Many of the people in our town think that we members of the college
faculty dwell on Mount Parnassus; that we eat of the ambrosia
of books and drink of the nectar of music and painting. No burdens
of ordinary mortals come near us, no sordid struggles engage us
ours is a life of high ideals and beautiful thoughts. The color
and making of the next ball gown certainly never is discussed,
but in place of it there is careful planning to see if a suit
and a half for the boys may be gotten out of their father's old
one. The latest fad in dinner serving is unheard of, but we professors'
wives do try to learn the most attractive way to prepare the famly
breakfast without the luxuries of coffee and meat.
An income of $1,100 a year and four children and house rent,
a taste for books, art and music, and travel and no struggles,
My day begins at six o'clock the year round with giving or superintending
cold baths for the four children and myself. Then there are backs
to button and hair to comb, and it is easily quarter after seven,
our breakfast hour, by the time all are ready.
Bertha, a student who earns her room and board with us during
term time, prepares the breakfast of oatmeal and cocoa.
After the meal there are the Professor and two boys to start
off to college and school, respectively. Each needs personal inspection
a loose button tightened, an application of the whisk broom, or
the tie retouched. Then the little girls come with me into the
kitchen, and we wash and put away the breakfast dishes, scalding
all the milk pails and pans and skimming the cream for the butter.
Then we make the beds and put upstairs in order. (Bertha cares
for her own room) The study and other living rooms come next,
and when they are dusted and neat, it is time to prepare the vegetables
It is while I am getting dinner that Ruth and Mary have their
book lessons. We do not care to have our children enter school
before the third grade because of the class of children that attend
our ward school. The two little girls use a wooden box for a desk,
sitting on two lower ones, in a snug corner of the kitchen, where
I can teach them as I peel potatoes, pare apples or move about
the room mixing a pudding. It takes some time to prepare a meal
for seven people, four of them hungry students. One thing that
makes it harder is not having any water or sink in the house.
By half after twelve the dinner is on the table, and I have spent
a morning in careful planning, with quick, sure strokes to get
all the work done, and yet have time to stop occasionally, as
I have to, to teach the children. They come first, after all.
In winter the dinner consists of a cheap cut of meat, usually
beef, that I grind up or steam tender and then cook in all sorts
of ways to make a palatable variety, potatoes in various forms,
frequently dried beans or peas, baked or boiled, from time to
time relieved by parsnips, carrots, turnips, or macaroni, rice
and escalloped tomatoes, a large part of the latter being bread
crumbs. For dessert, clear fruit is too luxurious, so I prepare
it with tapioca; batter pudding, corn starch or bread crumbs in
different puddings. I begrudge the time it takes to make these
simple puddings, but we cannot afford an apple, orange or banana
apiece per diem at winter prices.
During the summer we rarely buy meat, but eat the eggs from our
own hens. We also have many fresh vegetables from our garden patch;
but we can't touch even canned ones in winter, much less dream
of fresh ones. The tomatoes used for escalloping in Winter are
some I put up from our own garden.
The dinner over, Bertha takes charge of dining room, kitchen
and door bell. The Professor takes care of the children, and I
have one quiet, restful hour alone, the only one in the twenty
four that I can call all mine. That is not always uninterrupted,
as every mother knows. In that hour I have to make my simple toilet
for the afternoon and take a nap. A cat nap it is; but oh! it
is so much needed, for housework tires me out. Perhaps if the
muscles for housework had been developed in girlhood it would
not wear on me so much Then, best of all in my hour, I lie down
on the bed and read for twenty minutes -sometimes a full half
hour. I read I devour rather some rare morsel of rich condensed
thought food, and I digest it later as I sew, enjoying it quietly,
From two thirty until ten o'clock I sew, stopping at half past
five for a half hour's walk with my husband and some of the children,
followed by supper at six If informal callers drop in during the
afternoon, I continue sewing, they often bringing theirs with
I give half an hour of music to each of the children during the
afternoon as I sew. Except for his half hour at the piano or violin,
each child lives out of doors all afternoon, no matter what the
weather, and a rosy, jolly little group they make. On my constitutional
with James the children skip and dance around us as we walk out
over the prairie toward the glorious West sky. Then comes the
most pleasant meal of the day, supper. Then my husband's class
work is over, and we are all hungry from the fresh air, and we
have the fun of a foreign language.
We have French and German suppers on alternate days, in conversation
only, the bill of fare being good American cereals and bread and
After supper, if it lacks seven o'clock, the little girls' bed
time, we all gather around the piano and sing some simple songs
in English, French and German, or I play while the children dance.
The little dances they know I teach them on Saturday mornings,
when Bertha takes some of my housework.
