Note from Tim Bayly: Back on August of 2004 I posted this article. Since then we've gained many readers and, because of the good discussion going on in the comment section under my brother's post, "And sometimes a word is worth a thousand pictures...," I thought I'd repost it now.
My mother-in-law studied for her degree in Home Economics during the late '30s and early '40s, graduating summa cum laude from Oregon State University. After marrying her childhood sweetheart, she gave birth to 10 children in 14 years. Her husband, engaged for most of the years when the family was young as editorial director of a religious publishing house, brought home low wages, so frugality was a necessity and the degree served this young mother and her family well.
Food preservation, hygiene, cooking, sewing, and home budgeting were part of the home ec curriculum and, along with the liberal arts training which came with every bachelor's degree at the time, these young women graduated with specialized training for their profession of choice--motherhood. Other women took similarly helpful majors in Elementary Education, Bible, Christian Education (my own mother's major), and Nursing.
Then came the frontal assault on housewifery and motherhood carried out largely by a new and powerful aristocracy, the "Information Class." (Footnote 1) During the late '60s and early '70s this assault reached fever pitch and the academy was ground zero. College and university students were assigned propagandistic tracts such as Ibsen's, A Doll's House, and joined the ranks of those determined to liberate the "Noras" of the world. (Footnote 2) Oxford historian Paul Johnson provides interesting historical details on A Doll's House, noting that both Karl Marx's youngest daughter, Eleanor, and George Bernard Shaw took part in its first private reading in London, Eleanor playing the title role of Nora. Johnson writes, the "clear message" of A Doll's House was that "marriage is not sacrosanct, the husband's authority is open to challenge, [and] self-discovery matters more than anything else." Johnson concludes, "[Ibsen] really started the women's movement." (Footnote 3)
The discipline of home economics (also known as "household arts") was an early casualty...
Traditionally, home ec had enjoyed a comfortably apolitical niche in the world of higher education, and the guardians of this discipline had every reason to trust their academic peers would continue to be favorably disposed toward a curriculum so integrally tied to domestic tranquility. It was taken for granted that a dignified and competent wife and mother, devoted to her family, was a desirable constant in American culture.
To the feminists, home ec was anything but apolitical, so they attacked. The level of their hostility can be illustrated by Allan C. Carlson's account of an address given to the 1972 American Home Economics Association Convention by Robin Morgan, the feminist editor of Sisterhood Is Powerful:
[Morgan] laid the matter squarely on the line. The main emphasis of the organization, she reminded the delegates, was 'to reinforce three primary areas: marriage, the family, and the issue of consumerism .... Now those three areas.... [are] the primary areas that the radical women's movement is out to destroy. So one could say that as a radical feminist, I am here addressing the enemy.' Morgan charged that young women who passed through home economics courses were usually left as 'a limp, gibbering mass of jelly waiting for marriage.' Indeed, by feminist standards, home economics was so corrupted in its nature that the speaker had only one unambiguous recommendation: 'You can quit your jobs.' For those who must stay on, she urged that they work to eliminate the home economics requirement for junior and senior high school women and impose it instead on high school men. Home economists should also 'tell people the truth' about the housewife's role and 'the despair she faces in her life' and 'about the economic bigotry against women.' Above all, those who stayed in the obsolete profession must work to 'change' social mores, not reinforce them. For home economics was 'hooked' into institutions that were 'dying.' Morgan concluded: 'It's your choice whether you're going to crumble with that system ... while history rolls over you or whether you're going to move with [history]. I hope that you will join us--but we're going to win in any event.'
The battle for home ec was over almost before it began, and soon the deconstruction of this discipline was complete. (Footnote 4) Somewhere in mothballs there may be a beautifully preserved specimen of a home economics department, but at this sitting I don't recall running into one person with this major since my own entry into the world of higher education in 1971. A woman in our congregation who teaches home ec told me recently that her professional association changed its name from the National Association of Home Economics Teachers to the National Association of Consumer Education. "It no longer has the word 'home' in it!" she lamented.
The demise of home economics is indicative of a sea change in the thought patterns and habits of women standing at the edge of adult life today. Although elementary education, Christian education, nursing, and even home economics are still studied, these degrees are often chosen for their professional, and not domestic, value. Women make academic decisions about course work and majors with little thought of the value of specific areas of knowledge for running a home, raising a family, or educating children. Instead, the marketability of the degree is primary. Not surprisingly in a culture that disparages motherhood, we see a decline of conscious preparation for this task by women making academic, financial, and career decisions.
