The Home
Category: Ideas
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The Home, Its Work and Influence is a 1903 feminist book by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the book she attacks the domesticity of women in the early 20th century. Her central argument is that 'the economic independence and specialization of women is essential to the improvement of marriage, motherhood, domestic industry, and racial improvement'.

The Home

Its Work and Influence

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Home

Two Callings


I hear a deep voice through uneasy dreaming,
deep, soft, tender, soul-beguiling voice;
lulling voice that bids the dreams remain,
calms my restlessness and dulls my pain,
thrills and fills and holds me till in seeming
is no other sound on earth — no choice.

“Home!” says the deep voice, “Home!” and softly singing
me a sense of safety unsurpassed;
old! so old! The piles above the wave —
shelter of the stone-blocked, shadowy cave —
of sun-kissed treetops swinging —
and Home at last!

“Home” says the sweet voice, and warm Comfort rises,
my soul with velvet-fingered hands;
of leafy lair and lapping fur,
couches, cushions, curtains, and the stir
easy pleasures that the body prizes,
soft, swift feet to serve the least commands.

I shrink — half rise — and then it murmurs “Duty!”
the past rolls out — a scroll unfurled;
and long labor due my lord —
in an idleness abhorred —
am the squaw — the slave — the harem beauty —
serve and serve, the handmaid of the world.

My soul rebels — but hark! a new note thrilling,
deep, past finding — I protest no more;
voice says “Love!” and all those ages dim
glorified and justified in him;
bow — I kneel — the woman soul is willing —
is the law. Be still! Obey! Adore!”

And then — ah, then! The deep voice murmurs “Mother!”
all life answers from the primal sea;
mingling of all lullabies; a peace
asks no understanding; the release
nature’s holiest power — who seeks another?
Home is Mother — Mother, Home — to me.

“Home!” says the deep voice; “Home and Easy Pleasure!
and Comfort, Laws of Life well kept!
and my heart rose thrilling at the word;
it nestled down and never stirred;
and Peace and Love beyond all measure!
Safety! Comfort! Mother!” — and I slept.


A bugle call! A clear, keen, ringing cry,
Relentless —
eloquent — that found the ear
fold on fold of slumber, sweet, profound —
widening wave of universal sound,
the heart — filling the utmost sky —
wake — I must wake! Hear — for I must hear!

“The World! The World is crying! Hear its needs!
is a part of life — I am the whole!
is the cradle — shall a whole life stay
in comfort through the working day?
too am Home — the Home of all high deeds —
only Home to hold the human soul!

“Courage! — the front of conscious life!” it cried;
that dares to die and dares to live!
should you prate of safety? Is life meant
ignominious safety to be spent?
Home best valued as a place to hide?
out, and give what you are here to give!

“Strength and Endurance! of high action born!”
all that dream of Comfort shrank away,
its fond, beguiling face aside:
Selfishness and Luxury and Pride
forth revealed, till I grew fierce with scorn,
burned to meet the dangers of the day.

“Duty? Aye, Duty! Duty! Mark the word!”
turned to my old standard. It was rent
hem to hem, and through the gaping place
saw my undone duties to the race
man — neglected — spurned — how had I heard
word and never dreamed of what it meant!

“Duty! Unlimited — eternal — new!”
I? My idol on a petty shrine
as I turned, and Cowardice and Sloth
too, unmasked, false Duty covering both —
the true Duty, all-embracing, high,
the clear line of noble deeds to do.

And then the great voice rang out to the turn,
all my terror left me, all my shame,
every dream of joy from earliest youth
back and lived! — that joy unhoped was truth,
joy, all hope, all truth, all peace grew one,
opened clear, and Love? Love was its name!

So when the great word “Mother!” rang once more,
saw at last its meaning and its place;
the blind passion of the brooding past,
Mother — the World’s Mother — come at last,
love as she had never loved before —
feed and guard and teach the human race.

The world was full of music clear and high!
world was full of light! The world was free!
I? Awake at last, in joy untold,
Love and Duty broad as life unrolled —
as the earth — unbounded as the sky —
was the World — the World was Home to me!


In offering this study to a public accustomed only to the unquestioning acceptance of the home as something perfect, holy, quite above discussion, a word of explanation is needed.

First, let it be clearly and definitely stated, the purpose of this book is to maintain and improve the home. Criticism there is, deep and thorough; but not with the intention of robbing us of one essential element of home life — rather of saving us from conditions not only unessential, but gravely detrimental to home life. Every human being should have a home; the single person his or her home; and the family their home.

The home should offer to the individual rest, peace, quiet, comfort, health, and that degree of personal expression requisite; and these conditions should be maintained by the best methods of the time. The home should be to the child a place of happiness and true development; to the adult a place of happiness and that beautiful reinforcement of the spirit needed by the world’s workers.

