“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



"A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life," one of the most charming, as well as one of the most helpful of Adeline D.T. Whitney's books, was sent into the world over a quarter-century ago. But age cannot wither nor custom stale, nor render old-fashioned the delightful volume with its many quaint and original ideas. Others besides girls have learned the practical truth of one sentence which, for the good it has done, deserves to be written in letters of gold:

"Something must be crowded out."

More than one perplexed and conscientious worker has, like myself, written it out in large text and tacked it up in sewing-room, kitchen, or over a desk.

In the beginning, I want to guard what may seem to be a weak point by stating, first and above all, that this is not an excuse for slighting or "slurring over" our legitimate work.

One easygoing housekeeper used to say that, in her opinion, there was a genius in slighting. Her home attested the fact that she had reduced the habit of leaving things undone to a science, but it is doubtful if the so-called genius differed largely from that which forms a prominent characteristic of the porcine mother, and enables her to enjoy her home and little ones with apparent indifference to the fact that outsiders denominate one a sty, and her offspring small pigs.

Not very long ago I was frequently brought into contact with a woman who has, as all her friends acknowledge, a faculty for "turning off work." She has a jaunty knack of pinning trimming on a hat, which, although bare and stiff in the start, evolves into a toque or capote that a French milliner need not blush to confess as her handiwork. She can run up the seams in a dress-skirt with speed that fills the slower sisters working at her side with sad envy. She puts up preserves with marvelous dexterity, and can toss together eggs, butter, sugar and flour, and turn out a cake in less time than an ordinary woman would consume in creaming the butter and sugar. But it is an obvious fact that the work of this remarkable woman lacks "staying power." Her too rapid and long stitches often give way, allowing between them mortifying glimpses of white under-waist or skirt to obtrude themselves; in a high wind the trimmings or feathers are likely to blow loose from the dainty bonnets; her preserves ferment, and have to be "boiled down," while the cutting of her cake reveals the truth that under the top-crust are heavy streaks, like a stratum of igneous formation shot athwart the aqueous. The maker of gown, hat, preserves, and cake lacks thoroughness. As one irreverent young man once said after dancing with her--"she is all the time tumbling to pieces."

Since something must be crowded out, the first and great point is to determine what this something must be. Certain duties are of prime importance, others only secondary. One writer says of a woman who had cultivated the sense of proportion with regard to her work: "We felt all the while the cheer and gladness and brightness of her presence, just because she had learned to make this great distinction,--to put some things first and others second. She had mastered the great secret of life."

This talk of mine reminds me of a prosy preacher who chose one Sunday as the text of his sermon, "It is good to be here," and began his discourse with the announcement, "I shall employ all the time this morning in telling of the places in which it is not good to be. If you come to hear me to-night I will tell you where it is good to be."

So we will consider the things which must not be put aside. Some duties are plain, self-evident, and heaven-appointed. Such is the care of children. To the young mother this is, or should be, the first and great object in life. Her baby must have enough clothes, and these clothes must be kept clean, fresh and dainty, for his pure, sweet babyship. His many little wants must be attended to, even if calls are not returned and correspondence is neglected. But it is not absolutely necessary to load down the tiny frocks with laces and embroidery that are time consumers from the moment they are stitched on till the article they serve to adorn is ready for the rag-bag. The starching, the fluting, the ironing, all take precious hours that might be employed upon some of the must-haves.

Home duties take the precedence of social engagements. A busy mother cannot serve John, babies and society with all her heart, soul and strength. Either she will neglect the one and cleave unto the other, or neither will receive proper attention. Even a wealthy woman who can make work easy (?) by having a nurse for each child in the household, cannot afford to leave the tender oversight of the clothes, food, and general health of one of her babies to those hired to do the "nursing." There is no genuine nurse but the mother; and although others may do well under her eye and directed by her, she can never shift the mother-responsibility to other shoulders; and if she be worthy of the dignity of motherhood, she will never wish to have it otherwise.

