IX.

IDEALS OF BETTERMENT.

In view of the general purpose of this investigation, it isproper to discuss in conclusion the question of the improvementof Philadelphia Negro domestic service. In the first place, whatremedies or improvements in domestic service have already beentried with any measure of success? The answer to this questionshould indicate the lines along which progress may be expected.

The only two scientific studies of the subject up to thepresent time, are those of Mr. Charles Booth and of Miss Salmon,who in 1897 published her 300-page book entitled "DomesticService." Mr. Booth's treatment of the subject is purelystatistical, simply stating and grouping facts; it has no theoryof betterment to offer. But Miss Salmon, besides givingstatistics of American domestic service, also treats the questionin its historical aspects and considers it philosophically andpractically, with an eye to its probable future development andto possible remedies for present difficulties.

Hence the best, perhaps the only answer, to the above questionnow to be found in print is that given by Miss Salmon in theclosing chapters of her book; and a brief abstract of thosechapters is therefore given here, with her permission.

Before suggesting any plan of betterment, Miss Salmonenumerates and discards various "doubtful remedies,"such as the removal of all difficulties by the application of thegolden rule, employing the system of service books in vogue inGermany, introducing domestic training in the public schools, andother methods. All these plans fail, says the author, becausethey assume that the adjustment to be made is a purely personalone, whereas larger relations--political, economic, industrialand social--are, in point of fact involved; and she believes thatreform in domestic service, if it is to succeed, "must beaccomplished along the same general economic lines as are reformsin other great departments of labor." She shows thatdomestic service, though apparently isolated from otherdepartments of the world's work, has been powerfully affected byinventions, by political revolutions and social changes,by the commercial development of the country and theintroduction of the factory system, which took out of thehousehold once and for all the making of men's garments,many kinds of woolen wear, boots and shoes, hats, gloves, etc.,together with the preparation of many kinds of food now madechiefly in factories--cheese, canned vegetables, ice cream, etc.

Having shown that domestic labor is not isolated but forms anintegral and closely interwoven part of the social fabric, theauthor turns to consider possible remedies which can succeed onlyas they harmonize with the all-pervasive economic tendencies ofmodern times. Miss Salmon first enumerates these tendencies anddeclares them to be:

"1. The tendency toward concentration of capital and labor in industry, shown in pools, trusts, department stores, etc.

"2. The tendency toward specialization in every department of labor.

"3. The tendency toward collective action growing from (1) and (2).

"4. The tendency toward profit-sharing and similar methods constantly becoming more far-reaching.

"5. The tendency toward greater industrial independence of women."

 

The first of the remedies suggested by Miss Salmon asrunning in harmony with these tendencies is specialization ofhousehold employments. This is an important point deserving ofmost careful consideration. It is true that all advancement yetmade in household employments has involved division of labor andunconscious co-operation; as, for instance, when spinning andweaving, once done by the women at home, was removed to thefactory; next, when the sewing machine took the making ofunderclothing largely out of the home and made of it the"white goods" industry. Cheese, a home product till1860, is now wholly factory made.

It is important to notice that all these articles, both offood and clothing, though at first more expensive when factorymade, are now both better and more cheaply made outside thehousehold. The presumption is that other articles now in atransition state (such, for example, as glass-canned fruits andpreserves, jellies, pickles, bread, cake, pastry, pressed meats,condensed milk, butter, etc.) would soon be among those thingsmade both better and more cheaply out ofthe house than within, were the demand for them sufficient. Thesethings, if purchased through women's exchanges, are moreexpensive only because the "demand for them has thus farbeen limited." The author believes that their cheapeningwould follow upon their greater demand, together with improvedquality, as has been the case with clothing, etc. She showsfurther that the delivery of practically all articles of foodready for the final application of heat is possible throughbusiness enterprise and scientific experiment, and believes thatthis would go a long way toward solving the "servantquestion" by taking most of the domestics out of the houseand thus lessening the strain of personal relations of employerand employe. Employers would welcome such a change. The situationwould be improved for the employee also, since many women couldretain their homelife and at the same time earn money and supporttheir families.21 This change, it is pointed out,"is in direct line with the tendency toward specializationeverywhere else found, in that it enables each person to doexclusively that thing which she can do best; it allows theconcentration of labor and capital and thus economizes andsecures the largest results; it retains the woman's homelifewithout sacrificing her bread-winning opportunities; it improvesthe quality of products, thus made under the most favorableconditions; it brings the work of every cook into competitionwith the work of every other cook and thus incites improvement;it applies the principle of unconscious co-operation and thusharmonizes with other business activities."

