THE COST OF SHELTER
ELLEN H. RICHARDS
Instructor in Sanitary Chemistry,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
THE HOUSEHOLD EXISTS FOR ONE OR MORE
OF THE FOLLOWING REASONS:
Two or more persons form an alliance
- for protection against the outside world;
- for protection against the outside world
and for the rearing of children;
- for the greater gain in convenience which the common life can give
over that of single effort;
- for companionship;
- for the greater independence it gives to the group;
- for the greater ease in satisfying one's prejudices or whims.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE HOUSE AND WHAT IT SIGNIFIES IN FAMILY LIFE. TYPIFIED IN
PIONEER AND COLONIAL HOMES, THE CENTRES OF INDUSTRY AND
THE HOUSE CONSIDERED AS A MEASURE OF SOCIAL STANDING
LEGACIES FROM THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, ILL ADAPTED TO CHANGED
CONDITIONS, CAUSE PHYSICAL DETERIORATION AND DOMESTIC FRICTION
THE PLACE OF THE HOUSE IN THE SOCIAL ECONOMY OF THE TWENTIETH
POSSIBILITIES IN SIGHT PROVIDED THE HOUSEWIFE IS PROGRESSIVE
COST PER PERSON AND PER FAMILY FOR VARIOUS GRADES OF SHELTER
RELATION BETWEEN COST OF SHELTER AND TOTAL INCOME TO BE EXPENDED
TO RENT OR TO OWN: A DIFFICULT QUESTION
A FEW BOOKS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Morris Company's Block of Single Houses, with Central
The Morris Building Company's Block of Single Houses, with
Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.
Aerial-view Drawing: The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.
Floor-plan Drawing: The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.
Floor-plan Drawing: The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.
Fig. 6.—Old Kitchen Remodelled. (Stone, Carpenter &
Wilson, Architects, Providence, R.I.) Looking toward the range. Servants'
sitting-room beyond; porcelain sink at left; boiler.
Fig. 7.—Old Kitchen Remodelled. Showing glass shelves
and labelled glass jars for all stores. Glass mixing table at left.
Figs. 8 and 9.—House for "Mrs. L.," Anywhere in temperate
America, to cost $5000, if it must not more.
Figs. 10 and 11.—House for "Mrs. L.," Anywhere in
temperate America, to cost only $3000, if possible.
(Josselyn & Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa).
THE COST OF SHELTER.
THE HOUSE AND WHAT IT SIGNIFIES IN FAMILY LIFE; TYPIFIED IN
PIONEER AND COLONIAL HOMES, THE CENTERS OF INDUSTRY AND
"There is no noble life without a noble aim."
The word Home to the Anglo-Saxon race calls to mind some definite house as
the family abiding-place. Around it cluster the memories of childhood, the
aspirations of youth, the sorrows of middle life.
The most potent spell the nineteenth century cast on its youth was the
yearning for a home of their own, not a piece of their father's. The
spirit of the age working in the minds of men led them ever westward to
conquer for themselves a homestead, forced them to go, leaving the aged
behind, and the graves of the weak on the way.
There must be a strong race principle behind a movement of such
magnitude, with such momentous consequences. Elbow room, space, and
isolation to give free play to individual preference, characterized
pioneer days. The cord that bound the whole was love of home,—one's
own home,—even if tinged with impatience of the restraints it
imposed, for home and house do imply a certain restraint in individual
wishes. And here, perhaps, is the greatest significance of the family
house. It cannot perfectly suit all members in its details, but in
its great office, that of shelter and privacy—ownership—the
house of the nineteenth century stands supreme. No other age ever provided
so many houses for single families. It stands between the community houses
of primitive times and the hives of the modern city tenements.
As sociologically defined, the family means a common house—common,
that is, to the family, but excluding all else. This exclusiveness is
foreshadowed in the habits of the majority of animals, each pair
preempting a particular log or burrow or tree in which to rear its young,
to which it retreats for safety from enemies. Primitive man first borrowed
the skins of animals and their burrowing habits. The space under fallen
trees covered with moss and twigs grew into the hut covered with bark or
sod. The skins permitted the portable tent.
It is indeed a far cry from these rude defences against wind and weather
to the dwelling-houses of the well-to-do family in any country to-day, but
the need of the race is just the same: protection, safety from danger, a
shield for the young child, a place where it can grow normally in peaceful
quiet. It behooves the community to inquire whether the houses of to-day
are fulfilling the primary purposes of the race in the midst of the
various other uses to which modern man is putting them.
As already shown, shelter in its first derivation, as well as in its
common use, signifies protection from the weather. Bodily warmth saves
food, therefore is an economy in living. From the first it also implied
protection from enemies, a safe retreat from attack and a refuge when
wounded. But above all else it has, through the ages, stood for a safe and
retired place for the bringing up of the young of the species.
The colonial houses of New England with large living-room, dominated by
the huge fireplace with its outfit of cooking utensils, with groups of
buildings for different uses clustered about them, giving protection to
the varied industries of the homestead, illustrate the most perfect type
of family life. Each member had a share in the day's work, therefore to
each it was home. To the old homestead many a successful business man
returns to show his grandchildren the attic with its disused loom and
spinning-wheel; the shop where farm-implements were made, in the days of
long winter storms, to the accompaniment of legend and gossip; the dairy,
no longer redolent of cream. These are reminders of a time past and gone,
before the greed of gain had robbed even these houses of their peace. The
backward glance of this generation is too apt to stop at the transition
period, when the factory had taken the interesting manufactures out of the
hands of the housewife and left the homestead bereft of its best, when the
struggle to make it a modern money-making plant, for which it was never
designed, drove the young people away to less arduous days and more
This stage of farm life was altogether unlovely, not wholly of necessity,
but because the adjustment was most painful to the feelings and most
difficult to the muscles of the elders.
Because the family ideal was the ruling motive, the house-building of the
colonial period shows a more perfect adaptation to family life than any
other age has developed.
Where is the boasted adaptability of the American? He should be ready to
see the effect of the inevitable mechanical changes and modify his ideas
to suit. For it cannot be too often reiterated that it is a case of
ideas, not of wood and stone and law.
This homestead has passed into history as completely as has the Southern
colonial type, differing only in arrangement. Climate, as well as domestic
conditions, demanded a more complete separation of the manufacturing
processes, including cooking, laundry, etc., otherwise the ideal was the
same. "The house" meant a family life, a gracious hospitality, a busy hive
of industry, a refuge indeed from social as well as physical storms. Work
and play, sorrow and pleasure, all were connected with its outward
presentment as with the thought. For its preservation men fought and women
toiled, but, alas! machinery has swept away the last vestige of this life
and, try as the philanthropist may to bring it back, it will never return.
The very essence of that life was the making of things, the
preparation for winter while it was yet summer, the furnishing of the
bridal chest years before marriage. Fancy a bride to-day wearing or using
in the house anything five years old!
There are no more pioneer and colonial communities on this continent.
Railroads and steamboats and electric power have made this rural life a
thing of the past. Let us not waste tears on its vanishing, but address
ourselves to the future.
There are two directions in which great change in household conditions has
occurred quite outside the volition of the housekeeper. They are the
disappearance of industries, and lack of permanence in the homestead.
Those who are busily occupied in productive work of their own are
contented and usually happy. The results of their efforts, stored for
future use—barns filled with hay or grain, shelves of linen and
Destructive consumption may be pleasurable for the moment, but does not
satisfy. The child pulls the stuffing from the doll with pleasure, but
asks for another in half an hour. The delicious meal daintily served is a
joy for an hour. A room put in perfect order, clean, tastefully decorated,
is a delight to the eye for three hours and then it must be again cleaned
and rearranged. Is this productive work? Is there any reason why we should
be satisfied with it or happy in it?
In an earlier time, that from which we derive so many of our cherished
ideals, the house built by or for the young people was used as a homestead
by their children and their children's children. Customs grew up slowly,
and for some reason. Furniture, collected as wanted, found its place; all
the routine went as by clockwork. Saturday's baking of bread and pies went
each on to its own shelf, as the cows went each to her own stall. If the
duties were physically hard, the routine saved worrying.
To-day how few of us live in the house we began life with! How few in that
we occupied even ten years ago! And this number is growing smaller and
smaller. The housewife has not time to form habits of her own; she engages
a maid and expects her to fall at once into the family ways, when the
family has no ways.
In the sociological sense, shelter may mean protection from noise, from
too close contact with other human beings, enemies only in the sense of
depriving us of valuable nerve-force. It should mean sheltering the
children from contact with degrading influences.
Charles P. Neill, United States Commissioner of Labor, in his address at
the New York School of Philanthropy, July 16, 1905, said: "In my own
estimation home, above all things, means privacy. It means the possibility
of keeping your family off from other families. There must be a separate
house, and as far as possible separate rooms, so that at an early period
of life the idea of rights to property, the right to things, to privacy,
may be instilled."
There may be such a thing as too much shelter. To cover too closely breeds
decay. Are we in danger of covering ourselves and our children too closely
from sun and wind and rain, making them weak and less resistant than they
should be? The prevalence of tuberculosis and its cure by fresh air seems
to indicate this. The attempt to gain privacy under prevailing conditions
tends this way.
Hitherto students of social economics have usually considered the most
pressing problem in the life of the wage-earner to be that of sufficient
and suitable food. But in any large city and in most smaller communities
there are found those who have refined instincts, aspirations for a life
of physical and moral cleanness, who by force of circumstances are obliged
to come in contact with filth and squalor and careless disorder in order
to find shelter. If they can be kept from degenerating, their rise when
it comes will lift those below them, but it is a Herculean task to lift
them by lifting all below as well. The burden which presses most heavily
on this valuable material for social betterment is that of shelter rather
than of food.
The thought underlying this whole series on Cost is that the place to put
the leaven of progress is in the middle. The class to work for is the
great mass of intelligent, industrious, and ambitious young people turned
out by our public schools with certain ideals for self-betterment, but in
grave danger of losing heart in the crush due to the pressure of society
around them and above them. They fear to incur the responsibility of
marriage when they see the pecuniary requirements it involves.
This growing body makes up so large a proportion of the whole in America
that, once aroused, it may become an all-powerful force for regeneration,
thanks to the pervading influence of public-school education when enlisted
on the side of right. Faith in the uprightness of American youth is so
strong that strenuous effort for their enlightenment is justified. Once
they have their attention drawn to the need of action, they will act.
Self-preservation is one of the strongest instincts, and it may be
dangerous to call upon the self-interest of these inexperienced souls; but
for the sake of the results we must risk the lesser evil, if we can
develop a resolution to secure a personal and race efficiency.
When the young people, with a deep appreciation of the possibilities of
sane and wholesome living, marry and attempt to realize their ideals, the
conditions are all against them. They find little sympathy in their
yearnings for a rational life, and soon give up the effort, deciding that
they are too peculiar. They slip almost insensibly into the routine of
their neighbors. There is great need of a cooperation of like-minded young
married people to form a little community, setting its own standards and
living a fairly independent life. Two or three such groups would do more
than many sermons to awaken attention to the problem before the race
to-day. Shall man yield himself to the tendencies of natural selection and
be modified out of existence by the pressure of his environment, or shall
he turn upon himself some of the knowledge of Nature's forces he has
gained and by "conscious evolution" begin an adaptation of the environment
to the organism? For we no longer hold with Robert Owen and the socialists
that man is necessarily controlled and moulded by his surroundings, that
he is absolutely subject to the laws of animal evolution. A new era will
dawn when man sees his power over his own future. Then, and not till then,
will come again that willingness to sacrifice present ease and pleasure
for the sake of race progress, which alone can make the restrained life a
The environment is, more largely than we think, the house and the manner
of life it forces upon us. Therefore the first point of attack is the
shelter under which the family life of the newly married pair establishes
itself. If it is too large for their income, it leads to extravagance and
debt before the first two years have passed; if it is too small, it cramps
the generous and hospitable impulses. If unsuited to this need, it
irritates and deforms character, as a plaster cast compresses a limb
encased in it.
Imagine the young people beginning life in the average city flat, at a
rent of twenty to thirty dollars a month, with its shams, its makeshifts,
its depressing, unsanitary, morally unsafe quarters for the maid, its
friction with janitor and landlord—the whole sordid round
necessitated by the mere manner of building, and by that only.
A few strong souls flee to the country. Counting the cost and finding that
all the earnings go to mere living, they decide to get that living in
company with nature under free skies—their own employers. Such may
live in Altruria with the happy zest of the authors of that charming sketch.
It is not given to many of earth's children to be so well mated and so
heavenly-wise. The young man has been brought up to consider the house the
young wife's prerogative, and she—well, she has been trained to
believe that housewifely wisdom will come to her as unsought as measles.
Two thirds the friction in the early years of married life is caused by
the house and its defects, resulting in dissatisfaction, disenchantment,
and the flight to a hotel or non-housekeeping apartment.
If some of the problems to be faced and the difficulties in solving them
could be presented to the young people to be studied and discussed before
the actual encounter came, they would be more prepared.
In discussing this part of the subject, as in the consideration of the
Cost of Living in general and the Cost of Food, we shall deal in
particular with incomes of from $1000 to $5000 a year for families of
five, recognizing that under present-day conditions the annual sum of
$1500 to $3000 means the greatest struggle between desires and power of
On the surface it appears that the things which go to make up delicate
cleanly living cost more and more each year, with no limit in sight. It is
not only the poet who moves from one boarding-house to another; the young
clerk and struggling business man go into smaller and smaller quarters
until the traditional limit of room to swing a cat is reached.
The constantly diminishing space occupied by a family seems to prove that
the 40% increase in the cost of living within a few years is not caused
by an advance in the necessary cost of food; it is certainly not due to
the increased cost of necessary clothes. It is more than probable that the
increasing cost of shelter and all that it implies—increased
water-supply, service, repairs, etc.—is the main factor in the
undoubtedly increased expense. This will be considered in some detail in
While the socialist may take the ground that salaries must be raised to
keep pace with the rise in living expenses, the student of social
ethics—Euthenics, or the science of better living—may
well ask a consideration of the topic from another standpoint. Is this
increased cost resulting in higher efficiency? Are the people growing more
healthy, well-favored, well-proportioned, stronger, happier? If not, then
is there not a fallacy in the common idea that more money spent means a
Recent examination of school children in various cities in England and
America has revealed a state of physical ill-being most deplorable in the
present, and horrifying to contemplate for its future results. One has
only to keep one's eyes open in passing the streets to become aware of the
physical deterioration of thousands of the wage-earners. One has only to
listen to the housewife's complaints of inefficiency, lack of strength
among the housemaids, to realize that the world's work is not being well
done in so far as it depends upon human hands.