But in lusty defiance of all the rhetoric, men and women still marry, give birth to children, and raise a family of their own. Yet when children are born reality hits: Who will be this child's mother?
Not surprisingly the government's answer is more bureaucrats paid by more taxpayers, trained and certified by other bureaucrats. Thus the Information Class extends its influence to the earliest days of our nation's children.
There are significant economic reasons for our nation not to choose this direction, reasons obvious to thinking women and men from time immemorial. Chesterton sums up those reasons by pointing out that neither bureaucrats nor the money to pay them grow on trees, and that it is quite foolish to set up an industry to do what familial--and specifically maternal--love does naturally; "You are like a lunatic who should carefully water his garden with a watering-can, while holding up an umbrella to keep off the rain."
Seriously though, the reasons for Christians to raise, train, educate, and discipline their own children extend far beyond economic considerations. The making of the Christian home and the raising of children are at the very center of our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. Scripture commands fathers to provide for their families(Footnote 5) and mothers to "be domestic," (Footnote 6) to be devoted to their husbands, their children, and their home." (Footnote 7) Scripture calls mothers and fathers to train their children, (Footnote 8) to teach them about the Lord, (Footnote 9) to feed them the Word of God "from infancy," (Footnote 10) and to explain to them the traditions of our Most Holy Faith while sitting in their living rooms, walking through the neighborhood, riding in the car, and lying in bed. (Footnote 11) God has decreed that one purpose of Christian marriage is to raise up for Him "a godly seed." (Footnote 12)
To purport to be faithful to this task by packing our children off to "professionals" is often dishonest and disobedient.
Its dishonesty consists in the fact that, although many Christian parents give high-minded reasons for turning over the nursing, discipline, and instruction of their children to others, their true reasons are often embarrassingly secular: careers, financial security, and peer respect hold a higher place in their values than the approbation of God and the eternal well-being of the souls of their children.
This is not to say there aren't many Christian women and men who, due to tragic life circumstances, find themselves with no choice in such matters. Consider for instance divorcees who work full-time to pay rent and put food on their tables; widowers whose children are cared for during the day by grandparents; and wives and husbands whose physical or mental handicaps require such attention that childrearing must at least partially be provided for by non-family members.
Yet even in such circumstances the diligent Christian parent and his or her Christian community can do much to compensate, creatively and lovingly, for these circumstances. For an excellent series of stories on just such a family which, while having great hardship due to the absence of the father, maintains its health and integrity, see the series of "Five Little Peppers" books, including Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, Five Little Peppers Midway, Five Little Peppers Grown Up, and Five Little Peppers: Phronsie Pepper, published one hundred years ago by Lothrop Publishing Company in Boston. The first volume is dedicated, "To the memory of my mother; wise in counsel--tender in judgment, and in all charity--strengthful in Christian faith and purpose--I dedicate, with reverence, this simple book."
But in the too-normal case, face the matter squarely and we see that young women today find themselves in possession of all the old responsibilities as well as a considerable number of new ones, not the least of which is preparing for and competing within the wage-earning world for the level of responsibility, opportunity, and salary commensurate with their abilities. If they are successful in this competition, landing a good entry-level position with significant chance of improvement, they must be careful to maintain their productivity and commitment such that they are in no danger of losing the position they have prepared for and sought for so many years. Would it not be poor stewardship to gain the department headship only to lose it later while trying to meet the needs of one's spouse or children?
Today's college woman gathers knowledge and degrees useful for the world of business, education, service, and health care--not marriage and family life. Still, there is clear evidence that these same women have not disengaged from the timeless rituals of courtship and marriage. This then is the expectation of our culture for young women today: prepare for life-consuming responsibilities in the world and in the home, both at the same time, and then balance these responsibilities for as long as you can as well as you can.
Some men and women are called by God to the single life and are aware of having been given this spiritual grace. (Footnote 13) Most men and women, though, will be blessed by God with marriage and children and are therefore to raise up a godly seed for the Lord. To fail to acknowledge this and make decisions accordingly in the critical years of life is so sad, really. Why should Christians join the world in despising housewifery and motherhood?
When young Christian women are ashamed to admit their choice of school, of major, and of method of financing their education is directly related to their commitment to be ready for marriage, bearing children, and making a home, who would deny that the Church is taking her cues from the world?
