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XIV. the daughters of toil.

The time has come when the watering-places are mainly deserted, their banquet-halls unoccupied, their bar-rooms closed, their dancing-halls silent; while all the innumerable small dealers and showmen who clustered in their neighborhood have put away their wares, if they still have any, in boxes; have secreted their gains, if they have made any, in their pockets; and have disappeared-whither? Their destination seems as inscrutable as that of the birds of summer, and we only know that, like the birds, they will return in spring. But there is one class of summer toilers by the sea whom we can trace and whose destination we know — the most laborious toilers of all. When the household lights go out, one by one, at Newport or Mount Desert; when the trunks are all packed, and “John” has seen to the departure of the last load of luggage; when the pretty cottage is locked up, and relapses into the hands of the native Hiram or the foreign-born Dennis, who dwells in the neighborhood, and is to keep an eye to it all winter-then we know [71] that the change has come, and that the most laborious of the daughters of toil are transferred to another sphere of labor, not less arduous, but only different. These women of endless and exhausting industry are, it is needless to say, the class who are looked upon as idlers, butterflies, daughters of case and luxury. They are the women who, as they sit in their luxurious carriages, are regarded by the mill-girl or the fisherman's daughter as the embodiment of pampered bliss; while their lives are unquestionably harder in many cases than any that mill-girl or fisherman's daughter ever imagined.

“It requires my whole time and strength during the whole summer,” said one of this class to me once at Newport, “and the whole time and strength of my three daughters, to keep up with the ordinary round of social duties — to welcome our guests, to drive and go to entertainments with them, to receive calls, to make calls, and to keep the ordinary machinery of the establishment in operation.” This lady was one of the very best and most high-minded of her class --conscientious, domestic, enlightened. I knew from observation that what she said was strictly true. I knew also that as she did in summer at a so-called “scene of recreation,” so she lived in winter in the city where she dwelt; and this almost of necessity, from the social connections of her family and the real or supposed needs of her children. Professional [72] men have their vacations, farmers have their hibernating season, many mechanics have a portion of the year when work is only too light-but this woman had really no period when the strain was in the least relaxed, except during Lent. There were, to be sure, a few weeks of comparative leisure gained by going unusually early to her country-seat in spring or staying unusually late in autumn; but even these, for a mother whose daughters must have unimpeachable wardrobes, and for a house-keeper whose two or three mansions needed constantly to be kept in presentable order, could scarcely be given to anything like rest. And as with this estimable lady, so with all “society women” who are heads of households. They seem to me to be absolutely the hardest-worked women in the community; and I knew one of them who used to explain her repeated voyages to and from Europe by declaring that the state-room of an ocean steamer was literally the only place that could give her twenty-four hours of peace.

In all this complication of labor, it must be remembered, the American woman of society is placed under greater hardship than any other; for she undertakes to do without machinery what the European woman does with instrumentalities that have been perfected by years of use. Let any one read the descriptions given by travellers of the great country-houses in England, or even read carefully [73] the recent papers in Harper's Bazar upon the organization of domestic service in large households, and it will become plain that nothing but the utmost method can possibly carry on such an establishment without constant failure. In Europe that method is easily provided, because money can at once secure a retinue of servants, each of whom knows his place; and it can, moreover, provide a house-keeper or major-domo who will keep everybody to his work. The trouble here is that no money can buy such an organization, and nine-tenths of the labor of forming it comes upon the lady of the house. A young college graduate, taken suddenly from the laboratory and placed at the head of a great factory in which he finds no foreman and no overlookers, is not so helpless as a young girl taken suddenly from the ballroom and placed at the head of ten or a dozen servants, in a beautiful house, with a “social position” awaiting her. For there actually are foremen and overlookers somewhere in the community, and an energetic young man with money at command can find them. But no wealth can obtain for the American lady that admirable and perfect being, the English housekeeper, so completely adjusted to her environment that she seems as if she must have been created on purpose, and sent straight down from heaven in a black silk gown, to stand behind her mistress's chair, looking more stately than her mistress even [74] when she says, with dignified deference, “As you please, ma'am.”

And as with the English house-keeper, so with those who are to work under her; each is supposed to know his place, and practically does know it; there is no disputing, as sometimes in America, as to which of two or three men-servants ought to fetch a glass of water. I am far from asserting that this perfection of domestic service is the highest test of social progress; but it is thus far the only condition that can save the lady of the house from being prematurely worn out. It remains to be seen whether American wealth and American ingenuity can combine to solve this problem anew, and release “society women” from something of their tremendous drudgery. And it needs to be solved without delay, since in all our summer resorts, as they develop, the cottager is replacing the old-time boarder — a gain to the guests, but destructive to the hostess, who, after keeping house all winter under great difficulties, has to do the same thing all summer under greater. All others find in her charming hospitality a delightful exchange for the noise and hurry of the hotel. But who pays the price of it? What is to become of the Daughters of Toil?

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