The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Should Every Woman Have Technical Training in Home Duties?

by I. Landale.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 665-677

Before entering on the discussion of this question, let us define what is meant by technical training and home duties. I should describe technical training as, first, the acquirement of theoretical knowledge for a special purpose; and second, as the continuous working out of that knowledge in practice, until the requisite skill for the end in view is attained. I hold that a woman's home duties include everything relating to the health, education, and prosperity of her family of household; and I shall treat the proposed scheme of technical training under these three heads, afterwards considering its connection with general education, and giving examples of its working, so far as already carried out in practice.

Before going any farther, it may be as well to meet some of the anticipated objections. First, the natural one that every woman cannot expect to be the mother of a family or even the head of a household. No, but every woman is closely connected with others by the various relations of human life, and is a more or less useful member of the community, in proportion to the training she has received to fit her for her position therein. As we women were the last to receive the benefits of general and higher education, so we are the last to receive the special training necessary for our duties in life. It may be objected that a general education is sufficient for these, and that a women's own good sense and feminine instincts will do the rest.

How is it that men all receive special training for the work of their lives, professional men at college, working men by apprenticeship? If a general education is not enough for a man, why should it be for a woman? Is it because women's home duties are of less importance to the race than men's trades and professions?

The whole debate centres in the answer to this question, for I maintain that home duties are not mere ordinary duties which do not matter, and may be muddled through anyhow--they are the individual stones which form the true foundation of national life. They are, generally speaking, more important than men's work, from a national point of view.

Is it an intelligent mother's knowledge and practice of the laws of health, affecting the strength and development of her offspring from infancy, or the occasional prescription of a learned physician, which most affects the physique of the child? Is it the prayer at his mother's knee, or the sermon from the pulpit, which most profoundly influences his spiritual life? Is it the home atmosphere of truth, honour, and purity, or the experience of life in a school, workshop, office, college, or regiment, which produces high principles and noble moral character? Is it the mother's careful training to habits of attention and obedience, her relation of study by physical strength, and due proportion of rest and play, her nourishment of the growing brain by carefully chosen food, is it all these--or the twentieth or thirtieth part of a teacher's attention for a few hours of the day, which have most to do with the development of the child's brain power?

If the physical, spiritual, moral, and intellectual development of individuals forms the power of the nation, then the work which has most to do with that development is of the highest national importance. When every woman receives scientific and technical training in her own duties, the transformation, the resulting evolution of the nation will be something more wonderful than anything the world has yet seen.

To return, however, to the objectors, many say that all special training has a narrowing effect. From the intellectual point of view, I think I may safely leave that objection to be answered by the rest of this article, as it will be found that a proper training for home duties is almost a liberal education in itself. Besides, much of it will come after the general education, and, from the skill and proficiency acquired, will actually provide more leisure for general culture.

From the moral point of view, instead of the narrow selfish life spent in her own enjoyment and self-culture, my ideal widens out to the broad horizon of a life spent for the good of others, the only life worth living for a true woman.

The last objection I anticipate is one extremely natural from a cultivated audience in comfortable circumstances: "We do very well as it is--with competent servants, our housekeeping is easily arranged in half an hour; why make a fuss over it, and send us back to domestic thraldom?" This is really an argument on my side, because it is through the technical training which these competent servants have received that you now enjoy so much leisure for culture--but how did these servants get the training of which you reap the benefit? Most of them have got it in the haphazard fashion of experimenting on previous mistresses, either with smaller means, or lower in the social scale. An experienced servant, in this country, really means one who has learned her duties through practising them on different families (and at their cost in many ways); and it occasionally happens that high wages are no protection to the employer from being thus made use of. However, housekeeping is only a part of the subject, and it is unduly narrowing the question to treat it as comprising the whole home duty. Neither is this a mere class question--it is a technical training for every woman which is wanted--this affects all women, high and low, affects the well-being of the whole nation. In woman's hands are placed the comfort and happiness of mankind in prime and middle age: by her tender care of the aged, much wisdom and experience is saved for the use of the world, by prolonging valuable lives for many years: but especially in her hands is the future of the nation, from her paramount influence on its children.

