Housework: Now and then


Sometimes I don't have a clue what to write about and today was one of them!!! 

I rack my brain for ideas and sometimes nothing comes  . . . then I stumble across an interesting fact and think that perhaps I could write about XY or Z!! 

My interesting fact for today was the that women of the past use to spend up to 4 hours per day caring for their stoves — that is a lot of time and energy and thought how blessed I was to be a woman of this modern age where I have electricity, gas, plumbing and lots of mod-cons that make my life so much easier.  I really don't have a lot of complain about. 

So as a result of my little fact, I though I would re-visit the home of a woman 150 years ago, perhaps a pioneer woman a long way from civilisation and her family — they knew what hard work was all about. We really don't have a clue, but that doesn't stop us from complaining about our tough life! 

These days, we no longer need to spend all day everyday doing housework and we are no longer tired to the home all day stoking the fire and we can enjoy more hours of relaxation.

Housework in the past was harsh physical labour and I doubt women found much joy in the daily drudgery and grind — but with no other choice, they got on with what they needed to do and many suffered in silences. Of course, if you were born into an upper class family you had very little work to do at all, servants did the hard labour for very little money in return and you could swan about in fancy frocks and entertain all day (and night). Middle class women spent some of their day managing the home, but still had plenty of time for entertaining, undertaking their many handicrafts and for some, helping the poor. It was the lower classes and pioneer women that bore the brunt of hard physical labour and many died completely worn out and overworked.  


The next time you turn on your oven or boil the kettle, think about the woman who spent all day maintaining her fire/stove, because without it she wasn’t able to heat water (for washing dishes, bathing or washing the clothing), for cooking, baking the daily bread, tea/coffee and keeping the home warm. The fire was fundamental to the household and result in hours of sifting ashes, empting the ash box twice daily, collecting wood, adjusting dampers, lighting fires, carrying coal or wood, and rubbing the stove with thick black wax to keep it from rusting. And since  there were no thermostats to regulate the stove's temperature, a woman had to keep an eye on the contraption all day long. Any time the fire slackened, she had to adjust a flue or add more fuel. Her daily life wove around the fire and the fear of it going out. Women spent something like 4 hours a day looking after their fire.

Cooking without processed foods was both time and energy consuming. Bread had to be made daily, a chicken for dinner had to be killed, fish scaled, sugar pounded, flour ground, vegetables picked (which the lady of the house probably planted herself) etc.. nothing was quick and easy to prepare. Preserving foods did help, but the work involved was still time-consuming. No quick Jamie Oliver 15 minute meals in past times! No options of popping out for a take-away or stocking up the pantry when ever you want especially if you lived many miles of the store or money was in short supply. You made do with what you had and that may mean the same meal day after day. We are so spoilt for choice these days and we take for granted having a supermarket within easy reach and having a well stocked pantry that allows us to cook a wide variety of meals. And thanks to electricity and refrigeration we can store food allowing us to buy in bulk.  

Before indoor plumbing became common (which I certainly take for granted), water had to be carried and boiled daily. The mere job of bringing water into the house was exhausting. Homes without running water also lacked the simplest way to dispose garbage: sinks with drains. This meant that women had to remove dirty dishwater, kitchen slops, and, worst of all, the contents of chamber pots from their house by hand. None of these jobs sound very pleasant at all!!

And then there was the laundry, a job that was not enjoyed by most women of the past.  It took all day and require even more physical effort. According to American History online:


On Sunday evenings, a housewife soaked clothing in tubs of warm water. When she woke up the next morning, she had to scrub the laundry on a rough washboard and rub it with soap made from lye, which severely irritated her hands. Next, she placed the laundry in big vats of boiling water and stirred the clothes about with a long pole to prevent the clothes from developing yellow spots. Then she lifted the clothes out of the vats with a washstick, rinsed the clothes twice, once in plain water and once with bluing, wrung the clothes out and hung them out to dry. At this point, clothes would be pressed with heavy flatirons and collars would be stiffened with starch. (link)

And can you imagine trying to dry washing in the middle of winter in a small cottage! I have enough trouble without a drier, but with central heating my house is warm most of the time. 

Of course the children did help both inside and outside the home — however, once old enough many were sent out to work to raise money for the family.  Boys helped on the farm in rural areas and girls were sent off to be servants in middle to upper class homes and those too young for work, looked after the younger children or went to school during the day. Childhood was almost none-existent for children of the past — even my dad (who is now 82) was expected to do serious farm work after school and had to leave schooling behind when he as around 12 to help his dad. It wasn't a time he enjoyed at all. 

If money was tight and the family lived in the city (such as London) poor women also went out to work in unpleasant conditions that affected their health. In rural areas women work along side their husbands plus looked after the home. There was nothing glamour about being a keeper of the home in the past. 

I think it is important to remember these women when housework is getting us down, because we really don't have much to complain about!!!  

