Read CHAPTER X of Mobilizing Woman-Power, free online book, by Harriot Stanton Blatch, on ReadCentral.com.

AS MOTHER USED TO DO

Man’s admiration for things as mother used to do them is as great an obstacle as business as usual in the path of winning the war and husbanding the race. The glamour surrounding the economic feats of mother in the past hides the shortcomings of today.

I once saw one of her old fortresses, a manor home where in bygone days she had reigned supreme. In the court yard was the smoke house where she cured meat and fish. In the cellar were the caldrons and vats where long ago she tried tallow and brewed beer. And there were all the utensils for dealing with flax. In the garret I saw the spindles for spinning cotton and wool, and the hand looms for weaving the homespun. In her day, mother was a great creator of wealth.

But then an economic earthquake came. Foundations were shaken, the roof was torn off her domestic workshop. Steam and machinery, like cyclones, carried away her industries, and nothing was left to her but odds and ends of occupations.

Toiling in the family circle from the days of the cave dwellers, mother had become so intimately associated in the tribal mind with the hearthstone that the home was called her sphere. Around this segregation accumulated accretions of opinion, layer on layer emanating from the mind of her mate. Let us call the accretions the Adamistic Theory. Its authors happened to be the government and could use the public treasury in furtherance of publicity for their ideas set forth in hieroglyphics cut in stone, or written in plain English and printed on the front page of an American daily.

One of the few occupations left to mother after the disruption of her sphere at the end of the eighteenth century was the preparation of food. In the minds of men, food, from its seed sowing up to its mastication, has always been associated with woman. Mention food and the average man thinks of mother. That is the Adam in him. And so, quite naturally, one must first consider this relation of women to food in the Adamistic Theory.

When the world under war conditions asked to be fed, Adam, running true to his theory, pointed to mother as the source of supply, and declared with an emphasis that came of implicit faith, that the universe need want for nothing, if each woman would eliminate waste in her kitchen and become a voluntary and obedient reflector of the decisions of state and national food authorities. This solution presupposed a highly developed sense of community devotion in women running hand in hand with entire lack of gift for community action. Woman, it was expected, would display more than her proverbial lack of logic by embracing with enthusiasm state direction and at the same time remain an exemplar of individualistic performance. The Adamistic scheme seems still further to demand for its smooth working that the feminine group show self-abnegation and agree that it is not itself suited to reason out general plans.

It is within the range of possibility, however, that no comprehensive scheme of food conservation or effective saving in any line can be imposed on women without consulting them. The negro who agreed “dat de colored folk should keep in dar places,” touched a fundamental note in human nature, over-running sex as well as racial boundaries, when he added, “and de colored folk must do de placin’.” It might seem to run counter to this bit of wisdom for women to be told that the welfare of the world depends upon them, and then for no woman to be given administrative power to mobilize the group.

But the contest between man’s devotion to the habits of his ancestry in the female line, and the ideas of his very living women folk, is as trying to him as it is interesting to the outside observer. The conflicting forces illustrate a universal fact. It is always true that the ruling class, when a discipline and a sacrifice are recognized as necessary, endeavors to make it appear that the new obligation should be shouldered by the less powerful. For instance, to take an illustration quite outside the domestic circle, when America first became convinced that military preparation was incumbent upon us, the ruling class would scarcely discuss conscription, much less adopt universal service. That is, it vetoed self-discipline. In many States, laws were passed putting off upon children in the schools the training which the voting adults knew the nation needed.

In the same way, when food falls short and the victualing of the world becomes a pressing duty, the governing class adopts a thesis that a politically less-favored group can, by saving in small and painful ways, accumulate the extra food necessary to keep the world from starving. The ruling class seeks cover in primitive ideas, accuses Eve of introducing sin into the world, and calls upon her to mend her wasteful ways.

Men, of course, know intellectually that much food is a factory product in these days, but emotionally they have a picture of mother, still supplying the family in a complete, secret, and silent manner.

This Adamistic emotion takes command at the crisis, for when human beings are suddenly faced with a new and agitating situation, primitive ideas seize them. Mother, it is true, did create the goods for immediate consumption, and so the sons of Adam, in a spirit of admiration, doffing their helmets, so to speak, to the primitive woman, turn in this time of stress and call confidently upon Eve’s daughters to create and save. The confidence is touching, but perhaps the feminine reaction will not be, and perchance ought not to be just such as Adam expects.

