The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Health Notes.

Edited by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 807-809

The Teaching of "Domestic Science."

At one of the annual scientific picnics, that of the Public HealthInstitute held at Blackpool, an interesting paper was read by Dr. Roger NcNeill on the importance of teaching Domestic Science or Housewifery. The object of such teaching would be to provide the heads of households with all the knowledge necessary for the maintenance of health in the home, and it is obvious that this would mean the teaching of a variety of subjects.


Dr. McNeill appeared to think that this knowledge ought to be possessed by all wives and mothers. But, as The Lancet has aptly pointed out, there are many subjects embraced under the head of Domestic Science which might as appropriately be possessed by husband and fathers. Cookery, laundrywork, dressmaking, clothing, and the maintenance of cleanliness in the house are no doubt part of woman's work; but, says The Lancet, "efficient lighting and ventilation, the proper disposal of all waste matter, and the flushing of pipes and drains in connection with the dwelling," call for the chivalrous intervention of the husband.

There is no doubt that a practical knowledge of the subjects enumerated is a valuable possession, in every rank of society. In the upper ranks, however, these matters are more or less left by the heads of the household to those who make them their business. But for those who prefer themselves to undertake the management of the details of the household, it is certainly important to understand the practical means for keeping the household healthy; although it is a little too much to expect that every father and mother should have this so-called "domestic science" at their fingers' end in theory and practice.

The real requirement would rather appear to be that these matters should be so undertaken by those who make them their business that parents have only to give intelligent supervision. Thus the architect and builder must provide us with houses which allow of adequate drainage and ventilation and the entrance of plenty of sunlight; the servants must learn that windows are made to open, that drains must be flushed, and that the scrupulous cleanliness, which used to be associated with the proverbial old maid's cottage in the country, is essential, whether it be raised to the dignity of a science or not. The cook must learn to discriminate between wholesome and unwholesome food, and be able to cook it to advantage; and the nurse must understand how to clothe the children and supervise their surroundings. The "domestic scientific" knowledge of parents will be of little avail unless they have some such sort of co-operation as this in those around them.


To enable parents to maintain the best standard of health in their households, it is scarcely necessary that either they or their dependents should be instructed in the theory of the sciences upon which practical housewifery is founded. Life is too short. But it is most certainly desirable that every parent should know what means to make use of and how to use them. Hence the suggestion to offer a course of practical instruction on housewifery in our schools, particularly but not necessarily only to girls, deserves attention. And it is to be hoped that such instruction would be imparted to all classes--not only to the lower classes--to educate the future parent as well as the future domestic servant.


Housewifery is already a "grant-earning"subject in the London School Board, and it is to be presumed the Board employs competent teachers. It cannot be said that the domestic servant has as yet grasped the comprehensiveness of the word dirt--that it includes foul air and even houseflies--or the fact that to flick dust from the mantelpiece on to the floor is not the performance of the duty of dusting. Good practical teaching is required, not courses of lectures, if we are to see the desired improvement both in ordinary household management
and in the performance of ordinary household duties.

Such practical teaching would without a doubt lead to a general improvement in the health of the community, as it would lead to an employment of the best methods known to science for the maintenance of health and the shutting out of disease. But it is difficult to see how the necessary instruction is to be imparted either to the upper or the lower classes; the subject would best come towards the end or after the ordinary school curriculum. Practical teachers are required to demonstrate methods; not scientific enthusiasts to deliver lectures. The latter might be obtained by the dozen, but the good practical teachers, with all respect to the London School Board, are as yet few and far between, and there is no definite suggestion as to how and where their instruction is to be imparted when they are forthcoming. The subject is one which concerns all parents, and is well worth the attention of the P.N.E.U. Isolated attempts in this direction hitherto have been too scientific and not sufficiently practical.


I have heard of a girls' school where each senior boarder in turn has a period of superintending the general household under the eye of the housekeeper, and makes practical acquaintance with the kitchen and the pantry, the windows, the sinks and drains, &c., &c. This is an excellent plan, but as usual everything depends on the housekeeper. The lady who is a terror to tradesmen, pays cash for everything, and succeeds in "keeping down" the weekly bills, is often called a good housekeeper. If these are her only qualifications--alas!

Proofread Feb. 2024, LNL