(Note: Most posts will be shorter than this introduction.)
I tend to think that being a wife and mother and managing a home was held in higher esteem in past eras. Even so, Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe had this to say way back in 1869:
.."the honor and duties of the family state are not duly appreciated....family labor is poorly done, poorly paid, and regarded as menial and disgraceful." from their book, American Woman's Home.These women were advocating home economics training for women and respect for the woman's domain in her home. They were asking that people give the home and the work that was generally done by women in that day a greater measure of honor. In making their appeal, they state,
"Women's profession embraces the care and nursing of the body in the critical periods of infancy and sickness, the training of the human mind in the most impressionable period of childhood, the instruction and control of servants, and most of the government and economics of the family state. These duties of women are as sacred and important as any ordained to man..."Advocates like the Beecher women were, in a sense, early feminists. They felt that women's contribution to society through the domestic sphere deserved to be considered a profession equally to the kinds of labor generally done by men of that time. They did not consider the route to equal recognition for women to through escaping from the home. Instead, they sought to elevate women to their rightful place by honoring the domestic sphere.
Because of their efforts, home economics came to be regarded as a science, and the domestic sciences began to be taught in schools. Women still handed down the art and science of homemaking in the home, from mother to daughter. However, they now could also make a formal study of it and gain certification to teach, to use their domestic knowledge in some professional capacity, and, most of all, to practice good home management within their own family circles.
As these advocates for domestic training were making their plea, science was providing new information about nutrition, hygiene, health, cleanliness, and all sorts of matters that were useful to home and family. The study of home economy was seen as a way to introduce families to this new information.
From this period up to the middle decades of the twentieth century, the way women kept home was also being revolutionized by inventions; such as gas and electric stoves, sowing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and the like. Home economists were hired by companies to help women make the change from older ways of doing things to newer and, thus, to buy their products. Henrietta Dull, for example, was hired by the Atlanta Gas Company to help women overcome their fear of cooking on new-fangled gas stoves.
By the 1950's, the greatest changes in how women kept home had been accomplished. Since then, we've added some new time-saving gadgets here and there. We've also seen changes in the quality and availability of goods, some for the better and some for the worse. With the plethora of cheaper clothing around today and the higher of expense of material, fewer women believe that sewing holds an economical advantage for the home, for example. Most of all, we have transitioned to the computer age and communicate electronically now. Despite these relatively recent changes, however, June Cleaver's household didn't run that differently from yours. This is especially true when you compare the gaps in how June's household worked compared to the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe's childhood.
Today, we reap the benefits of those early advocates for household science. We have even greater access to information that helps us take care of our families and manage our households with efficiency and economy. Our tasks, while still requiring stamina, are no longer so back-breaking as they once were. Advances in medicine have made child-bearing safer. We drive short distances to stores stocked with bonanzas that would overwhelm the women of the 19th century. We are served by machinery that wash our clothes and our dishes and suck the dust out of our rugs. We have cleaner heating and cooling. We no longer lose several children in a family to epidemics of smallpox, childhood diseases, and polio. We could go on and on listing the domestic wonders that would have astonished our fore-mothers had they been able to look into the future and see them.
The question is, with all of this improvement, have we reached the goal of the Beecher sisters? Do we value domestic life as we should, and do we respect the contribution that we and other women do in the home? Or, as Kathy Peel says in The Family Home Manager, does women's unpaid work in the home still go largely unnoticed and undervalued?
If home life is undervalued, what say have women in re-claiming home as the sphere in which we all are nurtured? Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, it was women -- not men -- who labeled all things domestic as drudgery and led the charge out of the home to find fulfillment elsewhere. If we want to be valued in our roles as wive and mothers and not just as wage-earners, it is we as women, who will have to re-define home as an essential component of our lives and worthy of our best attention. Whether or not we also labor outside the home in paid positions, we can esteem our homes and our families. If we do, we will find greater satisfaction in whatever work we do in the home.
Home is not just a matter of vacuuming and laundering. In Home Comforts, Cheryl Mendleson describes how women have historically made their homes alive and welcoming. She states that they make their homes both an extension of themselves and a medium through which they expressed love.
"But it is illuminating to think about what happend when things went right. Then her affection was in the soft sofa cushions, clean linens, and good meals; her memory in well-stocked storeroom cabinets and the pantry; her intelligence in the order and healthfulness of her home; her good humor in its light and air."The bottom line is that we can't depend on society to define our homes or the satisfaction we gain in loving our families through how we keep our households. The woman who believes that she is contributing to the world by managing that important part of our economy called the home will find satisfaction there. The woman who questions whether she is accomplishing anything meaningful through her home will find her domestic endeavors to be dull.
It's not about what everyone else thinks, but about what we, ourselves, value. In that sense, we make ourselves happy or unhappy in whatever role we play in the home. We can't blame others if we are insecure about the domestic part of our lives. If we do value our contributions to home life, however, others are more likely to, as well.
This makes me think of some questions to ask myself:
1) Am I content to do whatever I do -- in the home or not -- for God and not for the approval of others? Or, am I easily put down if others' don't esteem what I do?
2) What is my role in my home? What does God say about that? How does my role in the home fit with the roles that others in the family play in our home life? Do we live and function together harmoniously, or are we confused about our respective responsibilities?
3) Do I care about doing things excellently and with passion, or am I half-hearted?
4) Do I view my home as a sphere in which I can express my love for God and for others? Do I see it as a base for ministry to others? Do I see home as a place where I can express creativity and intelligence?
5) Do I conduct myself in the home in a manner that is worthy of respect, whether or not society sees that I do? Do I dress at home in a manner that says I care about my home and family? Do I enjoy my home and family and do my words, my tone, my expression, and my posture convey that? Do I see my work at home as a profession, whether or not I also have a job outside the home?
Happy Home Keeping!