Women have passed in aspiration, and to some extent in action, out of the ultra-individualistic stage of civilization.

The food propaganda reflects the hiatus in Adam’s thought. I have looked over hundreds of publications issued by the agricultural departments and colleges of the various States. They tell housewives what to “put into the garbage pail,” what to “keep out of the garbage pail,” what to substitute for wheat, how to make soap, but, with a single exception, not a word issued suggests to women any saving through group action.

This exception, which stood out as a beacon light in an ocean of literature worthy of the Stone Age, was a small pamphlet issued by the Michigan Agricultural College on luncheons in rural schools. Sound doctrine was preached on the need of the children for substantial and warm noon meals, and the comparative ease and economy with which such luncheons could be provided at the school house. Children can of course be better and more cheaply fed as a group than as isolated units supplied with a cold home-prepared lunch box. And yet with the whole machinery of the state in his hands, Adam’s commissions, backed by the people’s money, goad mother on to isolated endeavor. She plants and weeds and harvests. She dries and cans, preserves and pickles. Then she calculates and perchance finds that her finished product is not always of the best and has often cost more than if purchased in the open market.

It may be the truest devotion to our Allies to challenge the individualistic rôle recommended by Adam to mother, for it will hinder, not help, the feeding of the world to put women back under eighteenth century conditions. Food is short and expensive because labor is short. And even when the harvest is ripe, the saving of food cannot be set as a separate and commendable goal, and the choice as to where labor shall be expended as negligible. It is a prejudiced devotion to mother and her ways which leads Adam in his food pamphlets to advise that a woman shall sit in her chimney corner and spend time peeling a peach “very thin,” when hundreds of bushels of peaches rot in the orchards for lack of hands to pick them.

Just how wide Adam’s Eve has opened the gate of Eden and looked out into the big world is not entirely clear, but probably wide enough to glimpse the fact that all the advice Adam has recently given to her runs counter to man’s method of achievement. Men have preached to one another for a hundred years and more and practiced so successfully the concentration in industry of unlimited machinery with a few hands, that even mother knows some of the truths in regard to the creation of wealth in the business world, and she is probably not incapable of drawing a conclusion from her own experience in the transfer of work from the home to the factory.

If they are city dwellers, women have seen bread and preserves transferred; if farm dwellers, they have seen the curing of meat and fish transferred, the making of butter and cheese. They know that because of this transfer the home is cleaner and quieter, more people better fed and clothed, and the hours of the factory worker made shorter than those “mother used to work.” With half an eye women cannot fail to note that the labor which used to be occupied in the home in interminable hours of spinning, baking and preserving, has come to occupy itself for regulated periods in the school, in business, in factory or cannery. And lo, Eve finds herself with a pay envelope able to help support the quieter, cleaner home!

All this is a commonplace to the business man, who knows that the evolution has gone so far that ten percent of the married women of America are in gainful pursuits, and that capital ventured on apartment hotels brings a tempting return.

But the Adamistic theory is based on the dream that women are contentedly and efficiently conducting in their flats many occupations, and longing to receive back into the life around the gas-log all those industries which in years gone by were drawn from the fireside and established as money making projects in mill or work-shop. And so Adam addresses an exhortation to his Eve: “Don’t buy bread, bake it; don’t buy flour, grind your own; don’t buy soap, make it; don’t buy canned, preserved, or dried food, carry on the processes yourself; don’t buy fruits and vegetables, raise them.”

Not a doubt seems to exist in Adam’s mind as to the efficiency of functioning woman-power in this way. According to the Adamistic theory, work as mother used to do it is unqualifiedly perfect. This flattering faith is naturally balm to women’s hearts, and yet there are skeptics among them. When quite by themselves women speculate as to how much of the fruit and vegetables now put up in the home will “work.”

