So I Shall Forget Me; 1923

When I was a little girl at home, I was unsatisfied. I had lots of troubles and disappointments, brooded over them and could never see the bright side of life. An old lady who had lost all her relatives came to live with my folks. She had her share of troubles, the poor old soul. We adopted her and called her Auntie.

She took a liking to me, although I do not see why she should as I often thought I was the most miserable child in the world. I was sensitive and easily hurt and many times I would go off by myself and cry myself to sleep. Old Auntie would come and sit down by me and read to me from her Bible. Then she would listen to my troubles and tell me they were very small to what other people were suffering in this world and she always would end up by saying: “Troubles and cares will do you good, my dear. Ask God to help you see the good.”

One day Auntie told me about New Year’s Day. I did not know that it was the day to “turn over a new leaf” and try to be a better girl. I was nine years old at the time and have been trying to change ever since.

I did not marry a rich man but I married a good man. We started out on a homestead in Montana. We were out on our homestead five years and were dried out every year but we proved up and it is ours now. My husband had to work out away from home and leave me to hold down the claim. We had two children then and I would take the two and the rifle and hunt rabbits and sage hens for food. When I would see anything to shoot, I would put the baby down on the ground and tell the other child to stand by him and then I would shoot my game.

One day, my tooth began to ache and I walked the floor for three days and nights and could not find any relief. Then baby got sick and I carried him on one arm and held the hot water bottle to my face with the free hand. I walked the floor this way until I was so tired I could not feel. Finally my jaws swelled shut and I could not eat. Then I took the two children and put them in the baby cart and hauled them three miles over sage brush and rocks to my neighbors’ house. They took me to the doctor, twelve miles away, and I had my tooth pulled. All the time I was suffering so, I could just seem to hear old Auntie say, “troubles and cares will do you good, my dear.”

The did do me good. I see life in a different light now. We came to Wisconsin and here is our great purpose for 1923: to get a farm and make good. And I want to help everyone I can to see the bright and better way, and to remember this: one can never have such great troubles that others have not had worse. So I shall forget me and think of others.

 

No Dollar Signs on Women’s Work, part 2

A couple of months after Unknown’s” letter first appeared, a response was written by a woman from Ohio, who signed her letter “Well-known.” She disagreed with the perspective of “Unknown”, the beet farmer’s wife, writing, “I think Unknown and her men do not realize how far a clean, comfortable, pleasant home goes toward getting that beet check.”

Mrs. Well-known went on to say that “it is only through the economy of the homemaker that most taxes are paid, that there is money for beet seed, etc.” She asked Mrs. Unknown, “What would the beet check amount to if there were not three wholesome meals every day? How far would it go if the homemaker did not bake the bread, finish the ironing, care for the children and the chicks, and do the other things ‘too numerous to mention’?”

Nearly every year around Mother’s Day, someone writes an article trying to calculate the worth of a stay-at-home mother. If someone were to hire a woman (or several!) to do all the tasks of a typical mother and factor in the overtime hours she works, her annual salary is estimated from $75,000 all the way up to $143,000! (Suddenly, that beet check isn’t going very far…)

For another modern-day example, my husband knows how to cook but dislikes it. He mentioned earlier this week that if it weren’t for me cooking for him, his meals would consist of cold cereal, frozen pizza, takeout dinners, and even worse, a tube of saltines with a jar of peanut butter. Without me cooking our meals from scratch, grocery costs would easily be triple our current budget and I think it’s reasonable to conclude that his health would be questionable.

Mrs. Well-known included this little story in her letter:

The wife of a prominent lawyer in our city was congratulated one day by a leading physician on her husband’s success, and denied any part in it. “You do not realize, “ the doctor answered, “how far a pleasant, sympathetic environment at home goes toward making a man’s success.”

Just another example of the incalculable value of the housewife, and happy are the husband and wife who know it!

No Dollar Signs on Women’s Work, part 1

I can’t say I’ve ever heard a woman say she chose housewifery as a career for the usual reasons one goes into a particular field– having the skills required for the job, the earning potential, the incredible opportunities for advancement, or even the prestige and glamour of it all.

In these oh, so enlightened times, when we’re all told to listen to our hearts, be ourselves, and do whatever it is that fulfils us, choosing to be a housewife is most certainly not one of the options that will catapult you to Nobel prize status or into the first paragraph of the family Christmas letter.

But I recently discovered that this isn’t a new perspective when I came across a letter written to a magazine devoted to farm wives.

