Women and their Work


Vague Dreams of Canada Turn Into Grim Realities When They Are Assigned to Their First Place As House Workers in the New Land

Women and their Work


Vague Dreams of Canada Turn Into Grim Realities When They Are Assigned to Their First Place As House Workers in the New Land



Women and their Work

Vague Dreams of Canada Turn Into Grim Realities When They Are Assigned to Their First Place As House Workers in the New Land


ELSPETH has red hair, blue eyes and skin of buttermilk softness. Elspeth is new to the land—just arrived from Scotland to become a Canadian domestic. What does Elspeth expect? We put the question to a member of the staff of the Employment Service.

“The girls expect money first of all— big pay.” Then, she added with a smile, “They expect a man.”

We looked down along the wall at the quiet, rather refined, little face of Elspeth waiting alone in a row of chairs for “a place” in this new land. She would not wait long, for the demand always exceeds the supply.

Elspeth no doubt had had her dreams of Canada, a land big with mountains and money and men—a land where she would wear silk stockings and pearl necklaces, marry a ranchman with two quarter sections, raise sons and daughters who would be doctors and lawyers and employ servants of their own.

But what disillusionments?

The gorgeous mountain scenery about which she has read is still far away when she lands in Montreal.

The high prices paid for domestic help, about which she has heard so much are not for those who must begin at the bottom.

In the first place she is in debt to the government for her travelling expenses to the extent of about a hundred dollars for a third-class passage. She must pay that off at the rate of about fifteen dollars a month. She must face the fact that clothes are more costly here than overseas. She must spend money for suppers, treats and carfares with the other girls on her afternoons out. She must struggle the first half year to make ends meet.

But the man—after a few months she discovers she is to meet him on the street. The other girls do it. Why not

Elspeth? Anyway, she is very short of money that first six months and the men they meet give Elspeth and her chums a bit of fun—picture shows, chocolates, ice-creams. The men are from Scotland, too, and they wear nice clothes and have a fine appearance. And, how else would she meet John? For, Elspeth expects to meet him.

And the work? Elspeth at home has been the “under housemaid” in a big country home where there were several other maids. She has spent her whole time doing the dining room, parlor, front stairs and hall. In Canada she becomes a “general.” She cooks breakfast, washes dishes, cleans the stove, makes beds, dusts, tidies a whole house, prepares a lunch and an evening dinner. She answers the door and the ’phone, puts the children to bed at night when their mothers and fathers have gone to the theatre, and takes the responsibility of the house in the evenings. It is even probable that she does the laundry too. All this will make a smarter, more “all-round” woman of Elspeth, better fitted to be the wife of that Canadian man in the mist just beyond her blue eyes. But all this will be a tax on Elspeth, for the ways of Canada are strange to her and she has much to learn. It will be a tax, moreover, on the mistress who will train her when she says to her: “You will find the squash in the vegetable room,” and Elspeth asks: “Is the squash to put the potatoes in?” A foolish question? To a Canadian, yes, but the patient mistress remembers that squash were not grown in Northern Scotland.

Taflfied the Prunes

NEITHER were prunes a familiar article of diet with Elspeth. The first time she was to stew them for breakfast, her mistress left carefully written directions on the kitchen table, but she made

her T’s with a loop and often forgot to cross them, so it happened that her three “Tbs” of sugar—short for tablespoons were interpreted by Elspeth three “lbs.” and three lbs. of sugar went into the prunes for breakfast. The family descended upon a compo between syrup and taffy.

Three months later when Elspeth had had much grilling and many corrections, she saw an “Ad.” in the paper offering bigger pay and an out of the city home. She left the house where she had learned what a squash was and where she had been taught not to stew beefsteaks and how to stew prunes.

This brings us to the general happening with Elspeth.

“The girls rarely keep their first place long,” said lady who had placed many of them—“not more than about one in five. They will keep a second place even when it is much harder and much less desirable simply because they feel less new to the work.”

“I don’t want a perfectly green girl. Give me one that has had a place for a month or two,” is the plea of many employers.

When a housewife gets a fresh Jamaican and sends her down cellar for parsnips and she looks blank and asks, “How you call parsnips, ma’m?” When she gets an English maid and leaves her with corn in the ear which she has to take to a neighbor to know how to prepare; when she gets an Irish girl who wants to dry the wash on the hedge and boil the flannels; when all these things, which happen in the Canadian homes occur, she realizes that training is the main essential, and that training is what Elspeth lacks.

To be sure the girls are trained by their mistresses but individual teaching is a slow and costly process. Isn’t there some other way by which the newly

arrived and especially untrained girl could work part time for a little lower wage and receive some hours a week of proper training in our domestic science schools?

We put the question to Dr. Mackay, of the Toronto Technical School. He immediately put his hand into his desk, pulled forth a calendar and drew our attention to page eighty-four:

“ Houseworkers’ Course—Fee $5.00. Three months’ course; two afternoons a week. No fees are charged in the case of persons who are permitted by their employers to attend the classes.”

“We offer this course,” says Dr. Mackay, “but nobody comes to avail themselves of it. We have the equipment here. We are prepared to meet any demand as soon as the demand is made. But we haven’t time to go out and canvas for students to come in.”

Miss N. L. Pattison of the Technical School staff declares that the course when unpatronized by those in service had gradually become a course for married women, doing their own housework.

