Chapter XI, "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
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
I HAVE read somewhere the story of a new university graduate who accepted a call to fill the chair of sociology in a small college. On his arrival he found that he was expected also to teach history and political science and international relationships, and to fill in in various other capacities when faculty members were sick or on leave.
'It's all right, quite all right,' he said mildly enough to the president of the institution. 'Only, you know, the letter said the ?chair of sociology.' Why didn't you tell me it was going to be a settee?'
It is Mother who occupies the settee in the home, except that, commonly, she hasn't time to sit down. (I wonder, by the way, if 'settee' isn't a sort of Occidental equivalent of 'sut-tee,' except that we lack a spontaneous movement to outlaw this type of self-immolation.)
On second thought, I guess that Mother's chair will always have to be a settee; and that is the reason we shall have to upholster it and place it at the strategic point for reaching the greatest number of conveniences and making the greatest number of short cuts. And then, gently as any sucking dove, we shall roar at Mother, 'Sit down!' which is, metaphorically speaking, the central idea of Everyman's House, and, more specifically, of this chapter.
Surely the first home was built around a mother and her baby. The helplessness of infancy, and the necessity for mother-nursing and care, limited the primitive woman's activities in the chase, and classified her as useless impedimenta in war. She and her offspring must be left behind in a place of safety, which, in time, became Home. And we have seen how she naturally applied herself to the creation and practice of those household arts which enhanced the human comforts of home for every member of the family.
The reason for this priority of women in useful labour is of course obvious. Woman, from the first, enjoyed the special tutoring of that most persistent and effective trainer in industrial education which the world of nature
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
has yet produced, the human infant. Any family of children, any single child, even, can provide the four prime essentials of discipline to regular work--namely, an incentive to labour which cannot be ignored, an obvious suggestion of things to be done, a time schedule (including a self-winding alarm clock), and a satisfying reward for duty well done! The woman and the child constituted, it is clear, the first social group.[footnote 1]
All home-making is an elaboration--when it is not a perversion--of this primitive home idea. When even the most sophisticated bachelor girls 'make a home,' they ought, out of decent gratitude, to hang a mother-and-child picture over the fireplace, with some shadowy outline, in the background, of 'the man.'
Everyman's House is a new fashion of going back to a good old idea. It concerns itself not with what is due to a house as a house; or as an exhibit in financial rating; or as a cynosure for the appraising eyes of friends or enemies. It is just something meant to surround and protect and assist the average American mother in her twofold high calling of taking care of her baby and making a good and happy place for all the family.
[footnote 1] 'Woman's Share in Social Culture,' by Anna Garlin Spencer.
Manifestly, no mother needs any handicaps in this undertaking. Yet our prevailing domestic architecture surrounds her with handicaps. Compare the average kitchen with the one in Everyman's House. Contrast the labour and expense involved in the average separate dining room, with the living-dining room of a previous chapter. Compare the paucity of closets in the usual small house and the wealth of closet and storage room in Everyman's House.
However, given all these advantages, yet no one could describe it as 'a house built around a mother and her baby' if it did not contain the Mother's Suite. Let us now follow Mother in the day's duties, and find out how she is helped by the Mother's Suite. A mother's job isn't from sun to sun. The mother of a baby is on duty twenty-four hours a day of every day in the year, no Sundays or Thursday afternoons off. So let us start at the zero hour; some midnight in, say, December.
The parents and baby are asleep. In the room the heat is mostly turned off and the outside air turned on. There is no difficulty
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
here, because of the adjacent warm bathroom in which to dress in the morning. Mother's day is started on astronomic time by some slight outcry or restlessness of her baby. She must rise, grope for her slippers, fumble for an electric switch, and go shivering over to Baby's crib, to see what is the matter. (This is a common reason for not opening windows and for not having the restfulness of a really dark room.) But this room is healthfully chilly and restfully dark, and Baby is still fretting--and Mother doesn't get up at all! Instead, she lies there comfortably under the covers and just twiddles her foot a bit and the chances are that Baby falls back to sleep!
How is that? Why, Baby's bed--a proper kind of bed with rigid frame and good springs and a hygienic mattress--is suspended over the foot of Mother's bed. An iron standard ascends on one side from a floor base which extends underneath the larger bed. Attached to the frame are ratchets by which the little bed can be raised or lowered at will. Mother has given that little bed a few gentle upward pats and Baby knows it's all right and falls asleep again.
