Moving the Mountain, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Chapter 7

THE country was as astonishing to me as the city — its old beauty added to in every direction. They took me about in motor cars, motor boats and air ships, on foot and on horseback (the only horses now to be found were in the country) . And while I speak of horses, I will add that the only dogs and cats I saw, or heard, were in the country, too, and not very numerous at that. “We’ve changed our views as to ‘pets’ and ‘domestic animals,’ ” Nellie said. “We ourselves are the only domestic animals allowed now. Meat eating, as Hallie told you, is decreasing every day; but the care and handling of our food animals improves even more rapidly. Every city has its municipal pastures and dairies, and every village or residence group. By the way, I might as well show you one of those last, and get it clear in your mind.”

We were on an air trip in one of the smooth-going, noiseless machines commonly used, which opened a new world of delight to me. This one held two, with the aviator. I had inquired about accidents, and was glad to find that thirty years’ practice had eliminated the worst dangers and reared a race of flying men.

“In our educational plan today all the children are given full physical development and control,” my sister explained. “That goes back to the woman again — the mothers. There was a sort of Hellenic revival — a recognition that it was possible for us to rear as beautiful human beings as walked in Athens. When women were really free of man’s selective discrimination they proved i quite educable, and learned to be ashamed of their deformities. Then we began to appreciate the human body and to have children reared in an atmosphere of lovely form and color, statues and pictures all about them, and the new stories — Oh! I haven’t told you a thing about them, have I?”

“No,” I said; “and please don’t. I started out to see the country, and your new-fangled ‘residence groups,’ whatever they may be, and I refuse to have my mind filled up with educational information. Take me on a school expedition another time, please.”

“All right,” she agreed; “but I can tell you more about the beasts without distracting your mind, I hope. For one thing, we have no longer any menageries.”

“What?” I cried. “No menageries!” How absurd! They were certainly educational, and a great pleasure to children — and other people.”

“Our views of education have changed you see,” she replied; “and our views of human relation to the animal world; also our ideas of pleasure. People do not think it a pleasure now to watch animals in pain.”

“More absurdity! They were not in pain. They were treated better than when left wild,” I hotly replied.

“Imprisonment is never a pleasure,” she answered; “it is a terrible punishment. A menagerie is just a prison, not for any offense of the inmates, but to gratify men in the indulgence of grossly savage impulses. Children, being in the savage period of their growth, feel anew the old satisfaction of seeing their huge enemies harmless or their small victims helpless and unable to escape. But it did no human being any good.”

“How about the study of these ‘victims’ of yours — the scientific value?”

“For such study as is really necessary to us, or to them, some laboratories keep a few. Otherwise, the student goes to where the animals live and studies their real habits.”

“And how much would he learn of wild tigers by following them about — unless it was an inside view?”

“My dear brother, can you mention one single piece of valuable information for humanity to be found in the study of imprisoned tigers? As a matter of fact, I don’t think there are any left by this time; I hope not.”

“Do you mean to tell me that your new humanitarianism has exterminated whole species?”

“Why not? Would England be pleasant if the gray wolf still ran at large? We are now trying, as rapidly as possible, to make this world safe and habitable everywhere.”

“And how about the hunting? Where’s the big game?”

“Another relic of barbarism. There is very little big game left, and very little hunting.”

I glared at her, speechless. Not that I was ever a hunter myself, or even wanted to be; but to have that splendid manly sport utterly prevented — it was outrageous I “I suppose this is more of the women’s work,” I said at length.

She cheerfully admitted it. “Yes, we did it. You see, hunting as a means of livelihood is even lower than private housework — far too wasteful and expensive to be allowed in a civilized world. When women left off using skins and feathers, that was a great blow to the industry. As to the sport, why, we had never greatly admired it, you know — the manly sport of killing things for fun — and with our new power we soon made it undesirable.”

I groaned in spirit. “Do you mean to tell me that you have introduced legislation against hunting, and found means to enforce it?”

“We found means to enforce it without much legislation, John.”

As for instance?”

As for instance, in rearing children who saw and heard the fullest condemnation of all such primitive cruelty. That is another place where the new story-books come in. Why on earth we should have fed our children on silly savagery a thousand years old, just because they liked it, is more than I can see. We were always interfering with their likes and dislikes in other ways. Why so considerate in this? We have a lot of splendid writers now — first-class ones — making a whole lot of new literature for children.”

“Do leave out your story books. You were telling me how you redoubtable females coerced men into giving up hunting.”

“Mostly by disapproval, consistent and final.”

