Thursday 2 December 2010

The Family of the Future

A glimpse of Victorian utopian socialism ...

Perhaps you thought the hippy commune was the invention of the 1960s? Well, here's an earlier, slightly posher version, in theory, if not in practice.


MARY S. GILLILAND, writing in the International Journal of Ethics upon "Women in the Community and the Family," discusses the question as to whether or not it is possible for a woman to combine public ambition with the responsibilities of maternity. She thinks that with a reorganised and simplified family life all mothers might devote a larger amount of time and infinitely more care to their babies, while at the same time they took their fair share of public and social work. At present family life, she maintains, is not organised on rational principles. Twenty years of the best years of a married woman's life are absorbed in the minutiae of family life. Many children exhaust her physically, mentally, and morally, she is the most overworked and the most hopelessly exploited of all our social slaves. It would be well, therefore, she thinks, that men and women should agree that a woman's child-bearing years should be very much reduced in number, and a longer period should be permitted between the births of the children, and that the man should take a greater share in the rearing and training of the child. It would surely be a more manly and suitable thing for a man to amuse his own children, or even to put them to bed while his wife went out to work or amusement than that the man should always take the outside work and amusement and the woman always see to the children. This, however, is not all that Mrs. Gilliland proposes. She says:-

"Besides, we want to arrange the home life so that it shall not debar women from public life. And just at present her husband is about the only person who can co-operate with a married woman towards this end. This will not be always so. Things will be easier for both men and women when family life is less isolated, and arranged on a more co-operative basis.
    The family of the future will not, I trust, set itself down within four narrow walls and seek to live sufficient unto itself within them.  We shall try, I hope, what co-operative dwellings can do. In such dwellings there might be suites of rooms, larger and smaller, to suit the needs of single men and women or of married people and their children. These suites would provide their inmates with the privacy of the present home, but would avoid the exclusiveness of the present-day flat. There would be a common drawing-room, a common dining-room, managed as such rooms are managed in a good hotel to-day. The service of the whole would be managed from a common centre, cutting off at one blow the greatest domestic worry of a modern woman's life, and encouraging the organising of the work by skilled experts, which it needs. There might be a large, airy, sunny, common nursery, presided over by trained kindergarten nurses. The skilled education of the children might go on from from the earliest years. Think of the superiority of such nurseries and such care over the nurseries and the care possible to the children of the vast majority, even, of the middle classes. Think if the fine common library there might be; think of the fine solid building of good design; think how a few commonly held works of art, of the first order, might replace the trumpery decorations of the present-day individualistically arrayed establishment; think of the good and wholesome and well-cooked and varied food which might, at less cost, replace the burnt mutton-chops and muddy coffee of the suburban villa.
    When the boys and girls of a family grow up, each having been educated to the best possible advantage, and each having been fitted to earn his or her own livelihood,each might move out to it private set of rooms in the same building (if their work admitted of their living there) thus securing that independence and privacy which young women need as much as young men, and which both need to ask from their families as much as from the public. Think of the bigger, wholesome family feeling that would grow up in such a community. How men and women would grow up knowing each other with an intimacy and freedom unknown to us. Think if the immense benefit to old people and tthose who have the care of the aged."

Review of Reviews, 1894


  1. How interesting! And the irony of it all is that it's precisely how people from poorer communities/countries live - and they have help with the children and the elderly. However, none of us who can live in a single nuclear family house want to live like that.

  2. What I love is that it's a plea for communal living but thoroughly middle-class - or, at least, containing the requirements of 'good living' - not least a drawing-room and library. It sounds more like a gentleman's club - which was rather the Victorian ideal of community.