About the Author

Christopher Wells is an assistant professor of environmental history at Macalester College. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and specializes in environmental history, the history of technology, and U.S. cultural and intellectual history.

The Early Conservation Movement

Mildred Chadsey, “Municipal Housekeeping” (1915)


In this article, Mildred Chadsey outlined the principles of municipal housekeeping. In an increasingly modern, interdependent world, she wrote, American cities had begun to face the same sorts of “housekeeping” tasks that homemakers faced every day. In crowded, polluted, unsanitary industrial areas, how could citizens work together to making cities “clean, healthy, comfortable, and attractive”?

Excerpt from "Municipal Housekeeping":
Housekeeping is the art of making the home clean, healthy, comfortable and attractive. Municipal housekeeping is the science of making the city clean, healthy, comfortable and attractive. Many tasks of housekeeping that were formerly performed by the individual householder are now performed by city officials. So gradually has the city taken over tasks that were once performed by the individual householders, and so many other tasks have been put upon it as it has grown into the complex and intricate thing that it is, and living in it has become such a co-related and interdependent process, that it is now confronted in a very real sense by the same problem on a highly magnified scale that confronts the individual housekeeper in making the home a clean, healthy, comfortable and attractive place in which to live.

Under modern conditions the homemaker does right to buy the household necessities, the furniture, the food, the clothes from the factory because they are made more cheaply and better there than she can have them made at home. She would be a social and economic failure if she did not adjust herself to the new industrial order of the factory system. She has not less human kindness and sympathy because she allows her sick to be cared for in the hospital, nor has she less maternal love because she sends her children out of the home to be educated. She merely recognizes that she is living in an age of specialization, and because she wants the best care and the best training for those she loves, she entrusts them to the care of specialists. It is not that she has failed to make home attractive that the older children seek their pleasure outside the home. It is because of their growing sociability, the result of the community life which leads them into broader fields of human interest and human endeavor than those set by the confines of the home. Such a home implies not independence, but interdependence. It establishes new bonds of human relationship, coordinated endeavor and community interests. Therefore many of the tasks that the individual housekeeper performed for her household have been projected into the community, both for the advantage of mutual service and of collective bargaining. . . .

The first and most important function of any housekeeper is to keep the home clean. The disposal of waste, such as garbage, rubbish, sewage, the cleaning of its street, the prevention of smoke and other noxious substances in the air, are all important measures in keeping the city clean. Yearly new methods of sewage disposal and sewage treatment are being devised by one group of experts while the dangers which result from failure to properly dispose of waste matter are being studied by another group. New problems in keeping the city clean are constantly presenting themselves for solution. Not only does the city in its effort to keep itself clean, establish departments that perform these duties, but it passes laws requiring individual property owners to maintain their premises in a cleanly condition and it restrains individuals from uncleanly acts, such as dumping refuse on streets or on other people's property, committing nuisances or expectorating on streets, and it employs inspectors whose duties it is to enforce these laws. Some one has said that the same God that wrote the decalogues wrote the sanitary code. Surely an efficient enforcement of it is a God-like task, and one that is just about as difficult to perform as other God-like tasks are when performed by mere man.


Chadsey, Mildred. "Municipal Housekeeping," The Journal of Home Economics, 7 (Feb. 1915).