Introspections of an Individualist
Norma Lee Browning newspaper piece, written about Rose Wilder Lane.
“For the life of me I cannot remember much about Mrs. Lane…” – Norma Lee Browning, 1970.
In 1947, Norma Lee Browning wrote the following about her good friend and mentor, Rose Wilder Lane (photographed by Browning’s husband, Russell Ogg), daughter of Little House on the Prairie author, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Gentle readers who know their Rose lore will no doubt enjoy this piece, which was sent to me by my friend and mentor, Rosebunting. The paper rose tutorial (paper rose on the navigation button) is HERE; don’t you just love it?
During the war years one of America’s finest writers, Rose Wilder Lane, made headlines simply by growing her own vegetables and pigs and canning them. “At my age,” said she, “I refuse to be bothered with ration books,” and so on three acres of rocky New England soil she proceeded to raise her own food. She had no mission, no moral, no message. She merely loathed red tape and decided it would take less energy to become self-sustaining than to submit to regimentation.
For this she was promptly chastised. One critic said of her, “The only difficulty is that some squirrel may find her.” And because she raises her own food she is classified as a “menace” to national unity in a book whose author often has been successfully sued for libel.
Mrs. Lane is an individualist, as those who have read her Discovery of Freedom and Give Me Liberty well know. She sees nothing as “subversive” in the long rows of well stocked shelves in the basement of her Danbury, Conn., farmhouse.
“What,” she demanded, with eyes like big blue saucers, “is so unusual about women doing their own gardening and canning? They’ve been doing it for years.
“Furthermore,” she added, “American women should be far better off if more of them stayed at home and produced their own food.”
Known as one of the leaders of the individualistic movement in this country and author of many widely read short stories and novels, Mrs. Lane always has done most of the work in her own home, including the laundry, canning, cooking, and baking. She bakes her own bread, and neighbors coming to tea are greeted by the yeasty smell of rising dough from high on a shelf above the bookcases. Tea is served when the hot pans of bread and cinnamon buns are ready to pop from the oven, and there is always homemade cherry jam made with cherries from the trees in her orchard.
“There is a satisfaction,” she explained, “in baking your own bread and growing your food and canning it that cannot be found in writing a novel. More women are finding this out. They are moving out of their jobs and back into the home where they have always belonged.”
She said that in all the “uproar” over women’s rights and responsibilities, one essential point had been neglected.
Some howled when women left home for jobs, she explained. Others howled when they didn’t. Some said it would completely disrupt the home; others implied that the housewife who stayed at home and minded her own business was nothing better than an idiot. Neither is true, of course. But the important thing they forget is the only reason women left home in the first place is that men and machines took women’s work out of the home.
“Women did not go into industry and professions to prove their emancipation,” Mrs. Lane declared. “They merely got jobs because their own jobs were moved out of the home, taken over by industry. Bakeries, garment factories, tailors, canneries, laundries– all these replaced women’s work at home. Women went into industry to earn the money to buy the products they once made at home.”
The pendulum is now swinging the other way. Many of these same jobs are going back into the home, and with them the women. Improvements such as automatic washing machines, dishwashers, ironers, and sweepers have made the housewife’s job infinitely more attractive, and easier.
“The current notion that women only recently went to work is a fallacy,” Mrs. Lane said. “Women have always worked, and worked hard. They have performed the essential and principal work thruout all history. When the first pioneers came to this country they had to send back for women. Without them our whole system would have collapsed. Women are the center of any national economy or society, but their place is in the home and not in a job.”
She maintains, further, that it is an economic waste for women to work outside the home. Counting the cost for better clothes and upkeep, lunches, carfare, and other “job necessities,” a couple is worse off financially at the end of the year, she asserted, than they would be if the wife stayed at home and managed her household economically.
“Besides,” she added emphatically, “women ought to let their husbands support them.”
She agreed there are some professions for which women are as well qualified as men, or more so, but insisted the issue is not one of male versus female qualifications, but a matter of moral principle– women belong in the home.
She is particularly emphatic in her belief that women also should stay out of politics.
“I would stack Clare Boothe Luce and Jessie Sumner up against most male congressmen,” she said, “because they believe in individualism. They don’t follow like sheep, the way most men do. But as a whole women are a pernicious influence in politics because they are always housecleaning the same way they do at home.
“The difficulty with women in politics,” she explained, “is that women, being natural autocrats at home, think they can run a government the way they run their children, simply by passing another law for or against something. They never think of repealing a law, because their minds do not work that way. They are accustomed to running their homes according to various laws of one kind or another.
“Most women,” she added, “have a little of the professional social worker or ‘do-gooder’ in them, and are the greatest campaigners in the world for social legislation. They act emotionally rather than intelligently, and for this reason they are a ‘pernicious influence’ in government.
Women need to develop other interests besides homemaking, but it is ‘idiotic,’ Mrs. Lane said, to think that the home itself is confining or that a wage earning job is essential to the development of other interests. The housewife, in her every-day responsibilitites, has an opportunity for thousands of contacts with other fields such as science, art, religion, business.
“The home touches on its circumference the whole of the world,” she asserted, “and there is no reason for the housewife who keeps on her toes to stagnate from boredom or dull housekeeping tasks.”
Mrs. Lane does all her writing at home, but she manages to find time for even more homemaking jobs than the average woman. In addition to gardening, cooking, and canning, the energetic author can wield a hammer or saw as expertly as most men. She did much of the ‘men’s work’ in remodeling her farmhouse, including some ditch digging, cement mixing, waterproofing a basement, tearing off a front porch, and revamping a tool shed. She upholsters her own furniture, builds bookshelves, and crochets bedspreads.
“And,” she said confidently, “any woman can do the same thing.” She is optimistic in her belief that the American woman is moving back, and permanently, into her most important and satisfying job, her natural role as home-maker.
“Introspections of an Introvert” (Chicago Tribune, March 16, 1947)