Christians ask their children, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" Pity the poor young thing who answers, "I want to be a mother like Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, or Mary," because her indoctrination is about to begin.
"Yes dear, of course you will be a mother; but wouldn't you like to be a doctor or lawyer, or to play in an orchestra, too?"
Being a wife and mother isn't enough anymore, is it?
So it all starts. And before long, our daughters will be taught it's not sufficient to dream and plan for marriage and motherhood; they must dream and plan for a professional life--a "career"--also.
But before it's over, the pressures of these life choices will have a life of their own with concomitant (and tragic) results for the woman, her husband, and their family. The collegiate woman who follows the culturally preferred pathway comes out of college prepared to work in a profession which will give her material rewards commensurate only with her faithfulness to her colleagues and employer. Often she will arrive at her first position saddled with the substantial debt she has accumulated purchasing her education.
So when, within a year or two of graduation, marriage appears on the horizon, even if the couple desires to place parenthood above their reputation among their peers or their commitment to the woman's career, the debt accrued during their pursuit of professional training and accreditation sinks their hopes and they realize that having children is not feasible, financially. The same logic inexorably leads the woman and her husband to the conclusion that, in the event of an accidental pregnancy (accidental according to the finite plans of man, that is), soon after the baby arrives, mother will return to her profession and give over the care of the child to someone else. Thus the mother will keep on the cutting edge of her career and grow dull in her God-given vocation of motherhood.
This ought not to be. In God's Household, the pillar and foundation of the Truth, we must do our best to honor the Lord in every area of our lives, especially this critical matter of providing for the Christian home a Christian mother who is well-prepared in every way to fulfill her calling.
We must do everything in our power to legitimate--no, to honor--the calling of motherhood so our children grow up knowing no calling is higher. Where is the mother who has found she's too bright for the task of honing her child's mind and nurturing his heart?
A dear friend of mine, 83 years old, gave up her graduate fellowship from the Department of Astronomy at Harvard to marry another astronomer she had met there. Soon she had four children and, as they grew, she devoted herself to those children, teaching them everything possible. She never missed one of their science fairs and, foregoing the faculty wives' coffee klatches, she stayed home so she would be at the front door to welcome her children at the end of each school day.
"That's when they tell you everything," she explains. "When they walk in the door they're eager to tell all the things of the day--things are welling up inside of them then. If you don't get it then, you will not hear it, because they'll put it aside and do other things." My own mother adds that a parallel to meeting the children when they get home from school is staying up late at night, when the kids get older, to talk to them after their late-night excursions.
While her husband built telescopes, observed the sky, and published his research in the Astrophysical Journal, my friend trained, nurtured, fed, and disciplined her little ones into adulthood. Today, two of those four children have Ph.D.'s and the other two married Ph.D.'s. Forgetting for the moment the spiritual side of these children's instruction, let us ask the smaller question: Was this a waste of good intellectual talent? Would those children have been better off--even intellectually--had Mrs. Cuffey completed her graduate work and been awarded the terminal degree?
At this point some would argue for inserting a delicate caveat to indicate that there are many ways to raise children--many divergent styles of motherhood--and that some mothers can do it all, while others, due to native limitations, have to be more focused. But is it not true that Mrs. Cuffey and others following her path have, in fact, chosen the more excellent way, devoting themselves to their husbands, children, and home in a way that another mother of children who works full-time outside the home is unable to? In fact, was not Mrs. Cuffey's decision to give up her Harvard fellowship and turn toward home a decision laden with spiritual significance, not just for herself but for her husband, children, and future generations?
If we teach our daughters the high calling of motherhood and they take that calling on as their own, it will often lead them to make decisions similar to the one Mrs. Cuffey made. In such cases, certainly their own parents, but also the people of God, must be prepared to provide them fulsome support for any steps they take to decrease, that their husbands and children may increase, especially when those decisions close doors behind which lie prestigious honors and large financial rewards.
