Chapter X, "Everyman's House" book, by Caroline Bartlett Crane Creator
Crane, Caroline Bartlett, 1858-1935, author Institution
Western Michigan University Subject
Architecture, Domestic Subject
Better Homes in America Item Number
Part of Caroline Bartlett Crane "Everyman's House" Collection Type
collection, text Format
IT WAS a wistful-looking mother who stood by the kitchen sink of Everyman's House. A mother, since she held her baby in her arms--and oh! such a tired one! I smiled at her from the doorway, and, as her eyes rather clung, I threaded my way through the crowd that always filled that little kitchen of ours and was about to make friends through the baby. But immediately she said:
'Did you ever read that story about the farm woman who moved her family into her husband's new barn?'
Why, yes, I believed I had. 'Mary E. Wilkins wrote it, didn't she?'
'I don't know; I guess so,' she said, evidently deeming the creature of more consequence than its creator. For she added, with slow emphasis:
'Well, that's the best story I ever read.
And since I've seen this house of yours, I've wondered why lots and lots of us farm women don't do that very thing.'
'Bring your husband to see this house, and you won't need his barn,' I said. 'How many children have you?'
'Five--two girls and two boys, besides this baby. Just the sized family this house seems intended for. And not one single thing have I got that this house has got--things to help, you know--though my house is as big as two of this.'
'Well, be sure to bring your husband to see this house, won't you? And be sure to see that wonderful baby's bed in the Mother's Room before you go. We have helps for tired mothers by day and by night.'
As this woman moved away, I tried to recall the details of that 'best story' she had so feelingly referred to. It was something like this.
For many years the farmer's wife had pleaded with her husband to build a new house in place of the poor dilapidated thing they had inherited. He had put her off from year to year, while she watched the proceeds
of bumper crops go successively into better barns and silos and hog houses and chicken houses and more 'better barns.' At last, the long-suffering wife, resigning hope of ever building the cozy little home of her dreams, took advantage of a brief absence of her lord to move the family into the most magnificent brand-new barn in the township. The as-tounded husband returned to find a house-warming in progress--that is to say, a cheerful fire in the kitchen stove whose pipe now negotiated a patent feed chute. His wife was filling the teakettle from the windmill spout--running water at last! The parlour furniture adorned one end of the long open space. Supper was set in the other end, where the surrey and the buggy had fondly thought to be at home. In the harness room hung the best clothes of the family. And--chief horror of the situation--the children's beds were set up in the luxurious box stalls built especially for his pedigreed mares and their colts!
I have forgotten the denouement, but of this I am sure: that the husband and father who drove the long-suffering wife to this delicious piece of mutiny had no intention of being
cruel or unusual. He must have patiently explained to that wife of his, over and over again, that barns and chicken houses and hog houses are productive enterprises, and as such they handsomely pay for themselves. Therefore, it is 'good business' to spend money on them. And how could she fail to agree with that? All the petty cash she ever handled was 'egg money' and 'butter money.' Of course it was good business to keep up buildings for the sake of the paying stock and crops. Husband was right; and yet . . .
At last this good woman appears to have been the subject of a grand illumination. She may not have put it in these words, but this, I think, was the general idea!
Home-making is a productive business, too. Indeed, it is the productive business which alone makes barns and stock and factories and mines and railroads and churches and schools and governments and all other human institutions worth anything at all. Therefore, she was determined to have a better place for her part of the firm's business: raising and cultivating their crop of children.
Now the rest of this chapter is less about
Everyman's House or any man's house than it is about the attitude of people in general toward their homes. But I earnestly hope you will read this chapter, because I shall approach the intimate study of the Mother's Suite from the point of view of the preceding paragraph.
I readily admit that the declaration of rights I have put into the mouth of that farm woman would seem very implausible coming from the lips of the average housewife. Perhaps she knows these things, but she does not feel them. Least of all does the average woman give evidence of feeling them, in re-lation to her own work, in her own home. How vividly this fact was forced upon those of us who, in 1917, had the responsibility in the several states of taking the official registration of women for war-time service.[footnote 1] One of our Michigan posters, designed especially to appeal to the home woman, read:
ARE YOU busy in your home rearing patri-
otic citizens for our country's future need?
Surely you will REGISTER for that! It
[footnote 1] The writer was State Chairman for Michigan of the Woman's Committee, Council of National Defence[sic].
explains why you may not be able to regis-
ter for other work. It will make you a
better mother and citizen to feel that your
country understands and appreciates this
We officially registered more than nine hundred thousand women in the State of Michigan. In many counties we achieved an actual 100-per-cent.[sic] registration of all women over sixteen, proving that we had reached the home women, as well as other women, with the Government's appeal. In fact, the service offering of women, in our state as in other states, was tremendous, spontaneous, eager-hearted, wonderfully varied, and revealingly capable of carrying on most of the processes of everyday life, had the war demanded the prolonged absence of great numbers of men.
