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Domestic Education of Women

September 14, 2020

from: The Ovens and Murray Advertiser, Wednesday, 28 October 1857, page 3


(From the Daily News, June 22.)

It appears, by the sudden development of various plans for the culinary instruction of poor girls, that the social want of good cookery has become very pressing. The truth is some questions of the gravest importance are implicated with it, and it must be from a more clear view of this fact that more and more efforts are being made to qualify the daughters of the labouring class for rendering home more comfortable.

In our manufacturing districts women and girls employed in mills and workshops are notoriously unfit for house-keeping. In these cases a most encouraging success has attended such efforts as have been made to teach cooking and other household arts; and it is certainly true that not a few women have found the domestic saving arising from keeping house properly, more than equivalent to factory wages. If we had space for particulars, we could show how a valuable fact has been experimentally proved. In the rural districts the case is at present less hopeful. From the long depression of the agricultural labourers before the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the difficulties which have since prevented their rise in life in proportion to other classes of workers, the art of making the pot boil has been too nearly forgotten in the cottage. The loaf and the rasher (when the bacon can be afforded,) or the ill cooked potato dinner, are the wasteful daily provision, while drugged beer at night takes the place of the substantial supper of old days.

Meantime, the existing generation has made some discoveries of social principles which render the question of the poor man’s home a more than serious—even a highly critical—consideration. Men have discovered the economy of association. Rich men worked the principle first for their convenience and indulgence; and the poor men are (as they ought to be) ready to better the instruction. It is evident to multitudes of them that community of cooking and feeding is an exceeding cheap plan; and, as soon as this is understood, illustrations come from all parts of the civilized world where men eat meat at long tables for less cost than the artisan and labourer in this country dine on everlasting bread and cheese, or bacon and potatoes.

Our people are not naturally disposed to gregarious feeding. They had much rather eat at their own time, and in their own way at home, if the food there can bear any comparison with what they might get at the same cost in the American or German way. At present, the home meal cannot sustain comparison with the very worst that can be got elsewhere. At the fourpenny dinner tables in London, where there is no cloth, and the knife and forks are chained to the table, the slice of mutton or beef is better than three poor men’s wives out of four can set before their husbands. In our rural districts the labourers have no other choice than between eating their dinners in the field or at home —bread and cheese under the hedge, or potatoes at the table : but in the United States, Canada, and several of our other colonies we observe that working men are driven to the boarding house table against their will, from the difficulty of getting a good dinner at home.

Economy is of less consequence there than with us, and men would sacrifice something in the way of money to sit down by their own fire side, and among their own children for the chief meal of the day. But as we see by several newspapers before us, their stomach and their reason settle the matter for them. Our emigrant women go out unable to cook; they pick up the customs of the country they settle in, and the consequences are really melancholy. Over a stretch of country as large as Great Britain, the working man has an invariable diet which no stomach can long endure. Beef-steak three times a day, smoked and burnt outside and raw within; fried potatoes hard and greasy; and sometimes eggs ditto. Elsewhere it is salt pork fried — the most unwholesome diet, and nearly the most wasteful a man can sit down to.

If husbands go on dining in this way for years together, it is only because there is no boarding house near where better fare is to be had. The table-d’hote is apt to sink to the level of the private house; and then comes the catastrophe—universal indigestion, and unwholesome thirst, leading to drink and the barbarism which ensues.

We observe the most earnest appeals, in the form of newspaper advertisements to this country to send out women who can cook; and, indeed, the health, morals, and civilisation of our colonies, and of our countrymen settled in the western world, seem to depend more on the training of our girls to household duties than thoughtless people would readily believe. We seem to have become somewhat suddenly aware of the need-less misery of thousands of working men’s homes, and of the spread of low dissipation among the set more free than of old by the early closing movement, and by a period of high wages.

The natural alarm shows itself in various ways, and among others in the earnest desire to make cooks of the rising generation of girls. This is very well; for however absurd it may be to expect to regenerate the domestic life of a million of men by any one method, it is certain that men cannot be expected to be steady and amiable home-stayers unless they have a good table there— wholesome and agreeable food conducive to health and good humour. Every public spirited person one meets can tell of schools for the middle or lower classes, where the dinner is introduced as an educational element, and cottage cookery regularly taught as an art.

The culinary plans pursued at Sanbach, in Cheshire, have lately interested a great number of readers, some of whom we may hope, will became imitator. The instruction there seems to be just of the kind most wanted—the art of roasting and boiling meat, and of dressing vegetables, together with the good housewife’s staple dish and constant triumph, the savoury stew; and, for the sick, the best way of making gruel and other nursing cookery. Before us lies the prospectus of a more aspiring scheme. The School of Cookery, in Edward-street, Regents Park. Originally intended for girls from the National School, to fit them for the household duties of their station, it is now expanding it seems, into a means of eliciting culinary tendencies from the average mass, and affording training for a race of professional cooks. Something good may be hoped from each scheme; but all of them put together will not effect what is wanted.

It seems rather surprising that at a time so fertile in benevolent enterprises as ours, and when women showing an efficiency and zeal in many provinces of social service which will certainly mark the age this particular reform has not yet had its female apostle. One woman has virtually regenerated hospital nursing; another has instituted prison reform; another has organised Australian  emigration; another has effectually restrained intemperance in a multitude of wild Californians; and another has regenerated the condition of lunatics in more countries than one.

Why has no one re-generated the cookery of the working classes, from the highest to the lowest? Nobody seems to have any doubt of the good that would be done by itinerant instructors, taking their apparatus about with them, and lecturing from place to place. And not only lecturing but remaining long enough in one place to establish the learners in good methods, and to leave them in possession of the necessary means, as well as the skill— of a cooking range, for instance which could cook the dinner for a dozen people at once, with a saving which would presently clear the cost. This is proper womans’ work. M. Soyer has opened the way by his demonstration of what may be done. There must be many women among us who have the ability, the time, and the benevolent zeal and patience required for a great and good work like this. Whoever sets about it properly will succeed, and such a success will be a thing worth having lived for.

DOMESTIC EDUCATION OF WOMEN (1857, October 28). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from

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