We are here to perform our best service to society, and to find our best individual growth and expression; a right home is essential to both these uses.

The place of childhood’s glowing memories, of youth’s ideals, of the calm satisfaction of mature life, of peaceful shelter for the aged; this is not attacked, this we shall not lose, but gain more universally. What is here asserted is that our real home life is clogged and injured by a number of conditions which are not necessary, which are directly inimical to the home; and that we shall do well to lay these aside.

As to the element of sanctity — that which is really sacred can bear examination, no darkened room is needed for real miracles; mystery and shadow belong to jugglers, not to the truth.

The home is a human institution. All human institutions are open to improvement. This specially dear and ancient one, however, we have successfully kept shut, and so it has not improved as have some others.

The home is too important a factor in human life to be thus left behind in the march of events; its influence is too wide, too deep, too general, for us to ignore.

Whatever else a human being has to meet and bear, he has always the home as a governing factor in the formation of character and the direction of life.

This power of home-influence we cannot fail to see, but we have bowed to it in blind idolatry as one of unmixed beneficence, instead of studying with jealous care that so large a force be wisely guided and restrained.

We have watched the rise and fall of many social institutions, we have seen them change, grow, decay, and die; we have seen them work mightily for evil — or as mightily for good; and have learned to judge and choose accordingly, to build up and to tear down for the best interests of the human race.

In very early times, when the child-mind of inexperienced man was timid, soft, and yet conservative as only the mind of children and savages can be, we regarded all institutions with devout reverence and fear.

Primitive man bowed down and fell upon his face before almost everything, whether forces of nature or of art. To worship, to enshrine, to follow blindly, was instinctive with the savage.

The civilised man has a larger outlook, a clearer, better-ordered brain. He bases reverence on knowledge, he loses fear in the light of understanding; freedom and self-government have developed him. It does not come so readily to him to fall upon his face — rather he lifts his face bravely to see and know and do. In place of the dark and cruel superstitions of old time, with the crushing weight of a strong cult of priests, we have a free and growing church, branching steadily wider as more minds differ, and coming nearer always to that final merging of religion in life which shall leave them indistinguishable. In place of the iron despotisms of old time we have a similar growth and change in governments, approaching always nearer to a fully self-governing condition. Our growth has been great, but it has been irregular and broken by strange checks and reversions; also accompanied, even in its heights, by parallel disorders difficult to account for.

In all this long period of progress the moving world has carried with it the unmoving home; the man free, the woman confined; the man specialising in a thousand industries, the woman still limited to her domestic functions. We have constantly believed that this was the true way to live, the natural way, the only way. Whatever else might change — and all things did — the home must not. So sure were we, and are we yet, of this, that we have utterly refused to admit that the home has changed, has grown, has improved, in spite of our unshaken convictions and unbending opposition.

The softest, freest, most pliable and changeful living substance is the brain — the hardest and most iron-bound as well. Given a sufficiently deep conviction, and facts are but as dreams before its huge reality.

Our convictions about the home go down to the uttermost depths, and have changed less under the tooth of time than any others, yet the facts involved have altered most radically. The structure of the home has changed from cave to tent, from tent to hut, from hut to house, from house to block or towering pile of “flats”; the functions of the home have changed from every incipient industry known to past times, to our remaining few; the inmates of the home have changed, from the polygamous group and its crowd of slaves, to the one basic family relation of father, mother, and child; but our feelings have remained the same.

The progress of society we have seen to be hindered by many evils in the world about us and in our own characters; we have sought to oppose them as best we might, and even in some degree to study them for wiser opposition.

Certain diseases we have traced to their cause, removed the cause, and so avoided the disease; others we are just beginning to trace, as in our present warfare with “the white plague,” tuberculosis.

Certain forms of vice we are beginning to examine similarly, and certain defects of character; we are learning that society is part of the living world and comes under the action of natural law as much as any other form of life.

But in all this study of social factors affecting disease and vice and character, we have still held that the home — our most universal environment — was perfect and quite above suspicion.

We were right at bottom. The home in its essential nature is pure good, and in its due development is progressively good; but it must change with society’s advance; and the kind of home that was wholly beneficial in one century may be largely evil in another. We must forcibly bear in mind, in any honest study of a long-accustomed environment, that our own comfort, or even happiness, in a given condition does not prove it to be good.

Comfort and happiness are very largely a matter of prolonged adjustment. We like what we are used to. When we get used to something else we like that too — and if the something else is really better, we profit by the change. To the tired farmer it is comfort to take off his coat, put up his yarn-stockinged feet on a chair, and have his wife serve him the supper she has cooked. The tired banker prefers a dressing gown or lounging jacket, slippers, a well-dressed, white-handed wife, and a neat maid or stately butler to wait on the table. The domestic Roman preferred a luxurious bath at the hands of his slaves. All these types find comfort in certain surroundings — yet the surroundings differ.

