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A Domestic Problem : Work and Culture in the Household

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Our problem is this: How may woman enjoy the delights of culture, and at the same time fulfil her duties to family and household? Perhaps it is not assuming too much to say, that, in making known the existence of such a problem, we have already taken the first step toward its solution, just as a ship's crew in distress take the first step toward relief by making a signal which calls attention to their needs.

The next step—after having, as we may say, set our flag at half-mast—is one which, if all we hear be true, should come easily to women in council, namely, talking. And talking we must have, even if, as in the social game called "Throwing Light," much of it is done at a venture. In that interesting little game, after a few hints have been given concerning "the word," different members of the company begin at once to talk about it, and think about it, and suggest and hazard descriptive remarks, according to the idea each has formed of it; that is, they try, though in the dark, to "throw light." As the interest increases, the excitement becomes intense. Many of the ideas expressed are absurdly wide of the mark, yet even these help to show what the answer is not; and often, by their coming in contact, a light is struck which helps amazingly. And so, in regard to our problem, we have the hints; then why not begin at once to think about it, and talk about it, and suggest, and guess, and throw light with all our might? No matter if we even get excited, say absurd things, say utterly preposterous things, make blunders. Blunders are to be expected. Let them fly right and left; by hitting together right smartly they may strike out sparks which shall help us find our way.

We all have heard of the frank country girl who said to her bashful lover, "Do say something, if it isn't quite so bright!" This, doubtless, is what every thoughtful woman, if she expressed the sincere desire of her heart regarding our perplexing question, would say to all other women; and it is to comply with that wish, partly expressed to me, that I have gathered up from chance observation, chance reading, and hearsay, some ideas bearing on the subject. Suppose we begin by looking about us, and making clear to our minds just what this state of things is, which, because it hinders culture, many deem so unsatisfactory. After that, we will consider its causes, reasons for changing it, and the way or ways out of it.

A few, a very few, of our women are able to live and move and have their being literally regardless of expense. These can buy of skilled assistants and competent supervisors, whole lifetimes of leisure; with these, therefore, our problem has no concern. The larger class, the immense majority, either do their work themselves, or attend personally to its being done by others; "others" signifying that inefficient, untrustworthy, unstable horde who come fresh from their training in peat-bog and meadow, to cook our dinners, take care of our china dishes, and adjust the nice little internal arrangements of our dwellings....