However, a very large majority of adult registrants were (as we anticipated) unable to register to 'take the place of a man' in any line of work. They very properly registered their regular occupation as 'care of children in the home,' adding proffers of part-time service in one or several of 118 choices indi-
cated on the card. But here is the pathetic thing that happened.
In nine cases out of ten, when a home woman sat down in privacy opposite our registrar, she would say in an embarrassed and apologetic manner, 'Well, I am just a housewife!' Then it became the business of our trained registrar to make that woman feel that being a housewife marked her an important person in the eyes of her government, as one able to give highly valuable specialized service in this crisis of world war. We believe now that no war work of women has proved more permanently worth while than those private talks with the great hosts of women whose lives had become confused and inarticulate to them, and who, in this orderly review of their past experiences and present capabilities, found themselves and their life opportunities anew, and went away rejoicing, with a great uplift of self-respect. Their household knack at canning or gardening or sewing or knitting or 'making over' could really be made to serve their country! Their daily tasks and sacrifices in child care were actually a part of what was going to
be the wealth and salvation of America in the next generation! And so they registered proudly, perhaps to do only the things they had always been doing--but with what a different spirit, and with how much wider and happier an outlook!
And that was the spirit and outlook achieved by our then unfranchised women---through war. It is the spirit and outlook that the home needs in our women citizens today.
Indeed, I think it is high time for a new declaration of woman's rights. It must be based upon some such premise as that uttered by the Kalamazoo architect who was converted to our plan for Everyman's House 'because,' he said, 'I see it as a plant for the manufacture of good citizens.'
But here is one trouble. The home woman, the housewife and mother, finds herself doing such an astonishing number and variety of things, all chopped and mixed up in the day's grind, that she simply can't see and catalogue them by herself as they were catalogued on that wonderful registration card. And then the census taker calls on her, and begins to
EVERYMAN' S HOUSE
question her, just as that woman registrar did during the war. He asks her what she is and does, and she stammers, 'I am just a housewife,' and waits to hear what he will ask next; perhaps it will clear this thing up a bit in her own mind. But he doesn't ask anything next. He pulls out his card and registers her:
Housewife; Occupation, None.
Do we need another war?
No, we need a peaceful penetration of a stimulating, saving idea: A mother's body is the productive plant from which issues the most precious of all things--a human being! Out of a Mother! Into a Home, that was first created because mothers must have a place to produce and to care for their product. And by the necessity of providing and guarding this place, ruthless savages have been turned into tender, self-sacrificing fathers and husbands, whose instinctive utterance in the hour of any peril is: 'Women and children first!'
We need, then, a saving spiritual vision on the part of parents as to what that wonderful creation, the Home, is really for.
I once knew a marble-cutter, who, finding his overhead too great, decided to sell the downtown shop and transfer his business to an unused garage on his back lot. On moving in he found the garage not light enough, and wisely cut another window. He fitted up the walls with racks to receive his tools. His patterns must be preserved: he wisely built cupboards to contain them. It got dark rather early of a winter's day: painting the walls a light colour helped. But the central electric light, all well enough for a garage, didn't suit at all for his shop. How was one to cut stone if perpetually in one's own shadow? He put in an extra light, of course. The western sun was glaring and disagreeable. An awning. No electric help here, as in his old shop, for turning the grindstone that sharpened his tools. His wife said he was wasting valuable time and strength turning the grindstone by hand; he must install a motor for this purpose. And he did.
Thirty feet away was the one undersized window of her kitchen. In it she spent more hours a day than he in his shop. There had
not been one need for improvement in his shop which selfsame need, or its match, had not existed for years in her kitchen.
Was he a selfish man? Not at all. She was no better as wife and mother than was he as husband and father, struggling against odds to make a living for those he loved. He simply had respect for his position as a marble-cutter and the provider for a family. He knew that certain conditions were necessary for success in his undertaking.
But she did not really respect her position as his helpmeet and the mother of a family. She did not think or speak for efficiency in her workshop, so how was he to know? She thought it wifely, motherly devotion to 'do without things' and make up for the lack of intelligent mastery of her domain by longer hours and more exhausting toil. Poor woman! Poor mother! In her own esteem, 'just a housewife!' And he etched tombstones, and she--immortal souls!