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The Private Garden’s Public Value
by [?]

What its pages are to a book, a town’s private households are to a town.

No true home, standing solitarily apart from the town (unbound, as it were) could be the blessed thing it is were there not so many other houses not standing apart but gathered into villages, towns and cities.

Whence comes civilization but from civitas, the city? And where did civitas get its name, when city and state were one, but from citizen? He is not named for the city but the city for him, and his title meant first the head of a household, the master of a home. To make a civilization, great numbers of men must have homes, must mass them compactly together and must not mass them together on a dead level of equal material equipment but in a confederation of homes of all ranks and conditions.

The home is the cornerstone of the state.

The town, the organized assemblage of homes, is the keystone of civilization’s arch.

In order to keep our whole civilization moving on and up, which is the only way for home and town to pay to each other their endless spiral of reciprocal indebtedness, every home in a town–or state, for that matter–should be made as truly and fully a home as every wise effort and kind influence of all the other homes can make it. Unless it takes part in this effort and influence, no home, be it ever so favored, can realize, even for itself and in itself, the finest civilization it might attain. Why should it? I believe this is a moral duty, a debt as real as taxes and very much like them.

In our People’s Institute over in Northampton, Massachusetts, this is the a-b-c of all they seek to do: the individual tutoring, by college girls and town residents, of hundreds of young working men and women in whatever these may choose from among a score or so of light studies calculated to refine their aspirations; the training of young girls, by paid experts, in the arts of the home, from cooking to embroidery; the training of both sexes in all the social amenities; and the enlistment of more than a thousand cottage homes in a yearly prize competition.

It is particularly of this happy garden contest that I wish to say a word or two more. In 1914 it completed its sixteenth season, but it is modelled on a much older one in the town of Dunfermline, Scotland, the birthplace of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, and it is from the bountiful spirit of that great citizen of two lands that both affairs draw at least one vital element of their existence.

We in Northampton first learned of the Dunfermline movement in 1898. We saw at once how strongly such a scheme might promote the general spiritual enrichment of our working people’s homes if made one of the functions of our home-culture clubs, several features of whose work were already from five to ten years old. We proceeded to adopt and adapt the plan, and had our first competition and award of prizes in 1898-’99.

Like Dunfermline, we made our prizes large, and to this we attribute no small part of our success. When we saw fit to increase their number we increased the total outlay as well, and at present we award twenty-one prizes a year, the highest being fifteen dollars, and one hundred dollars the sum of the whole twenty-one prizes. So we have gained one of our main purposes: to tempt into the contest the man of the house and thus to stimulate in him that care and pride of his home, the decline of which, in the man of the house, is one of the costliest losses of hard living.

One day on their round of inspection our garden judges came to a small house at the edge of the town, near the top of a hill through which the rustic street cuts its way some twelve or fifteen feet below. The air was pure, the surroundings green, the prospect wide and lovely. Here was a rare chance for picturesque gardening. Although the yard was without a fence there had been some planting of flowers in it. Yet it could hardly be called a garden. So destitute was it of any intelligent plan and so uncared for that it seemed almost to have a conscious, awkward self-contempt. In the flecked shade of a rude trellis of grapes that sheltered a side door two children of the household fell to work with great parade at a small machine, setting bristles into tooth-brushes for a neighboring factory, but it was amusingly plain that their labor was spasmodic and capricious.