This book is a piece of subtle rebellion. I bought it in a charity shop in St Andrews in May of this year when I was on a mission to find an old edition of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management (my modern edited version seems to miss the best bits). There was no Mrs Beeton to be found, but I did find a 1918 book entitled A Profession for Gentlewomen: being some reflections on the philosophy or housekeeping. The very fact that the book’s author, a Mrs F.S. Carey, proposes a ‘philosophy’ of housekeeping – not a simple ‘how-to’ – is a hint at what the printed page conveys.
Mrs Carey’s fundamental argument is that “houses which are worked by women should be designed by women themselves”. She proposes that women take up the profession of ‘domestic architecture’ and that well-designed homes will better society as a whole:
I dream of a time when it will be as difficult to find a bad house as it now is to find a good one, and when the life or sordid drudgery now imposed on millions of women will be an impossibility; when men will work less strenuously because women need to spend less, and when women will be so far delivered from the fetters of housekeeping that they can be true companions to their husbands and real mothers to their children…
To be honest, I did find myself thinking Mrs Carey was aiming a bit low by simply hoping to free women from housework so they could be better wives and mothers, but then it’s pretty hard for anyone of my generation to conceive of just how much time housework would have taken before the advent of automatic washing machines, electric irons, vacuum cleaners – the list goes on.
So, what is Mrs Carey’s definition of a ‘good house’?
- The kitchen should face east and north, the larder north, the nurseries south-east, and “as few rooms as possible look west”.
- Two storeys, “but with basement accommodation restricted to a cold larder and a wine cellar”.
- Baths, while desirable, are “an expensive item” which “demand space”.
- “The more main-water taps there are in the house the better”.
- “Every house should have one large sitting-room”.
- “Large bedrooms are seldom necessary”.
- “The house with a basement kitchen is by all means to be avoided; for the health of the maids, the convenience of working and real economy, the ground-floor kitchen is essential”.
Mrs Carey has much more to say on the matter, and I hope to bring it to you in a later post. For now, you house-hunters out there have been told!