WANTED: A HOME ASSISTANT
From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II
One illustration made by a staff artist, with the caption, "The New Home
Assistant is Trained for Her Work."
WANTED: A HOME ASSISTANT
BUSINESS HOURS AND WAGES ARE HELPING WOMEN TO SOLVE THE SERVANT PROBLEM
BY LOUISE F. NELLIS
WANTED: A HOME ASSISTANT--Eight hours a day; six days a week. Sleep and
eat at home. Pay, twelve dollars a week.
Whenever this notice appears in the Help Wanted column of a city
newspaper, fifty to one hundred answers are received in the first
"Why," we hear some one say, "that seems impossible! When I advertised
for a maid at forty dollars a month with board and lodging provided, not
a soul answered. Why are so many responses received to the other
Let us look more closely at the first notice.
Wanted: A Home Assistant! How pleasant and dignified it sounds; nothing
about a general houseworker or maid or servant, just Home Assistant! We
can almost draw a picture of the kind of young woman who might be called
by such a title. She comes, quiet, dignified, and interested in our home
and its problems. She may have been in an office but has never really
liked office work and has always longed for home surroundings and home
I remember one case I was told of--a little stenographer. She had gladly
assumed her new duties as Home Assistant, and had wept on the first
Christmas Day with the family because it was the only Christmas she had
spent in years in a home atmosphere. Or perhaps the applicant for the
new kind of work in the home may have been employed in a department
store and found the continuous standing on her feet too wearing. She
welcomes the frequent change of occupation in her new position. Or she
may be married with a little home of her own, but with the desire to add
to the family income. We call these Home Assistants, Miss Smith or Mrs.
Jones, and they preserve their own individuality and self-respect.
"Well, I would call my housemaid anything if I could only get one,"
says one young married woman. "There must be more to this new plan than
calling them Home Assistants and addressing them as Miss."
Let us read further in the advertisement: "Eight hours a day; six days a
week." One full day and one half day off each week, making a total of
forty-four hours weekly which is the standard working week in most
industrial occupations. At least two free Sundays a month should be
given and a convenient week-day substituted for the other two Sundays.
If Saturday is not the best half day to give, another afternoon may be
arranged with the Home Assistant.
"Impossible," I can hear Mrs. Reader say, "I couldn't get along with
eight hours' work a day, forty-four hours a week." No! Well, possibly
you have had to get along without any maid at all, or you may have had
some one in your kitchen who is incompetent and slovenly, whom you dare
not discharge for fear you can not replace her. Would you rather not
have a good interested worker for eight hours a day than none at all?
During that time the Home Assistant works steadily and specialization is
done away with. She is there to do your work and she does whatever may
be called for. If she is asked to take care of the baby for a few hours,
she does it willingly, as part of her duties; or if she is called upon
to do some ironing left in the basket, she assumes that it is part of
her work, and doesn't say, "No, Madam, I wasn't hired to do that," at
the same time putting on her hat and leaving as under the old system.
The new plan seems expensive? "Twelve dollars a week is more than I have
paid my domestic helper," Mrs. Reader says. But consider this more
carefully. You pay from thirty-five to fifty dollars a month with all
the worker's food and lodging provided. This is at the rate of eight to
eleven dollars a week for wages. Food and room cost at least five
dollars a week, and most estimates are higher. The old type of
houseworker has cost us more than we have realized. The new system
compares favorably in expense with the old.
"I am perfectly certain it wouldn't be practical not to feed my helper,"
Mrs. Reader says. Under the old system of a twelve to fourteen-hour
working day, it would not be feasible, but if she is on the eight-hour
basis, the worker can bring a box-luncheon with her, or she can go
outside to a restaurant just as she would if she were in an office or
factory. The time spent in eating is not included in her day's work.
Think of the relief to the house-keeper who can order what her family
likes to eat without having to say, "Oh, I can't have that; Mary
wouldn't eat it you know."
"I can't afford a Home Assistant or a maid at the present wages," some
one says. "But I do wish I had some one who could get and serve dinner
every night. I am so tired by evening that cooking is the last straw."
Try looking for a Home Assistant for four hours a day to relieve you of
just this work. You would have to pay about a dollar a day or six
dollars a week for such service and it would be worth it.
How does the Home Assistant plan work in households where two or more
helpers are kept? The more complicated homes run several shifts of
workers, coming in at different hours and covering every need of the
day. One woman I talked to told me that she studied out her problem in
this way! She did every bit of the work in her house for a while in
order to find out how long each job took. She found, for instance, that
it took twenty-five minutes to clean one bathroom, ten minutes to brush
down and dust a flight of stairs, thirty minutes to do the dinner
dishes, and so on through all the work. She made out a time-card which
showed that twenty-two hours of work a day was needed for her home. She
knew how much money she could spend and she proceeded to divide the work
and money among several assistants coming in on different shifts. Her
household now runs like clockwork. One of the splendid things about this
new system is its great flexibility and the fact that it can be adapted
to any household.
Thoughtful and intelligent planning such as this woman gave to her
problems is necessary for the greatest success of the plan. The old
haphazard methods must go. The housekeeper who has been in the habit of
coming into her kitchen about half past five and saying, "Oh, Mary, what
can we have for dinner? I have just come back from down-town; I did
expect to be home sooner," will not get the most out of her Home
Assistant. Work must be scheduled and planned ahead, the home must be
run on business methods if the system is to succeed. I heard this
explained to a group of women not long ago. After the talk, one of them
said, "Well, in business houses and factories there is a foreman who
runs the shop and oversees the workers. It wouldn't work in homes
because we haven't any foreman." She had entirely overlooked her job as
forewoman of her own establishment!
