Experiment Station To Solve Housekeepers’ Problems

Mary Pattison was the President of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, “an organization of fifteen or sixteen thousand women, which believes in doing practical things.” The organization is still around today.

She set up an “experiment station” in her New Jersey home to figure out how housewives can make their daily routines easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. Part of that involved trying new machines with potential to make labor easier.

Mrs. Pattison led the way to a small kitchen. It was full of strange objects, queer shaped ovens, and odd, black things standing on long legs.

“This,” said Mrs. Pattison, “is my electric motor.”

It was a small thing she touched, and it did not look like the solution of anything, but she wheeled it up to the coffee mill, slipped a pin somewhere, turned a crank, and in ten seconds the motor was working like a galley slave, grinding the coffee. After a minute Mrs. Pattison stopped it, drew out the pin that connected it with the mill, and explained that it would turn the washing machine, chop up the meant, or polish the silver, just as energetically as it had ground the coffee.

“This motor is not perfection by any means,” said Mrs. Pattison, “but it shows that we are on the right track. I paid $75 for it with the coffe mill, the polisher, the washing machine and the chopper included. It was quite a sum to put down at the start, but you see what a saving it is in labor…

“This,” she said, turning to another strange object that looked something like a wash boiler, “is the dishwashing machine. We had a great time getting this and it is not a very satisfactory one, though it is the best on a small scale in the market so far. I wrote to every firm that dealt in such things and I would get back answers that they had a very admirable dishwashing machine that would wash a thousand plates a minute, or something like that, and had been used in various hotels. Then they would add: ‘We have nothing as yet for the small kitchen, but we have some plans for such a model.’”

I like that women were technology early adopters back then.

[There are] vacuum cleaners which do away with the strain of sweeping, and of course it will be a part of our Federation to find out which are the best cleaners for the various purposes that our women will have need for… The average woman does not know about all these things, and if she does she is afraid to buy because she knows the chances are even that she is going to be cheated. We believe that when she knows where to turn for accurate information, she will joyfully buy them.”

A couple years later, Pattison wrote a book called Principles of Domestic Engineering, which you can read free from Google Books. The lengthy subtitle is “The what, why and how of a home; an attempt to evolve a solution of the domestic “labor and capital” problem – to standardize and professionalize housework – to re-organize the home upon “scientific management” principles – and to point out the importance of the public and personal element therein, as well as the practical.”

EXPERIMENT STATION TO SOLVE HOUSEKEEPERS’ PROBLEMS: Mrs. Frank A. Pattison Heads a Movement to Give Practical Aid to Tests of Inventions That Lighten Labor and Effect Economies. (PDF)

From March 26, 1911

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