This loss of efficiency is usually attributed to insufficient food and
long hours, but it is at least an open question if housing conditions are
not the more potent factor not only in the case of the very poor, but even
in the case of the family having an income of $2000 a year. Life in a
boarding-house adapted from the use by one family to that of five or six
without increase of bathing and ventilating conveniences, with old-style
plumbing, cannot be mentally or bodily invigorating.
The house cannot be said to be a place of safety so long as the "great
white plague" lurks in every dark corner—tuberculosis, colds,
influenza, etc., fasten themselves upon its occupants. Explorers exposed
to extremes of weather do not thus suffer. The dark, damp house incubates
But homes there must be: places of safety for children, of refuge for
elders. Men will marry and women may keep house. How shall it be managed
so as to be in harmony with present-day demands? Certainly not by ignoring
the difficulties. Progress in any direction does not come through wringing
of hands and deploring the decadence of the present generation. President
Roosevelt's advice is to bring up boys and girls to overcome obstacles,
not to ignore them. Let the educated, intelligent young people join in
devising a way to surmount this obstacle as the engineers of 1890 invented
new ways of crossing impassable gorges and "impossible" mountain ranges.
The writer has no ready-prepared panacea to offer. Patent medicine is not
the remedy. This kind cometh out only by fasting and prayer. A long course
of diet is needed to cure a chronic disease.
This little volume is intended merely as a spur to the imagination of the
indolent student, to arouse him to the mental effort required to deal with
the readjustment of ideas to conditions before it is too late.
It is no exaggeration to say that the social well-being of the community
is threatened. The habits of years are broken up; sad to say, the
middle-aged will suffer unrelieved, but the young can be incited to
grapple with the situation and hew out for themselves a way through.
Certain elements in the problem will be touched upon in the following
pages as a result of much going to and fro in the "most favored land on
earth." Certain questions will be raised as to what constitutes a home and
a shelter for the family in the twentieth-century sense of both family and
THE HOUSE CONSIDERED AS A MEASURE OF SOCIAL STANDING.
It is not what we lack, but what we see others have,
that makes us discontented.
There has been noted in every age a tendency to measure social preëminence
by the size and magnificence of the family abode. Mediaeval castles,
Venetian palaces, colonial mansions, all represented a form of social
importance, what Veblen has called conspicuous waste. This was largely
shown in maintaining a large retinue and in giving lavish entertainments.
The so-called patronage of the arts—furnishings, fabrics, pictures,
statues, valued to this day—came under the same head of rivalry in
In America a similar aspiration results in immense establishments far
beyond the needs of the immediate family. But, unlike society in the
middle ages, social aspiration does not stop short at a well-defined line.
In the modern state each level reaches up toward the next higher and,
failing to balance itself, drops into the abyss which never fills.
There is no contented layer of humanity to equalize the pressure; heads
and hands are thrust up through from below at every point. Democracy has
taken possession of the age and must be reckoned with on all sides.
At first sight sumptuous housing might seem to be the least objectionable
form of conspicuous waste. Safer than rich food, less wasteful than
gorgeous clothing, but, as Veblen truly says, "through discrimination in
favor of visible consumption it has come about that the domestic life of
most classes is relatively shabby. As a consequence people habitually
screen their private life from observation." This is from a different
motive than the instinct of privacy, of personal withdrawal for rest and
quiet. This shabby private life is why true hospitality is disappearing.
The chance guest is no longer welcome to the family table; we are ashamed
of our daily routine, or we have an idea that our fare is not worthy of
being shared. Whatever it is, unconscious as it often is, it is a canker
in the family life of to-day. It leads to selfishness, to a laxness in
home manners very demoralizing. It is doubtless one of the great factors
in the distinct deterioration of children's public manners.
Because the house is held to be the visible evidence of social standing,
because its location, style of architecture, fittings and furniture may be
made to proclaim the pretensions of its inhabitants, it is often dishonest
and one of the sources of the prevalent untruth in other things, since
dishonesty in housing has been not infrequently one of the first signs of
dishonesty in business. To move to a less fashionable quarter is to
confess financial stress at once.
It is because the concomitant expenses of an establishment may be
curtailed without attracting public notice that a moral danger exists. The
outside shell is not the whole nor even the chief outlay. The operating
expenses run away with more money than the house itself, and it is in
these that the family, conscious of impending ruin, curtail, and thus
become dishonest in their own souls.
The moral of it all is to live just a little below the probable limit,
whatever that may be, rather than to assume a greater income than is quite
certain. Granted that in the quickly changing conditions of to-day this is
difficult, it is not often impossible.
It is only needed to set some other standard of social position than
shelter and to use the house for its legitimate purposes only, that of an
abode of the family in health and joyful cooperation. The class for which
this series is written should seek a shelter sufficient for these normal
uses, and make it so home-like that friends will gladly share it when
Let good manners, keen intelligence, bright and entertaining conversation
take the place of the showy but frequently uncomfortable houses and
wholesale entertainments of to-day.
It is time that a beginning was made of that form of social pleasure and
mental recreation which the century must develop, or fail of its promise.
What is the value, of present-day knowledge if not to stimulate the
conscious group, through the individual perhaps, but the group finally, to
better use of its powers and opportunities toward a higher form of social
We have been told that the house should be as much an expression of
individuality as clothes. Since clothes are constantly and easily changed,
and a family home built to order is comparatively permanent, such
expression in wood or stone should be carefully thought out; but how
rarely do we gain a pleasant impression from the houses built for the
purpose of setting forth social standards! The owner and the architect
have neither of them the highest ideals, and a sort of ready-made,
composite, often irritating, always displeasing result follows. The
pretence shows through more often than the occupant realizes.
Society has the power to regulate its own conventions. Once convinced that
it is dangerous to put the strain of living on to mere superficial
pretence, mere location, ornament, new standards will be set up; as,
indeed, they are under other conditions. In frontier life, for instance,
where shortness of tenure is recognized, dress and the table take the
place of the house as indications. In a mining town, one is astonished at
the costumes seen on persons issuing from insignificant houses, and at the
excellent bill of fare in a restaurant with the barest necessities of
furnishing. Cursory observation often reads the signs of civilization
wrongly. The eastern traveller, accustomed to the outward glitter and the
finish of settled communities, fails to interpret the real efficiency of a
more flexible society. West of the Mississippi, that new empire we are
just beginning to appreciate, good food is recognized as of prime
importance, dress gives an opportunity for showing conspicuous waste, and
buildings are made for show only when permanence of residence is assured.
Let society once thoroughly understand that safe shelter is essential to
its very life, that this safety is threatened, if not lost, by present
habits, and, by quick money-making schemes in house-building, it will
establish standards of living which shall not only be for the material
welfare, but for the mental, moral, and spiritual progress of the race.
This progress can be secured by applying centrifugal force to congested
districts, by interesting capitalists to consider housing at the same time
with manufacturing plants, not only providing safe, economical houses, but
by making it socially possible to live in them on moderate incomes.
The rising half, we must remember, is more affected by social conventions
than the submerged tenth.
The well-to-do should consider more conscientiously those who recruit
their ranks, who, if started right without danger of debt, will have
freedom to advance. The present muddle has come about in part because no
one has taken the trouble to investigate the reasons. The young family
with $3000 a year has ideals for the manners and morals of the children
which are not satisfied with those of the inexpensive tenement quarter.
Prevention they consider better than cure, hence they pay higher rent than
the income warrants to secure elevating examples and morally wholesome
A single family cannot control a whole street, although cooperation can
accomplish a great deal in the way of congenial neighborhoods. But the
risk involved, the liability to error of judgment, as well as the large
outlay of capital, at once prevents the adoption of this means of
satisfactory housing for the business and professional class to any great
extent, at least in the city. The acumen needed to discover the profitable
in real estate, the skill to acquire large contiguous tracts of land, both
belong to the capitalist. Only when he is a philanthropist besides, is the
housing question safe in his hands. Such an example we find in the Morris
houses, Willoughby Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. This set of family dwellings was
put up to meet this very need. Congenial neighborhood, safe
playgrounds for the children, labor-saving devices for the housekeeper.
When first built they were in advance of anything in an eastern city of
their class. To-day Mr. Pratt has even more advanced ideas which will take
form in the future.
These attractive and comfortable houses, so near the working places of
the teachers and professional and business men who occupy them, were
possible only because of the comparative cheapness of the land, which had
been held undesirable for high-class single houses, not for sanitary
reasons, but solely on account of social conditions. This cluster of forty
houses makes its own atmosphere. This is the lesson to be learned. Let
groups of like-minded families make their own surroundings. The capitalist
will soon learn where his interest lies.
Very probably it will be necessary to enlarge the scope and, perhaps, to
build two stories higher, so that the elders and perhaps bachelors of
both sexes, who do not care for the garden, may help to bear the expense
of the children's playground. Whatever form the advance may take, this is
a sign-post in the right direction.
In the nature of things, however, the first experiments will be costly and
must be combined with business of a sure kind. In this instance the
heating and hot-water supply was made possible by a combination with
factory plant. But if a larger group of, say, one hundred houses were run
by a central establishment, the Morris Building Company estimates the cost
at about fifty dollars per year.
These houses will be referred to again under Chapter VI, but the especial
value of this experiment was its social significance. How much better to
keep desirable land for residential purposes by such means than to permit
families to move away and give up satisfactory dwellings solely because
the lower end of the street has a few foreigners! Our older cities abound
in instances of this quick abandonment of most desirable streets without
any concerted effort to retain their character.
The dangerous sanitary degeneration of these abandoned houses is one of
the worst features of the situation and a prolific cause of the
overcrowding of cities.
The more thoughtful students of progressive tendencies are grouping
themselves in "parks" where houses are put up with the aid of the
capitalist under such restrictions as to price as is supposed to insure a
congenial neighborhood, and under such regulations as to land as to
prevent manufacturing establishments. When these plans are not purely
speculative, designed to entrap the young people by their best hopes of a
permanent home, much satisfaction may come from the plan. But even in this
country or suburban life the shadow of fashion falls sooner or later, and
the savings vanish with the years. Some deeper principle must come into
play, some stronger force than mere whim of society leaders, before our
young people can be released from the bondage of living on the right side
of a street under penalty of social ostracism.
There are gratifying indications of an awakening. The following statement
appeared in a newspaper of a recent date:
"A corporation of women has been formed in Indianapolis, Ind., for the
purpose of building small but artistic houses for people of moderate
means. All of the directors are business women; one of the vice-presidents
is Miss Elizabeth Browning, the city librarian, and another is the
principal of one of the public schools. The secretary has for some time
been in charge of the office of a savings and loan association and is the
only woman member of the Indianapolis fire insurance inspection board. Six
houses are to be erected at once in various parts of the city."
No better use of money or effort can be made at the present time than in
similar endeavors to meet the needs of the time. The study of conditions
will prove an education in itself and a stimulus to invention.
When the social conscience is once awakened the bride with $2000 a year
will not be expected to begin where her mother left off.
The young people will be provided with just as comfortable and just as
sanitary homes, but they will not be expected to entertain lavishly in
order to show the wedding presents before they are broken. They will be
visited, even if they live in an unfashionable quarter on a side street.
Is it not more honest?
If society would put its stamp on the manner of life adapted to the
welfare of the young people, it would not be unfashionable to live within
The tyranny of things is very real and most distressing in connection with
this problem of shelter and all that it involves.
There is only needed a social awakening to result in an adjustment of
men's views as to what is good and right. New social habits adapted to the
age we live in will be accepted by the next generation as good form.
LEGACIES FROM THE NINETEENTH CENTURY NOT ADAPTED TO CHANGED
CONDITIONS CAUSE PHYSICAL DETERIORATION AND DOMESTIC FRICTION.
"A large part of the evils of which we complain socially to-day
are due to the kind of houses we live in and the exactions they
make upon us."
Four classes of houses have come down to us:
The family homestead in the country set low on the ground with damp
walls and dark cellar, one of a cluster of rambling buildings; with a
well, the only water supply, in close proximity to various sources of
pollution. These houses are for the most part now abandoned to the
foreigner, who uses them for the primitive purposes of shelter without the
ennobling intellectual life they once harbored. Now and then a grandson
rescues the old place, brings water from a spring or brook, digs a drain,
lets light into the cellar, and builds on a kitchen and dining-room.
The expense is often greater than to build anew, but the effect is usually
very good when the changes are made under sanitary supervision.
The village or suburban house set in its own grounds, too near the
street usually, but with garden and fruit-trees in the rear, and possibly
a stable for horse and cow. This was the compromise made by the generation
just from the free life of the farm-house, who, consciously or
unconsciously, clung to the green of grass and trees, and the blue of the
sky. So long as habit or love of caring for the things lasted all went
well. The father found his recreation in planting the garden before
breakfast, as in his boyhood. The mother cared for flower and
vegetable-garden, as she recalled her mother's life; she picked her own
beans and corn, even if she did not cook the dinner.
But the children had to hurry off to school, and it was a pity to call
them early: they had lessons to learn in the afternoon. To them the garden
was work, not play as it should have been; so they failed to gain that
contact with mother earth which gives inspiration as well as health; they
failed to acquire a love of nature, became infected with the germ of
gregariousness, preferred the glare of lights, the rush of hurrying
crowds, and lost the relish for fresh air and quiet. This second
generation came to the city boarding-house and flat as soon as they were
free, leaving their parents' houses to go the same way as the
grandfather's farmhouse, into the hands of the foreigner not yet
Americanized to high standards of cleanliness and orderliness.
These houses, too, are settling down into unkempt grounds with
dilapidated porches and blinds. Such eyesores as one finds on the
trolley-lines in any direction! They may have town-water supply, or they
may depend on wells, but they are frequently without sewer-connection.
It is costly to be neat and clean, and only those whose minds require such
surroundings in order to be comfortable will pay the cost in time,
trouble, and money.
Some families made a compromise and built what is called a modern
house with bath-room and furnace (after the air-tight-stove craze passed),
with jigsaw ornamentation outside and in, pretentious-looking dwellings
with no proper kitchen accompaniments, and an unsavory garbage-barrel in
the small back yard, under the next neighbor's windows. These houses are
so close together that sounds and smells mingle; there is so little land
that there is no satisfaction in caring for it. Houses of this sort are
altogether too frequently found, occupying good locations and jarring on
the nerves of the better-trained young people of to-day. What is to be
done with them? They are too expensive to pull down, and hence are the
last resort of those who find they must retrench. They are mere temporary
shelters, not loved homes.