"Suppose I have company for dinner and the Home Assistant isn't through
her work when her eight hours are up, what happens?" some one asks. All
overtime work is paid for at the rate of one and one-half times the
hourly rate. If you are paying your assistant twelve dollars for a
forty-four-hour week, you are giving her twenty-eight cents an hour. One
and one half times this amounts to forty-two cents an hour, which she
receives for extra work just as she would in the business world.
"Will these girls from offices and stores do their work well? They have
had no training for housework unless they have happened to do some in
their own homes," some one wisely remarks. The lack of systematic
preparation has always been one of the troubles with our domestic
helpers. It is true that the new type of girl trained in business to be
punctual and alert, and to use her mind, adapts herself very quickly to
her work, but the trained worker in any field has an advantage. With
this in mind the Central Branch of the Young Women's Christian
Association in New York City has started a training-school for Home
Assistants. The course provides demonstrations on the preparation of
breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and talks on the following:
House-cleaning, Laundry, Care of Children, Shopping, Planning work,
Deportment, Efficiency, and Duty to Employer. This course gives a girl a
general knowledge of her duties and what is even more important she
acquires the right mental attitude toward her work. The girls are given
an examination and those who successfully pass it are given a
certificate and placed as Trained Home Assistants at fifteen dollars a
The National Association would like to see these training-schools
turning out this type of worker for the homes all over the country. This
is a constructive piece of work for women to undertake. Housewives'
Leagues have interested themselves in this in various centers, and the
Y.W.C.A. will help wherever it can. There are always home economics
graduates in every town who could help give the course, and there are
excellent housekeepers who excel in some branch who could give a talk or
The course would be worth a great deal in results to any community. The
United States Employment Bureaus are also taking a hand in this, and,
with the co÷peration of the High Schools, are placing girls as trained
assistants on the new basis. I have talked with many women who are not
only using this plan to-day but have been for several years.
It has been more than six years ago since Mrs. Helene Barker's book
"Wanted a Young Woman to Do Housework" was published.
This gave the working plan to the idea. Women in Boston, Providence,
New York, Cleveland, and in many other cities have become so
enthusiastic over their success in running their homes with the Home
Assistants that a number are giving their time to lecturing and talking
to groups of women about it.
Let me give two concrete illustrations of the practical application of
housework on a business basis.
Mrs. A. lives in a small city in the Middle West. Her household consists
of herself, her husband, and her twelve year old son. She had had the
usual string of impossible maids or none at all until she tried the new
system. Through a girls' club in a factory in the city, she secured a
young woman to work for her at factory hours and wages. Her assistant
came at seven-thirty in the morning. By having the breakfast cereal
prepared the night before, breakfast could be served promptly at eight,
a plan which was necessary in order that the boy get to school on time.
Each morning's work was written out and hung up in the kitchen so that
the assistant wasted no time in waiting to know what she had to do.
Lunch was at twelve-fifteen, and at one o'clock the Home Assistant went
She came back on regular duty at five-thirty to prepare and serve the
dinner. Except for times when there were guests for dinner she was
through her work by eight. When she worked overtime, there was the extra
pay to compensate. Mrs. A. paid her thirteen dollars a week and felt
that she saved money by the new plan. The assistant was off duty every
other Sunday, and on alternate weeks was given all day Tuesday off
instead of Sunday. Tuesday was the day the heavy washing was done and
the laundress was there to help with any work which Mrs. A. did not feel
equal to doing. Even though there are times in the day when she is
alone, Mrs. A. says she would not go back to the old system for
Mrs. B. lives in a city apartment. There are four grown people in the
family. She formerly kept two maids, a cook-laundress, and a
waitress-chambermaid. She often had a great deal of trouble finding a
cook who would do the washing. As her apartment had only one maid's
room, she had to give one of the guestrooms to the second maid. She paid
these girls forty dollars apiece and provided them with room and board.
Her apartment cost her one hundred and fifteen dollars a month for seven
rooms, two of which were occupied by maids.
Mrs. B. decided to put her household on the new business basis last
Fall. She moved into a five-room apartment which cost her ninety
dollars, but she had larger rooms and a newer building with more
up-to-date improvements than she had had before. She saved twenty-five
dollars a month on rent plus eighty dollars wages and about thirty
dollars on her former maids' food. All together she had one hundred and
thirty-five dollars which could be used for Home Assistants. This is the
way the money was spent:
A laundress once a week................................ $2.60
Home Assistant, on duty from 7.30 A.M. to 2 P.M........ 10.00
Home Assistant, on duty from 12 M. to 9 P.M............ 15.00
On this schedule the work was done better than ever before. There was no
longer any grievance about the washing. Mrs. B. had some one
continuously on duty. The morning assistant was allowed a half hour at
noon to eat her luncheon which she brought with her. As Mrs. B.
entertained a great deal, especially at luncheon, she arranged to have
the schedule of the two assistants overlap at this time of day. The
morning worker, it will be noted, was employed for only six hours. The
afternoon worker was a trained assistant and, therefore, received
fifteen dollars a week. She had an hour off, between three-thirty and
four-thirty and was on duty again in time to serve tea or afternoon
refreshments. If there were a number of extra people for dinner, the
assistant was expected to stay until nine and there was never any
complaining about too much company. Mrs. B. has a better apartment and
saves money every month besides!
* * * * *
(_New York Sun_)
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