Not Familiar With Course

IN THEjfirst place the maids who come to Canada know nothing about it. In the second place most mistresses have not heard of it and when they have they are not always inclined to free their maids two afternoons a week and at the same time pay her the same wage. Neither is the maid always inclined to spend her two afternoons off in school instead of at the park or a picture show.

In short, if a course like this is to be made useful and practical we must make it a thing to be coveted by maids as a class. They will then not grudge their time and carfare. And if we make it a thing desired by them, we must so change domestic conditions that they will see some tangible reward at the end of their striving. We must draw a line between the trained and the untrained domestic. So long as all nurses were in the Sary Gamp class, so long were nurses satisfied with “Sary’s” knowledge and qualifications. Once a new class was created— a trained class, then young women shunned “Sary’s” rank and were ready to spend three years practically unpaid in order to have the standing of the trained nurse.

We must do the same thing with the domestic. We must call out the ambitious girl from the ranks of the “Sary’s” and mark her accordingly. We must give her a cap that is symbolic not of servility but of efficiency. Just as the black band of velvet ribbon on the cap of the nurse bespeaks the graduate’s training, so a distinctive touch on the cap of our domestic worker should bespeak her training.

Such training as this badge would stand for could not be given in a three months’ course of two afternoons a week. She needs to learn the fundamentals of cookery, dishwashing, proper care of good china, silver, steel knives, bed making, proper care of good houses and good furniture. She needs, too, a certain amount of English education, of direction to the sources of good literature.

But the cost? How shall the orphaned working girl aspiring to be a trained worker meet the expense? Just as a nurse does. By working while she is in training. Only that she will work part time for an individual employer instead of for the school that trains her._

There are thousands of homes in this city where a maid at present-day wages is an impossibility but where a maid on part time at a lower wage would be a boon. Many a house could spare its maid either in the evenings or the afternoons for her training. Employers, tobe sure, would have to be businesslike and stand by the agreement as to hours off for training.

And after graduation? This trained houseworker is going to merit greater consideration as to hours than we have hitherto given the domestic. She will no be content to be shut out from all social life as the old feudal hours have excluded her. The girl who gets out just one afternoon a week and every other Sunday is practically ostracised from all but her own class. She does not attend any of the gatherings of young people in her church because she is answering the door and the phone or in with the children evenings, or on the evenings she is out it is after eight o’clock when she gets through the dinner dishes. To go back

to that little blue-eyed Elspeth when she gets out Wednesday afternoon John is at work; when John gets off Saturday, Elspeth is in all day. John is taking Mary Smith from the whitewear factory to the baseball game Saturday afternoons. Elspeth is beginning to wonder how long it would take to learn to run a power machine in the factory where Mary Smith works.

Waiting For Brides

FOR after all Elspeth came over here because she read in the old land papers about the splendid Canadians waiting for Scotch brides. And when the gates of matrimony are closed to any class of girl workers the girls are driven out of that class. And in the natural order of things, why not?

Of course this only applies to city conditions and not to our prairie provinces and rural homes. For that matter the need of trained workers is not as great in the country as in the city, since the mistress is usually working with the maid all the time and thus supervising her.

But if we want a class of trained workers we must meet them as a class with conditions that will be a reward for the time and money sacrificed in training. We can never get a young woman here and there to take a course of training without seeing that it is leading her somewhere. We are a young country calling to the young womanhood of other countries to come to us. We have all the educational equipment; we have every chance to lead other countries in a forward movement in this line, to create the trained houseworker as a class. But it must be done as a class work. It can never succeed as a work of individuals. It must begin over these by getting a class of girls who desire training and education, rather than big pay for their first year or two of service here. It must continue here through bureaus and agencies placing girls who choose to enter this class with the understanding that they should be trained. Once we create and establish the class of trained houseworkers, we shall have an altogether different type of girl coming from the old land to enter its ranks. We shall, moreover, have our own girls enrolling.

We have tried the untrained domestic and to a great extent we have failed in the present or rather the decadent system. We have tried to some extent the outside worker wiio comes in by the hour. That fails to a great extent and will always fail because the worker who pays room rent and board and carfare has to charge too much for her hours of service and loses too much time in transportation. The system will always be too costly to be workable. The normal place for the houseworker is in the home. But before we bring the trained worker into the home we must ourselves be trained to the point where we realize the need of giving her to some extent the kind of freedom that will let her take her place as a citizen in our land, her place in church life, in girls’ clubs and social gatherings, where she may meet young men rather than on the street at a later hour.

“Oh, but if I send my son from Manitoba into a University town and in some public social where students are invited he meets a pretty girl—” says one fond mother.

Oh, but if “my son” in some gathering meets a pretty girl from a candy factory what happens? And after all why should a girl who knows how to make a pumpkin pie and Bavarian sponge and a hundred other things be more disastrous to meet than a girl who simply boxes chocolates all day?

Of course this idea of the trained houseworker class is by no means a new and brilliant stroke. It has been oft reiterated by press and platform. This is only one more whack of the hammer. The question is when and where do we begin—• not so much where, for we have all the equipment in our larger cities to launch it.

To be sure we are not suffering this year from the dearth of domestic help we have sometimes experienced, but we are not getting the class of girls we should get as houseworkers and we shall never get them till we give a different status to educated and efficient household help —a status that makes training in that line worth while to the worth while girl and to the Canadian girl herself.