Or suppose it isn't as casual as that. Suppose this is a young baby, and it is time for the nursing. The mother sits up and reaches for the back rest by the bedside (any slender chair with legs removed will do); places it behind her, and slips back upon it; throws around her shoulders a soft, warm wrap from the chair beside her bed. Probably she doesn't need a light, but if she does, she pulls the chain of the shaded reading lamp attached to the head of the bed. She lifts Baby out of his warm nest, tucks him in the folds of her wrap, and sits comfortably with him at her breast until the nursing is finished.
'Don't wake me up! don't wake me up!' I used to say on camping expeditions when the rain compelled us to move our cots from the open into the shelter of the tent. If nobody started talking or giggling, the incident could be ignored. So the mother, in Everyman's House, has scarcely been awakened by this familiar and lovely incident of the night. Neither has she imperilled the baby by lying down with it in her arms, where many a baby has been smothered by a tired mother who has fallen asleep.
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Baby's bed (canopy net folded to one side), showing convenience of position and economy of space. [photograph: LA03a024]
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Now it is morning. Mother rises to wash and dress in the warm bathroom, which becomes Father's place to dress while breakfast is preparing. Mother calls the sleeping children upstairs--that metal clothes chute is a wonderful broadcaster for messages like this. Presently breakfast is ready and in the pass-way, with ready-warm plates for hot pancakes on a cold morning.
Breakfast over, the dishes done, Father off to work, and the older children to school, Mother must attend to her marketing. The telephone is right at hand in a little side recess of the passway shelf, and where it can be reached from either room. At the bottom of the door, on the hinge side, is a little rounded nick for the cord, so the door can be completely closed upon it. The telephone is so handy for Mother in the kitchen, yet nobody has to come into the kitchen to use it.
Now, what is it she wants to order from the store? Does she have to stand there and rack her brains, and hold.a nervous clerk on the ?phone at the rush hour, with a 'Let me see, now--what was that I wanted?' No. She consults the 'memo-board' tacked on the
inside of the passway door. Here, from time to time, as she has thought of something needed, she has taken one of the little pegs from the row at the bottom of the board and inserted it into the hole opposite the name of that thing. There's no excuse for not remembering to do it, for the memo board is within reach from either room. And what a boon to her and to the family, and to the merchant, and the deliveryman, saved an extra trip. (I have a homemade memo board with every imaginable thing you can wish to order--including coal and the plumber.)
Now it is time to give the baby his breakfast, and, after a while, his bath. She does not have to run upstairs to feed him or to bathe him. There is, you see, a Mother's Suite. If sleeping room and bathroom were upstairs, she would have to go up to him. The telephone would ring, and she would have to hurry down to answer it. Then, when she was back upstairs, somebody would come to the back door with vegetables, and she would have to hurry down again. But not so in Everyman's House. There, it is only a step, and that step
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
isn't uphill or down, to the telephone or the door. Or, to consider another arrangement: If Mother sleeps with Baby downstairs, and the bathroom is upstairs, it is a great handicap to have to carry an infant up there. The Mother's Room and the bathroom need to be en suite.
But further than that, they need to be, for a working mother, en suite with the kitchen. What is the alternative? To have Baby in a crib or a pen upstairs? This is, for obvious reasons, too impractical to consider. To have him in the kitchen with her? The constant trail of news items concerning little children burned, scalded, hurt by falling objects, stepped on, cutting themselves on knives, falling down the cellar stairs, swallowing alkaline washing powders--even being electrocuted--horrid word for a most horrid thing!--should convince any father and mother that the kitchen is an extra-hazardous place for a baby. And surely a mother has enough to do in her kitchen without having to bodyguard an active and inquisitive infant in the embryonic stage of understanding.
Besides, the kitchen is too hot and steamy for a baby. Taking cold is another form of kitchen accident.
The dining room, then!--if you still cling to a dining room. But could there be any place on earth less interesting to a baby--left to wander in a forest of tall legs and hard, un-sympathetic chairs? Surely your dear baby isn't going to be turned loose amid such deadly and uneducative surroundings.
The living room, then. But somebody always has to be with Baby there, to protect the 'mustn't touch' objects which, I feel sure, are the chief puzzle of a baby's life. And besides, is it fair to Father, homing with the idea of a ten-minute nap on the davenport, to find his claim jumped by a baby that has all day to sleep in? Do Big Brother and Sister enjoy bringing their friends in upon the general disorder and milky atmosphere of a living room misused as a nursery, while Mother is busy in the kitchen?