This was the same sort of thing Owen had referred to in regard to tobacco. I didn’t like it. It gave me a creepy feeling, as of one slowly surmounted by a rising tide. “Are you — do you mean to tell me, Nellie, that you women are trying to make men over to suit yourselves?”

“Yes. Why not? Didn’t you make women to suit yourselves for several thousand years? You bred and trained us to suit your tastes; you liked us small, you liked us weak, you liked us timid, you liked us ignorant, you liked us pretty — what you called pretty — and you eliminated the kinds you did not like.”

How, if you please?” ‘By the same process we use — by not marrying them. Then, you see, there aren’t any more of that kind.”

“You are wrong, Nellie — you’re absurdly wrong. Women were naturally that way; that is, womanly women were, and men preferred that kind, of course.”

“How do you know women were ‘naturally’ like that? — without special education and artificial selection, and all manner of restrictions and penalties? Where were any women ever allowed to grow up ‘naturally’ until now?”

I maintained a sulky silence, looking down at the lovely green fields and forests beneath. “Have you exterminated dogs?” I asked.

“Not yet. There are a good many real dogs left. But we don’t make artificial ones any more.”

“I suppose you keep all the cats — being women.” She laughed.

“No; we keep very few. Cats kill birds, and we need the birds for our farms and gardens. They keep the insects down.”

“Do they keep the mice down, too?”

“Owls and night-hawks do, as far as they can. But we attend to the mice ourselves. Concrete construction and the removal of the kitchen did that. We do not live in food warehouses now. There, look! We are coming to Westholm Park; that was one of the first.”

In all the beauty spread below me, the great park showed more beautiful, outlined by a thick belt of trees.

We kept our vehicle gliding slowly above it while Nellie pointed things out. “It’s about 300 acres,” she said. “You can see the woodland and empty part — all that is left wild. That big patch there is pasturage

— they keep their own sheep and cows. There are gardens and meadows. Up in the corner is the children’s playground, bathing pool, and special buildings. Here is the playground for grown-ups — and their lake. This big spreading thing is the guest house and general playhouse for the folks — ballroom, billiards, bowling, and so on. Behind it is the plant for the whole thing. The water tower you’ll see to more advantage when we land. And all around you see the homes; each family has an acre or so.”

We dropped softly to the landing platform and came down to the pleasure ground beneath. In a little motor we ran about the place for awhile, that I might see the perfect roads, shaded with arching trees, the endless variety of arrangement, the miles of flowers, the fruit on every side.

“You must have had a good landscape architect to plan this,” I suggested.

“We did — one of the best.”

“It’s not so very unlike a great, first-class summer hotel, with singularly beautiful surroundings.”

“No, it’s not,” she agreed. “We had oiy best summer resorts in mind when we began to plan these places. People used to pay heavily in summer to enjoy a place where everything was done to make life smooth and pleasant. It occurred to us at last that we might live that way.”

“Who wants to live in a summer hotel all the time? Excuse me!”

“O, they don’t. The people here nearly all live in ‘homes’ — the homiest kind — each on its own ground, as you see. Only some unattached ones, and people who really like it, live in the hotel — with transients, of course. Let’s call here; I know this family.”

She introduced me to Mrs. Masson, a sweet, motherly little woman, rocking softly on her vine-shadowed piazza, a child in her arms. She was eager to tell me about things — most people were, I found.

“I’m a reactionary, Mr. Robertson. I prefer to work at home, and I prefer to keep my children with me, all I can.”

“Isn’t that allowed nowadays?“I inquired.

“O, yes; if one qualifies. I did. I took the child-culture course, but I do not want to be a regular teacher. My work is done right here, and I can have them as well as not, but they won’t stay much.”

Even as she spoke the little thing in her arms whispered eagerly to her mother, slipped to the floor, ran out of the gate, her little pink legs fairly twinkling, and joined an older child who was passing.

“They like to be with the others, you see. This is my baby; I manage to hold on to her for part of the day, but she’s always running off to The Garden when she can.”

“The Garden?”

“Yes; it’s a regular Child Garden, where they are cultivated and grow! And they do so love to growl”

She showed us her pretty little house and her lovely work — embroidery. “I’m so fortunate,” she said, “loving home as I do, to have work that’s just as well done here.”

I learned that there were some thirty families living in the grounds, not counting the hotel people. Quite a number found their work in the necessary activities of the place itself.

“We have a long string of places, you see — from the general manager to the gardeners and dairymen. It is really quite a piece of work, to care for some two hundred and fifty people,” Mrs. Masson explained with some pride.

“Instead of a horde of servants and small tradesmen to make a living off these thirty families, we have a small corps of highly trained officers,” added Nellie.