I dare say many of you have read that curious but suggestive book, Mankind in the Making, by H. G. Wells, which emphasizes very strongly the individual responsibility, not only of parents, but of every member of the nation, for the training of the children who are hereafter to form that nation. I think it cannot be denied that women have infinitely more influence than men in forming the constitution and character of mankind, but they have the first moulding of the plastic material. Women have also an enormous power in the formation of public opinion, and that they have not realized their responsibility in the direction of our subject is shown by the comparative indifference of the nation to its tremendous importance, though signs of an awakening are by no means absent, and nowhere does the future open up a wider horizon of hope than here.

To begin with our first head, Health. What an untold benefit it would be to the nation if health, in all classes, were to become the rule instead of the exception! How naturally the words healthy and happy go together! What an addition to the joy of living in the mere animal spirits resulting from perfect health! What black clouds of bad temper and discontent would roll away could we exorcise the demon of indigestion, and very much of that is caused by improper food and mistaken treatment in infancy, and sheer ignorance on the part of mothers; though no doubt it attacks even adults brought up in favorable conditions, as the result of improper diet, badly cooked food, insufficient exercise, over exertion, bad air, insufficient clothing, and insanitary conditions of all kinds, and in all classes.

The scientific education necessary to correct all this will be physiology; the chemistry of food; cookery studied in relation to both; sanitation; and hygiene. Each of these has its own department of study, though, taken in a wide sense, they are synonymous. I may here remark that, to some minds, technical education in home duties means little more than the study and practice of cookery, and we have in consequence schools of cookery, cookery classes, throughout the length and breadth of the land and within reach of all, an excellent thing of course, but I maintain that cookery is studied far too much as the mere art of pleasing the palate, whereas it should be studied in relation to physiology and chemistry, as the means of building up healthy bodies and minds, as, in short, the physical basis of life. Too often the result of a set of cookery lessons in a family is severe indigestion from a course of too much pastry, or too many side dishes, by which the delighted pupil takes pride in exhibiting her new found skill. Good wholesome and palatable cooking is certainly a necessity, but it must not be forgotten that too much attention to the art, by increasing the attractions of the table, may result in a general addition to mere luxury in eating, whereas the objects aimed at should be the power of producing nourishing and suitable food; scientific knowledge of the materials necessary, their selection and preservation, also their relative monetary and dietetic value. (This last, a most important point, will be more fully treated in the third section).

Sanitation also will be scientifically studied as regards air, water, light, sunshine, heat, clothing, and cleaning, which cannot be fully entered on here, though all bearing on family Hygiene, under the head of which I specially urge a knowledge of the laws of health in relation to the management of infants and children, of the aged, and also of woman's own personal health. For the care of each woman's own health and her physical development should be taught as a duty. All who visit much among the poor know how many poor mothers ignorantly but unselfishly ruin the constitutions of their children by under-feeding themselves; if there is a scarcity of food, the self-denying mother quietly bears the brunt of it, content if "the guidman an' the bairns" are fed. Too many such mothers hardly ever cross their threshold, and are thus deprived of the life-giving sun and air which the rest of the family freely enjoy, and rest, physiologically speaking, the physique of the mother is the most important for the whole family, the most important for the race.

It is to the natural unselfishness and devotion of woman, however, that we owe the fact that things are not worse than they are; by perpetual toil such unselfish women gallantly try to make up for the want of that technical training which would have made their duties so much easier; for there is no doubt that a great part of the time and labour given by many women to domestic duties is spent in trying to make up for their own inefficiency, or that of other women, to an extent that it is difficult for those of the higher classes to understand. Whereas, if women of all classes received technical training, home duties would become so much lighter for all, and life so much easier, that women would make far greater progress in intellectual life than is possible at present, so that, instead of a narrowing effect, the practical skill and power acquired by technical training would in the end make for a wider culture than has yet been attained.

