This is probably due to two causes: the first is because women dissatisfied with housework are rapidly finding positions in business where they enjoy rights and privileges denied them in domestic labor; and the second is because the great majority of women engaged in housework are foreign-born. These women learn quickly to understand and speak English, but they do not often read and write it, and as they are kept in close confinement in their employer’s house, they have rarely the opportunity of hearing about the emancipation of the modern working woman. Most of them are of a very humble origin, and being debarred from business positions on account of their ignorance and inexperience, they are thankful to earn money in any kind of employment regardless of the length of working hours.
Their children, however, who are American born and enjoy better educational advantages, do not follow in their footsteps when the time comes for them to earn their living. They become stenographers, typewriters, dressmakers, milliners, shirt waist makers, cash-girls, saleswomen, etc.; in fact any occupation where work is limited to a fixed number of hours a day and confined to six days a week, is considered more desirable than housework. The result is that the housewife is compelled to take for her employees only those who are rejected by every other employer; the capable, independent, intelligent American woman is hardly ever seen in domestic service.
In Washington, D.C., a law (the La Follette Eight Hour Law for Women in the District of Columbia) was recently passed limiting to eight hours a day and six days a week practically all work in which women are industrially employed; “hotel servants” are included under the provisions of this law, but “domestic servants in private homes” are expressly excluded.
If this new law be considered a just and humane measure for women who are business employees, and if business houses be compelled to observe it, one naturally wonders why it should not prove to be an equally just and humane law for women who work in private families, and why should not the home be compelled to observe it too? Instead of being a barrier to progress, the home ought to cooeperate with the state in the enforcement of laws for the amelioration of the condition of working women. The home, being presided over by a woman, presumably of some education and intelligence, should be a most fitting place in which to apply a law designed to protect women against excessive hours of labor.
Why should housework in private homes be an exception to all other work? Is it because some housewives say, in self justification and frequently without an accurate knowledge of what it is to do housework week after week without one day’s release, that housework is easier than other work? Is it easier? Is it not sometimes harder? However, it is not a question of housework being harder or easier than other work, but of the desirability of having it limited to eight hours a day and six days a week. Why should the housewife be allowed to remain in such a state of apathy in regard to the physical welfare of her household employees?