Letter from Alfred Stearns to Chung Ying (C.Y.) Sun, Tientsin, March 7, 1921


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Letter from Alfred Stearns to Chung Ying (C.Y.) Sun, Tientsin, March 7, 1921


Letter from Alfred Stearns to Chung Ying (C.Y.) Sun, Tientsin, March 7, 1921


My dear Mr. Sun,

Let me thank you for your very satisfactory letter which reached me several days ago. I should have written you long before this but I have delayed in the hope of securing some fairly satisfactory basis on which to estimate a proper charge to make for the housing and care of your children. My only regret is that this matter has to be considered at all, for I am free to admit that I thoroughly enjoy having the youngsters with me. For the first few weeks they were a bit on the defensive, which was only natural, and I felt a bit apprehensive as to how the experiment was going to work out. But as soon as they found that they were among friends their reserve changed to warm friendliness, and they have been as responsive and as eager to cooperate as one could ask.

Before deciding what would be a fair charge I allowed several months to pass in order to see just how my house bills were running under the new regime. I also talked the situation over fully with Mr. Robinson in New York, for I know that he had been back in the country long enough to appreciate something of the nature of the present high prices in America. As a result of all this it has seemed that a charge of twenty five dollars a week for each of the children would not be far from the actual cost to me, and hence I have made the charge on that basis. In Arthur’s case I am charging only the room rent, as he boards at the school dining hall, and at the customary rate obtaining in the private houses where our boys are allowed to room, namely seven dollars a week. I confess that the charge seemed to me at first too high and I had hoped that I could figure it at a lower rate. In this I was disappointed. The biggest and most difficult problem with which I have to deal is the servants. You can hardly appreciate its character. The excessive prices paid by our mills during the war completely demoralized the whole servant question, bad enough even before. Servants are hard to get in any case, and when secured they demand from three to four times what they received only a few years back. More than that they will generally refuse to work for a family that counts more than three or four persons at the table. When the children first arrived last fall both of my maids promptly struck for higher wages which I was obliged to pay to keep them. In spite of that they left shortly after, and since that time we have had to change many times. My housekeeper has had to spend many days in Boston in employment offices hunting for new maids. And in addition to all this we have found it necessary to employ a third maid to help for a few hours each day with the cleaning. My help alone cost me at present no less than thirty five dollars a week, and that does not include their board which I have to furnish.

These details very likely have little interest to you, but I merely desire to acquaint you with all the circumstances that you may form some idea of the nature of my problem and the general basis of my estimates, Some of our food prices have already fallen a bit, and I can assure you that if a shrinkage here on in any other housekeeping expense makes it possible to reduce the charge mentioned the reduction will be gladly made, for I do not wish to make money out of the transaction, Were it not for the troublesome servant problem I should look upon the presence of these youngsters in my household as an unalloyed pleasure though not unmindful of the significant responsibility involved.

I have also tried to view the situation from other angles for the purpose of checking up my figures. The charge at a local boarding house not far from the school is thirty five dollars a week. At the Phillips Inn, the small hotel run in connection with the school, the charge is still higher. Again the good boarding schools are now charging from twelve to fifteen and even sixteen hundred dollars a year, and as these schools are regularly in session only about eight months of the full year those who attend them must still meet the expenses of the other four months. On the basis of the arrangements which I have made for the children the total expense ought to be less than it would be if they had been placed at the outset in boarding schools. At the same time I think they are getting fully as much as if they were so located. Our local public schools are good and I have secured the cooperation of the superintendent in getting them the best teachers available. Miss Clemons, who has charge of my house, is deeply interested in her new charges and is unusually well qualified to give them what they need. For a number of years she conducted a private school of her own in a neighboring city and later taught in one of our best boarding schools. My own daughter had been under her care for several years and at was from this work that she came to take charge of my house and family after it was found necessary for my wife to go to a hospital. She is very fond of children, devotes herself without stint to their welfare, but is strict and insists on proper obedience. In my judgment the combination of the public school and the personal care that Miss Clemons gives offers as much as if not more than the best schools would ordinarily supply, at least for the first year's stay in a new country. Of course the children have in addition the advantage of being able to enjoy and profit by all that the big school here offers in the way of games entertainments, musicals, lectures etc.

I should not dwell on all of these things if my problem were not a bit unusual, I should very much have preferred to sit down with you in advance and agree upon proper terms before undertaking to carry out my part of the transaction. Tat [sic] would have been the business like way of doing things: but of course that was out of the question. The fact that you have placed such complete and such unusual trust in me in leaving all details to my decision renders me all the more sensible of the obligation I owe.


Alfred Stearns


Phillips Academy


March 7, 1921


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