*****

Comments

  1. This is very interesting that you posted this as I have been thinking myself about this topic recently. I don't know if you have read or watched the Sarah Plain and Tall trilogy (I highly recommend them for adults and children alike), but I watched the third one recently and it renewed an interest in me for the past. I found a few interesting websites about the historical farm wife but this journal series was the most fascinating to me: http://1892farmwife.blogspot.com/?m=1
    I admire these women and their hardwork and their dedication. I am inspired to do my housework better and with a content and grateful spirit!

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    1. I have read a number of stories on pioneer women and I really do marvel at their ability to cope — life during those droughts must have been incredibly difficult when they simply had nothing at all. I loved the Sarah Plain and Tall series and agree they are so worth watching. I read recently that the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder was made more readable for children by removing much of the tough and difficult life Ma and Pa really had to endure. It wasn’t as rosy as the books portray

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  2. I thought tending the fire every hour last winter to keep it going was a lot!
    Thanks for sharing.

    Blessings,
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

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  3. Thank you so much for your inspiring post (as all your posts are!) to remind us of the hardships of our ancestors and to be grateful for all the blessings we have today ~ when we want to whine or complain about cooking or doing laundry!
    Gwen in Arkansas (USA)

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    1. I am so glad you enjoyed this, I find it such an interesting topic finding out what our ancestors got up to and the struggles and joys they experienced. One should never complain about the laundry these days!!!

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  4. This subject was well worth taking the time to write about, (and to read). At 39 years old, I've yet to meet another person my age, other than my 4 younger sisters, who grew up with a wood stove and without running water, no indoor plumbing. My Grandfather built the 400 square foot log/sod home we lived in, and my Dad, the youngest of the 3 boys took over the family farm. My Mother came from a very similar situation, so even when I went to stay with my Grandmother for the summer, my way of life did not change. Laundry was an all day affair, as was staying warm in the winter. Going to the bathroom was only a charming walk during the best of weather. Having a bath was planned well in advance and not nearly as frequent as I bathe now.
    But my Grandmother and Mother felt very blessed to have all that they did, especially a car. That was freedom. Nowadays, I feel immensely grateful having all that I do: all the modern appliances a woman could want, (and a few I don't need), a truck, a car, a tractor for my yard work, a riding mower, a Jacuzzi tub, the list goes on.
    I used to have to work very hard, as helping out was never a question. Everyday chores: getting wood, hauling water in, hauling water out, keeping a huge garden, were all things that filled my time. I no longer have to do all those things, and I often get asked now why I bother with 2 large vegetable gardens, several flower gardens, and why I have created such a huge yard to maintain. I suppose the answer lies in my past, when all those habits were created. For now, at least, I enjoy the hard work. It keeps me connected. I cannot tell you, how often warm memories flood my mind when I'm pulling carrots, washing up potatoes, or picking a handful of zinnias for my kitchen. Joy, pure and simple.
    Thank-you again for writing this post. It was really nice to revisit the past this morning.

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    1. You really have seen both sides and must appreciate the mod-cons that we have today and not take them for granted like most of us do!! My parents do not like waste and have never been wasteful because they both went through the depression and WW2 and know what it like to scrimp and be frugal. And when they no longer needed to be frugal, they were still careful!!

      Thank you for sharing your past it sounds very interesting.

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  5. Your post and the comments are very eye-opening.
    No complaints here!
    And think about the women on Wagon Trails, coming to the West!

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    1. Our lives really are very blessed!! And those wagon families had no idea if they would ever see or hear from their families again . We take our quick mail and phone communications for granted these days .

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  6. Hello, I do think we have it made in the shade! Living as a homemaker requires so much strength and energy! I once had a lady from the back hills tell me that it kept her young and out of trouble. LOL
    I do man a wood stove all winter for over 20 years and hauling wood and such and it does help keep one busy!
    Even today we are going to pick up two trees from a friend that had winter kill last year,so even in the summer we haul wood! Working hard has a way of keeping ourselves involved in living...
    Blessings, Roxy

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    1. I am sure my dad is going so well at 82 is because he has never ran from hard work and it keeps him from being lazy and out of trouble!! When I phone him up in the evening he often apologies for being asleep in his chair as if at 82 he isn’t allowed a little rest. I grew up with a wood stove (in the kitchen) that needed to burn 24/7 as it kept the water hot for showers (and warmed the house) – it was the first thing my dad look in the morning and the last thing he did before bed. I agree that hard work is good for us — I remember reading about Beatrix Potter who complained that she didn’t want to spend her life having afternoon tea and wanted to do some real work otherwise she would go mad. It led her to become the writer we all love and a sheep farmer.

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  7. I completely enjoyed reading this Post ! Such a great reminder to keep our attitudes in check when the chores pile up . I love history and found this an inspiring Post for my everyday.
    Leticia Justus from KingMakerBlog.com

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    1. I love history too and look out for books that examine women of the past and how they managed things :)

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  8. I love history, so loved this. It always amazing me that they had time to do all that work and then produce beautiful quilts and other handwork as well. I think now people are made to feel 'work' is something to escape from as much as possible, so do all they can to make more time for leisure. I find work is my leisure - I enjoy it!

