“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



I feel that in writing a chapter upon ways and means I may seem to many readers to be going over an oft-traversed road. Of articles and treatises on the ever-vexing subject there is no end. The whole human creation or, at all events, a vast majority of it, groaneth and travaileth together in the agony of trying to spread a little substance over a vast surface,--in the desperate endeavor to make a little money go a very long way. Every few months we notice in a daily newspaper the offer of a money-prize for the best bill of fare for a company-dinner for six people, to be prepared upon a ludicrously-small allowance. The number of contestants for this prize proves, not only the general interest felt in the subject, but also testifies to the urgent need of the reward on the part of the various would-be winners. The probabilities are that few of these writers have the means to set forth such a dinner as they describe.

Books portraying the feasibility of "Comfortable living on seven hundred a year," or "How to keep house on a restricted income," are both helpful and pernicious. The prospective housewife buys them eagerly and devours them with avidity. She and John are boarding now, but are soon to have a home of their own, and after perusing their newly purchased volumes, they decide that their limited income will amply enable them to live in comfort although, perhaps, not in luxury. The tiny house or flat is rented, and they settle down, as Mrs. Whitney's Emery Anne would say, "to realize their geography," or, more properly speaking, to live their recently acquired knowledge, which is, in many points, very useful.

But--and here comes the mischief wrought by over-sanguine literature--the authors of these books leave too many things out of the question. The expenses of moving and the purchase of necessary furniture are, of course, omitted, but Mary finds to her chagrin that fuel--no slight item in any family,--and light,--also absolutely essential,--have not been taken into account. These make a big hole in the income which had seemed all-sufficient. It is expedient, also, occasionally, to have a woman in to do a day's cleaning, and the weekly wash is a bugbear which makes our young people shudder. The poor little housewife has many an anxious, tearful hour in striving to make both ends meet, while the most amiable husband cannot help wondering audibly "how it is they cannot live as cheaply as other people do."

In housekeeping, as in all else, one must learn the lesson for one's self. All the rules and theories in all the books and periodicals in the country are worth little compared with three months of personal experience. Happy is the young wife who has had some practice in housekeeping in her father's house before the heavier responsibility of a home of her own rests on her shoulders.

Let me remind our Mary, first of all, of the truth that there is no meanness in economy, and that--as I cannot repeat too often or too strongly--waste is vulgar. It is not the lady who scorns to save scraps of butter, who throws the few cold boiled potatoes left from dinner into the ash-barrel, and empties the teaspoonful of cream from the bottom of the pitcher into the kitchen sink. Your servant will not have the brains and foresight to detect in these seemingly useless articles factors which may aid materially in the construction of a delicacy, or "help out" to-morrow's breakfast or lunch. It is amazing to the mistress who is her own cook how long things last and how far they go. All the interest which a hired cook may take in her work does not impart the peculiar care which one feels for that which is one's own.

In this point the woman without a domestic has the advantage over the woman with a servant, and she with one maid-of-all-work is better off than she who keeps two. Every extra mouth counts, and the waste caused by each added Bridget or Gretchen is incalculable. The only redress which the housekeeper with a servant has, is constant vigilance and personal supervision, and even then she is the loser. At the South the servants are used to having provisions kept under lock and key. Each day the mistress deals out the requisite flour, butter, eggs, etc., and the cook is perfectly satisfied. Were a Northern housekeeper to adopt this system she would soon have the misery of engaging new servants. The Irish and Germans among us are not accustomed to such restrictions, and will not tolerate them.

To utilize the little "left-overs," then, Mary must make up her mind to do much of her own cooking. If she has a servant in the kitchen, she may frequently so exchange work with her that the preparation of dainty dishes will fall to her share. Norah may sweep the parlor, wipe up the hall floor, or wash the windows while her mistress is attending to cooking too delicate for the domestic's fingers. The servant may do what I call the heavy kitchen-work, such as preparing vegetables for cooking, chopping meat, peeling potatoes, etc., and she should always be allowed to wash pots, pans and kettles, after the cooking is done. But if the mistress will spend half an hour in the kitchen before each meal, John will soon discover that his food has a delicacy of flavor and is served with a daintiness imparted only by a professional French cook,--or a lady.

Another of the petty economies which is not belittling is the washing of one's own dining-room dishes. The money saved by this process is easily understood by the housewife whose cut-glass and egg-shell china are continually smashed to fragments by the hirelings whose own the fragiles are not. The china bill for one year of the woman with many servants assumes proportions so huge that she is actually afraid to let herself consider its enormity. And there are still more things broken of which she is never told until the day comes when this or that article is needed, and the answer to inquiry is:

"An' sure ma'am, such a thing aint niver been in this house sence iver I come into it."

And as there is no way of proving the falsity of this statement, one must submit.

As I have said before, dish-washing, as done by a lady, takes little time and labor, and may be a pleasant occupation. The laborer, not the labor, makes a thing common or refined. With an abundance of scalding hot water, a soap-shaker, mop, gloves with the tips cut off, clean and soft dish-towels, and delicate glass and china, dish-washing is in every sense of the word a lady's work. The mistress will do it in one-third of the time, with five times the thoroughness, and one-tenth as many breakages as will the average servant. And when the dishes are washed and the table is spread for the next meal with pure linen, glistening glass and shining silver--who dares say that the glow of housewifely pride and satisfaction does not more than compensate for the little time and trouble expended to produce the agreeable result?

I have said that every additional mouth counts in the sum of family expenses, and for this reason many housekeepers of moderate means neglect the duty of hospitality. Pardon me if I say that I think this is one of the economies which, if carried too far, is more honored in the breach than in the observance. I do not advocate, indeed I reprehend, pretentious entertaining, such as dances, parties, etc. But it impresses me that it is, to a certain extent, a mean spirit that counts the cost in asking a friend to stay to a repast, to spend a night or a week. It is your duty to have things so nice every day, and always, that you cannot be too much "put out" by an occasional guest. When you invite your friend to make you a visit, explain that you live quietly, and that he will find a warm welcome. Then give him just what you give John, and make no apologies. Above all, do not let him feel that any additional labor caused by his presence throws the whole course of the household machinery out of gear. Do not invite to your home those for whom you have to make so great a change in your daily life. If you keep house as a lady should, you need not fear to entertain anyone who is worthy to be your friend. It is no disgrace if your circumstances are such that you cannot afford to keep a staff of servants at your beck and call.

These suggestions are but hints as to daily management. First and foremost, Mary must learn to systematize her work. Method and management do wonders toward saving time and money. Some housewives are always in a hurry and their work is never done, while others with twice as much to do never seem flurried, and have time for writing, sewing and reading. The secret of the success of the latter class lies in that one golden word--METHOD.

I hope the young housekeepers to whom this talk is addressed will not consider such trifles as I have mentioned, degrading. It is the work laid before them and consequently cannot be mean. Such labor, when sweetened by the thought of what it all means, is ennobling. I know that Keats tells us that:

"Love in a hut with water and a crust, Is--Love forgive us!--cinders, ashes, dust!"

If Love were really there, "cinders, ashes, dust" could not be, and the water and crust may, by our Mary's skillful treatment, be transformed into a refreshing beverage and an appetizing entrée. My faith in the powers of John's wife is great, and if John be satisfied, and tells her that he has the best little love-mate and housekeeper in the world, can she complain?

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