FREQUENT mention has been made in the preceding pages of activities within the household with which the well-being of the community is intertwined. It has been pointed out that, from such humble and simple tasks as supplying regular food and requiring regular sleep for the little children, a reduction in the volume of delinquency, truancy, and subnormaiity might be expected. Similarly, attention has been called to the importance of care in the selection of articles of food and clothing, not only from the point of view of those who eat and wear, but of those who make and sell. The household is, in fact, tied to the community by two sets of bonds. There are, in the first place, those tasks to be performed by the housekeeper on which the well-being of the community depends. With proper care of waste-matter in her house and the maintenance of a reasonable standard of cleanliness, the entire community is greatly concerned. Upon her living up to a reasonable measure of intelligence in the treatment of her children, the entire well-being of the next generation may be said to depend. So closely identified, in fact, is the public interest with the adequate performance of such daily tasks as these, that housekeeping may now be classified among the public functions.
But not only is the community dependent upon the housekeeper; she is, in turn, dependent upon the community for help in the performance of her household duties. To be sure, much can be accomplished and must be sought through voluntary association. A careful housekeeper can keep her own house sweet and clean. and can maintain a nice standard of care in her yard; but the extent to which her floors will be tracked with muddy feet or her curtains soiled by dusty wind will depend in large measure on the standard maintained in the care of the street in front and the alley behind both her own and her neighbors' homes. The organization of a neighborhood improvement association may be, then, the first and the most practicable step towards securing a community standard of cleanliness like her own.
In the same way, in order to secure conditions which she can regard as endurable and suitable for the preparation of such of her food as under modern city conditions should not be prepared at home, she may accomplish something by individual care. She can look at her butcher's refrigerator, go through her grocer's storeroom, visit her milkman's dairy, and inspect his wagon. Moreover, she can organize a Consumers' League, whose members will agree with her to ask information before they buy and to maintain representatives to inspect for them all and to voice their demands. Obviously, however, the local improvement association is but a step towards securing at least a reasonable standard of street and alley care for the whole city. To secure this it is necessary to exercise control over the public works department and to influence the determination of the proportion of the city's resources which should be spent on this aspect of city comfort and well-being. Moreover, in connection with many processes necessary to the preparation of food, the private group is as helpless as the private individual. Whether the beef shall be adequately inspected before slaughtering, whether the meat products shall be carefully handled, whether the employees in distant mills and workshops are sweated or exploited or exposed to needless accident and to preventable disease, neither the individual nor the woman's club can effectively determine. Nothing short of governmental power, expressed in legislation and executed through governmental agents, will meet the exigencies of the situation. Spending for food and clothing and other means of satisfaction involves, then, a partnership with the whole industrial machinery by which they are supplied, and a partnership with the governmental organization by which the industrial machine must be controlled. "The woman's place is in the home," is an old saying to which all subscribe, perhaps with varying appreciation of its significance. To some it means that women must limit themselves to the performance of duties arising within the walls where the members of the family sleep, whence they go to their daily interests. To others it means that wherever there is found an interest vital to the well-being of the group for which she is responsible, the housekeeper will feel entitled to claim admittance.
To those who take this larger view, it becomes inevitable that the housekeeper shall be present either in her own person or in the person of her agent where the food of her family is prepared. She must inspect the farm from which her milk is brought to the city, the dairy in which it is prepared, the trains on which it is transported, the centres from which it is distributed. She must take part in the decision as to the standard required, the method of enforcement devised, the rate at which that standard shall be raised.
She must properly separate the waste matter in her own home and dispose of it in accordance with her own standards of cleanliness and with the orders from the City Health or Public Works Department. She must also cooperate in securing adequate provision for the disposition of that waste which must be collectively handled.
She will insist on following her children into the school, on to the playgrounds, into all places of amusement. She will claim the right to be present when the "guardians of the law and of the children who go about in public places" are selected and instructed, because they are her servants doing her work. With amazing complacency women have let their homes outgrow them. They have allowed their children to go unattended and unguarded and so substantially orphaned into many places and through many experiences. The girl who is motherless, not because her mother is dead, but because she has let her home outgrow her, is unguarded in the dance hall or place of cheap amusement. The boy, orphaned similarly, finds his way to the Juvenile Court. The streets which she has neglected are lined with ugly and deceptive billboards. Into the city which she has failed to claim come strangers treated as she would not let a dog be treated in her own back yard. She talks much of the difficulties attending her efforts to secure a maid who shall open the door and take in the milk; but she has paid no attention to the selection of the man at the head of the Health or Public Works or Pure Food Department, whose duties are of as immediate and urgent concern to her. Perhaps she deserves to be treated as the servant in the parable was treated, and be made to deliver up to another the talent intrusted to her for wise investment. But to whom would the better handling of the talent be intrusted? No such solution of this difficulty is possible, for there is at hand no servant who has been faithful with the ten talents. Her sins have been those of omission, and have been largely due to the fact that her eyes have been hidden so that she has not seen the way in which the boundaries of the home which she thought her presence filled had shifted, leaving her stranded in the centre of a wide and ever-widening reach of human problems and human needs. When she sees how her presence is needed in all the places which have been named, she "will arise and go" to the polling booth, to the city hall, to the factory, to the school that the child's mental training may not be divorced from his physical and social needs, to the place where the children play so that safety and therefore decency may characterize the relationship of boys and girls, to all the places where those who prepare and serve her food and make her clothing work and live.