The plumbing is usually of a cheap order, and the drains are not
infrequently broken, so that sanitarily these dwellings are often more
suspicious than the abandoned farmhouse.
The influx from village and country made demand for city housing of
an inexpensive sort, and there came into being all over the land the type
of the family house squeezed by the price of land to four stories high, 16
to 20 feet wide, built in long rows and blocks. The "ugly sixties" bred
not only distressful village "villas," but unpleasant city houses of this
type, which are to-day a real menace to wholesome living. Many such blocks
may be found in any of our older cities, casting a depressing influence
upon all who come in sight of them, and deteriorating the manners and
morals of all who live in them. For these have gone the way of the other
classes mentioned and become perverted from the uses they were designed
for. In the seventies there were still motherly women who had come to town
to make a home for the children no longer content out of it. They were
willing and capable of mothering a few other children and lonely teachers
and clerks, so the boarding-house began as a real family home for the
homeless. There were not enough of these women to go around, and soon
boarding-houses began to be run for profit only. Home privileges were
fewer and fewer, the common parlor was rented, the one-family kitchen was
made to do duty for twenty persons. The house became pervaded with burned
fat and tobacco-smoke—a most villainous combination, gossip flourished,
and the limit of discomfort was reached. What wonder that a good Samaritan
built the first flat where the wearied nerves could find peace in the
thicker walls, and could escape the eternal "fry" by going out to meals!
It is a perfectly natural evolution from the impossible conditions which
the eighties and nineties developed.
The early attempts, built on the old lines after the old ideas, before the
new life was accepted, are not satisfactory and, being built of brick or
stone, they are even more difficult to get rid of than the preceding. So
each type goes down in the scale of decent living. A given roof is made to
cover more people crowding closer and closer, causing home in the sense of
privacy and comfort to recede farther and farther away, until the lover of
his kind stands aghast at the magnitude of the problem before society when
it awakens to the task confronting it. Fortunately these rows of houses
are disappearing under the demand of business. The invasion of the
residential district is a real blessing, in that it pulls down these
houses which in twenty years have outlived their usefulness and can serve
a good purpose no longer.
Let us hope that either the demands of business or the common sense of
society will also sweep away the fifth class:
City flats put up by the
conscienceless money-maker with only that idea of giving the public what
the public wants (because it knows no better) which gives the newspaper
its pernicious influences. At first it was supposed the flat-dwellers
would keep house, and arrangements of a sort were made. This compressed
the work of the house into such small quarters that the maid was given a
room down in the basement along with the furnace, or in the top story
adjoining ten or more other rooms—a dormitory arrangement without
supervision and without the quiet needed for rest. The difficulty of
securing good service under these conditions, together with the thousand
and one annoyances of living at too close quarters, noisy children and
pianos, grumpy janitors, smelly garbage, have led to the latest phase:
non-housekeeping flats with daily care of a sort supplied by the janitor
if desired, a kitchenette where eggs and coffee for breakfast and dishes
for invalids may be prepared, and restaurants galore for other meals. Thus
the women of the family are set free to roam the streets in search of
bargains and to join others like unto themselves for matinées and
This sort of shelter is increasing more rapidly than any other in all the
cities investigated. An estimate has been made that 80 or 90 per cent of
the recent building has been of this sort. Six rooms in an unfashionable
locality rent for about $25 or $30 a month; in a fashionable quarter, for
$200 to $250 per month, with a floor-space one half larger. These latter
cost about 50 cents per week per room for daily care, whereas the former,
if cared for from outside, are served only at intervals of two weeks or a
month. The inmates do most of the daily care themselves. While the
building is new and fresh this means little work; but as time goes on the
poor construction shows, the surface varnish wears off, cracks come, and a
general shabbiness appears, so that the tenant prefers to move into a new
building. The owner, or more probably the agent, puts on a little shining
varnish, and rents again without real repair, and these buildings also go
from bad to worse. Many of them are known to change tenants two or three
times a year. There is always a demand for the newest house.
A study of social conditions reveals the fact that for the larger part of
the wage-earners the house has come to be the place where money is spent,
not earned or even saved. It has gone back to its primitive use—
shelter from weather and a sleeping-place, a temporary one at that. A
real-estate authority has made the assertion that three fifths of the
rent-payers in large cities are made up of non-householders and one half of
these are confined to one room—mostly women. This indicates a change
in requirements for the housing of the individual as distinguished from the
family. And it is this element which has complicated city living to a
great extent, and to which attention has been drawn by the accusation that
home life is shirked by it.
To the bachelor man and maid are added the commercial traveller who leaves
wife and possibly child behind four fifths of the time. For him, as for
several other classes of young business men, the locality which he can
choose for headquarters changes with the requirements of business. He is
under orders and must go at a moment's notice across the continent,
perhaps. It is not his fault but the exigency of business that destroys
the desire for a permanent abiding-place. The numbers of such homeless
young people are far greater than any one but the real-estate agent
realizes. Then this loosening of the home tie renders easy the shifting
from city to country and seashore. A considerable proportion of the $2000
to $5000 class shut up the flat or leave the boarding-house several times
in the year. There is usually one place where the furniture and
bric-a-brac and the other season's clothing are kept, but it is only a
storehouse or a temporary retreat that holds their property, growing less
and less as they move, until they may practically live in their trunks.
The legacy which outranks all the others in disastrous consequences is the
notion that the young people must begin where their parents left off; that
the house must be, if anything, a little more elaborate. Therefore in
starting life the rent is allowed to consume one third the income in
sight, without considering the cost of maintaining such an establishment.
With a probable income of $2000 a year the young man does not hesitate to
pay $500 for a house, not realizing that at least half as much more should
be spent on wages for the care of the nineteenth-century house, and as
much more on incidentals, car-fares, and unexpected demands. What wonder
that the young people find themselves in debt by the second year?
The parents are quite as much, if not more, to blame for encouraging this
extravagance. The father and mother are entitled to their ease and to the
use of their income for it, but the newly married pair have, in this age,
no right to assume the same attitude. They have their way to make, their
work to do in the years ahead of them. They should not mortgage the future
for the sake of the present luxury; and because of the uncertainties of
occupation and of health it is wise to take out of the expected income one
fourth or one third for a reserve fund and divide the remainder for
expenses. For instance, from $2000 a year subtract $500, then divide the
$1500 into $300 for rent, $300 for food, $300 for operating expenses, $200
for clothing, $200 for travel, leaving $200 for the other expenses. If
unlooked-for expenses must be incurred, there is the $500 to draw upon;
but do not court the extra outlay: save the nest-egg if possible.
The ideals of the home are said to rule the world. The young business man
who does not take the sane view of his own expenses will not rightly
consider his employer's interests. It is more than probable that the
much-deplored laxness, to call it by no harsher name, in business circles
is directly traceable to this falseness and dishonesty in standards of
home life. This moral effect is what makes the housing problem so serious.
It leads to an outward show not balanced by an ability to maintain an
inner life in harmony. It leads to an attempt to carry on a four-servant
house with two servants, or a three servant establishment with one.
Lack of study and experience leads the family living in the suburbs, in
one of the worst legacies of the past, to attempt the same style as
friends maintain in a lately built apartment house, without in the least
understanding wherein the difference lies.
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Maine to Texas, comes the same dull
and sullen roar of domestic unrest. Lack of faithful service is causing
the abandonment of the family home, and the fear of the obstacles in the
way of establishing new ones threatens the whole social fabric.
The housewife is inclined to connect this state of things almost entirely
with food preparation, and is prone to fancy that if eating could be
abolished peace would return.
The trouble goes much deeper, however, even to the foundations. The
nineteenth-century house is not suited to twentieth-century needs. In
other words, lack of adaptation to present conditions of the houses we
live in is a large factor in the prevailing domestic discontent. The next
largest has been referred to as attempting a style of living beyond one's
In all other walks of life, in transportation, in manufacturing, machinery
has come in to replace the heavier and more mechanical portions of labor.
The steam-shovel, the hoisting-engine, an infinite combination of
mechanical principles have been applied to the doing of things to save
human muscle. To stand by the machine which turns out the familiar
grape-basket, ready to fill with the fruit, and then to watch the
housemaid bending over some piece of work, is to realize the difference.
In few, very few operations is it necessary to-day that men should bend
their backs, but in how many household processes is the worker expected to
get down on all fours? The free-born American rebels. Perchance it is the
unconscious protest over a four-footed ancestry, or it may be that disuse
has really weakened the spinal column. Whatever the cause, the fact
remains. It is not the idea of work, of service, but of bending the back
to work that is so repugnant; likewise the effect on the hands of hot
water and scrubbing. Close observation has convinced me that care of the
hands has become an indication of freedom from manual labor quite
unthought of fifteen or twenty years ago. The increase of
manicuring-rooms, like the increase of restaurants, is a clear sign of the
trend of the times. Not only the class who likes to waste conspicuously,
but many a teacher, many a young man in State or Government employ with
an income of one, two, or three thousand a year patronizes these rooms.
This daintiness reflects downward, and the girl whose acquaintances in her
high-school days are in a position to keep well manicured, if not
"lily-white," hands does not like to have hers show the effect of
housework, when that means scrubbing the floor and cleaning the stove.
Gloves? Ah, well, James Nasmyth once wrote: "Kid-gloves are great
non-conductors of knowledge." I believe that gloves of any kind are a
makeshift in real cleaning of dirty corners; but there should not be
corners to catch dirt.
The unnecessary nastiness of the scrub-water with its fine soot which
works into every pore is a great objection to the girl who must work for
her living. If she goes to visit her friends, her hands betray her. She
can remove the other badges of her toil, her cap and apron; she may go out
on the street as brave as her mistress; but the moment her gloves are
removed her hands tell the tale. With the means at hand this need not be.
It is one of the legacies which have come down to us, and which we have
connected with the servant problem. The work in the most modern apartments
does not require the soiling of the hands in a serious way. With hard wood
floors, bright gas-stoves, porcelain lined dishes, no pots and kettles,
all the stairs, halls, etc., cared for by the janitor, the work is of a
far less smutting kind than in the suburban house, where there is still
need for much cleaning up of a roughening sort which cannot be escaped.
This has more to do than we are apt to think with the distaste for the
country, unless several servants are kept, some for this work only. In the
old type of city house the travel up-and down-stairs to answer bell and
telephone has demanded strength of back not possessed by the modern maid.
The house is not yet adapted to the new demands of the workers, and they
shun it. The mistress herself finds it beyond her strength, even if the
traces of rough work were not quite so distasteful to her.
Miss Pettengill in her story of domestic service brings out the great part
played by sooty dust, sifting in even through closed windows, in the
burden of the waitress who is expected to keep the dining-room immaculate.
This is only one instance where the blame really belongs on the actual
material house rather than on the mistress, except that she does not
discover a remedy, does not even know where to look for the cause. I have
great faith in the business woman, who does see much that is better done
and who will bring it back into the home.
Fashions in philanthropy do not yet tend in the direction of house
"A busy man cannot stop his life-work to teach architects what they ought
to know," says Wells; but on the other hand "we cannot be expected to
teach men and their wives, as well as draw plans for them," says the
architect who has tried it.
The centrifugal forces that our social prophets are so fond of invoking,
holding that the words "town" and "city" may become as obsolete as
"mail-coach," will have to reckon with these features of country life.
It is assumed that the work of women is "housekeeping." I should like to
put the question suddenly to a thousand men. What is twentieth-century
housekeeping? I venture the guess that less than a hundred would take into
account the utter difference in their wives' duties from their mothers',
as they remember them; and yet the house, even the flat, is built more or
less along the old lines. The women do not know enough to assert
themselves, and have not the skill to show the builder what is wrong. The
architects could tell tales if they would. The utter ignorance of what a
house means, of the steps necessary to make a successful livable place, is
appalling. The young man who has $3000 as a legacy feels he can build. His
wife chooses the location near her friends whose houses she likes, and the
architect is called in. Do you wish back stairs? Are you to keep three
servants or none? Do you wish the rooms separate or connecting? All such
questions find a blank stare. "What difference does that make in the style
and price?" the would-be owner says. The architect is not always able to
show him that these little things are the whole problem in building a
home. The house as a home is merely outer clothing, which should fit
as an overcoat should, without wrinkles and creases that show their
ready-made character. The woman, born housekeeper as she considers
herself, is rigid in her ideas of what she thinks she wants, but when the
builder has followed her plans she is far from satisfied with the result.
She is used to material which puckers and stretches in her clothing; she
cannot understand the inflexibility of wood and stone. The remedy is for
high-school girls, probably even grammar-school pupils as well, to have
along with their drawing some problems in house-planning and some lessons
It will be seen from the foregoing glance at the rapid change and steady
deterioration of houses that the care of such living-places must involve
special discomforts in most cases.
The time required to keep clean old splintered floors, to carry pails of
water up and down stairs, to dry out the cloths—the base boards with
their grimy streaks tell the story of carelessness—is not counted in
the wage schedule.
Why is there so much dirt brought into the house? Because shoes and
streets are muddy. Why is there so much lint? Because we have too many
things in a room—too much wear and tear.
And unnecessary dirt is found even in the newer apartment-houses with the
ever-changing population and ever-lessening space for maids' quarters,
together with the sham character of construction due to the fact that most
of these houses have been put up by speculators at the lowest cost of the
cheapest materials which will show wear in a few months. Flimsy
construction is a direct result of the notorious lack of care taken by the
tenant, so that quick returns must be the rule; also of the probability
that the neighborhood will deteriorate and that a class which will bear
crowding and be less critical will replace the first tenants.
Conveniences for doing work in the houses built to rent, that is to bring
in the greatest returns in the shortest time, will not be put in (for the
first cost is great) unless the house will rent for more. The sharpest
Hebrew or Irish landlord will allow his architect to add bathtubs if he
believes the flat will rent for a few dollars more, where he will not do
it for the sake of cleanliness. The supply of hot water, together with the
gas stove, has done much to reconcile the housewife who does her own work
to the cramped quarters of the flat, and also has done more than anything
else to render the maids discontented with that legacy from the nineteenth
century which requires the building of a coal fire before hot water can be
had. The coal fire makes necessary rising an hour earlier and this, after
the late hours the seven-o'clock dinner enforces, causes friction all
along the line.