The solution is the Mother's Suite. With a gate in the doorway between the Mother's Room and the kitchen, the door can be opened
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
or closed at will, and the mother at her work can keep constant watch over her baby or babies. Or, on the other hand, while she is in the nursery or bathroom with her baby, she can keep an eye on her baking or stewing in the kitchen. Also, she can leave the child in safety when making excursions to the telephone, the front door or back door, or the furnace, as mothers sometimes must.
I'd have nothing in this bedroom-nursery that a child could hurt, or hurt himself with. I would have some pictures interesting to a baby, and hung on his eyeline. I would have some furniture of his own size--at least a table and a couple of chairs and a little chest of shelves for his toys. How would you like to live in a house where all the tables and chairs were eight feet high?
With the Mother's Suite, all the daily work is on one floor, except when she goes upstairs once a day to put the upper chambers to rights, or perhaps only to see how the children have taken care of their own rooms. Much climbing of stairs becomes a great burden, and, when another baby is imminent, a positive
peril, to Mother. Everyman's House re-duces this difficulty to a happy minimum.
In a later chapter I shall tell how nicely Mother will manage in the Mother's Suite if she has not one only, but two or three, little folks of pre-school age; also, how, in case of family illness, this Mother's Suite becomes a godsend to both the patient and the nurse.
I must say here that battles royal were fought for the Mother's Room. 'So queer not to have any dining room! Couldn't there be a compromise?' someone asked. 'A patent folding bed, now, could swing into that clothes closet by day, and the baby's bed could be put ?somewhere,' and this room could still be a dining room if you had a drop-leaf table that could be pushed to one side at night.' I thought of Mother, with no day nursery for her baby, and no place to speak of for her clothes; and I thought of Baby, hustled out of the way in time for breakfast; and then, with a lapse into mental giddiness, I thought of the feelings of that earliest of all invented creature comforts--a bed--being pulled out at the end of a swivel chain to receive a mother's weary limbs at night, and
THE MOTHER'S SUITE
condemned ad interim to stand on its head in a pitch-dark closet corner.
'Alas! they drag me out at night, to not so much as candlelight! When morning comes, I have no say; I have to go to bed by day! I have to go to bed and see those old clothes hanging on their tree, and hear--where eve will plant my feet--my jailers talk and laugh--and eat!'
I must pause here to confess that not everybody concerned nationally with Better Homes feels as I do about that super-imposed baby's bed, which to me is a very important though not absolutely essential feature of the Mother's Suite. Indeed, I more than half suspect that our Demonstration won first prize, not because of it, but somewhat in spite of it. 'A child should sleep in a room alone,' some child experts say. However, the race seems to have struggled upward, somewhat, without the separate sleeping room for a baby. I haven't heard the reasons for demanding it, and, frankly, can't imagine them, unless it be a matter of too many in a room for good ventilation. If the room is to be kept warm at night, there might be a question of venti-
lation. But it doesn't need to be kept warm if, as in Everyman's House, there is a warm place in which to dress.
To be somewhat personal, I never have any heat at all in sleeping rooms--not even for a child after its first winter--but only warm places in which to dress. And, to be still more personal--I brought up a delicate baby in that very bed--and on a sleeping porch, after the first year. I can't imagine what would have become of me if I had had to get up and go to him in another room every time he needed attention, or I feared that he had wriggled out of covers, or got his head com-pletely under them.
And he grew into a perfectly healthy specimen.--O Critic, spare that bed! Touch not a single part. My nights it comforted. O Critic!--have a heart!
'A little more and how much it is!
A little less--and the world away!'
I have recalled this couplet so many times in writing this chapter on the Mother's Suite. 'Why, what is there so ?different' about it? A kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom for a
With a low gate in this doorway, Mother, at her kitchen work, can watch over her baby at play. [photograph: original not in collection]
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mother and her baby--aren't these the veriest commonplaces of home?'
Yes. And so are figures and dots and dashes the veriest commonplaces of your bank account. However, it makes a difference how they are arranged: $981; or $189; or $9.81; or --$981! There's where the cashier slaps an 'O. D.' to our account. 'You are respectfully advised that the law does not permit overdrafts.'
Alas! the overdrafts--the bankruptcies--of woman's strength, mother's patience, a tired wife's power of comradeship, when the ciphers of custom, of false pride, or of mere inertia are written before the thrifty digits of household convenience, serviceableness, economy, and peace!