At seven, James carries a little girl upstairs on each shoulder
and puts them to bed, a privilege he has made his own. In the
meantime, I have my talk with the boys. They tell their little
confidences more freely being both together, each one helping
the other by loving suggestion. They are so unalike that each
has great admiration for the other. In half an hour they scamper
upstairs and take possession of their father.
By eight o'clock my turn comes. James sits by me as I sew, and
we talk alone together for the first time in the day. Sometimes
he reads aloud to me, but at half after eight his evening's study
begins. If my work is on a garment that does not need turning
and shifting about so that I make no motions to divert his attention
from his books, I sit silently by him sewing, sewing without a
word, glad to be near my faithful, plodding man. When ten o'clock
comes, I bid him good¬ night and go off to my little Ruth
and Mary, leaving him still working.
Sometimes a neighbor spends the evening with me, sewing or reading
aloud What a delight to be read to as I sew! Because I loved books
and music too well, I hardly knew how to handle a needle before
I was married But the college days and study in Europe help the
needle thru hard places now. All this sewing does not mean that
I am an atom in a sweatshop system. I means that I am taking the
only, the last way possible, to make ends meet on our salary and
yet live with my children in their work and in their play. My
husband's clothing and my winter under woolens are all that we
buy ready made. I make sturdy jackets for James to save the wear
on his sacque coat, and keep a piece of carpet in his study chair
to save the trousers. Of course, all repairs, relinings and pressing
on his clothing I attend to. My coats and dresses are my hardest
tasks, harder even than the boys' suits. All of the children's
clothing, both outer and undergarments, I alone make, many of
them from the sound parts of their parents' clothing. Then there
are carpets to mend, comfortables to make, and other household
supplies to keep up. The regular weekly stocking darning and other
mending for an active family of six is no small item.
Our student helper, Bertha, does her own ironing and bakes the
bread twice a week. I frequently help her with the mid week baking.
She cooks breakfast and supper, washes the dinner and supper dishes,
and fills the lamps. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning
she gives me two extra hours each for sweeping. In exchange for
these services she receives her board and room, well furnished
and heated, and enters into the family life as one of us at meals
and other times. Often I help her with her lessons during the
One part of the week's work I hire done for me. That is the washing
and as much of the ironing as can be crowded into the same day,
subject to the discretion of our whimsical dusky Minerva. The
rest of the ironing for the famly falls to me.
The poorly built house adds to my difficulties as maid of all
work. All of the water has to be carried into the house from the
cistern pump, ten or fifteen feet from the kitchen doorsteps.
There is no sink or waste pipe of any kind, so all the waste water
has to be carried some distance from the house and thrown on the
ground When it is below zero those two things amount to hardships,
almost, for a family of our size uses a good deal of water. We
have no cellar, except a small excavation in the clay soil under
our dining room. It is called a cyclone cellar, and might be used
as such if we were not in as great danger of drowning ¬as
it is utterly useless for anything but frogs. When we asked our
landlord to have it drained he laughed, and answered that he did
not think we needed any more piping than the nightly frog songs.
That is all that came of it, except, perhaps, a doctor's bill
or two, but other interesting features about the house have their
part in these little notes, "For services rendered"
Rain and snow and wind sift in around the door and window frames
and thru the corners of the house, where we can often see light
shining at the joint in the mopboard Certainly they swell the
fuel bill The care of four stoves, three of them heating and one
a cook stove, is no small matter. The boys help their father carry
the coal from the barn, the only place to store it. Soft coal
is bulky and dirty, but anthracite is far beyond our means here
in the Middle West. The same strong arms bring in much of the
We pay eighteen dollars ($18) a month for this poorly built,
eight small roomed house, its three lots and barn made of piano
boxes and other odds and ends of lumber. We could not hope to
rent a better built house, merely a larger one, for more money
unless we were willing to go over forty dollars. Families have
come to live in our town faster than houses could be properly
built, and it is hard on the man who has not capital enough to
build for himself. The three lots that go with our leaky house
are very useful, for they furnish us a garden of rich soil in
Summer and a playground for children and chickens in Winter. The
cow and the coal repose in our barn, and each has about equal
space in its luxurious proportions. That cow is a big saving of
money, but it adds to our labor, for we make our own butter, but
we must have it to help those proverbial "ends." There
is plenty of prairie south and east of us for pasturage.
Others of the faculty are trying to tie those flying ends too.
Mrs. A does about what I do for her three little girls and gives
piano lessons to the neighborhood besides. Mrs. 13 has her three
year old boy and housework, including the washing, and tutors
in mathematics and Latin five hours every day, four of the five
hours coming after seven o'clock at night, when the little fellow
is in bed Mrs. C , who has no children, writes book reviews and
has charge of the Women's and Children's Page in our paper. All
of the wives of the faculty are busy women, trying each in her
own way to add to her husband's pittance. Where the men are not
full professors, that pittance is less than my husband's.