The acceptance by young women without a study of cause and effect of
whatever presents itself makes them bad housekeepers, in the sense of
ignorant ones unable to cope with present conditions, because lack of
experience is not supplemented by a spirit of investigation and a
resolution to work out the problem. They seem to think that housekeeping
is to go on in the same old way no matter whatever else may change,
whereas it is most sensitive to the general direction of progress if they
but knew it. The wage-earner is more fully aware of the currents of the
irresistible river modern life has become (the slow-moving car of
Juggernaut is no longer an adequate symbol) than is the money spender.
Indeed is any part of the house, as we now most frequently find it,
adapted to the uses of the twentieth century?
The careless capitalist who makes possible the "cockroach landlord," he
who sublets and crowds and skimps the tenants for his own gain, is greatly
to blame for the distressing conditions of the lower income limit of the
wage-earner, but I fear he is not altogether blameless for the sort of
house the $1500 man has to look for in the city. Decent living with light
and air within half an hour of work is growing so rare that society must
take a hand in the matter.
THE PLACE OF THE HOUSE IN THE SOCIAL ECONOMY OF THE TWENTIETH
"We have entered upon the period of conscious evolution, have
begun the adaptation of the environment to the organism."
—Sir OLIVER LODGE.
The hopeless pessimism of the past, that saw in the unmerciful progress of
organic evolution no escape for the human animal from the grip of fate, is
about to give way to the enthusiasm of conscious directing and controlling
This is the beneficent result of the age of the machine. Man has
discovered that he can not only change his environment, but that by this
change he can modify himself. The hope of the future lies in the moulding
of man's surroundings to his needs. In physiological terms, "the
adaptation of structure to function."
The day is long past when shelter implied chiefly a tight roof and a dry
floor. The housing of the twentieth-century family means location, central
and fashionable. It means in cost far more than what the roof covers and
the floor supports. It means plumbing and interior finish; it also means
a finish on the outside, smoothly shaven lawns and immaculate sidewalks.
Sigh as we may for the colonial house, we confess that the standards of
the time did not include the comfort of hot baths, polished floors,
plate-glass windows, elevators, ice-closets, and lawn-mowers. These are
necessary adjuncts to what is held as merely decent living; how can
the $2000 man have them, not why will he not?
What then is the house and the life in it to become for the great majority
of families and individuals with an income of $3000 a year and necessarily
nomadic habits. I say necessarily, because these families are at the mercy
of business and social conditions quite beyond their control and
impossible to foretell.
So far as prophetic vision sees through the mists of time, the aim of the
twentieth century is to live the effective life.
The simple life has been preached, the strenuous life has been lauded,
but, as William Barclay Parsons recently stated
it:1 "We need force, we
need a vigorous force; we need that direction and avoidance of the
unnecessary which is simplicity, but with either one alone there is
something lacking. Instead of latent force and great energy without
control, instead of quiet gentleness, of power of control without vigor
to be controlled, what we need is force and energy applied where necessary
and always under control, always working to a definite purpose, and at the
same time avoiding complications and unnecessary friction.
1 [William Barclay Parsons, N.E.A., Asbury Park, 1905.
Eng. Record, Aug. 12, 1905.]
"That is to have a life whose great underlying motive is effectiveness.
Instead of speaking of the strenuous life or the simple life, let us have
as a doctrine 'the effective life.'
"What we need is not merely a man who acts, but one who does; that
is, one who will do what he has to do regardless of intervening obstacles.
Efficiency and effectiveness are the key-notes of success in actual life.
They are also the lessons taught by every parable in the New Testament,
even if that work is regarded as a code of ethics, and they form the
spirit of that stirring definition of
engineering2 which is
based on the direction of the vital forces of nature and the doing of
things for mankind."
2 ["Ability to do and the doing, efficiency, and
the use of it all for mankind."—Tredgold's definition of Engineering.]
Manufacturing concerns have found it pays them to provide decent tenements
for their workers, but society has not yet awakened to the fact that the
rank and file of the great army of salaried employees is left to fend for
itself in a world only too prone to take advantage of its necessities.
There is danger in this neglect of wholesome living surroundings, because
from this stratum develops normally the intelligence of the future, and
how can mentally active children grow up under the prevailing unsightly
and unsanitary conditions?
Of course with the passing of pioneer conditions will pass in a measure
the courage and adaptability which braced itself to meet and overcome
obstacles. The salaried position in a great combine, instead of work for
one's self in an independent business, tends to magnify the value of mere
money-income gained through smartness rather than by ability. If life is
made too easy, men will settle into indolent sterility, just as animals
and plants degenerate with too much food.
The future will surely bring greater mechanical perfection and thus leave
it possible for the individual, for each member of the family group, to do
for himself many little things which are not comfortable to do now. But
will he be willing to do them? Not unless he feels it to be a duty or a
pleasure. Not unless there is an undercurrent of principle which carries
him along. Without this principle strong enough to give an impetus over
hard places in the early stages of life, the individual and the family
will surely drift into the hotel and boarding-house, where everything is
done on a money basis and nothing for love of one's kind; where a tip
salves the hurt of menial work. These habits once gained are hard to break
up; therefore it is much better for young people to begin life doing some
things for themselves in a house where machinery responds to their call
without a tip, where they may economize without loss of self-respect. We
need to revive some of the pagan ideals of the beauty and value of the
human body and human life which consists in the care and use of this body.
There is no menial work in the daily living rightly carried out; that
which the last century wrongly permitted is made needless by the machinery
The point of view is most important.
The first steps toward social betterment will come through a cooperation
of three forces: (1) a recognition of the need; (2) an awakening of social
conscience to the duty of supplying the need; and (3) the movement of
moneyed philanthropy to fulfil the requirement quickly.
As was natural, sympathy flowed first to the class which had the most
visible need, not necessarily the greater need.
The New York Model Tenement Association has shown the world how easy it
is, when there is a will, to find a way. That association has already
taken the first step in advanced housing, and reduced the cost of safe and
rentable city shelter to its lowest terms. Fireproof, sanitary, and
convenient so far as rooms go (it is quite a climb for the mother with a
baby in her arms to the sixth story), with neighbors carefully sorted,
repairs well looked after, a sympathetic woman as agent always in the
office; but only a minimum of light and air and sun; bedrooms 7x8,
living-rooms 10x13; the smallest spaces the law allows; no grass, no
flowers outside, no pets, nothing of one's own that cannot be put in a
cart; common stairways where only partial privacy is gained; clothes-yards
on the roof, and laundry in the basement, to be used in turn by twenty
tenants. Because this is better than the slums for the emerging class, and
because they like the gregariousness, is no argument for continuing the
type up into the range of the $2000 group. But this is just what most of
the small apartments do—those built to make all the money that
they will bear. Hardly any better facilities are given. It will be easy for
more roomy living-places to be built on similar plans, with elevators and
labor-saving devices, and yet within the limit of moderate incomes, such
blocks to be always under competent sanitary supervision.
From these model tenements it will not be difficult to advance to the
suburban square with sufficient variety in house plans to content those
who are willing to yield small personal whims. Hitherto the erratic fancy
of would-be tenants, the dissatisfaction with the arrangements provided,
has made building en masse difficult. As long as the builder was
called upon to suit those who had lived in houses of their own for many
years his task was difficult, but now he will have to do with the young
people who know no other life and who will more readily fall in with the
standards set by the house itself.
For this very reason those who have social welfare at heart must come to
the rescue, and devise and put up samples, of the best that modern science
can offer, to rent for $300 to $500 a year. Let any one who loves his
kind, if he have a talent this way, not wrap it in a napkin, but give it
to the builder and the philanthropist to materialize. Now is the time to
set standards for the next thirty years. The electric car is opening new
country as never before. Who will make the practical advance?
These new houses will be roomy and yet, I think, will not fail of
sun-parlors or enclosed piazzas which will serve as extensions of the
house when occasion demands. I am sure they will not contain the
forbidding "front room" set apart for weddings and funerals and rare
family gatherings. More open-air life will be fashionable and practicable
as soon as we have learned that a wind-break and not a tightly-enclosed
space is what we need. In northern latitudes especially it is the wind
which makes the climate seem so inclement. The amount of accessible
sunshine may be doubled with great advantage in most of the
semi-country-houses. Shelter should not suggest a prison.
The education of the child demands that housing shall include land for
pets, for vegetables and flowers; not merely to increase beauty and
selfish pleasure, but for the ethical value of contact with things
dependent on care and forethought. The thoughtful sociologist recognizes
as one of the greatest needs for the children of to-day a closer
companionship with fathers—is urging that even money-making should
be secondary to the time given to moulding the character of the little ones,
instead of leaving them to nurses and coachmen or to the school of the
streets. Companionship in the garden-work will secure this opportunity in
a natural way.
It is only by going into the country that sufficient land for a simple
house with yard in front and garden in the rear—the ideal English
home—can be had. There will be a sacrifice of some of the things the
city gives, but a compromise is the only possible outcome of many claims.
Those who are feeling the return to Nature, who find pleasure in gardening
and in all the soothing effects of country life, or who can bring
themselves to it with moderate pleasure for the sake of the children who
must be encouraged to delight in it, should go out at least ten miles from
the city. In a well-regulated household the early breakfast will be a
natural thing, and the meal will be no more hurried than any other. It is
the class which tries to be both city and country that fills the columns
of the magazines with the trials of the commuter. The father need not see
less of his children, and the common occupation and interest will furnish
opportunities for wise counsel. Much nonsense is written about the perils
of habit and the dangers of routine. It all depends upon what those habits
are. All animal functions are better performed as a matter of habit,
without thought; it saves energy for more intellectual pursuits, which, I
grant, are better kept under volitional control. The animal act of
breakfasting at a given hour, of taking a given train, can be accomplished
as unconsciously as breathing. Early rising should be the rule, because
the children are then available as they are not at night.
We shall assume that the sane man will hold the little home in the country
with all outdoors to breathe in as worth the half-hour journey and the
early breakfast, and that the woman will have time set free by the
labor-saving devices sure to come as fast as she will use them wisely.
This free time she will give to the aesthetic side of life and will make
of her home a more attractive place than the club.
But once a week let them both go into town either to the club or to
some other place for dinner and an entertainment afterward. This will be
sufficient to keep them out of an intellectual rut, will brighten the
appetite with needed variety, and make the next quiet evening more
Once a week is sufficient to break the monotony of diet and routine, and
not often enough to create that insatiable appetite for the glare of
lights and the rush of people which makes all family life "deadly dull,"
as one café-haunting woman confessed.
While this country life is the only thing for a family of young children
and for those who really enjoy the country, there is a larger number
needing rational housing which will be left behind, let us hope with more
room because of the flitting of these others.
Much as I deprecate the evils of the present apartment system, I do
believe that an idealized modification will be needed for many years,
especially for the elderly, for the commercial traveler, for the bachelor
men and maids temporarily or permanently living single, for the newly
married as yet unsettled in business or profession, for the man who does
not know his own mind or whose employers do not know theirs. An instance
has come to the writer's knowledge of a young man who, after his wedding
cards were out, was ordered to take charge of an office in another city.
Marrying for shelter is and should be no longer necessary; and as for the
fear that this habit of bachelor quarters will be hard to break up and
tend to delay marriage, it will all depend upon whether it comes from the
merely animal layer of the brain or from the intellectual.
This housing of the individual instead of the family has introduced an
entirely new problem into house-building.
Formerly when a widow or widower, a maiden aunt, a homeless uncle or
cousin made his home with relatives, it was "as one of the family"; only
the minister was recognized as having need for a separate sitting-room.
The trials of this forced companionship have been told in many a witty
story; and pathetic instances that never came to print are matters of
Will any one dare question the fact that the sum of human happiness has
been increased by the freedom given to these prisoned souls by the small
I have been reminded that here is no provision for the different
generations to live together under the same roof; that the nineteenth
century held it to be of great social value to have the children grow up
with the elders. I am sorry for the twentieth-century grandparents if they
are obliged to live in a flat with the twentieth-century child; some
readjustment of manners and ideals must be made before such living will be
comfortable, and it seems as if they are better apart until the new order
is accepted or modified. The comfort of those whose work is done and who
have leisure to enjoy life was never so easily secured as to-day. To turn
the key and take the train at an hour's notice, leaving no cares to
follow, tends to a serene old age.
Moralists may squabble over the discipline of living with one's
mother-in-law, and of the loss to the children of grandmother's petting,
but at least physical content and mental satisfaction have increased. Has
selfishness also? Who shall say? And anyway it is a part of the progress
of the age, and what are we to do about it?
For one group of single persons the change has been only beneficial. It
was a strict code of the early nineteenth century that a single woman
should find shelter under the roof of some family house, however
independent, financially, her condition. Latch-key privileges were denied
her. Result, the boarding-house of the later half of the century,
nominally a family home, actually a hotbed of faultfinding and gossip,
most wearing to the teacher and fledgling professional woman, however
acceptable to the milliner and seamstress. Privacy could not be maintained
in a house built for a family of five made to do duty for twelve, with one
bath-room, thin-walled bedrooms with connecting doors through which the
light streamed when one wished to sleep, and words frequently came not
intended for outsiders. Who that has experienced the two could ever think
the bachelor apartment with its neat bath-room and double-doored entrance
an objectionable feature in modern intellectual life? Ah! here is the key.
We are to-day living a life of the intellect far more than ever before,
and for that a certain amount of withdrawal from our fellow man is
needed, at least a withdrawal from that portion which finds its interest
in the affairs of others.
But if we eliminate the house itself, and the heavy furniture from the
"home" possessions, what have we left? The little girl was right: "My home
is where my dishes is." My possessions, whatever they are—the
things I can call my own under all circumstances make my home. These
circumstances change from time to time, but the ideal is there. As a
concrete instance: let us have books, not a lot of books, but books that
are friends with whom one may spend a comforting hour anywhere; books that
have power to charm away the gloom of discontent, books to lend gayety to
Rugs and draperies a few, those you find satisfying to your sense of
color, of design, and with which you feel at home. Ugly tables, chairs,
and "sofas" disappear under an Indian shawl. A Persian or a Navajo blanket
covers a multitude of aesthetic sins. Only let these harmonize with each
other, let them be chosen once for all to go in company; then if they are
distributed, it will not matter; but in any case avoid the "museum" look
given by mere collecting. Alas! these are expensive articles, and the
young people may not be able to get all at once. Let society then turn
over a new leaf in the wedding-present line, and cease this senseless
giving of cut-glass and silver to those who may go to a mining-camp in the
Rockies or to Mexico, or even into a ten-by-twelve New York apartment.