They smile when the hope is expressed that the quality will rise above the old-time domestic standard. The home of the past was a beehive in which women drudged, and little children were weary toilers, and the result was not of a high grade. Statistics have shown that seventy-five percent of the home-made bread of America was a poor product. I lived as a child in the days of home-made bread. Once in so often the batch of bread “went sour,” and there seemed to be an unfailing supply of stale bread which “must be eaten first.” Those who cry out against a city of bakers’ bread, have never lived in a country of the home-made loaf. It is the Adamistic philosophy, so complimentary to Eve, that leads us to expect that all housewives can turn out a product as good as that of an expert who has specialized to the one end of making bread, and who is supplied with expensive equipment beyond the reach of the individual to possess. But there are rebellious consumers who point out that the baker is under the law, while the housewife is a law unto herself. Against the baker’s shortcomings such brave doubters assure us we have redress, we can refuse to patronize him; against the housewife there is no appeal, her family must swallow her product to the detriment of digestion.

It may be the brutal truth, taking bread as the index, that only a quarter of the processes carried on in the home turn out satisfactorily, while of the other three-quarters, a just verdict may show that mother gets a “little too much lye” in the soap, cooks the preserves a “little too hard,” “candies the fruit just a little bit,” and grinds the flour in the mill “not quite fine enough.”

But perhaps even more than the quality of the product does the question of the economical disposition of labor-power agitate some women. They are asking, since labor is very scarce, whether the extreme individualistic direction of their labor-power is permissible. The vast majority of American homes are without servants. In those homes are the women working such short hours that they can, without dropping important obligations, take over preserving, canning, dehydrating, the making of bread, soap, and butter substitute? Has the tenement-house dweller accommodation suitable for introducing these industrial processes into her home? Would the woman in the small ménage in the country be wise in cutting down time given, for instance, to the care of her baby and to reading to the older children, and using the precious moments laboriously to grind wheat to flour? My observation convinces me that conscientious housewives in servantless or one-servant households, with work adjusted to a given end, with relative values already determined upon, are not prepared by acceptance of the Adamistic theory to return to primitive occupations.

But even if business and home life could respond to the change without strain, even if both could easily turn back on the road they have come during the last hundred years, commerce yielding up and the home re-adopting certain occupations, we should carefully weigh the economic value of a reversion to primitive methods.

The Adamistic attitude is influenced, perhaps unconsciously but no less certainly, by the fact that the housewife is an unpaid worker. If an unpaid person volunteers to do a thing, it is readily assumed that the particular effort is worth while. “We get the labor for nothing” puts to rout all thought of valuation. No doubt Adam will have to give over thinking in this loose way. Labor-power, whether it is paid for or not, must be used wisely or we shall not be able to maintain the structure of our civilization.

Then, too, the Adamistic theory weighs and values the housewife’s time as little as it questions the quality of the home product. Any careful reader of the various “Hints to Housewives” which have appeared, will note that the “simplifying of meals” recommended would require nearly double the time to prepare. The simplification takes into consideration only the question of food substitutions, price and waste. Mother is supposed to be wholly or largely unemployed and longing for unpaid toil. Should any housewife conscientiously follow the advice given her by state and municipal authorities she would be the drudge at the center of a home quite medieval in development.

Let us take a concrete example: In a recently published and widely applauded cookbook put out by a whole committee of Adamistic philosophers, it is stated that the object of the book is to give practical hints as to the various ways in which “economies can be effected and waste saved;” and yet no saving of the woman’s time, nerves and muscles is referred to from cover to cover. The housewife is told, for instance, to “insist upon getting the meat trimmings.” The fat “can be rendered.” And then follows the process in soap-making. Mother is to place the scraps of fat on the back of the stove. If she “watches it carefully” and does not allow it to get hot enough to smoke there will be no odor. No doubt if she removes her watchful eye and turns to bathe her baby, her tenement will reek with smoking fat. She is to pursue this trying of fat and nerves day by day until she has six pounds of grease. Next, she is to “stir it well,” cool it, melt it again; she is then to pour in the lye, “slowly stirring all the time.” Add ammonia. Then “stir the mixture constantly for twenty minutes or half an hour.”

In contrast to all this primeval elaboration is the simple, common-sense rule: Do not buy the trimmings, make the butcher trim meat before weighing, insist that soap-making shall not be brought back to defile the home, but remain where it belongs, a trade in which the workers can be protected by law, and its malodorousness brought under regulation.

In the same spirit the Adamistic suggestion to Eve to save coal by a “heatless day” is met by the cold challenge of the riotous extravagance of cooking in twelve separate tenements, twelve separate potatoes, on twelve separate fires.

