The Cost of Shelter
Ellen H. Richards
Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Andrea Ball and the Online Distributed
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
(a) for protection against the outside world;
(b) for protection against the outside world and for the rearing of
(c) for the greater gain in convenience which the common life can give
over that of single effort;
(d) for companionship;
(e) for the greater independence it gives to the group;
(f) 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
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."--CHARLES DOLE.
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 fuller
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 the germs.
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 preeminence
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
[Illustration: The Morris Company's Block of Single Houses, with Central
Heating Plant (*remainder cut off).]
[Illustration: The Morris Building Company's Block of Single Houses, with
Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.]
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.
[Illustration: Aerial-view Drawing: The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.]
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.
[Illustration: Floor-plan Drawing: The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.]
[Illustration: Floor-plan Drawing The Morris Building Company's Block of
Single Houses, with Central Heating Plant, Brooklyn, New York.]
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."--H.G. WELLS.
Four classes of houses have come down to us:
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
(3) 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.
(4) 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: (5) 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 matinees 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
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
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: "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.
[Footnote 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 engineering which is based on the
direction of the vital forces of nature and the doing of things for
[Footnote 1: "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 cafe-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 festal days.
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."--TENNYSON.
"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.
[Illustration: 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 (*remainder cut off).]
[Illustration: Fig. 7.--Old Kitchen Remodelled. Showing glass shelves
and labelled glass jars for all stores. Glass mixing table at left
(*remainder cut off).]
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:
[Footnote 1: 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 a need.
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
[Footnote 1: 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 epoch "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.
[Footnote 1: 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.
[Illustration: Figs. 8 and 9.--House for "Mrs. L.," Anywhere in temperate
America, to cost $5000, if it must not more (*remainder cut off).]
[Illustration: Figs. 10 and 11.--House for "Mrs. L.," Anywhere in
temperate America, to cost only $3000, if possible. (Josselyn & Taylor
Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa).]
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 $3000 income for rent,
since it stops that leaky sieve, that bottomless bag of "operating
expenses." The income may be pretty definitely estimated in this case,
especially if meals are taken in the cafe. If the family dine as it
happens, the cost mounts up. Here are a few estimates for verification and
Rent of an apartment............$ 600.00 to $ 700.00
Meals........................... 1200.00 " 1000.00
Clothing........................ 400.00 " 600.00
Incidentals, amusements, etc.... 200.00 " 300.00
Total income................... $2400.00 to $2600.00
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:
Rent...............................$1000 to $1500
Meals.............................. 1200 " 1400
Clothing........................... 500 " 700
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