With all this straining to live comes a wish from the President
and Trustees of the college that we mingle more in town society,
that it will be good advertisement for the college to be well
represented every¬where. Who can afford the evening dress
to go? Or the evening's sewing left undone? Who can return invitations?
Who has the strength and this is at the highest premium who has
the strength to spare? Not one of the wives of the Trustees who
desire this has ever called on a professor's wife, much less done
anything to bring the college people into her circle of acquaintances.
We meet them at the college receptions; they always express their
interest in the college, and that is all.
The little social life we have is among ourselves almost entirely.
We gather informally at a house for a hour and a half or so, chat
awhile, then, perhaps have an impromptu entertainment of music,
or an account of a book lately read, a bit of a lecture on a topic
of general interest; then light refreshments and home by ten o'clock,
for the next day's hard work is before us all There are college
lectures, debates and entertainments that those of us who have
few or no children attend; but the children mean spending no admission
fees, however small. Of course, it would be a real benefit to
the students as well as ourselves if we could keep in touch with
these broadening influences; but it is in other ways we are forced
to help them. It is expected that we subscribe to the football,
baseball, glee club, Y.M. and Y.W.C.A., and other college student
funds. To some of these we would volunteer to add as liberally
as we could, but not to all, when we hardly are clothed warmly
enough all Winter. Anyway, we do not like to have the sum we are
expected to raise announced to us, with the request that we see
that the vote passes in faculty meeting. If the request, or demand
rather, came from the student body it could be resisted.
There is one way in which James and I rejoice to help the students.
Whenever we treat ourselves to a roast of meat we share it with
one or two self supporting students. It is reward enough that
they bring us their joy or suffering, even coming back after graduation
to share their life crises with us.
It has been suggested to us not to live in such and such a house
because it is not in keeping with the dignity of our position
(!). We are to entertain in such and such a way, for we have had
the best advantages in social life that this country can boast
(!). (I add the exclamation with respect to our superiors.) The
discrepancy comes between the ideal and the actual possibilities
of our salaries. We who have had comforts, even luxuries, do not
avoid them now because we were satiate. True, our tastes and education
make us companions of the refined in easy circumstances, but our
incomes are those of mechanics. The mechanic may be refined and
have lofty ambitions, but he does not need travel, close contact
with good libraries and large minds, an intimacy with the fine
arts and the sciences to keep him ready to help those under him,
as a professor does. It is enervating to work by one's self, going
over the same ground every year, always alone, with but a new
book or two on the subject Oh! how I long that my husband may
have the chance to study under somebody, with some one of his
own or greater education and intelligence! If it were but for
a Summer it would give him a new impetus. But how is this possible
on our $1,100 a year? This is just how it all goes:
Food (including fodder for cow in winter) 300.00
Fuel and light 55.00
Hired help for washing (52 weeks at $1.25) 65.00
Hired help for housecleaning (4 days at $1.25) 5.00
Magazines and books (including technical books for
professor and school books for children) 35.00
Church and college contributions 40.00
Life insurance and fire insurance on furniture 105.00
Doctor's and dentist's bills 20.00
Carfare, postage, etc. 30.00
Household furnishings, tinware, garden implements, etc, 40.00
Sundries (Christmas presents and other expenses larger than average)
Where does the possibility to travel and study elsewhere come
in here? To get away from one's cow and vegetable patch must help
to quicken a man's wits in itself, to say nothing of our stultifying
It is because we with our needs and tastes are not receiving
a living salary that there is a constantly changing element in
the faculty, especially among young married men with no children.
They consider their connection with our college temporary, taking
it as a stepping¬stone to larger institutions. They do us
a real harm with their inexperience in teaching and their restlessness.
An occasional one would not be so detrimental, but it is demoralizing
for the students to change instructors in a study every few years,
just as the former one begins to understand how to teach it This
spirit of self interest is more noticeable in the science and
music departments than others, it seems to me.
I overheard a conversation between James and Mr. E , a Ph.D.
from Halle, a while ago. They were standing in our little hallway
when Mr. Easked James for a letter of recommendation to a teachers'
"Why do you want one?" James asked
"Stay here! I'd rust"
"Oh, no, you wouldn't Men who carry double schedules don't
"Perhaps you can stand grinding all your life for nothing,
but I've got to have a better place."
I thought about it afterward "A better place!" He might
find a more remunerative one, but after all, is there a better
place than here and time than now, for giving one's best? Are
not these hardworking, serious young men and women worth helping
as much as their more delicate, highstrung Eastern cousins?