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A New Atmosphere by Gail Hamilton

Because housekeeping is not always wasteful

of harmony keeps them from being

wasteful. Their extravagance is the exception, not the rule. They are willing to incur self-denial. They do not scorn to take thought and trouble, and be put to inconvenience, for the sake of saving money. The greater animalism of man also comes out here in full force. If sacrifice must be, a woman will sacrifice her comforts before her taste. The man will let his tastes go, and keep his comforts, and call it good sense. A woman's extravagance is to some purpose. A man's to none. She buys many dresses, but she gives her old ones away, or cuts them over for the children, and works dextrously. A man buys and destroys. Look at the manner in which men manage the national housekeeping, and see whether it is men or women who are extravagant. Look at the clerkships in the departments, look at members of Congress browsing among government supplies, look at army and navy; walk through a camp: see the barrels of good food thrown away, see the wood wasted, see the tools wantonly destroyed. I think the wives of the soldiers could support themselves comfortably on the fragments of the soldiers' feasts. Nobody complains. A great nation must not look too closely after the pennies. A great army always makes great waste, say the newspapers that exhort women against extravagance, as if it were as much a law of nature as gravitation. Why not say housekeeping is always wasteful, and fall back on that as a primal law of nature also? Because housekeeping is not always wasteful, you say. Precisely.
Housekeeping is nearly always economically conducted, and your animadversions amount just to this: because women are generally prudent, they are to be chided for all shortcomings. But men are always wasteful, therefore they must be let alone. Only be universally bad, and you shall be as unmolested as if you were good. You say that it is easier to be economical in a family than in an army. Perhaps so; but if the soldiers, instead of being men, were women, do you for a moment imagine that there would be any such waste? Let all other circumstances be unchanged. Let all the cost come upon the government just as it does. Let all provisions be furnished in the same abundance as now, and I do not believe there would be much more waste than there is in average families. I do not believe you could force women at the point of the bayonet to such reckless prodigality as men indulge in. It is against their nature. It hurts them. It violates God's law, written in their hearts. They would also be too conscientious to do it. They would not consider the fact that "Uncle Sam foots the bills" a reason why a saw should be tossed aside on the first symptom of dulness, and a new one bought. They would not throw away a half loaf because there were plenty of whole ones, but keep it and steam it. And not only would there be a great deal less waste, but there would be a great deal better supply. If women had charge of the commissariat, I do not believe there would have been one half so much friction as there has been. Hungry regiments would not get to the end of a long march and find nothing to eat. Sick soldiers would not be expected to recover health from salt pork and muddy coffee. Experience or no experience, red tape or no tape, women would have managed to bring hungry mouths and hot soups together, and to furnish delicate food for delicate health. They would not only have supplied the soldiers at less cost to government, but the less cost would have produced a larger bill of fare. How did the English army fare till Florence Nightingale came by and knocked their granary doors open? That my remarks are not mere theory, or rather that my theory is founded on truth, is abundantly proved by a statement printed in the North American Review for January, 1864, long after my words were written. It is from an article on the Sanitary Commission.

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