“And do you cooperate in housekeeping?” I inquired, meaning no harm, though my sister was quite severe with me for this slip.

“No, indeed,” protested Mrs. Masson. “I do despise being mixed up with other families. I’ve been here nearly a year, and I hardly know anyone.” And she rocked back and forth, complacently.

“But I thought that the meals were cooperative.”

“O, not at all — not at edit Just see my dining-room! And you must be tired and hungry, now, Mrs. Robertson — don’t say no! I’ll have lunch in a moment. Excuse pie, please.”

She retired to the telephone, but we could hear her ordering lunch. “Right away, please; No. 5; no, let me see — No. 7, please. And have you fresh mushrooms? Extra; four plates.”

Her husband came home in time for the meal, and she presided just like any other little matron over a pretty table and a daintily served lunch; but it came down from the hotel in a neat, light case, to which the remnants and the dishes were returned.

“O, I wouldn’t give up my own table for the world! And my own dishes; they take excellent care of them. Our breakfasts we get all together — see my kitchen!’’ And she proudly exhibited a small, light closet, where an immaculate porcelain sink, with hot and cold water, a glass-doored “cold closet” and a shining electric stove, allowed the preparation of many small meals.

Nellie smiled blandly as she saw this little lady claiming conservatism in what struck me as being quite sufficiently progressive, while Mr. Masson smiled in proud content.

“I took you there on purpose,” she told me later. “She is really quite reactionary for nowadays, and not over popular. Come and see the guest-house.”

This was a big, wide-spread concrete building, with terraces and balconies and wide roofs, where people strolled and sat. It rose proudly from its wide lawns and blooming greenery, a picture of peace and pleasure.

“It’s like a country club, with more sleeping rooms,” I suggested. “But isn’t it awfully expensive — the year round?”

“It’s about a third cheaper than it would cost these people to live if they kept house. Funny! It took nearly twenty years to prove that organization in housekeeping paid, like any other form of organized labor. Wages have risen, all the work is better done and it costs much less. You can see all that. But what you can’t possibly realize is the difference it makes to women. All the change the men feel is in better food, no fret and worry at home, and smaller bills.”

“That’s something,” I modestly suggested.

“Yes, that’s a good deal; but to the women it’s a thousand times more. The women who liked that kind of work are doing it now, as a profession, for reasonable hours and excellent salaries; and the women who did not like it are now free to do the work they are fitted for and enjoy. This is one of our great additions to the world’s wealth — freeing so much productive energy. It has im proved our health, too. One of the worst causes of disease is mal-position, you know. Almost everybody used to work at what they did not like — and we thought it was beneficial to character!”

I tried without prejudice to realize the new condition, but a house without a house-wife, without children, without servants, seemed altogether empty. Nellie reassured me as to the children, however.

“It’s no worse than when they went to school, John, not a bit. If you were here at about 9 A. M., you’d see the mothers taking a morning walk, or ride if it’s stormy, to the child-garden, and leaving the babies there, asleep mostly. There are seldom more than five or six real little ones at one time in a group like this.”

“Do mothers leave their nursing babies there?”

“Sometimes; it depends on the kind of work they do. Remember they only have to work two hours, and many mothers get ahead on their work and take a year off at haby time. Still, two hours’ work a day that one enjoys, does not hurt even a nursing mother.”

I found it extremely difficult from the first, to picture a world whose working day was but two hours long; or even the four hours they told me was generally given.

“What do people do with the rest of their time; working people, I mean?” I asked.

“The old ones usually rest a good deal, loaf, visit one another, play games, in some cases they travel. Others, who have the working habit ingrained, keep on in the afternoon; in their gardens often; almost all old people love gardening; and those who wish, have one now, you see. The city ones do an astonishing amount of reading, studying, going to lectures, and the theatres. They have a good time.”

“But I mean the low rowdy common people — don’t they merely loaf and get drunk?”

Nellie smiled at me good humoredly.

“Some of them did, for a while. But it became increasingly difficult to get drunk. You see, their health was better, with sweeter homes, better food and more pleasure; and except for the dipsomaniacs they improved in their tastes presently. Then their children all made a great advance, under the new educational methods; the women had an immense power as soon as they were independent; and between the children’s influence and the woman’s and the new opportunities, the worst men had to grow better. There was always more recuperative power in people than they were given credit for.”

“But surely there were thousands, hundreds of thousands, of hoboes and paupers; wretched, degenerate creatures.”