A few days ago I heard a clever woman say that a friend of hers had chosen as her epitaph--not, "She hath done what she could," but "She tried to do what she couldn't," and that her motto in life seemed to be, "What's worth doing at all is worth doing swell." This speech applies to too many American women, and so general is the habit of overcrowding, that she who would really determine what is worth doing at all must hold herself calmly and quietly in hand, and stand still with closed eyes for one minute, until her senses, dazed by the wild rush about her, have become sufficiently clear, and her hand steady enough, to pick out the diamonds of duty from the glass chips which pass with the superficial observer for first-water gems. It is well for our housewife to have some test-stone duty by which she may rate the importance of other tasks. Such a test-stone may be John's or baby's needs or requirements. Of course she must not expect to make as much show to the outside world by keeping the children well and happy, entertaining her husband each evening until he forgets the trials and vexations of his business-day, preparing toothsome and wholesome dainties for the loved ones, and making home sweet and attractive, as does the society woman who attends twenty teas a week, gives large lunches and dinners, and "takes in" every play and opera.

"The little bird sits at his door in the sun, Atilt like a blossom among the leaves, And lets his illumined being o'errun With the deluge of summer it receives. His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings, And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings; He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest; In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?"

If my reader is a mother it will not take very long for her to justly determine the values.

Recently I heard a busy woman and an excellent housewife say: "If I am pressed with important work, and my parlors are not very dusty, I unblushingly wipe off the polished furniture, on which every speck shows, and leave the upholstered articles until another time."

This was not untidiness. It was only putting time and work to the best advantage, that there might be enough to go around.

I read the other day in the woman's department of a prominent paper a letter from a subscriber who said that she was so driven with work that it was all she could do to get her washing done, much less her ironing. So she had determined to use her bed-linen and underclothing rough-dry. Would it not have been wiser as well as neater, for her to have plain, untrimmed underwear, and iron it without starching? For here comfort is also to be considered. Is not smooth, neat linen to take the precedence of trimming and starch?

Another thing which must not be crowded out is rest, and the care of the health,--and the one includes the other. A day in which no breathing-space has been found is a wicked day. Not only is it our duty to the bodies which God has given to care properly for them, but it is, moreover, a positive duty to our fellow-man. An overworked person is likely to be cross and disagreeable, for the mind is affected by the state of the body, and it is an absolute sin to put ourselves into a condition that makes others miserable. It is also wretched economy to burn the candle at both ends every day. When it is needed to aid us in some large piece of work the wick will be consumed, and the light will faintly flicker, or splutter feebly and die.

Among the things which may be easily and advantageously crowded out, we may rank unnecessary talking. The housekeeper would be surprised were she to take note of the time spent by her servants, and, perhaps, even by herself, in saying a few words here, and telling a story there in the time which rightfully belongs to other tasks. Could she look, herself unseen, into her kitchen, she would find Bridget and Norah, arms akimbo, comparing notes as to past "places" or present beaux. Gossip is their meat and drink, and it does not occur to them, or they do not care, that they are paid the same wages for time thus spent as for the hours at the tubs and ironing-board. "When you work, work; and when you play, play," is an excellent motto for both mistress and maid.

To many workers there is a lack of courage and a sinking of heart at the thought of a large piece of work ahead of them, and such persons lose a vast amount of time in looking at a duty before they attack it. This habit of dallying over a task is something which may certainly be crowded out.

The two great points in the successful management of time are concentration and system. At the beginning of each day set duties in array before your mind's eye, and attack them, one at a time. This may at first sight sound like ridiculously unnecessary advice. But unless my readers are exceptional women, they all know what it is to be so pressed with things that must be done that they do not know what to begin first. Having chosen the most important task, attack that, and when you have once laid hold of the plough, drive straight ahead, not allowing the sight of another furrow, which is not just straight, to induce you to stop midway to straighten it before you have finished the one upon which your energies should now be bent. Too many women are mere potterers, not earnest laborers. They begin to make a bed, and stop to brush up some dust that has collected under the bureau. Before the dust-pan is emptied, the thought occurs of a tear in one of the children's aprons, and by the time that is mended, something else appears that needs attention, and all day long tasks are half completed and nothing is entirely finished, until at night the poor toiler is weary and discouraged, with nothing to show for her pains, except an anxious face and a semi-straight household.

Woman's work is quite as dignified as man's, and why should it not be arranged as carefully and systematically? If some thing must be crowded out, let it be, with forethought and reason, set to one side,--not shoved or huddled amid mess and confusion.

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