That the laundry department also could thus be taken outsidethe household will not be questioned, since Troy laundriesalready do many articles better and more cheaply than can be doneat home. Troy prices would lessen with increased demand andcompetition among laundries.

The care of lawns, gardens and orchards in summer, and offurnaces in winter, also tends to become a business in itself;and many cases are recorded of men who care for eight or tendifferent furnaces, or who have charge of from ten to fifteenlawns or gardens, and of women who wash windows once a week for alarge number of families.

There are many reasons why this tendency should develop. Ithas much in its favor, while the only objection to it--that thecost of living would be increased--is not valid, since it iscertain that the added expense would only be temporary, as in thecase of factory-made garments, and would finally operatedecidedly to cheapen living expenses.

The second possible remedy suggested is profit-sharing,and its application to housework is interesting. "It ispossible," says Miss Salmon, "to fix a sum, as $50 or$100 for monthly expenses, including food, fuel, lights, a pro-ratafor guests, etc. If by care in the use of materials theexpenses amount to but $45 or $90 monthly, the $5 or $10 savedcan be divided according to a proportion previously agreed upon,between the employer and the employees; the cook, who is in aposition to save most, receiving the greatest percentageof the bonus."

Domestics thus become interested partners in the concern andwith most satisfactory results. Miss Salmon states that this isnot untested theory but has been successfully practiced andactually does place the household on a business basis.

A third possible remedy proposed is thorough educationin household science. It is maintained that the organization of agreat professional school fully equipped for the study ofdomestic science and open only to graduates of the leadingcolleges and universities would start household science in theright direction--that in which advancement in all otheroccupations has been made--and thus make possible true progressand further harmonious development in this "belatedindustry." 22

The result, should these remedies be applied on a large scale,Miss Salmon believes would be far-reaching and of inestimablevalue. She says: "This readjustment of work and thewillingness of large numbers of women to work for remunerationwould be as productive of improvement in all household affairs asdivision of labor has been elsewhere. A far-reaching benefit issuggested by Maria Mitchell when she says:--'the dressmakershould no more be a universal character than the carpenter.Suppose every man should feel it his duty to do his ownmechanical work of all kinds--would society be benefited?--wouldthe work be well done? Yet a woman is expected to know how to doall kinds of sewing, all kinds of cooking, all kinds of any"woman's work," and the consequence is that life ispassed in learning these only, while the universe of truth beyondremains unentered.' It must be said in conclusion," theauthor continues, "that little can be accomplished indomestic reform except through the use of means which alreadyexist, developing these along lines marked out by industrialprogress in other fields."

This brief extract gives the gist of the best thought thus fardevoted to the subject. Now, we must ask ourselves, how can allthis be applied to Negro domestic service in Philadelphia? Whatfacts now existing in service there can be laid hold of anddeveloped along these lines of progress observed in other fieldsof industry ?

Most of the facts of Negro domestic service which are amenableto such adaptation and development are to be found under the headof specialization of employments. Considerable outside service isalready being done by colored people in Philadelphia. The degreeto which laundry work, for example, has been removed from thehousehold may be seen by the fact that there are but thirty-oneprivate laundresses in the ward, while 1097 colored women in theward support their families by taking in washing or doing"day's work," as they call washing by the day at theemployer's house. There is every evidence that sending out thewashing instead of keeping a laundress as one of the regulardomestics is more satisfactory both to employer and employee; forthe laundress would rather do the work at home, and often must doit there or not at all when there are young children in herfamily, while the employer gains a peaceful Monday and Tuesday byhaving the work done out, besides saving the slight but constantexpense of coal and washing supplies. Aside from these 1097individual laundresses in the ward, there are also two regularlaundries managed by Negro families, where all the workingmembers of the family are busily employed for six days inthe week with the work of a large number of families. Suchcolored people as these are justly jealous of the work given toChinamen, while many native Negroes cannot get work to do. Thereis no doubt that successful and excellent laundries would grow upunder the management of Philadelphia colored men and women ifemployers could be satisfied to "put the washing out"and to admit the possibility of having clothing laundered on someother week day than that which was usual in the Plymouth colony.The domestic economy of America to-day is more complex than wasthat of the Plymouth colony, and we can very easily make dueallowance for the fact by letting our laundresses choose theirown "Monday."

