“Let each morning and evening be a new and complete day. In childlike simplicity live as if you were to have no to-morrow so far as worrying as to its possible outcome goes. Make the best of to-day's income. Not one minute of to-morrow belongs to you. It is all God's. Thank him that His hands hold it, and not your feeble, uncertain fingers.”

Marion Harland


An Open Secret,

Chapter I.

Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,

Chapter II.

The Family Purse,

Chapter III.

The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,

Chapter IV.

Little Things that are Trifles,

Chapter V.

A Mistake on John's Part,

Chapter VI.


Chapter VII.

Must-haves and May-bes,

Chapter VIII.

What Good Will It Do?

Chapter IX.

Shall I Pass It On?

Chapter X.

"Only Her Nerves,"

Chapter XI.

The Rule of Two,

Chapter XII.

The Perfect Work of Patience,

Chapter XIII.

According to His Folly,

Chapter XIV.

"Buttered Parsnips,"

Chapter XV.

Is Marriage Reformatory?

Chapter XVI.

"John's" Mother,

Chapter XVII.

And Other Relations-in-Law,

Chapter XVIII.

A Timid Word for the Step-mother,

Chapter XIX.

Children as Helpers,

Chapter XX.

Children as Burden-bearers,

Chapter XXI.

Our Young Person,

Chapter XXII.

Our Boy,

Chapter XXIII.

That Spoiled Child,

Chapter XXIV.

Getting Along in Years,

Chapter XXV.


Chapter XXVI.

The Gospel of Conventionalities,


Familiar, or Intimate?


Our Stomachs,


Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,


The Family Invalid,


A Temperance Talk,


Family Music,


Family Religion,


A Parting Word for Boy,


Homely, But Important,



The Secret of a Happy Home

Author: Marion Harland

Published: 1896



The rich woman was born and brought up in New York City; the farmer's wife in Indiana.

They were as far apart in education and social station as if they had belonged to different races and had lived in different hemispheres.

They were as near akin in circumstances and in suffering as if they had been twin sisters, and brought up under the same roof.

The husband of one wrote "Honorable" before his name, and reckoned his dollars by the million. He was, moreover, a man of imposing deportment, bland in manner and ornate in language. As riches increased he set his heart upon them and upon the good things that riches buy. He had four children, and he erected ("built" was too small a word) a palatial house in a fashionable street.

Each child had a suite of three rooms. Each apartment was elaborately decorated and furnished. The drawing-rooms were crowded with bric-a-brac and monuments of the upholsterer's ingenuity. It was a work of art and peril to dust them every day. He developed a taste for entertaining as time went on and honors thickened upon him, and he mistook, like most of his guild, ostentation for hospitality. Every dish at the banquets for which he became famous was a show piece. He swelled with honest pride in the perusal of a popular personal paragraph estimating the value of his silver and cut glass at $50,000.

The superintendent, part owner, and the slave of all this magnificence was his wife. She was her own housekeeper, and employed, besides the coachman, whose business was in the stables and upon his box, five servants. There were twenty-five rooms in the palatial house, giving to each servant five to be kept in the spick-and-span array demanded by the master's position and taste. As a matter of course something was neglected in every department, the instinct of self-preservation being innate and cultivated in Abigail, Phyllis and Gretchen, "Jeems" and "Chawls." Even more as a matter of course, the nominal mistress supplemented the deficiencies of her aids.

The house was as present and forceful a consciousness with her as his Dulcinea with David Copperfield at the period when the "sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora, and the south wind blew Dora, and the wild flowers were all Doras to a bud." No snail ever carried her abode upon her back more constantly than our poor rich woman the satin-lined, hot-aired and plate-windowed stone pile, with her. The lines that criss-crossed her forehead, and channeled her cheeks, and ran downward from the corners of her mouth, were hieroglyphics standing in the eyes of the initiated for the baleful legend--


When she drove abroad in her luxurious chariot, behind high-stepping bays, jingling with plated harness, or repaired in the season to seashore or mountain, she was striving feebly to push away the tons of splendid responsibility from her brain.

One day she gave over the futile attempt. Something crashed down upon and all around her, and everything except inconceivable misery of soul was a blank.

Expensive doctors diagnosed her case as nervous prostration. When she vanished from the eyes of her public, and a high-salaried housekeeper, a butler, a nursery governess and an extra Abigail took her place and did half her work in the satin-lined shell out of which she had crept, maimed and well-nigh murdered, it was announced that she was "under the care of a specialist at a retreat."

A retreat! Heaven save and pardon us for making such homes part and parcel and a necessity of our century and our land!

Our Rich Man's Wife never left it until she was borne forth into the securer refuge of the narrow house that needed none of her care-taking. Upon the low green thatch lies heavily the shadow of a mighty monument that, to the satirist's eye, has a family likeness to the stone pile which killed her.

The Farmer's Wife was born and bred among the prairies, out of sight of which she had traveled but once, and that on her wedding journey. She came back from the brief outing to take possession of "her own house"--prideful phrase to every young matron.