All these subjects mentioned should be studied as pure science by every educated girl, after her general education, and especially before marriage. But such advanced scientific training would be unsuitable and unattainable for children, and for some women of the working classes, and yet the practical part of it must be worked into the minds of all children when they are quite young, or before their life habits are formed, and how is this to be done? Most certainly the best way is that of Nature herself, girls learning from their mothers; those of us who have good mothers can testify to the untold value of their training in home duty, and all history bears testimony to the influence of exceptional mothers on distinguished men and women. But such mothers are rare, and Nature's ideal cannot be carried out till we have scientifically trained mothers. In the meantime we have a crying need for special teachers in the home subjects, and for suitable text-books, giving, in the simplest language, in a mentally peptonised form, the necessary knowledge. We all know that there has been a strong movement for science teaching for schools, but most of the text-books in use are ludicrously inadequate, and miles above the heads of those for whom they are intended, bristling with scientific terms utterly incomprehensible to children's minds; these are glibly repeated parrot fashion, often without the slightest attempt at understanding them. Science teaching will never do any practical good to children till it is translated into the simplest language of every-day life; here is a field for a cultured woman of scientific training, for a woman naturally understands the child's mind better than a man, and could therefore explain things more simply. Such training might begin even in the infant school, and take the place of some action songs which are really nonsense, while they might be made most attractive. The most important laws of life and health might be unconsciously imbibed by children, in the form of simple rhymes and action songs. The doll, beloved of little girls through all the ages of history, (and which I look on as the symbol of the eternal motherly in the heart of every woman-child), the doll will come to the front and be hugged in every child's arms as she sings, for instance, "What to do with Baby." These words of subtly peptonised science, sung to bright music, will be indelibly imprinted on the infant mind, and the scientific lines on which a baby should be reared will have become a kind of automatic knowledge, to be acted on instinctively, when the time comes for its actual use in real life. The perpetual "Why? why?" of every intelligent child will here come in as a help instead of a torture, as the opening word of a reason-giving chorus to each action's song of "How to do things." As the child grows older much of her technical training will be incorporated with her general education, and will appear under that and also the last head.

Before leaving the subject of health, I would strongly advocate a more frequent use of gymnastics, not once a week, as is common in schools, but every day, and at intervals between lessons while classrooms are aired; this would have a wonderful effect on the physique of our girls and on the freshness of their minds. In this connection I may mention the fact that so much attention is paid to the physical training of girls in Japan, that the average Japanese woman is quite as strong as a man. May not this be used as an object-lesson to us, and be one cause of the abnormally rapid development of Japanese power and influence? For, given a healthy body, and the natural result is a healthy mind, and greater possibilities both of moral and intellectual development, and this brings to me the second section--EDUCATION.

Let me here refer to Carpenter in his Mental Physiology (4th edition, pp. 354-4) as an authority on the enormous influence of mothers on the moral health of their children, even before their conscious existence has begun, and on the effect of order, regularity, and systematic training in infancy, so that "in those later stages in which the conscious influence of order and regularity comes to assert itself, there is still an unconscious persistence of the habits early shaped upon them, which tends to repress desire in that earliest phase in which it has not shaped itself into a definite idea." I think I am not exaggerating when I say that there is no provision whatever for training the ordinary mother in the art of moral education of infants and young children; all we have is the result of her own good feeling and religious principle, sometimes, however, applied with misdirected zeal, and generally in a haphazard fashion. I would suggest that every girl entering on womanhood should study the science of education, which at present seems to be chiefly taken by teachers.

