Addams, Jane. Women and Public Housekeeping
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By Jane Addams



    A city is in many respects a great business corporation, but in other re-
spects it is enlarged housekeeping. If American cities have failed in the first,
partly because officeholders have carried with them the predatory instinct
learned in competitive business, and cannot help "working a good thing"
when they have an opportunity, may we not say that city housekeeping has
failed partly because women, the traditional housekeepers, have not been
consulted as to its multiform activities? The men of the city have been
carelessly indifferenct to much of its civic housekeeping, as they have always
been indifferent to the details of the household. They have totally dis-
regarded a candidate's capacity to keep the streets clean, preferring to con-
sider him in relation to the national tariff or to the necessity for increasing
the national navy, in a pure spirit of reversion to the traditional type of
government, which had to do only with enemies and outsiders.

    It is difficult to see what military prowess has to do with the multiform
duties which, in a modern city, include the care of parks and libraries, super-
intendence of markets, sewers and bridges, the inspection of provisions and
boilers, and the proper disposal of garbage. It has nothing to do with the
building department, which the city maintains that it may see to it that the
basements are dry, that the bedrooms are large enough to afford the required
cubic feet of air, that the plumbing is sanitary, that the gas pipes do not leak,
that the tenement house court is large enough to afford light and ventilation,
that the stairways are fireproof. The ability to carry arms has nothing to do
with the health department maintained by the city, which provides that chil-
dren are vaccinated, that contagious diseases are isolated and placarded, that
the spread of tuberculosis is curbed, that the water is free from typhoid infec-
tion. Certainly the military conception of society is remote from the functions
of the school boards, whose concern it is that children are educated, that they
are supplied with kindergartens, and are given a decent place in which to
play. The very multifariousness and complexity of a city government
demand the help of minds accustomed to detail and variety of work, to a
sense of obligation for the health and welfare of young children, and to
responsibility for the cleanliness and comfort of other people.

    Because all these things have traditionally been in the hands of women,
if they take no part in them now they are not only missing the education
which the natural participation in civic life would bring to them, but they
are losing what they have always had. From the beginning of tribal life,


they have been held responsible for the health of the community, a function
which is now represented by the health department. From the days of the
cave dwellers, so far as the home was clean and wholesome, it was due to their
efforts, which are now represented by the Bureau of Tenement House Inspec-
tion. From the period of the primitive village, the only public sweeping which
was performed was what they undertook in their divers dooryards, that which
is now represented by the Bureau of Street Cleaning. Most of the depart-
ments in a modern city can be traced to woman's traditional activity; but, in
spite of this, so soon as these old affairs were turned over to the city they
slipped from woman's hands, apparently because they then became matters
for collective action and implied the use of the franchise -- because the fran-
chise had in the first instance been given to the man who could fight, because
in the beginning he alone could vote who could carry a weapon, it was consid-
ered an improper thing for a woman to possess it.

    Is it quite public spirited for woman to say, "We will take care of these
affairs so long as they stay in our own houses, but if they go outside and con-
cern so many people that they cannot be carried on without the mechanism
of the vote, we will drop them; it is true that these activities which women
have always had are not at present being carried on very well by the men
in most of the great American cities, but, because we do not consider it 'lady-
like' to vote, we will let them alone?"