Let there be a committee—we are so fond of committees—to
receive contributions in a money-bank or in sealed envelopes, and then when
all is collected, let this committee scour the shops for articles of value,
and when found consult the bridal pair as to their preferences. The choice
may be made of one or more, as the money permits. The particular gift will
still be a surprise and yet of permanent value. Lace and embroideries are
always good, but let the waste of money on the "latest" in orange-knives,
oyster-plates, go up higher, that is, to the class with money for
conspicuous waste, if it must still exist, but let sensible people be
sensible, and not require the young folks to live up to their hopes for
future advancement. Wedding gifts are meant to be kindly help to a young
housewife, not a burden which drags her down to the level of a drudge. But
if the house is surely their own, and in the country, there will be
shelves to fill and walls to cover; then is the opportunity for
individual gifts of china, glass, and pictures.
To make the best of the increasing tendency to a semi-country living,
there is need for students of domestic architecture, women with a trained
taste added to an experience in doing things, not merely seeing them
already done. Let these evolve beautiful exteriors, with interiors so
finely proportioned that they will be a delight to all beholders, so
adapted to their purposes that no one will wish to change them. There is a
right dimension, in relation to other dimensions, which is always
satisfying and independent of furniture or decoration.
The ugly houses, ill adapted to any useful purpose, which line the
roadside bear witness to the ignorance of the women of to-day. The effort
for mere decoration, for pretentious show, is so evident that one wishes
for an earthquake to swallow them all.
Another cause for rise in rent demanded for a given space is the heavy tax
borne by real estate for public improvement, for good lighting, clean
streets, plentiful water, sufficient sewerage, free baths, parks, and
schools. Again, this falls heaviest on our three- to five-thousand dollar
class, who pay more than their share, especially when the millionaire
shirks his duty by paying his taxes elsewhere. What can the man with
limited income do but avoid the responsibility of a family? Has he a moral
right to bring unhappiness to his wife and two children? Having been
caught in the trap, why give him all the blame if he tries to increase his
income by speculation?
The more one studies this question of shelter for the salaried group, the
more is one convinced that it lies at the root of our social discontent
and is a large factor in our moral as well as physical deterioration.
POSSIBILITIES IN SIGHT PROVIDED THE HOUSEWIFE IS PROGRESSIVE.
"We are far from the noon of man:
There is time for the race to grow."
"There appears no limit to the invasion of life by the machine."
The house as a centre of manufacturing industry has passed (for even if
village industries do spring up, the work-rooms will be separate from the
living-rooms); the house as a sign of pecuniary standing is passing: what
next? Why, of course, the house as the promoter of "the effective life."
Rebel as the artistic individual may at this word, it expresses the spirit
of the twentieth century as nothing else can. Social advance must be made
along the line of efficiency, even if it lead to something different and
not at first sight better. The appeal to self-interest is soonest
answered. The man or woman with any ambition will keep clean, will buy
better milk for the baby, will pay more for rent if he or she is convinced
that it will bring in or save money in the end, because money has been the
measure of success in the nineteenth century. But as the full significance
of this "machine-made" age is grasped it will be seen that it has set free
the human laborer, if only he will qualify himself to use the power at
his hand. The house will become the first lesson in the use of mechanical
appliances, in control of the harnessed forces of nature, and of that
spirit of cooperation which alone can bring the benefits of modern science
to the doors of all. One family cannot as a rule put up in a city or in
the suburbs—and half the world lives in cities—its own idea of
a house without undue expenditure; but ten families may combine and secure
a building which fairly suits them all. I say fairly, because all
cooperation means some sacrifice of whim or special liking. The
well-balanced individual will, however, choose the plan yielding on the
whole the greater efficiency, thus following a law of natural selection
which, so far, the human race has ignored—a neglect which has been
carrying him toward destruction as surely as there is law in nature. Is
this neglect to go on, or is man to turn before it is too late to a
cultivation of the effective life? In everything else he has advanced, but
in his intimate personal relations with nature and natural force he has
acted as if he believed himself not only lord of the beasts of the field,
but of the very laws of nature without understanding them. Mechanical
progress has come from an humble attitude toward the powers of wind and
water. Home efficiency will arrive just as soon as the home-keeper will
put herself in a receptive frame of mind and be prepared to learn her
limitations and the extent of her control of material things. When she
will stop saying "I do not believe" and set herself to learn patiently the
facts in the case, then will housekeeping take on a new phase and the
house become the nursery of effective workers who will at the same time
enjoy life. To manage this machine-driven house will require delicate
handling; but let women once overcome their fear of machinery and they
will use it with skill.
The undue influence of sentiment retards all domestic progress. Because
our grandfather's idea of perfect happiness was to sit before the fire of
logs, we are satisfied with the semblance in the form of the
asbestos-covered gas-log. "It is not for the iconoclastic inventor or
architect to improve the hearth out of existence." Sentiment is a useful
emotion, but when it held open funerals of diphtheria victims, society
stepped in and forbade. With a certain advance in social consciousness
public opinion will step in and regulate sentiment in regard to many
things depending on individual whim.
Heating might now be accomplished without dust and ashes, without the
destructive effects of steam, if enough houses would take electricity to
enable a company to supply it in the form of a sort of dado carrying wires
safely embedded in a non-conducting substance, or in the form of a carpet
threaded with conducting wire. Both heating and cooling apparatus could be
installed in the shape of a motor to replace the punkah man and the
present buzz-wheel fan, and to give fresh air without the opening of
windows which leads to half our housekeeping miseries. O woman, how can
you resist the thought of a clean, cool house, sans dust, sans flies and
mosquitoes, sans the intolerable street-noise, with abundance of fresh
filtered air at the desired temperature! It is all ready at your hand. A
windmill on the roof can store power, or a solar motor can save the sun's
rays, or capsules of compressed air may be had to run the machine, if only
you were not so afraid of the very word machine that no man dares propose
it to you. Of what use is all the invention of the time if it cannot save
the lives of the children, half of whom fall victims to house diseases, if
it cannot sweep away consumption and influenza and all the kindred
diseases arising from over-shelter and under-cleanliness of that shelter
(lack of air). Both men and women are sentimental and non-progressive, but
education is assumed to make wiser human beings. Women are said to be
monopolizing the education; is it making them more amenable to
reasonableness and less under the control of unprogressive conservatism?
It does require quick adaptation to keep up with the possibilities of
invention, but should we not aim at that which will advance our race on a
par with its opportunities? Every other department is getting ahead of us.
We should hang our heads in shame that we have neglected so long the means
for saner living.
It has been said that the highest modern civilization is shown not so
much by costly monuments and works of art as by the perfection of house
conveniences. Where then do we stand? And in what direction are we to look
for the coming advance? We have had some sixty years of public sanitation;
we have secured a supply of sanitary experts to whom all questions
affecting the physical welfare of masses of people may be referred. We
have a few architects who know the requirements of a livable house,
not merely one which shows off well as first built.
We need sixty years of private-house sanitation. We need to educate
house experts, home advisers, those who know how to examine a house not
only while it is empty but while it is throbbing with the life of the
family. This adviser must be, for many years at least, able to suggest
practical methods of overcoming structural defects (more difficult than
fresh construction), as well as of modifying personal prejudices.
These house experts will, I think, be women of the broadest education,
scientific and social. They will have not only a certain amount of medical
knowledge, but also the tact and enthusiasm of the missionary which will
bring them as friends and benefactors to the despairing mother and the
That there is a beginning of this demand, I can testify; that it will
grow, I believe. As soon as a group of trained women are ready, they will
find occupation if the advance in housing conditions which I foresee is to
become a reality.
Within the last two or three years the author has received requests from
all over the country for suggestions as to kitchen design and
The two illustrations here given show one little step in the right
direction. The cuts represent a remodelled kitchen in Providence, R.I.
The floor is of lignolith laid down in one sheet and carried up as a
wainscoting so that no crevice exists for entrance of insects or dust.
Such floors are yet in their infancy and need suitable preparation for
laying, just as macadamized streets fail if the foundation is faulty. The
idea is all that we are here concerned with. One of the features to be
especially noted is the use of glass for shelves. Why should the hospital
monopolize the materials for antiseptic work? When it is understood how
much hospital work is caused because of dirt in the preparation and
keeping of food, the kitchen will receive its share of attention.
To-day the cost of shelter is about one third for the house and two thirds
for the expense of running it, largely due to dirt and its consequences.
Mr. Wells wisely says: "Most dusting and sweeping would be quite avoidable
if houses were wiselier done."
When the real twentieth-century house is put up our young engineer and
college instructor will be willing to pay $400 to $500 rent, because wages
and running expenses will be $100 less and the company owning the houses
will not expect more than 4%, largely because repairs will be less and
permanence of tenure more assured. The old type of wooden house used by
the old type of tenant could not be expected to last more than a few
years, which justified a higher rate of interest. For the tenement tenant
of the better class twenty years has been the estimate, so that the cost
of building could not be distributed over fifty years as it should be.
The house will be made of reinforced concrete or its successor; certainly
not of wood. Whether a single house or one of two or more "compartments,"
each family will have a side, that is, the entrance doors will not be side
by side. Such have been built in Somerville, Mass., by a railroad company
for its employees. Those who wish to have a garden may; but no one will be
obliged, for there will be regulations about the general appearance of the
whole park, and every man his own lawn-mower will not be true. The
cultivation of taste will have so far advanced that the grouping advised
by the landscape architect will appeal to the occupant more than his own
Since the heating will be supplied from outside, there will be a hothouse
and cold-frames for those who wish to have a share in the garden, just as
now there are bins in the basement. The care of these may replace the
exercise now gained in scrubbing the front steps. The windows of the house
will be dust-proof, fly-, mosquito-, and moth-proof; the air supplied will
be strained by galleries of screens, if indeed social advance has not
eliminated soot from chimneys and grit from the streets. Most certainly
dirt will not be permitted to come in on shoes and long dresses. Warmed or
cooled, moistened or dried air will be circulated as needed. In such a
house rugs may stay undisturbed for a month or more, books for years, and
the dust-cloth be rarely in evidence; the redding will consist of putting
back in place the things used; but as each member of the family will do
this as soon as he is old enough, there will be but a few minutes' work.
The breakfast will be of uncooked or simply heated food, parched grains
and cream, fruit fresh or dried, and nuts. If coffee or cocoa is desired,
the electric heater serves it to the requisite degree of heat. Each adult
member of the family will probably take this in his own room or at his own
convenience, without the formality of a meal. The few glasses and other
dishes may be plunged into a tank of water and left for future cleaning.
Luncheon will depend altogether on the habits of the family, but dinner,
at whatever hour that may be, will be the family symposium. Dressed in its
honor, with a sprightly addition to the conversation of experience or
information or conjecture, there will be form and ceremony of a simple,
refined kind, such that once again the family may welcome a guest without
anxiety. Good conversation and fresh interests will thus come into the
children's lives. How much they have missed in these days of the barring
out all hospitality! Is it perchance one reason, if not the chief, why
manners have degenerated?
This meal will not have more than four courses of food carefully selected
and perfectly cooked, whether in the house or out matters not so it is
served fresh and of just the right temperature. No kind of cooking will be
permitted which "meets the guest in the hall and stays with him in the
street"; therefore the dishes may be washed by neatly dressed maids or by
the children, who thus learn to care for the fitness of things; plenty of
towels and hot water, with all hands doing a little, leaves everything
snug and no one too tired. We will let Mr. H.G. Wells describe the bedroom
of the future house:3
3 [A Modern Utopia, p. 103.]
"The room is, of course, very clear and clean and simple: not by any means
cheaply equipped, but designed to economize the labor of redding and
repair just as much as possible.
"It is beautifully proportioned and rather lower than most rooms I know on
earth. There is no fireplace, and I am perplexed by that until I find a
thermometer beside six switches on the wall. Above this switchboard is a
brief instruction: one switch warms the floor, which is not carpeted, but
covered by a substance like soft oilcloth; one warms the mattress (which
is of metal with resistance coils threaded to and fro in it); and the
others warm the wall in various degrees, each directing current through a
separate system of resistances. The casement does not open, but above,
flush with the ceiling, a noiseless rapid fan pumps air out of the room.
The air enters by a Tobin shaft.
"There is a recess dressing-room, equipped with a bath and all that is
necessary to one's toilet; and the water, one remarks, is warmed, if one
desires it warm, by passing it through an electrically-heated spiral of
tubing. A cake of soap drops out of a store-machine on the turn of a
handle, and when you have done with it, you drop that and your soiled
towels, etc., which are also given you by machines, into a little box,
through the bottom of which they drop at once and sail down a smooth
shaft. [Better stay in the box and not infect the shaft.—Author.]
"A little notice tells you the price of the room, and you gather the price
is doubled if you do not leave the toilet as you find it. Beside the bed,
and to be lit at night by a handy switch over the pillow, is a little
clock, its face flush with the wall [no dust-catcher].
"The room has no corners to gather dirt, wall meets floor with a gentle
curve, and the apartment could be swept out effectually by a few strokes
of a mechanical sweeper [sucked out by the now-used
cleaning-machine.—Author]. The door-frames and window-frames are
of metal, rounded and impervious to draft. You are politely requested to
turn a handle at the foot of your bed before leaving the room, and
forthwith the frame turns up into a vertical position, and the bedclothes
hang airing. You stand in the doorway and realize that there remains not
a minute's work for any one to do. Memories of the fetid disorder of many
an earthly bedroom after a night's use float across your mind.
[In America the use of the sleeping-room as a sitting-room is more common
than in England, and the fetid disorder is far greater.]
"And you must not imagine this dustless, spotless, sweet apartment as
anything but beautiful. Its appearance is a little unfamiliar, of course,
but all the muddle of dust-collecting hangings and witless ornament that
cover the earthly bedroom, the valances, the curtains to check the draft
from the ill-fitting windows, the worthless irrelevant pictures, usually a
little askew, the dusty carpets, and all the paraphernalia about the dirty
black-leaded fireplace are gone. The faintly tinted walls are framed with
just one clear colored line, as finely placed as the member of a Greek
capital; the door-handles and the lines of the panels of the door, the two
chairs, the framework of the bed, the writing-table, have all that
exquisite finish of contour that is begotten of sustained artistic effort.