In her excellent booklet, Where's Mom: The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective, Dorothy Patterson writes:
Homemaking, if pursued with energy, imagination, and skills, has as much challenge and opportunity, success and failure, growth and expansion, perks and incentives as any corporation, plus something no other position offers--working for people you love most and want to please the most.... Homemaking--being a full-time wife and mother--is not oppressive restraint of intellectual prowess for the community, but a release of wise instruction to your own household; it is ...the multiplication of a mother's legacy to the generations to come and the generous bestowal of all God meant a mother to give to those entrusted to her care. (Footnote 14)
As I write, leaves are falling, winter is quickly approaching, and autumn's smells and sounds draw me through fond memories back to my childhood home and my dear mother. There within that home Mother deposited the warmth and love which was its engine and which to this day causes her children and grandchildren such happiness when they return.
What sort of a home was it?
It was a home where the roof beams were raised to make way for grandparents preparing to die; a home where dinners were almost always late--seven or eight in the evening--because Mother was a perfectionist and had to serve food which showed her love, down to the details of the table service. Most nights, prior to our sitting down at the table we'd go around turning out all the lights while Mother lit the candles. She loved eating by candlelight, and we all got used to Grandpa's curmudgeonly lament, "A man would like to see what he's eating."
Northern Illinois winters were bitterly cold and, while wind blew through oaks standing guard around our home rustling brittle leaves clinging to branches, our picture window framed three little boys sitting at the hearth, roasting their backs as Mother read aloud from the Lazy-Boy chair. Her husband again gone on a speaking engagement, she led us in family devotions--Bible reading and prayer. Then, as the evening lengthened, she would pick up a book and read aloud to us until she fell asleep--often mid-sentence, or until the old mantle clock caught her eye. Jolted awake by the clock's chimes or coming to the end of a chapter, Mother closed the book, saying, "To bed, to bed, you sleepy heads."
We'd beg, "Oh mother, don't stop now! One more chapter, pleeease!" More often than not she'd relent, picking up where she'd just left off. Around that fireplace I was first introduced to the five little Peppers, A. A. Milne, P. G. Wodehouse, and many others.
Summertime Mother's attention turned to her gardens where she taught us to love beauty, but also to work. We'd complain about the work, at times, but each night the dinner table rewarded our labors with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, string beans, squash... all picked fresh that afternoon from our own soil. And the table's centerpiece would have been some combination of flowers from Mother's perennial garden, or rose buds cut from the hybrid teas carefully nursed through winter. When, as a high school student, I first read Pearl Buck's, The Good Earth, I thought she must have known Mother.
Though I acknowledge this vision is misty-eyed and could well cause some struggling mothers a bout of depression as they think about all the opportunities they've lost over the years, who can miss the priceless gift my family, as well as the missionaries, pastors, neighbors, and friends who sat and basked in the warmth of our home, received out of the abundance of the heart of this woman who chose to abandon her life to loving her husband and children, honoring her father and mother in their old age, and devoting herself to her home? Can I ever express my gratitude to a mother who was present, concerned, and content within those four walls which were the seedbed of most everything I have come to be? Such is the beauty of my mother who demonstrated her godliness in such domestic ways. May her tribe increase, by the grace of God.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised (Proverbs 31:25-30, RSV).
(Footnote 1) Brigitte and Peter Berger, in The War Over the Family: Capturing the Middle Ground (Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1983).
(Footnote 2) For a sage essay on these matters, see G. K. Chesterton's, "The Drift from Domesticity," in The Thing (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1948). Here Chesteron refers to Ibsen as "a very powerful dramatist and an exceedingly feeble philosopher."
(Footnote 3) Paul Johnson, The Intellectuals (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 98.
(Footnote 4) See Allan C. Carlson, "Treason of the Professions: The Case of Home Economics," The Family in America, (August 1987).
(Footnote 5) Cf. Isa. 58:6,7; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:4 . Especially, 1 Tim. 5:8: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
(Footnote 6) Titus 2:5 in the Revised Standard Version.
(Footnote 7) "Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no-one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:3-5).
(Footnote 8) Prov. 22:6.
(Footnote 9) "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4, NIV).
(Footnote 10) "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14,15, NIV).
(Footnote 11) Deut. 11:18-21; Josh. 4:21-24; and Exod. 12:26-28. Also, Deut. 6:6-8: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads" (NIV).
(Footnote 12) "And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth" (Mal. 2:15, KJV).
(Footnote 13) See the Apostle Paul's discussion of this subject in 1 Cor. 7.
(Footnote 14) Where's Mom: The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective, by Dorothy Patterson can be ordered from CBMW at a cost of $5.00, plus handling. For this and other helpful CBMW publications, please call (847) 573-8210.