“Well now, there is one very excellent, necessary, and womanly accomplishment that no girl should be without, for it is a help to rich and poor, and the comfort of families depends upon it. This fine talent is neglected nowadays, and considered old-fashioned, which is a sad mistake, and one that I don’t mean to make in bringing up my girl. It should be a part of every girl’s education, and I know of a most accomplished lady who will teach you in the best and pleasantest manner.”
“Oh, what is it?” cried Rose eagerly, charged to be met in this helpful and cordial way.
“Housekeeping!” answered Dr. Alec.
“Is that an accomplishment?” asked Rose, while her face fell, for she had indulged in all sorts of vague, delightful dreams.
“Yes; it is one of the most beautiful as well as useful of all the arts a woman can learn. Not so romantic, perhaps, as singing, painting, writing, or teaching, even; but one that makes many happy and comfortable, and home the sweetest place in the world. Yes, you may open your big eyes; but it is a fact that I had rather see you a good house-keeper than the greatest belle in the city. It need not interfere with any talent you may possess, but it is a necessary part of your training, and I hope that you will set about it at once, now that you are well and strong.
– excerpt from “Eight Cousins”, by Louisa May Alcott
Currently re-reading this novel, Uncle Alec’s house-keeping ideals couldn’t be more true, or better said.
All through the centuries, keeping house was a recognized position. A woman’s worth was not measured by her income, it was measured by her accomplishments and temperament. The upper class had time to spend on finer accomplishments – languages, painting, drawing, needlework, etc. The lower class focused on practical accomplishments – sewing, cooking, house work, etc. One was encouraged to also be an attractive personality, and grow in virtues of charity, patience, understanding, courage, perseverance, etc. But for both upper and lower class, was the art of house-keeping. Whether you were married to the blacksmith, or married to the Squire, you had a job to do in keeping house.
I remember my mom once saying on the phone, when asked her profession, that she was a “domestic engineer”. This answer was readily accepted, no further questions asked. But would the same response have been given if she had answered with “stay-at-home mom” ? Perhaps it’s the connotation that comes with the phrase “stay-at-home”, which I suppose could sound like a leisurely past time you choose instead of going out to an evening party. “Domestic engineer” does sound more like a pointed purposeful position.
Position titles aside, both come with the necessity of keeping-house, which is a far more complex endeavour then given credit for. A home should be the sanctuary of a family, a safe haven, where all the cares and worries of the world are wiped off your feet on the front door matt, and you are free to be loved, encouraged, and cherished openly and without reservation. With this care and attention come daily necessities, such as food, cleanliness, warmth, beauty in things surrounding you, etc. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, comfortable and nice things, may sound rather trite and odious to some, but there is so much more skill needed in doing these things then is realized. If these tasks aren’t done with love and care, they don’t mean half as much. Anyone can prepare food if necessary, particularly when Costco’s frozen food section is filled with such a vast variety. But real cooking takes time, energy, and a certain devotion in learning how to do things. Anyone can pull out a swiffer mop, dust, vacuum and call it clean. But cleanliness isn’t in the larger things, it’s in the details; grout groves, door jams, polished glass – strong arms and determination. Housekeeping – the key ingredient to a home – is so looked down on now, is it any wonder houses are no longer “homes”, homes no longer the centre, families no longer the root of an individual, and the world is so full of people who don’t understand true love.
If proper care and attention went into teaching girls the purpose and beauty of making a home, there would be happier and more fruitful homes and families. Housekeeping isn’t to be scoffed at, or seen as inferior, or for those incapable or undesiring of a “real profession”. On the contrary, it takes a truly conscious effort and willpower, backed by love, to effectually complete the task of housekeeper. And a housekeeper is rewarded with the best of all – the satisfaction of knowing and seeing you’ve made others happy and content.