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    1. When I was doing my research, I discovered it wasn't the poor women producing the beautiful quilts as they were so exhausted after a day of work and children they didn't have the energy (their quilts were only for practical use and basic) - it often the women of the middle class families who had some form of help who had the time and energy who undertook the handicrafts that we admire so much today. They also had to sew all the families clothing which must have taken up so much of their time which limited the time for nonessentials.

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    2. However, I think as their children got older they had more time - my (German) great aunts (who worked the land along side their husbands) produced beautiful lacework which I know they did by candle light in the evenings after their day of chores. Many couldn't read, so this was the one thing they could do.

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  9. Just getting back into my cleaning routine, and enjoy it, because it is SO easy. We do have it so much easier now, that is for sure. I must remember when I get sick of thinking up what to cook, that we have so many choices these days, and even cooking is a breeze compared to how it used to be =)
    love,
    Bets

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    1. Even when unwell it isn't that difficult to put something in the microwave or toast some bread/making a toast etc...Or even pop down to the take-away if really desperate!

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  10. Modern conveniences sure make housework much easier these days! I am so grateful for my washing machine and fridge, that's for sure! I have found that there's even a huge difference in the amount and difficulty of housework where I currently live (in SE Asia) compared to America. Hired help for housework is actually very common here because keeping a house clean takes so much work. Houses are built in a very open style, central air-con doesn't exist, so cleaning bathrooms (to prevent the mold that loves to come in this warm, humid climate) and mopping all the outside dust off the floors is really a daily task. Even finding somewhere inside my apartment where I can hang up sheets and tablecloths to dry is a slight challenge. But we have it easy compared to the olden days, that's for sure!

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    1. Can you imagine living without a fridge? I lived in the tropical north of Australia for 14 years - hot all year round (as you would be familiar with in SE Asia) and it would have been so difficult with out refrigeration. No wonder many of the earlier British settlers to this part of Australia didn’t last very long. Nothing would have stayed fresh for every long and meat must have gone off quickly with out a fridge. It must have made cooking so much more challenging.

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  11. This is a very interesting post and I appreciate you sharing it with us at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings

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    1. Thankyou Terri :)) Hope you are having a nice weekend.

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  12. We lived at a campground for a time while we were doing ministry work. I came face-to-face with what women of centuries past faced... and I still had conveniences they didn't. I did have to hall my water and take much longer at meal planning/cooking and basic chores, but at least I didn't have to process meat from living to table ready!!! Thank you for this article and reminder to not take for granted the conveniences we are blessed with!

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    1. We have so much to be thankful for today :))

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  13. Thank you for joining the Small victories Sunday Linkup Party . Please join again. Pinned to the group board.

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  14. I loved this post, Jo - so fascinating to read about the lives of people in times gone by. Sometimes I wonder if all our modern conveniences are doing us as much of a favour as we think they are though - I think they make us lazy and unfit in many respects. Of course I am very thankful for modern technology - washing machines and vacuums and such, but I do see the down side of it. God put people in a world where they would have to toil (especially after the fall), and that toil kept them busy and healthy and fit (it was other things, such as lack of hygiene, that made people sick & die young - not so much a lack of fitness unless one was rich and could afford to pay someone else to do the hard labour)... So now that we don't have to toil and labour so much, a majority of people (at least in developed countries) suffer from rich people's problems & illnesses - and at epidemic proportions! And I also wonder whether all the extra time we have really leads to a "better" life - does it make us idle? Does it make us less grateful? Does it make us waste more time on unessential things? If we examine our lives honestly, yes, it probably does. Perhaps there is a lower level of satisfaction, too - working hard and labouring for what we have often increases our satisfaction in both those things and in simple pleasures. And the fact that I still turn around and say I'm glad I have the modern conveniences... what does that say about me? That I am lazy? I'm not sure. But this all does give me something to think about and consider!!!

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    1. No way would I want to swap my current conveniences and return to the past, I don’t want to spend hours looking after my fire or bringing in water to heat. However, I think perhaps we rely on our conveniences too heavily (ie using the dish washer rather than washing by hand or the drier rather than hanging the clothes on the line) so when something breaks down we struggle to cope. And the other issue is with the need to constantly up date our conveniences rather than making them last as long as possible. People tend to want the latest item or the most expensive rather than perhaps a basic model that still does a great job. Perhaps the thermomix is a classic example - why spend $2000 on an item that cuts and cooks when you can do just as good a job the traditional way and be more in touch with the food you are cooking. Perhaps a little slower, but still as good or perhaps better - and certainly a little richer!

      As a nation we aren’t as lazy as it might appear - workers are putting in lots of hours and we are a nation of hard workers, just different sort of workers to 200 years ago - much less manual more brain. As a result we aren’t getting the exercise we should (I sit all day in an office and have to make a conscious decision to get up and go for regular walks) and many eat poor diets (quick takeaways) - all leading to overweight and poor health.

      If I was at home full-time, my housework would be a small portion of my day (unlike women of the past when it consumed their entire day) and I would have to find work to do otherwise it would be very easy to be lazy and be inactive. It is an interesting topic and both era’s have their pros and cons!!

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