Slighting as a Useful Art

This is the first article in December of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on Dec 3, 1905, and is a discussion on how overwork does more harm than good when keeping house.

I find this article interesting as Mrs. Harland talks about using tricks and tools to reduce the workload of the housemother to save her health. In a later article in the month on Washday she also talks about how housemothers should tell their laundress to avoid soda at all costs as it “save the muscles of one class, rasp the sensibilities and deplete the pockets of the other.”

So then, is it only housemothers who should use these tricks to save their muscles and avoid an early grave?

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of The Washington Times.

Slighting as a Useful Art

A FRIEND at my elbow suggests “Simplifying Work” as a more apt title. A Big Brother puts in “How not to make work so hard.”

Not one of the captions covers my ground. I do not mean to talk of methods of arranging work by wise provision and judicious planning. Nor have I in mind the countless ways some women have of laying hold of every task by the heavy end, and making work as they go – the women who sweep the dust toward, instead of away from them, and drain dishes washed in lukewarm water, streaking them so palpably that they must be rubbed hard with one’s napkin before any self-respecting stomach can tolerate the idea of eating from them.

Nor do I quite relish the world “slighting!” It implies willful neglect of a recognized obligation.

Woes of a Fussy Woman.

Let a few homely illustrations define what a single phrase cannot:

I am so unhappy as to know a woman who has her whole house, including attic and cellar, swept every week and dusted thoroughly daily. Every picture is taken down on Saturday morning that the backs and cords may be wiped off with a damp cloth wet with a disinfectant. She changes servants from twelve to twenty-four times a year. She will tell you with an air of calm, sad conviction, that “there is not one tolerably efficient maid in America.” She “despaired long ago of ever keeping her house decent without doing most of the work with her own hands, even when she has tow grown daughters to help her.” The daughters have been her slaves since they could wield broom and duster. They are pale and thin; their eyes have a hunted look and are hollowed by fixed dark crescents beneath them. One of them was married two years ago, and sank into confirmed invalidism after the birth of a pitiful scrap of a baby that wailed feebly for an hour and died.

I met the single sister not long ago on a ferryboat, and she confided to me that she is to submit to a crucial operation in a few days.

“The doctors say it is too much housework,” she said bitterly, “I cannot recollect when I was not tired, tired, TIRED! My mother keeps the cleanest house in town. She says ‘dirt is disease.’ Maybe so! I know that life is not worth living when one has to pay such a price of cleanliness. My mother has bones of steel and nerves of while, and cannot comprehend ‘how it happens that she should be afflicted with delicate children.’”

Fruit Cans Overwork Her.

Another notable housemaker, who puts up never less than a gross of jars of canned and preserved fruits every season, makes it a point of conscience to devote one forenoon of each week to examination of her potted treasures. Each jar is wrapped in thick paper, and the wrapper tied on with a string. Four mortal hours of an immortal creature’s time are devoted weekly to the business of inspecting the fruit, and washing each jar before it is rewrapped, tied up and returned to the shelf. Her boast that, in all the ten years during which she has pursued this plan she has not found one fermented can, aggravates, not justifies, her offense against common sense and economical laws, for it proves the needlessness of the ultra-violence.

The mistress of a superb country house affects to lament the absolute necessity of spending two hours of every forenoon all summer long in arranging in pots and vases the flowers brought in daily by the gardener.

“But what can one do? Servants cannot be trusted to do suck work, and ill-assorted flowers drive me wild.”

A fourth has had a bellows made for dislodging the dust from the corners of stairs and rooms, and since no maid will use it faithfully, the poor slave of her own housewifely caprice, who weighs nearly 200 pounds, and is sixty years old, invites apoplexy six days in the week by getting down upon her gouty knees to blow out the atoms left when the broom has done its best.

Yet another “walks after” her competent staff of servants from two to three hours per diem, to make sure that their appointed takes are well done. She keeps none long which fact she accepts as a proof that surveillance is needed. Three out of these five conscientious housemothers have bemoaned in my hearing their inability to make time for reading. Two confessed that they do not read one book a year, one adding:

Something Must Be Slighted.

“Unless the mistress can reconcile it to her conscience to slight some part of her lawful work, she must resign such luxuries as books and music.”

“Extreme cases these, amounting to eccentricity, if not to monomania,” I hear some one say.

I could multiply the five by ten, and not exhaust my stock of similar anecdotes. Coming to close inquiry into our individual experiences, each of us who is a careful, practical housekeeper, if she puts herself into the confessional, would be forced to admit similar blunders as to the relative value of domestic duties.

My dear mother gave me an initial lesson in this useful art when I was but ten years old. Her skill with her needle was my pride, and I was eager to emulate it. In the effort I crowded tiny stitches upon one another in hemming a towel she had set me as a task. “My child,” she said, when she came to see why I was so long in completing the task, “never take two stitches when one will do the business as well.”

Dust may be disease in embryo, and should be done away with by the use of all reasonable means. Overwork and worry kill more women in one year than the neglected deposit upon picture cords slays in a century. “Let all things be done decently and in order” is a capital working motto, but reserve the right of private judgment in determining what constitute order and decency. Study what you can leave undone, or what may be laid over for another day with least inconvenience or discomfort to yourself and others.

Simplify work by labor and time-saving machines. Don’t beat eggs with a spoon or two forks for fifteen minutes when a patent beater will produce a stiff froth in two. Don’t mince meat in the old way when a chopper worked by a crank will make it even and fine in one-tenth of the time.

Spare yourself, and study Slighting (so-called) as a Useful, Life-Lengthening Art.


Chats With Housemothers
A Handy New Cabinet for the Kitchen
Marion Harland Recipes
A Pretty Salad for the Christmas Table
A Treasure for the Lover of Beautiful Glass
Value of Good Music

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