The Adamistic theory, through its emphasis on the relation of food to Eve, and the almost religious necessity of its manipulation at the altar of the home cook-stove, has drawn thought away from the nutritive side of what we eat. While the child in the streets is tossing about such words as calories and carbohydrates with a glibness that comes of much hearing, physiology and food values are destined to remain as far away as ever from the average family breakfast table. Segregating a sex in the home, it is true, centralizes it in a given place, but it does not necessarily train the individual to function efficiently. Mother, as she “used to do,” cooks by rule of thumb; in fact, how could she do otherwise, since she must keep one eye on her approving Adam while the other eye glances at the oven. The Adamistic theory requires individualistic action, and disapproves specialization in Eve.

The theory also demands economic dependence in the home builder. Mother’s labor is not her own, she lives under the truck system, so to speak. She is paid in kind for her work. Influenced by the Adamistic theory, the human animal is the only species in which sex and economic relations are closely linked, the only one in which the female depends upon the male for sustenance. Mother must give personal service to those about her, and in return the law ensures her keep according to the station of her husband, that is, not according to her ability or usefulness, but according to the man’s earning capacity.

The close association of mother with home in the philosophy of her mate, has circumscribed her most natural and modest attempts at relaxation. Mother’s holiday is a thing to draw tears from those who contemplate it. The summer outing means carrying the family from one spot to another, and making the best of new surroundings for the old group. The “day off” means a concentration of the usual toil into a few hours, followed by a hazy passing show that she is too weary to enjoy. The kindly farmer takes his wife this year to the county fair. She’s up at four to “get on” with the work. She serves breakfast, gives the children an extra polish in honor of the day, puts on the clean frocks and suits with an admonition “not to get all mussed up” before the start. The farmer cheerily counsels haste in order that “we may have a good long day of it.” He does not say what “it” is, but the wife knows. At last the house is ready to be left, and the wife and her brood are ready to settle down in the farm wagon.

The fair grounds are reached. Adam has prepared the setting. It has no relation to mother’s needs. It was a most thrilling innovation when in the summer of 1914 the Women’s Political Union first set up big tents at county fairs, fitted with comfortable chairs for mother, and cots and toys, nurses and companions for the children. The farmer’s wife for the first time was relieved of care, and could go off to see the sights with her mind at rest, if she desired anything more active than rocking lazily with the delicious sensation of having nothing to do.

Women must not blame Adam for lack of thoughtfulness. He cannot put himself in mother’s place. She must do her own thinking or let women who are capable of thought do it for her.

Men are relieved when mother is independent and happy. The farmer approved the creche tent at the county fairs. It convinced him that women have ideas to contribute to the well-being of the community. The venture proved the greatest of vote getters for the suffrage referendum.

In fact, men themselves are the chief opponents of the Adamistic theory to-day. The majority want women to organize the home and it is only a small minority who place obstacles in the way of the wider functioning of women. It is Eve herself who likes to exaggerate the necessity of her personal service. I have seen many a primitive housewife grow hot at the suggestion that her methods need modifying. It seemed like severing the silken cords by which she held her mate, to challenge her pumpkin pie.

But women are slowly overcoming Eve. Take the item of the care of children in city parks. The old way is for fifty women to look after fifty separate children, and thus waste the time of some thirty of them in keeping fifty miserable children in segregation. The new way, now successfully initiated, is to form play groups of happy children under the leadership of capable young women trained for such work.

Salvaging New York City’s food waste was a very splendid bit of cooeperative action on the part of women. Mrs. William H. Lough of the Women’s University Club found on investigation that thousands of tons of good food are lost by a condemnation, necessarily rough and ready, by the Board of Health. She secured permission to have the sound and unsound fruits and vegetables separated and with a large committee of women saved the food for consumption by the community by dehydrating and other preserving processes.

This was not as mother used to do.

Mother’s ways are being investigated and discarded the whole world round. At last accounts half the population of Hamburg was being fed through municipal kitchens and in Great Britain an order has been issued by Lord Rhondda, the Food Controller, authorizing local authorities to open kitchens as food distributing centers. The central government is to bear twenty-five percent of the cost of equipment and lend another twenty-five percent to start the enterprise.

Mother’s cook stove cannot bear the strain of war economies.

Dropping their old segregation, women are going forth in fellowship with men to meet in new ways the pressing problems of a new world.