Let me explain that I do not aim at any mother educating her child, in the ordinary sense of the term; general education will of course be acquired at school and college. What each mother must be taught is--the power of moral education, due control and discipline of the child, combined with direction and cultivation of its free will. Herbert Spencer is particularly suggestive in his remarks on free will, the undue repression of which, by well-meant tyranny, has such disastrous results in after life. The light which scientific training throws on these matters is a revelation to those who have not before given thought to the subject. Such knowledge, carried out by mothers in real life, could not fail to raise the moral tone of the whole community. The intimate connection between health and morals has already been spoken of; equally close is the connection between health and brain power. Here it is the intelligent mother's department to see to the physical freshness and elasticity of her child's brain, that it may be in a proper state to receive the impressions made thereon by the professional educator in school. The most perfect teaching makes no impression whatever on a wearied flaccid brain, or on one insufficiently nourished, though the child's efforts to understand and retain materially add to its physical exhaustion; thus, in such cases, the pupil's strength, the teacher's skill, the parent's money, are all utterly wasted. Mothers must be taught to know the signs of mental fatigue, to provide time for play and exercise, so as to equalise the circulation, and so prevent undue cerebral excitement; also to ensure pure air in which to carry on home study or preparation: and lastly--a most vital point--to know what food will best nourish the brain, and especially to acquire a scientific knowledge of what cheap foods will do this as well as dear. And this bring us to the sinews of war, the money part of the question, for you will remember that the third section of woman's technical training has to do with the prosperity of her family and household. It may be objected that the husband has more to do with that than the wife, but, in most cases, it is the wife who has the spending of the husband's earnings, and it is on the art of Proportionate Expenditure that the comfort and prosperity of the family chiefly depend. This is a science itself, of most vital importance, and yet here again there is absolutely no training, no preparation. It would be thought disgraceful if anyone could not add up a column of pounds, shillings, and pence, and a preliminary examination in arithmetic must be passed before any other is gone in for, but there is no provision whatever for training in the use of pounds, shillings, and pence. Proportion is, for most people, an abstract term of arithmetic, but, in its practical form of proportionate expenditure, it means the power of living comfortably on the means at command, the sense of relative value.

To the poor and to the working classes, training in this art would make starvation nigh impossible. It is almost incredible the small sums on which a family can be nourished in hard times, if the wife and mother has a practical knowledge of the chemistry of food, and the practical skill to make the cheaper foods attractive. I daresay some of you may have noticed in the Scotsman lately an interesting account of experiments in this direction of practical science by some students, who found they could live comfortably on fivepence a day. The extreme healthfulness of our prisons is a testimony to the nourishing power of plain cheap food. Our working classes are extremely deficit in this art, especially in England, and it is to be feared that the spirit of fine old Scottish thrift, so closely allied to independence of spirit, is fast dying out in Scotland also; it is a common remark that a French peasant could live comfortably on what an English one throws away. But if every woman had practical training in the art of managing money, and the art of feeding (and clothing) according to a given scale, there would soon be a material improvement in the health, comfort, and prosperity of the nation.

As it is, the first practical lesson which a child gets in spending money is a lesson in self-indulgence, when it buys sweets with its first penny. It is seldom that any hint of thrift or self-denial in connection with money is given throughout youth, and when the child becomes a woman and has to spend her own or her husband's earnings, she has never brought her mind to bear on the subject, and it is a case of "muddle through" or perhaps half-starve. This does not apply only to the poor; how many a young wife, in our own rank, begins married life without any idea the value of money, absolutely wastes her husband's means, and runs into debt for the necessities of life, without the least intention of evil-doing. We know the nice rich feeling one has on receiving a dividend, how the imagination runs riot for a minute or two over all the interesting things it will buy; but when one marks down all the absolutely necessary expenses for which it is to provide, and adds them up, what a small margin there is! and it must be left for the unforeseen. But we find we can be quite happy without the fancied purchases, which also proves how many of our wants are merely imaginary. We can picture to ourselves what must happen with those who make no such forecasts, and who have no sense of the wickedness and dishonesty of debt and long delayed payments.

No doubt the objection will be made: "How can such things be taught to children? It is only by experience they can be learned;" but experience is an expensive teacher, and the wise will gladly save its expense by using the experience of others. But how is such teaching possible? It is difficult, but not impossible, and has been successfully done, as will be seen later. But where are we to find time for all this? Everyone connected with schools or school boards knows the difficulty of adding to the already overburdened time-table. This training also will be begun in the infant school songs: games of buying and selling at real prices, with toy money, will enliven the kindergarten. Then, as the child grows older, arithmetical problems will bear on the same subject, and would be extremely useful in familiarizing pupils with actual values, and relative expenditure in proportion to income. I know of a colliery school in Fife (the very first in the kingdom in which cookery and laundry work were taught), where the children dine in school, so many girls accompany the teacher, and each in turn chooses and buys the food; so many cook the dinner, so many wash up, so many wait at table. Thus every girl in school has an opportunity of gaining experience in choosing, buying, and cooking food. The food is plain and wholesome, and it, and the utensils used, strictly confined to what is suitable for a working man's house. The children pay for their dinners. There was some grumbling among the parents at this at first, but after a short experience of the value of the system, these ceased, and it became so popular that colliers sent presents of vegetables from their gardens for the school broth, farmers sacks of potatoes and turnips, and so on. The cookery was so good that the Inspectors dined in school and highly appreciated the fare. I believe a government grant was obtained. This system has been amply tested, as it was begun long before the days of school boards, being introduced at the instigation of the managing director of the colliery, and his wife. The sewing school in connection was also exceptionally good, and we all know how much good hands and a swift needle have to do with household thrift. Want of space forbids my entering fully into the connection of practical training with general education, though I have indicated how they might in some measure be blended, and of course much of the technical training would have to be done after the girls leave school.