In 1933, the wife of a beet farmer living in Idaho (who signed her letter Unknown) wrote that she felt her husband didn’t see the value of her work as a housewife. Her letter didn’t complain about his attitude but instead, she agreed with him when she compared her work to his. She wrote that “measured by the things he does, my work is really ‘nothing.’ On him depends the food for the family, yes, I might as well say for the world. “ So what was her work, the work she considered “nothing”?

2 preschool-aged sons
100 baby chicks to raise
bread to bake
ironing to finish
dishes to wash
other things “too numerous to mention”

She raised the chickens as a little side business but noted that it brought in only a fraction of the household income. Her conclusion was to find comfort in “a ray of hope” that if nothing else, women are “the mothers of men, who in turn will raise big crops that will sell for big checks.”

It’s a sad perspective that for Mrs. Unknown, it all came back to the dollar sign. But in many ways, I don’t feel like it’s much different today. Young mothers trying to raise little humans into productive adults, not to mention working to provide a clean house, healthy meals, and all the rest hang their heads because their work doesn’t come with the status of a paycheck.

It’s curious, isn’t it, that society values work more when there is income attached to it? We can mop a floor, toss french fries in a fryer, or organize a craft project for a group of children in our own homes yet we’re still “just housewives.” But we’ve been led to believe that when we do nearly the same work away from home for a paycheck, it matters more.

Many people believe that the women’s movements of the 1900s elevated the status of women in society. It may have opened doors for women working in public careers, but in doing so, it further discredited and devalued housewives and the work they do in the home.

If you measure quality of life by money alone, yes, a housewife’s worth is minimal. But, if money is the measure of quality, well, Heaven help us all!

Maybe we haven’t come a long way after all, baby.

 

(In case you think this has been a downer of a post, stay tuned for part 2 on Monday. It gets better!)

 

This post is included in the Wise Woman Linkup.

Knowing How to Stay Home

I have observed that we are now faced with a lesson our ancestors never even dreamed of having to learn–that is the lesson of knowing how to stay at home and enjoy the blessings of home culture. -1905

The writer goes on to mention the early 1900s trends of “rapid transit, cheap rates, and easy theatricals” that have made people “restless, nervous and incapable of self-amusement.”  (“Rapid” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think of 1905 transportation…)

Why should you stay home more?

It amazes me, but have you ever noticed your house is messiest on days when you’re not home? It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true. I think it’s because you don’t have time to fully complete a task before you’re off to the next commitment. The dirty dishes pile up faster, the clothes don’t make it into the washer with the same regularity, and the mail doesn’t get sorted right away. When you’re at home, life follows a steadier rhythm. Mealtimes are consistent, laundry gets done, children settle into a familiar routine.

And let’s be honest, home is the comfiest place around. Where else can you drink a big mug of tea in your jammies snuggled with your favorite quilt? Even the local quirky coffee shop can’t replicate the feeling. (How awkward if you could cozy into a big recliner with your fuzzy slippers at a coffee shop…because across the room would be other customers in the same condition, and that’s a sight guaranteed not to bring out warm fuzzies.)

How could your life change if you stayed home more?

There’s the practical side of staying home more. When you’re at home, you’re spending less money. Yes, Amazon and other online shopping sites are still available for the clicking.  But at home, you aren’t relentlessly bombarded with stuff fighting for your attention in a million ways. You can turn the screens off, but when you’re out and about you can’t close your eyes at the signs and ads and you can’t turn off your nose when every single food smell is irresistible, even if you didn’t think you were hungry.

Besides spending less, staying home also allows you to save money. When you’re at home, you can cook your meals from scratch. You can do your own yard work and extend the life of your clothes by replacing buttons and fixing hems. On hot days, you’re able to open the windows in the morning and pull the shades in the afternoon to save air conditioning costs.

The greatest benefit to being at home is difficult to identify, but the settled, contented feeling it produces is unmistakable. “Home sweet home” takes on a new meaning. On the days you can stay home, you can block out much of the craziness of the outside world and live in your own world, with your own people and your own version of life.

The more you’re home, the more you appreciate it and the less you feel like roaming. But it’s definitely a learning curve. That “restless, nervous” feeling the author describes is real and common for the woman newly committed to being a keeper at home. I think we’ve all felt it. If you can stick it out, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of peace and contentment that can’t be found “out there.” We can’t live like hermits and never leave our homes, but developing a homeward mindset will go a long way toward enjoying “the blessings of home culture.”

(This post linked to the Wise Woman Linkup.)