Both Sides of the Vexed Question, Who Should Manage the Home, Husband or Wife

This is the first written article in February of the School for Housewives 1902 series published on Feb 16, 1902, and is a longer article on managing the household.

School for Housewives – Both Sides of the Vexed Question, Who Should Manage the Home, Husband or Wife

Who is the head of the house?

The question is seldom put so baldly indulge husbands yield the point in verbal gal-miry. Polite wives make it a matter of conscience and etiquette to speak of their husbands as owners of house and contents and ??? ??? in all entertaining ???. At heart, the complainant Benedict knows his will to be potent, if not supreme in home and family. The added Beatrice is secretly conscious hat she can wind her boastful Benedict about her paper ??? and he will not suspect.

Dismissing classical figures of speech, the case stands thus as nearly as I can judge of it, and set it down:

John pays for house, food and servants, and often works hard for the money that secures these for his family. Upon general principles he has a right to know that the money is wisely spent and husbanded; a right to be well lodged and fed, and made comfortable when at home as his means will allow. If he sees furniture based, provisions ??? – hence, unwholesomely – cooked, and needless waste in any department, he has as unquestionable a right, to direct his wife’s attention to the existing state of things, and insist that ??? be amended. On the other hand, in giving his wife his name, he has made her managing, as he is the financial partner of the firm matrimonial.

She is not his hireling.

Failure to comprehend this vital truth weeks the happiness of more married couples than incompatibility of temper, fickleness and intemperance all put together.

A reasonable good wife earns so much more than her own living that the surplus ought to go to her credit. If not in money, in a hundred other ways. When John stoops to captures surveillance of her methods, and personal inspection of her work he degrades her to the position of a suspected menial and sinks his manhood into Bettyishness. “Bettyishness” according the lexicographers is the synonym for “womanishness” and for John to be “womanish” is to be unmanly. Mary would rather have him savage now and then.


I saw a spotless reputation discounted the other day and many rare, amiable traits of disposition shrivel as water paper in the fire under a single sarcastic utterance of a society woman who had her own reasons for disliking the person under discussion. “Yes,” she said, dubiously, to the praise an elderly matron had given an excellent sun and brother. “But, then, he is such a ladylike person.” he either was apt. Not one of us could deny it. Every woman present, while she laughed, would have preferred to have her husband called a brute.

John takes ugly risks when he tempts his hitherto loyal spouse to name him to her confidential self “Bettyish,” “Miss Nannyish,” or a “Mollycoddle.” They all mean the same thing. As a sloven he may be forgiven, in consideration of the solid manliness back of personal carelessness. We wink at rusty shoes, and collars awry, and tousled hair, and missing sleeve links. For the same reason we condone crossness, and even a touch of savagery. When he comes home in a temper, he has had a trying day down town, or he is hot, or headachy, or hungry. Womanly ingenuity is set to work to soothe down the inclement mood and womanly love springs to the front with the mantle of tenderest charity to hide the fault from others, and put it out of our own minds when it is past.

I know a man – squarely built, robust and keen-eyed – who carries the keys of the storeroom, and lends them to his wife at night and morning to give out the supplies needed for the daily meals. He registers his day book and ledger every pound of butter and box of crackers and quart of vinegar brought into the house, with the date of purchase.

I know another who ceased from his labors 10 years ago who visited kitchen, pantries and storeroom several times every week to see that everything was clean and orderly. He used to smell milk pans, run a critical finger around the inside of kettles and pots and inquire into the destination of scraps – and all without a blush or misgiving. In each case it was of course, impossible to keep servants who could get any other place. Wives belong to the class that cannot give warning.

If either of these men would have tolerated the apparition in his counting room or office at stated or irregular periods of his wife, bent upon inspection of accounts and sales, the clerks undergoing examination, or standing as witnesses of his humiliation – then he was justified to his conscience for his policy of home rule.

Many would go to prison for her John and to the scaffold with him. She springs to arms in his defense if her nearest of kin dare to intimate that he is not the pink of perfection she would have them believe. His grossest eccentricities are graces so long as they are masculine.

But let him prowl into the pantry, peep into the bread-box, criticize the arrangement or derangement of china shelves, pull open linen drawers, spy out dusty rungs of chairs, take down, sort and hang in better order the contents of clothes hooks and hatracks – and he may shift for and shield himself. With lofty scorn the wife of his immaculate shirt bosom heaves him to the fate he deserves.


In which course there is some reason and a little unreason. For which of us does not ??? upon John’s sympathies in her domestic distress. He must not undertake the management of Bridget, or Dalphine, or Marie. These be womanish matters in which a man should not inter-meddle. It may be the most temperate of suggestions, such as, “My dear, I don’t like to find fault, but if you would speak to Margaret about meddling with the papers upon my table wen she dusts the library?” It is a distinct trespass upon wifely preserves. Margaret is under the protection of her mistress’ wing. The interests and credit of the two are identical. But here comes a day when the league snaps in two, like scorched twine. The maid gives warning, and company is expected, and the mistress “did think she had a right to expect better things from Margaret after all the kindness she has shown her in sickness and in health and the excellent wages she has given her, and here, at the most inconvenient time she could have chosen, the creature is deserting her.”

Thus runs the torrent of talk swashed into the ears of a man who left much worse complication behind him in his office when he set his face toward home and imaginary peace. Had he found fault with Margaret a week ago he would have been a “Molly.” Should he withhold sympathy from the mistress to-day, to the extent of commending the ingrate’s past services and wondering if there many not be possible palliation somewhere for her present behaviour – he is unfeeling, and a man! When a woman brings out the monosyllable in that accent she may as well go a semitone further and say, “monster.”

To be explicit, John must dance when his spouse puts the pipes to her lips and not presume to mourn but at her lamenting. As her sister, my sympathies topple dangerously toward her. As an impartial chronicler, I cannot deny that he has a show of reason on his side, even when he is convicted of womanish meddling. He is but a passenger upon the domestic craft in fair weather, a paying passenger, who is expected, nevertheless, to be smilingly content with his accommodations, to eat as he is fed, sleep upon the bed as it is made, and to complain of nothing until the sea gets rough, and another and a stout hand is needed on deck and in the rigging.

Marion Harland

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Some Primary Lessons in Obedience
Value of Kindness to Dumb Animals

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