The graciously shaped windows each frame a picture—since they are
draughtless the window-seats are no mere mockeries as are the window-seats
of earth—and on the sill the sole thing to need attention in the room
is one little bowl of blue Alpine flowers."
The true office of the house is not only to be useful, but to be
aesthetically a background for the dwellers therein, subordinate to them,
not obtrusive. In most of our modern building and furnishing the people
are relegated to the background as insignificant figures. This is largely
why the home feeling is absent, why children do not form an affection for
the rooms they live in.
Let there be nothing in the room because some other person has it; this
shows poverty of ideas. Let there be nothing in the room which does not
satisfy some need, spiritual or physical, of some member of the family.
How bare our rooms would become! Let the skeptical reader try an
experiment. Take everything out of a given room, then bring back one by
one the things one feels essential not merely because it fills space but
for the presence of which some one can give a good and sufficient reason.
It will mean a trial of a few days, because it is not easy to separate
habit from need. A table has stood in a certain spot: that is no
reason in itself why it should continue to stand there unless it supplies
If a fetish stands in the way of social progress, do away with it. If the
idea of home as the shell is standing in the way of developing the idea of
home as a state of mind, then let us cast loose the load of things that
are sinking us in the sea of care beyond rescue.
It is quite possible that we may return to that state of mind in which
there was a pleasure in caring for beautiful objects. The housewife of
colonial days did not disdain the washing of her cups of precious china or
doing up the heirlooms of lace and embroidery. When our possessions
acquire an intrinsic value, when all the work of the house which cannot be
done by machinery is that of handling beautiful things and has a meaning
in the life of the individual and the family, service will not be required
in the vast majority of homes: then we may approach to the Utopian ideal
of the nobility of labor.
"The plain message that physical science has for the world at large is
this, that were our political and social and moral devices only as well
contrived to their ends as a linotype machine, an antiseptic
operating-plant, or an electric tram-car, there need now, at the present
moment, be no appreciable toil in the world, and only the smallest
fraction of the pain, the fear, and the anxiety that now make human life
so doubtful in its value. There is more than enough for every one alive.
Science stands as a too competent servant behind her wrangling, underbred
masters, holding out resources, devices, and remedies they are too stupid
4 [H.G. Wells.]
THE COST PER PERSON AND PER FAMILY OF VARIOUS GRADES OF SHELTER.
"The strongest needs conquer."
An outlay of $1500 to $2500 will secure a cottage in the country, or a
tenement with five or six rooms in the suburbs, for a wage-earner's
family. The rent for this should be from $125 to $200 per year, but, as in
the case of the model tenements in New York, a minimum of sanitary
appliances and of labor-saving devices is found in such dwellings. They
are adapted to a family life of mutual helpfulness and forbearance.
The lack of this kind of housing has been a disgrace to our so-called
civilization. Public attention has, however, been directed to the need,
and it is gratifying to find in the report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor,
Bulletin 54, Sept. 1904, a full account, with photographs and plans, of
the work of sixteen large manufacturing establishments in housing their
Euthenics, the art of better living, is being recognized as of money value
in the case of the wage-earning class, but the wave of social betterment
has not yet lifted the salaried class to the point of cooperation for
their own elevation. They are obliged to put up with the better grade of
workmen's dwellings, or to pay beyond their means for a poor quality of
the house designed for the leisure class. In either case, the weight bears
hardest on the woman's shoulders, and it is to her awakening that we must
look for an impetus toward an understanding of the problems confronting
The college-educated women of the country believe so fully that the
twentieth century will develop a civilization in which brain-power and
good taste will outrank mere lavish display, that they have sent out a
call to their associations to devise methods of sane and wholesome living
which shall leave time and energy free for intellectual pleasure—some, at
least, of that time now absorbed by the house and its demands as insignia
of social rank.
Trained and thoughtful women are convinced that the first step in social
redemption is adequate and adaptable shelter for the family. Just so long
as tradition and thoughtlessness bind the wife and mother to that form of
housekeeping which taxes all the forces of man to supply money and of
women to spend it, so long will the most intelligent women decline to
sacrifice themselves for so little return.
The constructive arts dealing with wood, stone, and metal have been
conceded to be man's province. He has used new materials and labor-saving
devices in railway stations and place of amusements, not selfishly, but
because of the appreciation of the travelling public. It is the fashion to
decry labor-saving devices in the house, because they do away with that
sign of pecuniary ability, the capped and aproned maid. The obvious saving
of steps by the speaking-tube and telephone-call is frowned upon for the
same reason. It is this attitude of society which stands in the way of the
adoption of those mechanical helps which might do away with nearly all the
drudgery and dirty heavy work of the house.
The new epoch5 "is
more and more replacing muscle-power fed on wheat at
eighty cents a bushel, by machine-power fed on coal at five cents a
bushel," thus liberating man from hard and deadening toil. As his mental
activity increases his needs in the way of the comforts and decencies of
refined living increase. More sanitary appliances are demanded, more
expense for fundamental cleanliness is incurred, and for that tidiness and
trimness of aspect inside and outside the house which adds both to the
labor and to the cost of living, especially in old-style houses.
5 [The New Epoch. Geo. S. Morison.]
While we can but applaud this desire, we must confess that the new
building laws, the increased cost of land, and the higher wages of workmen
have raised the cost of shelter for human efficiency to double or treble
that of the so-called workman's cottage. A fair rule is that each room
costs $1000 to $2000 to build.
This means that our lowest limit of income, $1000 a year with $200 for
rent, can have only two or at most three rooms and bath, and those without
elevators and janitor service. It is only when the income reaches $2000 to
$3000 a year that the family may have the advantage of good building in a
good locality, and even then it means some sacrifice in other directions.
It is clear that the common theory that a young man must have a salary of
$3000 a year before he dares to marry has some foundation when $600 to
$800 is demanded for rent.
The increased sanitary requirements have doubled the cost of a given
enclosed space, the finish and fittings now found in the best houses have
doubled this again, so that it is quite within bounds to say that a house
which might have been put up to meet the needs of the day in 1850 for,
say, $5000 will now cost $20,000.
Much of the increase is for real comfort and advance in decent living, and
so far it is to be commended. Such part of the increase as is for
ostentation, for show and sham, is to be frowned upon, for this high cost
of shelter is to-day the greatest menace to the social welfare of the
community. When the average young man finds it impossible to support a
family, when the professional man finds it necessary to supplement his
chosen work by pot-boiling, by public lectures and any outside work which
will bring in money, what wonder that scholarship is not thriving in
America? Pitiful tales of such stifling of effort have come to my ears,
and have in large part led me to make a plea for a scientific study of the
living conditions of this class, and for a readjustment of ideals to the
absolute facts of the situation.
We may give sympathy to those Italians who pay only $2 a month for the
shelter of the whole family, but we must give help to the harder case of a
family with refined tastes and high ideals who can pay only $200 a year.
In the real country, at a distance from the railroad, air, water, and soil
are cheap. Here a house may be put up with its own windmill or gas-engine
to pump water, with its own drainage system, giving all the sanitary
comforts of the city house, for about $5000. The same inside comforts in
one quarter the space, minus the isolation and garden, may be had in a
suburban block for one half that sum. This is probably the least expensive
shelter to-day for the family whose duties require one or more members of
it to be in the city daily, for, as the centre of the city is approached,
land rent increases, so that dwelling space must be again curtailed one
half or rent doubled. The majority take half a house or go into the city
and put up with one quarter the space.
The curtailment of space in which families live is going on at an alarming
rate, although not yet seriously taken into account by the sociologist
for the group we are studying.
This crowding is causing the refinements of life to be disregarded, is
depriving the children of their rights, and doing them almost more harm
than comes to the tenement dwellers, for they have the parks to play in
and are not kept within doors.
Mr. Michael Lane in his "Level of Social Motion" claims that present
tendencies are leading to a level of $2000 a year and a family of two
children as an average. Mr. Wells claims as a tendency in living
conditions the practically automatic and servantless household. In
connection with the Mary Lowell Stone Home Economics Exhibit a design of
an approach to this kind of a dwelling was asked for in sketch. The
accompanying plans were made by a firm who have had not only experience in
this kind of domestic building, but who have sympathy with and personal
knowledge of similar conditions in widely separated parts of the country.
These sketches are not of an ideal house and not for a given plot of
land, but only a hint of what Mrs. Michael Lane "must expect if she
attempts to build in the country or suburbs."
Since these were drawn many changes have come about in costs and in
materials available. The architects expressly disclaim the word "model" in
relation to them. Mrs. Lane and her two children will do their own work,
and therefore steps and stairs must be few, and yet they wish light and
air and cleanliness.
The author hopes that her readers will make a study of house-plans, not
the cheap ones, but those that will bear the test of time and living in.
The increased cost of shelter should mean both more comfort and greater
beauty. If it does not, something is wrong with society.
It appears from all that has been gathered that single houses for a family
of five will cost about $5000 to $10,000 for some years to come; that
these houses should be so constructed and cared for as to rent for $300 to
$400 if the occupant is to keep the grounds in order, to use the house
with care, and furnish heat and light.
The question of return on capital invested and of care of exteriors and
grounds must be studied most carefully in the light of the new conditions,
and a new set of conventions devised by society to meet the various
circumstances arising out of them.
This suburban living is the vital point to be attacked, because in cities
the matter is already pretty well settled; there is in sight nothing that
will greatly change the rule already given, a cost of $1000 per room of
about 1200 cubic feet, with the finish and sanitary appliances demanded.
Our family of five must pay for rent $500 to $800 for the smallest
quarters they can compress themselves into. Subtracting the cost of heat
and light and the car-fares, this may be no more expensive than the
suburban house at $300 or $400, but the difference comes in light and
air. The upper floors of an isolated skyscraper give more than a country
house, but at the expense of other houses in the darkened street.
In the city the question is then not so much one of cost of construction
as of a fair arrangement of streets and parks, so as to avoid the loss of
light and air for living-places. The single individual may find shelter of
a safe and refined sort in all respects except air for $200 to $300 a year
in the newer apartment-houses, and two friends to share it may halve this
sum. A great need is for as good rooms to be furnished in the suburbs
where more light and air may be had.
The content of the country house costing $5000 to $10,000 will be
approximately 50,000 to 70,000 cubic feet, or 10,000 for a person. The
suburban block will furnish about 12,000 to 20,000 for the family, while
the city apartment of six so-called rooms renting for from $400 to $500 a
year shrinks to 6000 to 8000 cubic feet, giving only one tenth the
air-space the country house affords, as well as far less outside air and
sunshine. The best city tenements cost $1 a week for 600 cubic feet
air-space. What wonder that the sanitarian is aghast at the prospect!
According to the President of the English Sanitary Inspectors' Association
it seems probable that if the nineteenth-century city continues to drain
the country of its potentially intellectual class and to squeeze them into
smaller and smaller quarters, it will dry up the reservoirs of strength in
the population (address, Aug. 18, 1905).
The houses of the Morris Building Co., illustrated in Chapter II, show
what may be done. These houses rent for $35 to $45 a month with constant
heat and hot water, so that the heavy work is reduced to a minimum; but
the exigencies of family life are illustrated in the fact of the almost
universal demand of the tenants for continuous heat and hot water night as
well as day. The ordinary childless apartment house banks its fires at
night. A supplementary apparatus would mean work by the tenants, however.
This is a good example of the balance which must be struck in all new
plans until they are tested.
The change in what one gains under the name of shelter, what one pays rent
for, must be kept clearly in mind. Two or three decades since it was a
tight roof, thinly plastered walls, and a chimney with "thimble-holes for
stoves," possibly a furnace with small tin flues, a well or cistern, or
perhaps one faucet delivering a small stream of water. To-day even in the
suburbs there is furnished light, heat, abundant water, care of halls and
sidewalks. The elevator-boy takes the place of "buttons," the engineer and
janitor relieve the man of the house of care, so that it may not be so
extravagant as it sounds to give one third the $3000 income for rent,
since it stops that leaky sieve, that bottomless bag of "operating
expenses." The income may be pretty definitely estimated in this case,
especially if meals are taken in the café. If the family dine as it
happens, the cost mounts up. Here are a few estimates for verification and
|Rent of an apartment
|Incidentals, amusements, etc.
If the wife can manage the "kitchenette" and part of the clothing, about
$600 may be saved, but in that case it represents her earnings, and should
be at her disposal. If it should be possible for safe shelter to be had
for $400, then with the wife's help $700 should be the sum in the "region
of choice." I hold that, unless the income can be managed so as to secure
choice, all the daily toil is embittered. Even if some is spent
foolishly, it is safer than the burden "just not enough."
The more common cost of decent living in our Eastern cities is:
This goes far toward justifying the saying that a young man cannot afford
to marry on less than $3000 a year.
With these figures in mind, what can our $2000 family with two children
do? The rent that they can pay will not cover service or heat. There must
be a maid to fill the lamps, see to the furnace, help with the cooking,
and the wife must stay by the house pretty closely and probably decline
most invitations. For the five persons, ten dollars a week for raw-food
materials and five for its preparation is the lowest limit likely to be
cheerfully submitted to.
|Rent, heat, light, etc.
|| $ 400
|Clothing hardly less than
|Children's education, even with free
schools, and their illnesses will
|Car-fares, church, etc.
|Wages and sundries
In the bank nothing.
But what shelter can this refined, intelligent family find to-day for
$400? Certainly nothing with modern conveniences. The lack of these is
made up by women's work—hard, rough work. And that is the crux of the
servant problem to-day. It is the reason why more families do not go into
the country to live. The work required in an old house to bring living up
to modern standards is too appalling to be undertaken lightly.
In England the Sunlight Park and other plans, in America the Dayton and
Cincinnati schemes, are samples of what is being done for the $500 to $800
family, but where are the examples (outside the Morris houses) for the
salaried class for whom we are pleading? The great army of would-be
home-makers are forced into a nomadic life by the exigencies resulting
from the great combines—a shifting of offices, a closing of factories, a
breaking up of hundreds of homes. I believe this to be the chief
factor in the decline of the American home—a hundred-fold more
potent than the college education of women.
The unthinking comment on this rise in the cost of shelter is usually
condemnation of greedy landlords and soulless capitalists; but is that the
In the present order of things it seems to be inevitable that the gain of
one class in the community is loss to another. Probably the law has always
existed, and only the very rapid and sudden changes bring it into
prominence, because of the swift readjustment needed, an operation which
torpid human nature resents when consciously pressed.
