“The fact is, my dear,” said my wife, “that you have thrown a stone into a congregation of blackbirds, in writing as you have of our family wars and wants. The response comes from all parts of the country, and the task of looking over and answering your letters becomes increasingly formidable. Everybody has something to say,–something to propose.”
“Give me a resume,” said I.
“Well,” said my wife, “here are three pages from an elderly gentleman, to the effect that women are not what they used to be,–that daughters are a great care and no help, that girls have no health and no energy in practical life, that the expense of maintaining a household is so great that young men are afraid to marry, and that it costs more now per annum to dress one young woman than it used to cost to carry a whole family of sons through college. In short, the poor old gentleman is in a desperate state of mind, and is firmly of opinion that society is going to ruin by an express train.”
“Poor old fellow!” said I, “the only comfort I can offer him is what I take myself,–that this sad world will last out our time at least. Now for the next.”
“The next is more concise and spicy,” said my wife. “I will read it.
“CHRISTOPHER CROWFIELD, ESQ.:
“Sir,–If you want to know how American women are to be brought back to family work, I can tell you a short method. Pay them as good wages for it as they can make in any other way. I get from seven to nine dollars a week in a shop where I work; if I could make the same in any good family, I should have no objection to doing it.
“Your obedient servant,
“My correspondent Letitia does not tell me,” said I, “how much of this seven or nine dollars she pays out for board and washing, fire and lights. If she worked in a good family at two or three dollars a week, it is easily demonstrable that, at the present cost of these items, she would make as much clear profit as she now does at nine dollars for her shop-work.
“And there are two other things, moreover, which she does not consider: First, that, besides board, washing, fuel, and lights, which she would have in a family, she would have also less unintermitted toil. Shop-work exacts its ten hours per diem; and it makes no allowance for sickness or accident.
“A good domestic in a good family finds many hours when she can feel free to attend to her own affairs. Her work consists of certain definite matters, which being done her time is her own; and if she have skill and address in the management of her duties, she may secure many leisure hours. As houses are now built, and with the many labor-saving conveniences that are being introduced, the physical labor of housework is no more than a healthy woman really needs to keep her in health. In case, however, of those slight illnesses to which all are more or less liable, and which, if neglected, often lead to graver ones, the advantage is still on the side of domestic service. In the shop and factory, every hour of unemployed time is deducted; an illness of a day or two is an appreciable loss of just so much money, while the expense of board is still going on. But in the family a good servant is always considered. When ill, she is carefully nursed as one of the family, has the family physician, and is subject to no deduction from her wages for loss of time. I have known more than one instance in which a valued domestic has been sent, at her employer’s expense, to the seaside or some other pleasant locality, for change of air, when her health has been run down.