It was an eight-roomed farmstead, with no modern conveniences. That meant, that all the water used in the kitchen and dwelling had to be fetched from a well twenty feet away; that there was no drain or sink or furnace; that stationary tubs had not been heard of, and the washing was wrung by hand. The stalwart farmer "calculated to hire" in haying, harvesting, planting, plowing, threshing and killing times. Whatever might have been the wife's calculations, she toiled unaided, cooking, washing, ironing, scrubbing, sewing, churning, butter-making and "bringing up a family," single-handed, with never a creature to lift an ounce or do a stroke for her while she could stand upon her feet.

When she was laid upon her bed--an unusual occurrence, except when there was a fresh baby--a neighbor looked in twice a day to lend a hand, or Mrs. Gamp was engaged for a fortnight. It was not an unusual occurrence for the nominally convalescent mother to get dinner for six "men folks" with a three-weeks old baby upon her left arm.

Her husband was energetic and "forehanded," and without the slightest approach to intentional cruelty, looked to his wife to "keep up her end of the log." He tolerated no wastefulness, and expected to be well fed and comfortable; and comfort with this Yankee mother's son implied tidiness. To meet his view, as well as to satisfy her own conscience, his partner became a model manager, a woman of "faculty."

I saw her last year in the incurable ward of a madhouse. From sunrise until dark, except when forced to take her meals, she stood at one window and polished one pane with her apron, a plait like a trench between her puckered brows, her mouth pursed into an anguished knot, her hollow eyes drearily anxious--the saddest picture I ever beheld, most awfully sad because she was a type of a class.

Some men--and they are not all ignorant men--are beginning to be alarmed at the press of women into other--I had almost said any other--avenues of labor than that of housewifery. Eagerness to break up housekeeping and try boarding for a while, in order "to get rested out," is not confined to the incompetent and the indolent. Nor is it altogether the result of the national discontent with "the greatest plague of life"--servants.

American women, from high to low, keep house too hard because too ambitiously.

It is, furthermore, ambition without knowledge; hence, misdirected. We have the most indifferent domestic service in the world, but we employ, as a rule, too few servants, such as they are. It is considered altogether sensible and becoming for the mechanic's wife to do her own housework as a bride and as a matron of years. Unless her husband prospers rapidly she is accounted "shiftless" should she hire a washerwoman, while to "keep a girl" is extravagance, or a significant stride toward gentility. The wife of the English joiner or mason or small farmer, if brisk, notable and healthy, may dispense with the stated service of a maid of all work, but she calls in a charwoman on certain days, and is content to live as becomes the station of a housewife who must be her own domestic staff.

Here is the root of the difference. In a climate that keeps the pulses in full leap and the nerves tense, we call upon pride to lash on the quivering body and spirit to run the unrighteous race, the goal of which is to seem richer than we are, and make "smartness" (American smartness) cover the want of capital. Having created false standards of respectability, we crowd insane asylums and cemeteries in trying to live up to them.

The tradesman who begins to acknowledge the probability that he will become a rich citizen, and whose wife has "feelings" on the subject of living as her neighbors do, takes the conventional step toward asserting himself and gratifying her aspirations by moving into a bigger house than that which has satisfied him up to now, and furnishing it well--that is, smartly, according to the English acceptance of the word.

Silks and moquette harmonize as well as calico and ingrain once did. A three-story-and-a-half-with-a-high-stoop house, without a piano in the back parlor, and a long mirror between the front parlor windows, would be a forlorn contradiction of the genius of American progress. As flat a denial would be the endeavor to live without what an old lady once described to me as, a "pair of parlors." The stereotyped brace is senseless and ugly, but one of the necessaries of life to our ambitious housewife. She would scout as vulgar the homely cheerfulness of the middle-class Englishman's single "parlor" where the table is spread and the family receives visitors. Having saddled himself with a house too big for his family, and stocked the showrooms with plenishings so fine that the family are afraid to use them unless when there is company, the prudent citizen satisfies the economic side of him by making menials of wife and daughters without thought of the opposing circumstance that he has practically endorsed their intention to make fine ladies of themselves. Neither he nor the chief slave of her own gentility, the wife, who will maintain her reputation for "faculty" or perish in the attempt, has a suspicion that the strain to make meet the ends of frugality and pretension, is palpably and criminally absurd. By keeping up a certain appearance of affluence and fashion, they assume the obligation to employ servants enough to carry out the design, yet in nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of every thousand, they ignore the duty.

I admit without demur that, as American domestics go, they are a burden, an expense and a vexation. Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, she who will not risk them should not live in such a way that she must make use of such instruments or overwork herself physically and mentally.

The entire social and domestic system of American communities calls loudly for the reform of simplicity and congruity. We begin to build and are not able to finish. Our economics are false and mischievous, our aims are petty and low. The web of our daily living is not round and even-threaded. The homes which are constructed upon the foundations of deranged, dying and dead women, are a mockery of the holy name. Our houses should be planned and kept for those who are to live in them, not for those who tarry within the doors for a night or an hour. When housekeeping becomes an intolerable care there is sin somewhere and danger everywhere.

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