Another branch of domestic work showing the specializingtendency is that known as "general work," which withmen servants usually denotes care of furnaces, cleaning the frontof the house, etc. Nearly all of these men do such work for aconsiderable number of families and devote their entire time toit. One man was encountered who was in charge of the furnaces and"outside work" of not less than eight differentestablishments. In this direction employers could easilyco-operate to effect further specialization, as only a littleover two per cent of Negro male wage-earners are at presentgeneral workers. It was observed that such men were found almostexclusively in the more fashionable and wealthy quarter, whileelsewhere the waiter manservant undertook the outside work aspart of his duty. The specializing tendency in this department ofNegro service is much less marked than in the laundry work. Stillprogress in the right direction is practicable, since thetendency, though not greatly developed, still exists.

A much more significant fact in the matter of specializationof work is the presence in the Seventh Ward alone, ofeighty-three colored caterers and cateresses, whose employment byfamilies who entertain to any extent surely diminishes the needin those families for the services of such large numbers ofdomestics as would otherwise be employed by them. The use of suchoutside professional help is clearly a development in the rightdirection and the service thus secured is manifestly better,because skilled. It is equally evident that it is cheaper toemploy a caterer periodically than to keep an extra number oftrained domestics permanently employed in the household for suchoccasions. Here again, then, specialization is found actually atwork among the colored people of Philadelphia.

A fourth instance of it which is found in the city is worthciting. This is a Woman's Exchange. The preparation of foods,such as fruit in glass jars, preserves, jellies, pickles, etc.,and the making of simple garments, underwear, aprons, shirtwaists, baby's caps, etc., are the kinds of work specialized uponby the "Exchange for Women's Work," located at 756South Twelfth street, in connection with the parsonage of BethelChurch. This Exchange is outside the Seventh Ward, but is sonotable a case of the tendency here discussed that it seems wellto mention it. The articles offered for sale are of excellentquality and are sold at moderate prices. The investigator hasnoticed, in a high grade provision store on Chestnut street, notfar from Rittenhouse Square, that jellies, jams and fruits areoffered for sale bearing conspicuous sale cards marked,"Miss -------'s Pickled Peaches," "Miss --------'sCurrant Jelly," etc. This suggests that there might be anexchange for colored women's work at such provision storesand high grade groceries if the proprietors could be induced toco-operate, as many of them doubtless could be by judicious andbusiness-like suggestions from their leading customers or fromsome well-known and influential organization of women. Coloredwomen who have unusual skill in the preparation of any kind offoods might in this way be able to place their goodsadvantageously, greatly to their own benefit and also to that ofthe community of which they form often an unemployed part.

To sum up: the facts of colored domestic service which can belaid hold of and developed along the lines of specialization ofhousehold work then, are tbese facts connected with "ExtraService": (1) Laundry work can be done more conveniently andas cheaply or more cheaply outside of the house than within it,and many excellent laundresses among the married colored womenare anxious to get such work to do. (2) "Outside work,"furnace work, etc., can similarly be done by men making it theirbusiness, and a man servant thus be left free for other duties ordispensed with altogether. (3) Patronage of caterers rather thanthe employment of supernumerary domestics is a step tending tosimplify household work in large establishments and theemployment of competent colored caterers a step tending tosimplify the problem of unemployed colored men in Philadelphia.(4) Anything tending to extend the patronage of exchanges forwomen's work, and, by inducing competition in such work, tocheapen articles so offered for sale is a step in the directionof taking food preparation outside the household, and anythingtending to secure a steady sale for the work of skilled coloredcooks in such exchanges is a step in the direction of solvingthe "colored unemployed" problem of Philadelphia withall the degradation and suffering implied in that problem.

In regard to the second possible remedy proposed by MissSalmon, it can only be said that the method of profit-sharing isas practicable with colored as with white or foreignemployes--perhaps more so since colored domestics areproverbially "anxious to please."

