Committee.
Domestic Service, Chapter I (The Household As A Social Unit). Lucy M. Salmon. New York: The Macmillan Co.
Some Ethical Gains through Legislation. Florence Kelley. New York: Macmillan.
Report on Condition of Women and Child Wage-Earners in the United States, Volume I. "Cotton Textile Industry," Chapter I (The Household As A Social Unit). United States Bureau of Labor, Washington, D. C, 1910.
The Child in the City; Why We have Truants. D. P. MacMillan. Chicago: School of Civics and Philanthropy.
Note. - The books referred to are expected to be suggestive rather than to give specific and detailed answers to the questions, and the lists have been made with special reference to students who have access to reference libraries. No attempt has been made to include in the bibliographies articles of value which have recently appeared in magazines.