On the Making of Homes
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In addressing a letter to the colored people of America, I scarcely know where to begin, since there is so much to say; so much to congratulate them upon, so much to sympathize with them about, and so many things to suggest as methods of importance in the way of future reforms.
There is one point, however, which prominently asserts itself to my mind. I have traveled extensively over the United States in the last few years, and in Cuba and Jamaica, and the South.
I have seen the colored people in all their different social classes, and in all their various stages of development. There is one criticism which is only just to make in regard to them all as a class--and it is made with the earnest hope that the leaders, and the advanced minds, will urge upon the race as a whole to make the beautifying of the home a matter of greater pride than the beautifying of the person.
Throughout my travels, I have studied the colored people with interest and affectionate sympathy. I have talked with them, and learned both by conversation, and observation, the many obstacles they have encountered in their efforts to rise, from a subservient state, to a self-supporting and independent one. In Jamaica, where the race has had its freedom for forty years, there was much to awaken pride, and hope, in the heart of every colored many and woman. The teachers, the merchants, the city and railroad officials were nearly all colored. They conducted large industries, and held responsible offices.
But there, as here, I observed an indifference to the making of an attractive home, which at once set the homes of the colored people apart from all others, in an undesirable light. In the South, and here in the North, it is an every day matter to see well groomed and fashionably attired colored men and women emerging from homes which are little less than squalid. Homes which a little paint and a few yards of muslin and scrim, and a few flowers in the windows (after they were polished and cleaned) would render attractive, at small expense.
At the present era I would say that a higher ideal of the home, and of what was demanded of those who have received a certain amount of education in their attitude toward that home, was the important one for the colored race to attain.
The home, not the adornment of the person, marks the progress of any race from the crude to the civilized state.
Every colored man ought to take a pride in making his home, however humble, compare favorably with the homes of white men in his own circumstances. Every colored woman should do her part with enthusiasm and pleasure. Where paint is too expensive a luxury, a little whitewash and labor will remove that universal aspect of dinginess and discomfort which hangs to the average habitation of the poor colored man.
Mrs. Green, a dignified and interesting colored woman in New York, is doing much to awaken her race to higher ideals, on this subject. Formerly a trained nurse, she established a Day Nursery for the care of the children of colored workingwomen, and by her visits to the homes, and her counsels and assistance, and that of her co-workers, has achieved much for the advancement of her people. Mrs. Victoria Matthews of 217 East 86th street, New York, is President of the White Rose Working Girls' Home, and she, and her aids, are also doing commendable work. One of the most charming women I met, while on a trip through the South a year ago, was a very beautiful octoroom, who had higher ideals of womanhood, wifehood, and motherhood, than many fashionable white women of my acquaintance. So many such men and women may be found to-day among the colored race, that it seems little less than an evidence of senility, or of idiocy, for any white person to declare the education and elevation of the race to be a failure.
But the criticism that I hear so universally passed, upon the observable lack of pride on the part of the colored race in the home, I cannot refute. I hope this phase of education will be more seriously considered in the near future.