I've always thought there was something special about the mothers who kept families together, clothed and fed during the lean times of the Great Depression. Some of my favorite stories of ingenious problem-solving and daring make-do come from ladies wearing thick-healed pumps and house-dresses. They seemed to smooth over the hard times with grace and maybe more hot dogs and potatoes than are considered healthful today. In fact, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, called upon the self-sacrifice and creativity of mothers to save their families from the ravages of the depression in her timely book It's Up to the Women.
At that time in our history, women were experiencing a "sweet spot" in the movement toward equal rights. The world was still decades away from seeing a woman as competent enough to participate in things like the Boston Marathon but we had been awarded the vote and our influence was being felt in the public sphere more than it ever had. And what's more, we were able to do all that while still enjoying the financially viable option of making motherhood and the tending of the hearth and home a career. It was during this time that one woman noticed a growing need:
Mrs. Lundquist took note of the growing need for women to not only be IN the home, but to work with the more external forces in the community and nation to safeguard her right to operate effectively there. Who else would do it for us?
I don't think anyone would argue with the idea that society's limiting a woman's opportunities to homemaking without consulting her needs and wishes is on par with slavery. In the century before the Great Depression, there were those relatively few, bold souls who braved the upstream struggle to merit a place in a profession among the world of men. But for the most part it is reported that women did not feel they had very much choice in what they would become. I am grateful to those who opened doors and gave us the freedom to choose. Growing up I didn't hesitate to entertain the thought of becoming a scientist or an artist. I received a fine education not only to satisfy an insatiable drive to learn and achieve but to bolster my chances of being independent if my circumstances required it.
In the end, I elected to make the home my career but not without feeling that this path, today, is now the one that struggles hard against the current. In the eyes of this observer we have gone from a society that held women in the home, sometimes against their will to one that holds them in the workplace, often contrary to their greater desire.
Home is where the best things happen. I love it when my daughters come home from school and say something like: "What'd I miss?" It's not just a place we hang out at the end of the workday. It's where the real work gets done. I'd be interested to know what percentage of our growing girls believe they will be able to make a go of a career in homemaking? What do they imagine it entails? Will they have husbands who are jointly willing to make the sacrifices it takes to allow her to be truly present there? Can women learn to, once again, be producers of the family's goods instead of some of the economy's heaviest consumers? What have we got to do, as a society, to make the career of homemaking economically viable again? And what have we got to do, as a Church, to reinstall the role of homemaker as the worthiest of all the choices that are currently open to women?
What say ye?