The third possible remedy suggested--thorough education inhousehold affairs--aims to remove the odium now attaching todomestic service and to attract competent people to theemployment by raising it to the rank of a profession. ThePhiladelphia colored people have already thought this subjectthrough for themselves. A woman physician who is well known inPhiladelphia, one of the most intelligent and interesting womenof either race, said to the present investigator: "Ifdomestic service were made more honorable, more tolerable, morehuman, it would not be so unpopular. If we had good trainingschools for service it would become an honorable branch ofbusiness. Mr. Booker Washington believes in 'putting brains intocommon work,' and that is just what I say about domestic labor.If a girl is taught to cook skillfully and to buy economicallyshe becomes a dignified laborer. A trained worker is alwayshonorable and dignified. I have often said there should be aschool to train domestics. Many girls want to work who can't getthe opportunity. If you ask them 'What do you understanddoing?--What do you represent?' they say, 'I don't know how to doanything well;' it is a most lamentable answer and a most commonone. But they want to learn; if you ask, 'Would you goand work for fifty cents a week and be trained?' they will say:'yes, willingly.' And I believe that we should have a school ofinstruction with a regular course, where graduates who reach acertain degree of excellence get a certificate of efficiency. Letthis school be an employment bureau also. Such an arrangementwould be a help both ways, to the employee and to the competentamong the employed."

That this idea of Dr. -----'s could be made workable seemsunquestionable when we study the situation in London as shown byMr. Booth. There the girls from the workhouse schools, who haveonly the merest rudiments of training in household affairs, arenevertheless in such demand in London service that, as Mr. Boothsays:23 "There is no difficulty in finding placesfor the girls from the workhouse schools as the demand farexceeds the supply." The M. A. B. Y. S. (MetropolitanAssociation for Befriending Young Servants) has organized anemployment bureau where these young servant girls may be engaged,and at this office the protection of the girl is insured byobliging the mistress to sign a form of agreement stating thenumber in her family, work required, wages paid, privilegesgranted, etc. The detailed workings of this bureau and itsfriendly connection with the girls after their places are securedare set forth fully in Mr. Booth's book. The chief thing to benoted here is the remarkable demand which actually exists forgirls having any training at all, which fact leaves little doubtthat the training does distinctly add to the value of theservant. A training school for domestic training could easily beestablished in Philadelphia in connection with institutionsalready organized. The best known colored institute in the cityof Philadelphia is already doing admirable work in manualtraining and the teaching of trades from the building trades tomillinery and dressmaking. Would it not be practicable to addcourses in domestic science and economy, chemistry andsanitation, etc., to which only graduates of the instituteshould be admitted and where certificates should begranted only to graduates attaining a certain rank in their work,both theoretical and practical? An employment bureau inconnection with such a training school could be undertaken on afair business basis by some philanthropic or civic association,to insure fair treatment, as is done by the M. A. B. Y. S. inLondon. Such a plan would undoubtedly be facilitated by thepresence at the head of this particular institution at thepresent time of one of the most gifted and progressive women inPhiladelphia, whose views on domestic service are the leadingones in modern domestic reform.

In closing this paper it may be well to point out that thesesuggestions, all of which are in line with the views of the bestthinkers upon the subject of reform in the administration ofhousehold matters, would obviate in large measure the greatestdifficulties in the domestic service of to-day. What are thesedifficulties? In England the two greatest, in the opinion of Mr.Booth, are the dullness of the domestic servants' life and thedifficulty of the personal relations between employer andemployed. The same is true of American domestic service, with theadded drawback of loss of social standing, which in this countryis the greatest objection of all, though hardly consciously feltin England. When the domestic becomes a "trained worker,honorable and dignified," this great objection will beremoved, and it is clear that minimizing the number of domesticsemployed within the household would do away in large measure withthe difficulty of the personal relations between mistress andmaid, while the domestics thus set free to perform their specialwork according to their own methods, and in their own homes,would have no more reason to complain of the dullness of suchlife than a dressmaker or milliner would have. With the removalof these obstacles, better ability would enter domestic service,and the industry would become more honorable as well as moreendurable and attractive to domestics, who we sometimes forgetare also human beings, and naturally wish to live the lives ofhuman beings.

 

ENDNOTES:

21 A long list of bread-winners among women isgiven ("Domestic Service," page 219 et seq.)showing how women are wholly or partly supporting their familiesby preparing in their homes articles of food for sale inneighboring large cities, each woman usually making largequantities of only one or two articles, e.g., Saratoga potatoes,sold in large quantities to grocers, jams and pickles, chickensalad, cake, etc.

22 So called by Miss Addams in a recent address.

23 "Life and Labour of the People,"Charles Booth, Vol. 8, p. 215 aud following.

 

 

From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Special Report (Part IX),pp. 500-509.


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