Now I must rapidly sketch some examples of the practical working of these ideas, though I have not been able to enter so fully into this part of the subject as is desirable. I expect, however, much light and information in this matter from subsequent correspondence in the "Parents' Review Letter Bag."

There is at least one school in England entirely devoted to education in home duties, i.e., Sesame House.

In Scotland there has existed, for twenty-nine years, the Edinburgh School of Cookery and Domestic Economy, which gives technical and scientific training in all those home duties, the vital importance of which we have been urging, besides the special provision for training teachers, lecturers, colonists, and working women. This school has lately given more and more prominence to subjects affecting the health and prosperity of the nation. There are many more schools of cookery throughout the kingdom.

Cooking and sewing (and occasionally laundry work) are now generally taught in board schools; there are also various attempts at teaching the laws of life and health; it would delight me to learn that this is more attended to than I fear is the case. There is much good work of this kind done in Girls' Brigades in connection with Women's Guilds, especially in Glasgow, where girls are taught first aid in ambulance; there also gymnastics are much in evidence.

There is an attempt at teaching thrift by means of savings banks connected with schools; a remarkable example of this was cited by Miss Horn, at the International Home Relief Congress in Edinburgh lately, when she described a school with 350 names on roll, in one of the poorest districts in London, where the savings deposited by the children in nine months amounted to £63!

There is a certain amount of technical training in schools for girls of the higher classes, and many other opportunities available. American has much to teach us: France does a great deal, especially in the Ecoles Maternelles, where little children are taught many useful things by means of toys. In Switzerland there are many boarding schools for girls of the middle classes for this training alone, (I do not know if this extends to the working classes). In Germany there are many large public schools expressly for this purpose, also families taking pupils who pay for being taught by the lady of the house, while they do all the work of the household. Even peasants there have a system of exchanging daughters for training in home duties, it is being supposed that a girl learns more away from home. In Norway there is a complete and most admirable system of training which is given in exchange for the pupil's performance of household duties without any other payment. There is also Government training, in which girls are taught farming and gardening; no girl thinks of getting married till she has gone though a course of such training, and has received a diploma in housekeeping and cooking. I do not know if any of these, however, give training in hygienics, moral education, or proportional expenditure, and Japan is the only country I know of where physical training for girls is a prominent feature. I should like to know if it is so in Sweden, the very home of gymnastics?

That such training is required surely needs no argument. The appalling infant mortality; the poor little white-faced bandy-legged children of our great towns; the miserable physique of many of our adults; the want and misery; the starvation (even in families with tolerable wages); the indigestion and bad temper from badly cooked food; the dull rumbling of discontent and sedition arising from morbid views of life in ill-nourished brains; the drunkenness often caused by want of home comfort; the disobedience of children; the insubordination of the young; the carelessness, selfishness, extravagance and waste around us; the helpless ignorance of women in matters of business (for even among well educated few can do the simplest business without the help of a man); the tragedy of wasted empty lives--all these cry aloud for a remedy. Much of all this could be prevented if every woman could receive the special training for which I plead. Yes, but the difficulty? the impossibility? When there is a will a way will be found. It is the will we want, the determination to do everything we can to train ourselves and our fellow-countrywomen to bring their whole powers, physical, mental, and spiritual, to bear on the sacred duties of home; to rouse the womanhood of Britain to a sense of its responsibility for the health, morals, and prosperity of generations yet to come.

Typed by Lauren Christy, Sept. 2023; Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023