For instance, the efforts of the philanthropist and working man together
have succeeded in shortening hours of labor and increasing
wages—without, alas! increasing the speed or quality of the work
done, especially in the trades which have to do with materials of
construction, so that house-building has about doubled in cost within
twenty-five years, largely due to cost of labor. This increased cost has
fallen heavily on the very group of people least able to bear it, the
skilled artisan, the teacher, and the young salaried man. Again I call
attention to the need of a philanthropist who shall raise his eyes to that
group, the hope of our democracy, those whom he has held to be able to
help themselves—and given time would do so; but time is the very
thing denied them in this motor age. Help to make quick adjustment must
come to the rescue of those to whom time more than equals money.
One used to wait patiently for seed-sown lawns to become velvety turf.
Money can bring sod from afar and in a season give the results of years.
So the housing of the $2000 family can be accomplished just as soon as it
seems sufficiently desirable. It needs a research just as truly as the
cancer problem or desert botany, and affects thousands more.
One other cause of increased cost in construction and operation which
does, if wisely carried out, increase health and efficiency is the
sanitary provision of our recent building laws.
The instalment of these sanitary appliances becomes increasingly costly
because of the rise in wages of the workmen, plumbers, masons, etc. The
careful statistics of the Bureau of Labor show conclusively that all
building trades have decreased hours of labor and increased wages per
hour, so that cost of construction has doubled, and the sanitary
requirements have again doubled the cost, so that it is easy to see why
the family with a stationary income has quartered its dwelling-space.
The end is not yet: the new devices mentioned in previous chapters will at
first increase cost of construction.
From lack of business training the public is at fault in estimating
relative costs. A well-built "automatic house" costs too much, they say.
Yes, but what does it save? Cost looms large, saving seems small.
Moreover, the value of mental serenity, of that peace of mind consequent
on the smooth running of the domestic machine, is undervalued. The
American child such as he is is largely the product of the American house
and its ill adapted construction. I must reiterate my belief that the
modification of the house itself to the life the twentieth century is
calling for is the first step in social reform.
THE RELATION BETWEEN COST OF HOUSING AND TOTAL INCOME.
"It must be made possible to live within one's income."
The thrifty French rule is one fifth for rent. In towns where land is
cheap and wood abundant, or in college communities exempt from taxes,
comfortable housing is found in this country for as little as fifteen or
eighteen per cent of the total income. In some mining towns where all
prospects are uncertain and the house has no particular social
significance the rent may be even lower, although it is often very high.
It depends on the demand, on competition rather than quality. In our older
and more settled communities it is most common for rent to use up one
fourth the salary of all town dwellers with incomes within our limits.
This was true in Boston fifty years ago, and it is true to-day in dozens
of cities and towns personally investigated. It is not unknown that a
teacher or business man should exceed this in the hope of a rise in
salary by the second year. Adding the expenses of operating the house, of
repairs and additions and improvements if the house is owned, nearly half
the money available must go for the mere housing of the family.
If it is true, as I believe it is, that for each fraction over one fifth
spent for rent a saving must be made in some other direction—in the daily
expense, less service, less costly food, or less expensive clothing, or,
last to be cut down, less of the real pleasure of life,—it will be seen
what a far-reaching question this is, how it touches the vital point, to
have or not to have other good things in life.
A large part of the increase is due, as we have said, to increased demand
for sanitary conveniences, but far more potent is the pressure resulting
from the price of land.
This pressure has led to the building of smaller and smaller apartments,
so that four and six rooms are made out of floor-space sufficient for two.
It sounds better to say we have a six-room flat, even though there is no
more privacy than in two rooms, for the rooms are mere cells unless the
doors are always open. It is not uncommon in such suites renting for $50
to $60 per month for six rooms, to find three of them with only one window
on one side, with no chance for cross-ventilation unless the doors of the
whole suite are open.
This style of building prevails even in the suburbs where air and
sunshine should be free. The would-be renter looking at such suites with
all the doors open and the rooms innocent of fried fish and bacon does not
think of the place as it will be under living conditions when privacy
can be had only by smothering.
The model tenements in New York rent for one dollar per week per room; the
better houses for double, or two dollars for 450 cubic feet. Many of those
I have examined renting for forty to sixty dollars per month give no more
space for the money, only a little better finish—marble and tile in
the bath-room, for instance.
The three-room tenement does, however, shelter as many persons as the
six-room flat, hence there is more real overcrowding. In all these grades
of shelter it is fresh air that is wanting. What wonder the white plague
is always with us? What remedy so long as millions sleep in closets with
no air-currents passing through?
Accepting the French rule, the artisan who rents the model tenement at
$3.50 per week should earn $3 a day wage for six days. If he earn only $2,
then more than one quarter must go for housing. There are hundreds of
Italian families in New York who pay only $2 per month for such shelter
as they have, but it is only providing for the primitive idea of mere
shelter, not for the comforts of a true home life. After the fashion of
early man, these people spend their lives in the open air, eat wherever
they may be, and use this makeshift shelter as protection from the weather
and as a place of deposit for such articles as they do not carry about
with them and for such weaklings as cannot travel.
As man rises in the scale of wants he pays more, in attention and in
money, for housing, because he leaves wife and children to its comforts
while he goes forth to his daily tasks. As ideals rise, the proportion
rises until even one third of his earnings goes for mere shelter. But this
limits his desires in other directions, so that it becomes a pertinent
question, when is it right to give as much as one third of the moderate
income for housing? As every heart knows its own bitterness, so every man
knows his own business and what proportion of his income he is
willing to spend for a house, for the comforts of life pertain
largely to bed and board. It must be acknowledged, however, that comfort
and discomfort are so largely matters of habit and personal point of view
that education as to ideals is an important duty of society in its own
If two people without children prefer to spend more on shelter than on any
other one thing, then with $3000 a year, $1000 may be given for rent if
that covers heat, light, and general outside care. But the family
with children to consider must not think of allowing one third for rent
under our very highest limit of $5000 a year, and it is unwise even then.
In fact the ratio must be governed by circumstances. It is true, however,
that the conditions must be interpreted by a fixed principle in living and
not by any mere fashion or prejudice of the moment.
The one question every person asks when these suggested improvements are
discussed is, but how much will it cost? Thus confessing that cost, not
effectiveness, is the measure; that old ideals as to money value still
rule the world. It costs too much to have a furnace large enough to warm a
sufficient volume of air, it costs too much to put in safe plumbing, it
costs too much to keep the house clean, and so on through the list. We
have been too busy getting and spending money to study the cost of neglect
of cardinal principles of right living. The farmer knows the cost of his
young animals, but the father cares little and knows less of what it ought
to cost to bring up his children—of the economy of spending wisely
on a safe shelter for them.
A new estimate of what necessary things must cost has to be made before
the present generation will live comfortably in presence of the
Here again a readjustment is coming; some expenses in house construction
common now will be lessened or done away with; for example, fancy shapes,
grooved and carved wood, projecting windows and door-frames.
It is usual, when the various new methods are brought up, to estimate the
cost as additional to all that has gone before, rather than to see in it a
substitute for much that may go.
Our family with $1500 income may safely pay $300 for rent, if that covers
enough comfort and does not mean too much car-fare.
The house may cost $3000 if built on the old lines, and if the land it is
placed on is not too expensive.
A fire-proof house such as is described in the July number of the
Brickbuilder and Architect, 85 Water St., Boston, and probably also
a house of reinforced concrete, will cost at present some $10,000 besides
the land. Because of freedom from repairs it should be possible to rent
such houses for $500, which will bring them within the reach of our $3000
a year family, but not within the means of the $2000. What is to be done?
It will be remarked by some that little attention has been given in these
pages to the various so-called cooperative plans, like Mrs. Stuckert's
oval of fifty houses connected by a tramway at each level, with a central
kitchen from which all meals come and to which all used dishes return,
with a central office from which service is sent, etc.
Frankly, to my mind this is not enough better than the apartment hotel, as
we now know it, to pay for the effort to establish it. As now evolved by
demand, the establishments renting from one to fifteen thousand a year are
on progressive lines. According to Mr. Wells, this shareholding class is
on the way to extinction in any case, fortunately he also thinks, and the
student of social economics need not concern himself with its future, only
so far as its example influences the real bone and sinew of the republic,
the working men and women who make the world the place it is.
Within the ten-mile radius it has been usual to include a front yard, if
not a garden, in the house-lot. The cost of keeping this in the trim
fashion decreed as essential, of planting and pruning of shrubs, of
maintaining in immaculate condition the sidewalks and front steps, like
most of the items in cost of living, is due to changed standards, just as
the cost of table-board has advanced from $3 to $6 without a corresponding
betterment in quality.
Engle's law, "The lodging, warming, and lighting have an invariable
proportion whatever the income," does not hold under modern conditions for
the group we are considering, for our wise ones need the best, and not a
few of them are unwilling to buy their family sanctity at the price of a
closet in the basement for the faithful maid.
Plans may look well on paper, the completed house may seem attractive, but
when the family live in the house its deficiencies become apparent.
Cheap materials, flimsy construction, damp location, any one of a dozen
possibilities may make the family uncomfortable, may cost in heating and
doctor's bills, may compel a moving before the year is out. Cheap houses
in this decade are suspicious; the more need for a knowledge on the part
of young people of what may be expected.
For this reason it is a part of sound education to give a certain amount
of attention to living conditions in the high-school curriculum. It is as
important as book-keeping; for of what avail are money and business, if
the home life is perilled? Besides, some of the pupils may have attention
called to deficiencies which they may show talent in overcoming.
Courses in Home Economics and Household Administration in colleges and
universities should be directed to careful study of this branch of
There is a great opportunity before women's clubs and civic-improvement
associations to arouse an interest in the provision of suitable shelter
for the young families in their several neighborhoods. Concerted movement
by the Federation could revolutionize public opinion within a decade.
The student of social science may well say that the first effort should be
directed to a rise in the pay of these educated young men; that no family
should be expected to live on the sums here considered; that it is not
right even to consider a way out on the present basis. Possibly so. Much
agitation is abroad in relation to the pay of teachers, clerks, and
skilled workmen, but that is another question which cannot be considered
The salaried class has so enormously increased of late years because of
the great consolidation of business interests that the final adjustment
has not been made. The one fact of uncertain tenure of position and
uncertain promotion has profoundly affected living conditions, ownership
of the family abode, and, incidentally, marriage.
There are prizes enough, however, to keep the young people on the alert
for advancement, and they feel it more likely to come if they establish
themselves as if it had arrived.
There is no denying that in the estimation of a large number of the groups
we are considering, the question of neat and orderly service, the capped
and aproned maid, the liveried bell-boy and butler, express—like the
smoothly shaven lawn—a certain social convention; and because it
means expense, the house in working order means more than shelter: it sets
forth pecuniary standing in the community. So long as this means social
standing also, so long will the professional and business family on $2000
a year be shut out, because these adjuncts to a luxurious living are
impossible. Can society afford to shut out the intellectual and mentally
progressive element, or must it accept as normal these salaries and make it
respectable to begin on them? It is the strain which unessential social
conventions give to the young families that leads the business father to
speculate in order to get into the $10,000-a-year class, and that leads
the young scientific and literary man to take extra work outside of his
normal duties. This sort of thing cannot go on without serious danger to
the Republic. Cleanliness and good manners should be insisted upon, but
they may be secured on $3000 a year if too much else is not required. How
to secure them on $1500 is a problem to be solved, for cleanliness costs
more each decade.
After all is said, if the young people have an earnest purpose in
life it is easy to plan a method of living and to carry it out. The
sacrifices one must make in the house superficially, in the consideration
of a certain class, are cheerfully borne and soon forgotten.
Little discomforts which affect only one's feelings and not one's health
make rather good stories after they are over. What is worth while? Are we
become too sensitive to little things? Do we imagine we show our higher
civilization by discerning with the little princess the pea under
twenty-four feather beds?
Let our shelter be first of all healthful, physically and morally. If to
gain these qualities we must take a house in an unfashionable
neighborhood, it should not cause distress. Why is this particular region
unfashionable? Is it not merely because certain would-be leaders choose
to live beyond their means in company with those who are able to spend
Why not be honest and happy? Live within your income and make it cover the
truest kind of living.
TO OWN OR TO RENT: A DIFFICULT QUESTION.
"Half the sting of poverty is gone when one keeps house for
one's own comfort and not for the comment of one's neighbors."
When the ideals of an older generation are forced upon a younger, already
struggling under new and strange environment, the effect is often opposite
to that intended. The elders in their pride of knowledge, and the
real-estate promoters in their greed for gain, have been urging the young
man to own his house on penalty of shirking his plain duty. They say he
must have a home to offer his bride, as the bird has a nest. Building-loan
associations, homes on the instalment plan, appeal to the sentiments they
think the young man ought to heed.
The young man is often modest, almost always sensitive, and he prefers to
bear dispraise rather than to tell the real reason he hesitates. His ear
is closer to the ground, he feels even if he cannot express the doubt of
the disinterestedness of the land-scheme promoter, of the wisdom of his
father. He knows better than his elders the uncertainties of salaried men,
young men with a way to make in the unstable conditions of to-day.
The effect of this well-meant advice is not to hasten his marriage, but to
put it off because he is not allowed to take the course he feels safest.
Or if he is willing, the parents of his prospective bride are not, and so
young people do not marry on $1000 a year, for fear of the elder
generation and their supposed wisdom.
The young people are not justified by present-day conditions in owning a
house on an income of $2000 a year unless
They have money to put into it which it will not cripple them for life
They care so much for the idea of ownership that they are willing to
take the risk of losing one half the investment should they be compelled
They possess the fortitude to give it up at the call of duty after all
they have lavished on it;
They care enough for the real education and the real fun they will get
out of it to save in other ways what the running and repairs will cost
over and above the amount estimated. This saving will be largely by
doing many things with their own hands.
To be bound hand and foot either by unsalable real estate or by sentiment
is an uncomfortable condition for the young family who may find itself in
uncongenial surroundings, in an unhealthful situation, or who may need to
Another serious objection to building and owning a house in the first
years of married life is the chance that the house will be too large or
too small, or the railroad station will be moved, or the trolley line will
be run under the garden window, or a smoking chimney will fill the library
with soot (although the latter will not be permitted in the real
A new element has come into the question of ownership by the family of
limited means which did not meet the elder generation of house-owners. In
the past the repairs were confined to a coat of paint now and then, new
shingles, an added hen-house, or a bay window. The well might have to be
deepened, but little expense was put into or onto the house for fifty
years. The married son or daughter might add a wing, but the main house
once built was never disturbed. In the modern plastic condition of both
ideals and materials this is all changed. In any city well known to my
readers how many streets bear the same aspect as five years ago? In any
suburban village made familiar by the trolley how many houses are the same
as five years ago? Even if their outward aspect is not changed, that worst
of all havocs, new plumbing, has been put in. The installation of neither
furnace nor plumbing is accomplished once for all; at the end of ten years
at most repairs or replacement must be made on penalty of loss of health.