The New England farmer would not think a home comfortable that was full of slaves — even a butler he would find oppressive; the New York banker would not enjoy seeing his wife do dirty work. Ideals change — even home ideals; and whatever kind of home we have, so that we grow up in it and know no other, we learn to love. Even among homes as they now are, equally enjoyed by their inmates, there is a wide scale of difference. Why, then, is it impossible to imagine something still further varying from what we now know; yet to the children born therein as dear and deeply loved?

Again let us remember that happiness, mere physical comfort and the interchange of family affection, is not all that life is for. We may have had “a happy childhood,” as far as we can recall; we may have been idolised and indulged by our parents, and have had no wish ungratified; yet even so all this is no guarantee that the beloved home has given us the best training, the best growth. Nourmahal, the Light of the Harem, no doubt enjoyed herself — but perhaps other surroundings might have done more for her mind and soul. The questions raised here touch not only upon our comfort and happiness in such homes as are happy ones, but on the formative influence of these homes; asking if our present home ideals and home conditions are really doing all for humanity that we have a right to demand. There is a difference in homes not only in races, classes, and individuals, but in periods.

The sum of the criticism in the following study is this: the home has not developed in proportion to our other institutions, and by its rudimentary condition it arrests development in other lines. Further, that the two main errors in the right adjustment of the home to our present life are these: the maintenance of primitive industries in a modern industrial community, and the confinement of women to those industries and their limited area of expression. No word is said against the real home, the true family life; but it is claimed that much we consider essential to that home and family life is not only unnecessary, but positively injurious.

The home is a beautiful ideal, but have we no others? “My Country” touches a deeper chord than even “Home, Sweet Home.” A homeless man is to be pitied, but “The Man without a Country” is one of the horrors of history. The love of mother and child is beautiful; but there is a higher law than that — the love of one another.

In our great religion we are taught to love and serve all mankind. Every word and act of Christ goes to show the law of universal service. Christian love goes out to all the world; it may begin, but does not stay, at home.

The trend of all democracy is toward a wider, keener civic consciousness; a purer public service. All the great problems of our times call for the broad view, the large concept, the general action. Such gain as we have made in human life is in this larger love; in some approach to peace, safety, and world-wide inter-service; yet this so patent common good is strangely contradicted and off-set by cross-currents of primitive selfishness. Our own personal lives, rich as they are to-day, broad with the consciousness of all acquainted races, deep with the consciousness of the uncovered past, strong with our universal knowledge and power; yet even so are not happy. We are confused — bewildered. Life is complicated, duties conflict, we fly and fall like tethered birds, and our new powers beat against old restrictions like ships in dock, fast moored, yet with all sail set and steam up.

It is here suggested that one cause for this irregular development of character, this contradictory social action, and this wearing unrest in life lies unsuspected in our homes; not in their undying essential factors, but in those phases of home life we should have long since peacefully outgrown. Let no one tremble in fear of losing precious things. That which is precious remains and will remain always. We do small honour to nature’s laws when we imagine their fulfilment rests on this or that petty local custom of our own.

We may all have homes to love and grow in without the requirement that half of us shall never have anything else. We shall have homes of rest and peace for all, with no need for half of us to find them places of ceaseless work and care. Home and its beauty, home and its comfort, home and its refreshment to tired nerves, its inspiration to worn hearts, this is in no danger of loss or change; but the home which is so far from beautiful, so wearing to the nerves and dulling to the heart, the home life that means care and labour and disappointment, the quiet, unnoticed whirlpool that sucks down youth and beauty and enthusiasm, man’s long labour and woman’s longer love — this we may gladly change and safely lose. To the child who longs to grow up and be free; to the restless, rebelling boy; to the girl who marries all too hastily as a means of escape; to the man who puts his neck in the collar and pulls while life lasts to meet the unceasing demands of his little sanctuary; and to the woman — the thousands upon thousands of women, who work while life lasts to serve that sanctuary by night and day — to all these it may not be unwelcome to suggest that the home need be neither a prison, a workhouse, nor a consuming fire.

Home — with all that the sweet word means; home for each of us, in its best sense; yet shorn of its inordinate expenses, freed of its grinding labours, open to the blessed currents of progress that lead and lift us all — this we may have and keep for all time.

It is, therefore, with no iconoclastic frenzy of destruction, but as one bravely pruning a most precious tree, that this book is put forward; inquiring as to what is and what is not vital to the subject; and claiming broadly that with such and such clinging masses cut away, the real home life will be better established and more richly fruitful for good than we have ever known before.

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