Nellie grew sober. “Yes, there were. One of our inherited handicaps was that great mass of wreckage left over from the foolishness and ignorance of the years behind us. But we dealt very thoroughly with them. As I told you before, hopeless degenerates were promptly and mercifully removed. A large class of perverts were in capacitated for parentage and placed where they could do no harm, and could still have some usefulness and some pleasure. Many proved curable, and were cured. And for the helpless residue; blin(l and crippled through no fault of their own, a remorseful society provides safety, comfort and care; with all the devices for occupation and enjoyment that our best minds could arrange. These are our remaining asylums; decreasing every year. We don’t make that kind of people any more.”

We talked as we strolled about, or sat on the stone benches under rose bush or grape vine. The beauty of the place grew on me irresistibly. Each separate family could do as they liked in their own yard, under some restriction from the management in regard to general comfort and beauty. I was always ready to cry out about interference with personal rights; but my sister reminded me that we were not allowed to “commit a nuisance” in the old days, only our range of objections had widened. A disagreeable noise is now prohibited, as much as a foul smell; and conspicuously ugly forms and colors, also.

“And who decides — who’s your dictator and censor?”

“Our best judges — we elect, recall and change them. But under their guidance we have developed some general sense of beauty. People would complain loudly now of what did not use to trouble them at all.”

Then I remembered that I had seen no row of wooden cows in the green meadows, no invitation to “meet me at the fountain,” no assailing finger to assure me that my credit was good, no gross cathartic reminders, nothing anywhere to mar the beauty of the landscape; but many a graceful gate, temple-like summer houses crowning the grassy hills, arbors, pergolas, cool seats by stone-rimmed fountains, signs everywhere of the love of beauty and the power to make it.

“I don’t see yet how you ever manage to pay for all this extra work everywhere. I suppose in a place like this it comes out of the profit made on food,” I suggested.

“No — the gardening expenses of these home clubs come out of the rent.”

“And what rent do they have to pay — approximately?”

“I can tell you exactly about this place, because it was opened by a sort of stock company of women, and I was in it for a while. The land cost $100.00 an acre then — $30,000.00. To get it in shape cost $10,000.00, to build thirty of these houses about $4,000.00 apiece — there was great saving in doing it all at one time, the guest-house, furnished, was only $50,000.00, it is very simple, you see; and the general plant and child-garden, and everything else, some $40,000.00 more. I know we raised a capital of $250,000.00, and used it all. The residents pay $600.00 a year for house-rent and $100.00 more for club privileges. That is $28,000.00. We take 4 per cent, and it leaves plenty for taxes and up-keep. Those who have children keep up the child-garden. The hotel makes enough to keep everything going easily, and the food and service departments pay handsomely. Why, if these people had kept on living in New York, it would have cost them altogether at least $8,000.00 a year. Here it just costs them about $2,000.00 — and just see what they get for it.”

I had an inborn distrust of my sister’s figures, and consulted Owen later; also Hallie, who had much detailed knowledge on the subject; and furthermore I did some reading.

There was no doubt about it. The method of living of which we used to be so proud, for which I still felt a deep longing, was abominably expensive. Much smaller amounts, wisely administered, produced better living, and for the life of me I could not discover the cackling herds of people I had been led to expect when such “Utopian schemes” used to be discussed in my youth.

From the broad, shady avenues of this quiet place we looked over green hedges or wire fences thick with honeysuckle and rose, into pleasant homelike gardens where families sat on broad piazzas, swung in hammocks, played tennis, ball, croquet, tether-ball and badminton, just as families used to.

Groups of young girls or young men — or both — strolled under the trees and disported themselves altogether as I remembered them to have done, and happy children f rolicked about in the houses and gardens, all the more happily, it would appear, because they had their own place for part of the day.

We had seen the fathers come home in time for the noon meal. In the afternoon most of the parents seemed to think it the finest thing in the world to watch their children learning or playing together, in that amazing Garden of theirs, or to bring them home for more individual companionship. As a matter of fact, I had never seen, in any group of homes that I could recall, so much time given to children by so many parents — unless on a Sunday in the suburbs.

I was very silent on the way back, revolving these things in my mind. Point by point it seemed so vividly successful, so plainly advantageous, so undeniably enjoyed by those who lived there; and yet the old objections surged up continually.

The “noisy crowd all herding together to eat!” — I remembered Mr. Masson’s quiet dining-room — they all had dining-rooms, it appeared. The “dreadful separation of children from their parents!” I thought of all those parents watching with intelligent interest their children’s guarded play, or enjoying their companionship at home.

The “forced jumble with disagreeable neighbors!” I recalled those sheltered quiet grounds; each house with its trees and lawn, its garden and its outdoor games.

It was against all my habits, principles, convictions, theories, and sentiments; but there it was, and they seemed to like it. Also, Owen assured me, it paid.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17