As the community grows in wisdom and in knowledge it makes sanitary
regulations more stringent notwithstanding the fact that the increase in
expense bears most heavily on the small householder with a family whose
need is out of proportion to the income. Many a parent who grieves the
loss of his child would gladly have paid a reasonable sum for repairs, but
would have been in the poor debtors' court if he had allowed the plumbers
to enter his house. The new laws made since he bought his house require
diametrically opposite things, and the old fittings must all be torn out
as well as four times as costly put in.
It is a sad fact that the advantages of all modern sanitation are so often
denied to those who need and who would appreciate them. The renter has
here an advantage over the owner. He can call for an examination by the
city or town inspector before he takes a lease; the capitalist owner must
then put matters right. But as yet a man has a right to live with leaky
sewer- or gas-pipes in his own house without being disturbed by an
inspector. How far into the century this will be allowed is uncertain; in
time there will be an inspection of the premises of the small owner.
The only remedy in sight is for an investment of capital in up-to-date
houses of various grades in city, suburbs, and country; such investment to
bring 4 per cent, not 40, or even 15, unless by rise of land values. No
better use of idle money could be made at the present time. In
"Anticipations" Mr. Wells writes: "The erection of a series of
experimental labor-saving houses by some philanthropic person for
exhibition and discussion would certainly bring about an extraordinary
advance in domestic comfort; but it will probably be many years before the
cautious enterprise of advertising firms approximates to the economies
that are theoretically possible to-day." This is truer now than when Mr.
Wells was writing.
The great difficulty in the way is the first outlay. So many things will
have to be designed, patterns made and machinery built to make them; for
this advance in construction will not be by hand-made things. There will
be more head-work put into the various articles, but the mass of
constructive material must be machine-made, at least for the family of
limited income. And these articles need not be ugly. There must be many of
the same kind in the world, to be sure; but if the design fits the
purpose, this may not be an evil. No one objects to a beautiful elm-tree
in his field because in hundreds of fields there are similar elm-trees.
Slight variations in finish, color, etc., can give individuality to the
Therefore the first outlay for the new order will be beyond the purse of
any single family of this group. If we had learned to cooperate sanely, a
group might undertake it, but the most probable method will be for some
far-sighted men to agree to sink a certain amount of money in experiment,
just as they now sink money in prospecting a mine with all the uncertainty
it brings. Ability to risk in an experiment must go hand in hand with
capital to use.
The objection commonly made is that all individuality will be taken away,
that each one must live like every one else in the neighborhood. This is
not an essential consequence, but will it be so impossible to have a
certain similarity in the dwellings of like-minded people? In
"Anticipations" it is declared that "Unless some great catastrophe in
Nature breaks down all that man has built, these great kindred groups of
capable men and educated adequate women must be under the forces we have
considered so far, the element finally emergent amid the vast confusions
of the coming time."6
6 [Anticipations, pp. 153-4.]
The practical people, the engineering and medical and scientific people,
will become more and more homogeneous in their fundamental culture.
The decreasing of the space one can call one's own within urban limits has
so steadily increased, and the need for freer air has become so fully
recognized, that the case of the single householder in the suburbs and
even in the country is bound to press harder and harder. The group system
elsewhere referred to, with central heating plant and workers of all
grades at telephone-call, will make possible at a reasonable rent within
easy reach of the city the single household of one, two, or three, as the
case may be, and if without children of their own, to such shelter may
come some of those homeless little ones we have with us always, to share
in the sun and wind and garden. In the real country, with acres instead of
feet of land, much of the same kind of elaborate simplicity will be found.
Certainly the same kind of fire-proof house of only one story with more
light, "roofs of steel and glass on the louver principle," will obviate so
frequent a change of air as a shut-in house requires, and give more
In the city? Since physicians will surely be more insistent on light, as
well as fresh air, roof-gardens and balconies and glazed walls, so to
speak, will be arranged by the architect so as not to offend the eye and
yet to accomplish the results. He will cease from trying to put the new
ideas of the twentieth century into the old houses of the eighteenth or
fifteenth even, and that beauty, which is fitness, will come forth from
the tangle of ugliness everywhere. If, as the economist tells us, "cost
measures lack of adjustment," then the perfectly adjusted house will not
be costly in reality, it will be adapted to the production and protection
of effective human beings.
The cellar has for some years been changing to a storage for trunks
instead of vegetables. The old-fashioned housewife exclaims at the lack of
storage in the house of to-day, and we are eliminating it still more. A
twentieth-century axiom is, "Throw or give away everything you have not
immediate or prospective use for." It is as true of household furniture as
of books; only the very best is of any value second-hand. Our young people
may have heirlooms, but they will buy very little in the way of sideboards
or first editions. The moral of modern tendencies is, buy only what you
are sure you will need or what you care for so intensely that you will
keep it come what may. Housing of possible treasures is far too
At the foundation of the ethical side of ownership is the primitive
impulse of possession, that ownership which led to wife-capture, to feudal
castles, to accumulation of things, and to-day is expressed by the man who
prefers to have his steak cooked in his own kitchen even if it is burned.
It is notorious that most of us put up with discomfort if it is caused by
our own. A family of eight will use one bath-room without murmur if the
house is theirs, but will complain loudly if the landlord will not add two
without increasing the rent.
At the foundation of what seem exorbitant rents is this demand for modern
improvements in old houses, and the atrocious carelessness of tenants of
property. It is not their own, and they do not obey the golden rule in the
use of it.
Every five years or so plumbing laws are changed, and if an old house is
touched the fixtures and pipes must be all renewed. Tenants have learned
to fear the sanitation of old houses, and yet abuse the appliances they
should care for.
Public ownership or corporate ownership or an increased lawlessness are
accountable for a disregard of others' rights and of property which is
unnecessarily increasing the cost of living.
I have said elsewhere that it is not because the landlord does not want
children in the house but because he does not want such ill-bred children,
vandals, who have no respect for anything. He charges high rent because
his investment is good for only ten years.
The shibboleth of duty to own a home has so strong a hold on the moral
sense of the people that it is made use of by the promoter who may in some
cases think himself the philanthropist he intends others to call him. I
mean that the duty of owning and the heinousness of paying rent are so
ingrained that buying on the instalment plan has seemed a righteous thing,
even with the examples of broken lives in plain sight. As an incentive to
save, if there were anything to save, it might have been justified in the
days of feudalism. But for an independent American to confess that he
cannot put money in the bank, and that he must bind himself and his family
to slavery, for the sake of owning a bit of property which they will
probably wish to sell before they have it paid for, is disgraceful.
Intelligent men should see that here is the profit in the transaction;
that enough go to the wall to pay for the trouble of the rest, just as in
life insurance enough die before the expected time to put money in the
pockets of the riskers.
A drunken father may need to be held, but the young professor, the lawyer,
the engineer, should have sufficient self-respect and firmness to save
that which in his judgment is necessary, without being tied by "the
instalment plan." This method is a very viper in the finances of to-day.
The wise business man never ventures more than he can afford to lose in a
risk, but the man who takes bread and milk from his children to invest in
"a sure thing" takes a risk with what is not his to give.
To buy land for investment is another supposed virtue, an inheritance from
the time when slow growth, once started in a given direction, kept on, so
that great acumen was not needed to buy; but that is all changed to-day.
Only those "in the ring" can tell where the "boom" will go next.
In these days of unparalelled rapidity of change in industrial and social
conditions it is most undesirable for a man to be hampered by a shell
which is too large to carry about with him and too valuable to be left
behind. To each reader will occur instances of the refusal of an
advantageous offer because the family home could not be realized upon at
once, the location once so favorable had become undesirable, and the
values put into it could not be recovered because of social conditions
following industrial changes.
The keen observer hesitates in view of all these conditions to advise any
young man to invest in real estate for a home beyond a sum which he can
afford to lose if need arises to move. These changes carry a need for
mobilization of its army of workers. The encumbrance of family Lares and
Penates cannot be tolerated. Only a small per cent of young men are to-day
sure of remaining in the city in which they begin business. What folly to
encumber themselves with real estate which, sold at a sacrifice, brings
barely half its price! Moral exhorters have not carefully considered this
side of the question in their arguments for house-owning and
family-rearing as anchors to the young man.
The fact noted earlier is a case in point. After the wedding-cards were
out the bridegroom was transferred to the charge of the company's office
in another city.
The expenses necessitated by these frequent removals make an
unaccounted-for item in many incomes.
If the young couple have saved or inherited between them, say, $3000,
shall they build a home with it? Decidedly not. Because the house will
cost $5000 before they are done. Not only because of the unexpected in
strikes and change in prices of materials, but because, as the plans take
shape, the wife or the husband or both will see so many little points
which they will ask for, the paper plan not having conveyed a definite
idea to either. An excellent plan was carried out by a college woman. She
made a model to scale in pasteboard, of such a size that every essential
detail was shown in its relation to other portions of the structure.
Even if these young people do not yield at the moment of building, they
will probably wish they had yielded when they come to live in the house.
There will be nothing for it but to mortgage the place to make it
satisfactory. One cannot take up a newspaper without finding notice after
notice, reading, "Must be sold to pay the mortgage."
Exorbitant rent is of course social waste, and society must protect its
ablest young people from their own folly; but when they understand the
rules of the financial game better they will lend themselves more readily
to some cooperative plan of relief.
It is, as I well know, rank heresy, but I firmly believe that building and
owning of houses can be afforded only by those having the higher limit of
income, $3000 to $5000 a year, unless the person has a permanent
position or a business of great security, and in these days who can be
sure of anything?
When the land-scheme promoter advertises homes on the instalment plan,
beware of the trap!
Let no one buy in the suburbs from a sense of duty and then hate the life.
Comfort in living is far more in the brains than in the back.
It is so easy for a man or woman with one set of ideals to do that which
another would consider impossible drudgery.
My final advice is that the sensible young couple both of whom agree about
essentials, and who are willing and glad to work together for a common
end, and who love nature and gardening and believe in family life so
strongly as not to miss the crowd and theatres, may safely start a home in
the country with a garden, and pets for the children, if they have a
reasonable prospect of ten years in one spot. Let them make the place
attractive for some family, even if they have to leave it.
The women of this group will, I believe, have the qualities Mr. Wells
predicts: not only intelligence and education, but a reasonableness and
reliability not always found to-day.
Unless a reasonable prospect of ten years' occupancy is assured, then
begin life in a rented house, not necessarily in a flat. Begin with a few
things of your own some which have been yours for years, some which you
have bought together and which have a meaning for one of you and are not
irritating to the other.
Devote a part of your leisure to a critical study of the house you would
like, draw plans, make sketches in color, study color effects, learn about
fabrics, collect them for the future. You will find an amusing and
The essential point is to begin this life on two thirds of what you have
reason to expect as the year's income; keep the rest invested or in the
bank. There are to-day many temptations to spend for things attractive in
themselves but not necessary to the effective life. If friends are so
silly as to rally you on living in an unfashionable quarter, ask them in
to see your sketches and plans, and talk them into enthusiasm over the
idea. Do missionary work with them rather than be ridiculed out of your
convictions. It sometimes seems as if young people had no convictions, as
if they drifted with the wind of newspaper suggestion. So do not allow
your friends to drive you to greater expense than you have determined
upon, lest the end of the first two years of life find you in debt with no
fair start for the baby, whose life should begin in an atmosphere of quiet
assurance that all is well. It is not impossible that the nervous
irritability and recklessness of many are due to the atmosphere of
childhood. Then remember that the welfare and security of the child is
the watchword of the future.
A FEW BOOKS
Anticipations. H.G. Wells.
Mankind in the Making. H.G. Wells. Scribners.
A Modern Utopia. H.G. Wells. Scribners.
Twentieth-century Inventions: a Forecast. Geo.
Sutherland. Longmans, Green, & Co.
The Level of Social Motion. Michael Lane. Macmillan.
The Theory of the Leisure Class. Thorstein Veblen.
The Woman who Spends. Whitcomb and Barrows.
Physical Deterioration: Its Causes and their Cure. A. Watt
Smyth. E.P. Dutton.
Shelter. Syllabus 94, Home Education Dept, Univ. of
N.Y. State Library, Albany.
Report of the Tenement-house Commission.
Age, spirit of the
Albert's, Prince, advice
Back, bending the
Badges of toil
Bureau of Labor, U.S.
Care of rooms
Carpentry in high school
deterioration of manners of
Class to work for
period, housebuilding of
Southern type of, houses
Commuter, trials of
of housing and total income
per person and per family
Deterioration of houses
Dishonesty in standards
Economics, home, exhibit
Engineering, definition of
Experience in doing
Friction due to house
Habit, perils of
Anglo-Saxon meaning of
evidence of social standing
-maids, physical inefficiency of
planning in High School
colonial, of New England
four classes of
Industries, disappearance of
Invasion of residential districts
remodelled, in Providence
Labor, Bureau of
Lane, Mr. Michael
Leaven of progress
"Level of Social Motion"
Lodge, Sir Oliver
Making of things
Marriage, responsibility of
Middle, leaven of progress in
Model Tenement Association, New York
measure of success
Morison, Geo. S
Morris Building Co
Neill, Chas. P., extracts from address by
New Epoch, The
Own or rent
Parsons, Wm. Barclay
Patronage of the arts
Permanence in homestead, lack of
Pettingill, Miss [Transcriber's Note: Pettengill in text.]
Physical ill-being in
Place of the house
Possibilities in sight
Private life shabby
Question, a difficult
Regeneration, force for
Residential districts, invasion of
Responsibility of marriage
Return to nature
Rights to property, etc.
English, Inspectors Association, President of
faithful, lack of
Sewer connection, houses without
Shelter, marrying for
Sheltering the children
Spirit of the age
Stone, Mary Lowell, Home Economics Exhibit
Study, lack of
Sunlight Park, England
N.Y. Model, Association
U.S. Bureau of Labor
Watchword of the future
Well-being of community threatened
Women, corporation of