Are we all a bit soft these days?

My great grandparents - Anna and Heinrich with their 10 children. In the back row, 5th from left is my grandmother Luise Maria.

I have been working on a photo album for my parents, bring together all the old family photos. In doing this project I cannot help but think about the lives of the women in my family:  my great-great grandmother Christiane, with her husband left her homeland of Silesia in Germany (now located in Poland) knowing they would never return, or Anna, her daughter-in-law with her 10 children to raise on a farm or Anna's daughter, my grandmother Luise. What was their lives like?  How did they cope when times were tough, money was short, the crops didn't grow, no rain . . . It was tough.

Then I look at my life and it realise isn't tough like these ladies endured, it might be busy and we might complain, but it is certainly not tough, I don't think we understand what the word really means. When I hear women today saying they are exhausted or stressed I wonder what Christiane, Anna or Luise would have thought . . . they would never have heard of the word "stress" as it wasn't used until the 1930's . . . I think the concept would have been foreign to them.  These women didn't dream of having a "quiet" time in the afternoon and a long lunch, their day was full of both running the home and helping on the farm (getting their hands dirty) whilst their children went to the local school (until they too were old enough to work). Anna lived many miles from a store and when she need to go shopping she had to walk even though her health was poor due to asthma.

We take for granted all the mod-cons we now have, the fact that the supermarket is open all hours and accessible, we forget that we can get messages to love ones at a click of a button 24/7, that washing the clothes takes only a few hours not a few days. Life is really quite easy these days and we should not be stressed if we really think about it.

I have just finished watched the "Victorian Farm", even though they had machinery to help on the farm (thanks to the Industrial Revolution) and things were starting to be developed for the home (eg the sewing machine), their life was full of activity from sun up to sun down.  And when the lady of the house did have some spare time, she was busy making clothes or hats or baskets . . . not as a luxury, but as a necessity.

Therefore, when I come home from work and start my "home duties" . . . I think twice about saying that I am tired, because I have a microwave, freezer and everything around me to make my life so much easier compared to those earlier pioneer women who truly understand what the word "tired" meant. After a busy day on the farm, these ladies still had to cook dinner . . . without that microwave!

When I was a little girl I met my great-aunt (Luise's sister).  She was very old and reminded me of a old German peasant woman.  She would make us mettwurst sandwiches for afternoon tea (much to the delight of my brother Nick) - nothing fancy, but simple and filling.  This hard working woman who had worked all her life had one amazing skill which I regret not taking a much closer look at . . . she did lace work and other fine needlework on white linen.  I remember walking into her darken dinning room and it was full of her work.  The woman worked hard during the day and managed, in poor light, to produce the most amazing handcraft.  To me, these are the women we should look up, they led honest lives trying their best to provide for their families even under the harshest of conditions.

I hope that I have inherited some of their work ethic . . . the ability to work hard and not complain, sadly I think I am a bit little too lazy to be a pioneer woman.



  1. Good points Jo but Devil's advocate: In many ways the pioneer woman's lives were easier too. Their world was smaller, their expectations lower. I don't think you can compare apples & oranges. Each generation has it's own problems that it must work to deal with & overcome. Cars make mobility easier ~ so we travel further. Microwaves make cooking quicker [& not so hot in summer ☺] but you work outside the home ~ far less common in earlier generations [industrial revolution mills etc excepted & the brakdown of the fmily unit in industralized townships can probably be attributed to this one thing]. Working around the farm probably kept women a lot fitter than we are today.There was a higher infant mortality rate. People, on the whole, died earlier, suffered more serious illnesses ...on & on. You work differently; I do not think you work any less hard than your ancestors. It's just your environment & what is expected of you is different. Just my thinks.

  2. Ganeida - sorry for making this disappear for a few days, but it popped up on the wrong day!!

    You are quite right, they did die earlier, my great-grandmother died in her 50's from asthma, they lost their babies at a great rate etc... And their work was far more physical than what we do these days, our lives are more about running around in more of a hurry (sometimes chasing our tails) – even though our work can’t really be compared due to the huge changes in technology, I still think we are much softer compared to previous generations (not all but most).

    Even though their world was smaller, they never forgot the “other world” they had left in an attempt to find a better life. They couldn’t return even if they wanted to as they couldn’t afford the cost of returning. It was always a one way trip. I think they were very brave to make that move into the unknown.

  3. I agree with you, Jo. We are MUCH softer these days. We have money in our bank accounts that we spend freely (most people don't know what it's like to not have money). We have air-conditioning. We have cars. We have microwaves. We have equipment in our kitchens/homes/garage. We have a washing machine. Oh, I completely agree with you. We *seem* busy these days, but in the old days would they have had time to write and read blog posts (if such a thing had existed)? - probably only rarely. Many people didn't even know how to read because they were too poor to go to school, or didn't even have the option to go to school because they were needed on the homestead! Did they have time to go on a vacation/holiday for a few days, weeks, even months as people do these days? Usually - no - and would they have even had the money to do so? Not usually.

    Oh yes. We are very soft. Even when you think about food... They ate meat (when they had any) and vegies (when they had any) and bread and such. Today we eat exotic food from around the world whenever we want it! We are not only soft, but we are spoiled for choice. Most of the time, we CHOOSE how we want our lives to be lived (in many aspects at least). Back then, they survived. They didn't get a choice more often than not.

    And yes, their lives were far more physical than ours. And again, I think that does make us soft. And not only does it make us soft, but I think it also makes us more susceptible to some diseases. Exercise and fitness is well known to keep our bodies healthier.

    I could go on, but I won't! I think you probably see what I think, anyway! ;)

  4. I think one has to look at mental and physical aspects, and balance between the two. Where Great Grandma lived was a hot, dry, dusty plain, somewhat isolated when considering horse as being the main means of travel. Losing children was a part of the average life, unlike today where we have Neonatal Intensive Care, mercy flight. I think the mental anguish of loosing a child would have been just as tough, but the perspective was different. I think the inability of keeping food cold, no cold water, no running water until later years, out on those plains for 3-4 months during the summer would have been pretty bad. However, we are used to these things, so our perspective is different as it is not something that these folk knew they were missing out on. Communication was tough, but then again, it was the norm not to have instant communication. The psyche would have been different. I think that the modern person has so many expectations, that they find life at times tough going, whereas, Grandma had to deal with the uncomfortbleness of life of the day - heat, horses and uncomfortable carriage/dray etc, the knowledge that they would not know what family were up do, including dying, for months and months, that diseases were not all curable (we expect to be cured - it adds to our self made stressors in life), that meat and veg (Clara - the average farmer always had meat and veg, so our farming heritage was better than a poor city person without that resource) was the staple of life. I think that they could do craft, as what else did you do in the evening - it was dark in winter, there was no TV, radio, computer, and few books, plus you either made it yourself or headed into town (not so easy). I think that it would be harder to pioneer today, than it was back then, because of the environment in which it occured. So being soft is a perspective, we cannot turn back the clock and wonder how we would do it, as we would need to erase the current things that make our life normal, and look at life with what made their lives normal. I trust that makes sense!!!!

  5. I'm with you, Jo.
    My german and irish ancestors did it much tougher than I've had to!
    I know I'm much softer and lazier than they were :-(
    And from what I've read here on your blog..I think you do have a big dose of your german forebears work ethics!!
    Your old family photo is priceless!
    What a blessing to see their faces.
    I'd love to have photos to go with my genealogy research!
    Have a great day..Trish



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