Thursday, September 10, 2015

Keeping The Home - Woman's Work

I just want to go on record in saying that I am not a housekeeper in any shape, form or fashion. Neither was my mother. I can do it when I put my mind to it, but not on a regular basis. Please. I can however perform a mean "whirlwind pick up". I can stash stuff with the best of 'em.

The other day I thought about cleaning the house after I finished writing book two for the summer, but I didn't dwell on the subject long before I started book three. Anyway that's what spurred this topic on housekeeping.   

"A really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy. While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen." 
The Household, January 1884

The crazy notion during the late 1800's was that to clean the home women were achieving their highest calling. Women's popular literature of the time was full of advice about and encouragement for proper housekeeping.

Image result for catherine beecherAn early voice in the movement to raise the status of housework was Catherine Esther Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Catherine Beecher devoted a great deal of her time in glorifying housekeeping and attempting to convince women that their daily duties, no matter how tedious or distressing, were important and assigned to them by nature and God.
She believed a good housekeeper should be a jack-of-all-sciences and could use those sciences to run the household efficiently. She suggested definite weekly schedules and rational designs for the kitchen and cooking areas. She also wrote many manuals offering a philosophy for housekeeping and practical methods for reaching those philosophical ends.

Image result for catherine beecher treatise on domestic economy

In Norton Juster's book, So Sweet to Labor, he noted that the term "drudgery" appears many times as a descriptive term. Women wrote letters describing the endless, repetitive work undertaken week after week.

The weekly schedule of "drudge" likely included laundry on Monday, ironing and mending on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday and Saturday. This was in addition to childcare, cooking three meals a day, hauling water and keeping the fire burning in the stove, a chore that in itself took at least one hour a day. Women also made the family's clothes and performed the seasonal preserving of fruits, vegetables and meat. Oftentimes, they also had charge of the garden, livestock and poultry, any work related to civilizing the farm.

Thanks for visiting and if you have something to say about housekeeping, leave me a comment. I'd love to hear from you!




  1. Thank the good Lord I was not born back in the days of drudgery for women, glory for men! LOL I'm not against keeping a clean house or cooking, okay maybe cooking isn't something I'm into, but for society to assign me to housekeeping as a calling, well, it is rather offensive.
    My parents were very forward thinking about a woman's place in the world. My mother loved not working outside the home even though she had a secret desire to be a clothes designer, but she and Pop believed women should be self-reliant, educated, and independent. Thanks for that, Mom and Pop. We all worked together to do housework. I will say Pop did all the outside work and house maintenance, but he expected my sister and I to help him with that. We were some well-rounded girls. Pop and I once installed a dishwasher, and I just want you to know we had a spaghetti twirl of pipes under that sink.
    Anyway, I have a lot of gratitude to the women who convinced the male population that women had a whole lot more to offer the world than clean houses and laundry.
    Good blog, Carra.

  2. Carra. I so enjoyed your post. I can't imagine writing about how to be a good housekeeper, but I guess we all have our purposes. My mother liked her home to look nice--fancy curtains, decorations galore, etc.--I believe to impress others when we didn't have any more money(probably less) than the other middle class people in the neighborhood. But housecleaner, housekeeper she wasn't. Stuffed drawers and closets till they overflowed or the things hit you in the head when you opened the door. (She was however a fantastic cook). I couldn't stand the dirt and the clutter and it drove me nuts. So I guess I appointed myself the young girl cleaning lady. I cleaned, organized and reorganized. To this day I love to cook for my family and friends(that's always a delight). While raising a family and working most of my life as a nurse my organization came in very handy, but at times trying to fit it all in became taxing at times. Now, older but not necessarily wiser, I'm trying to juggle writing novels while keeping the house in order. Hubby helps when I either remind him I'm becoming flustered or I flash him "I think I've had it look"--after so many years I'm finally learning to accept some help and even let a few things slid for a bit when needed. Thank God! It's maddening at times to be this way, but again I'm learning. I love that Catherine Beecher and probably others actually wrote their how to books and probably a number of women back then relied on her know how. But I'm not sure I agree that we woman should be "expected" to be the chief bottle washer, cook and housekeeper, etc.. I think if someone told me I was "expected" to it all I would have rebelled. And back then I would have most likely been in trouble, or who knows, I might have made history. I'm so proud of all the women who have fought for our rights and equality and am more than thankful we've come so far. At least it's our choice.

  3. I do have something to say. Mothers/wives even in the 20th century through 1950-1960...and maybe more, pretty much followed the same pattern. I was born in 1940, and by the time I was eight or so, I could run the electric washing machine, the wringer, and hang clothes on the line, etc.
    Mother was a pure housewife, she never worked outside the home, but kept her home, her three girls, and her husband fed very well and dressed in clean ironed clothes. Yes, she did the "wash" on Mondays, Ironed on Tuesdays, etc. and on and one. She made everything from scratch until in the mid 50s discovered Betty Crocker Cake Mixes. Still, she grew a big garden to feed us, and to have extra to can or freeze. We had one big refrigerator and one big upright freezer, and mother kept it filled with cut up chickens and beef. She raised chickens in our back yard..bought 100 baby chicks from Sears every year, and it was my and my younger sister's duty to feed and water those chicks every day after school. When they were almost grown, Mother and Daddy went out to the chicken yard and wrang every neck of every chicken, seared off the feathers, hauled them in washtubs into the kitchen, and began gutting and cutting them up. Washed and cut-up chicken went into one freezer container. We had fried chicken once a week...a hundred chickens would go a long way until the next spring when we began all over again.
    It's a long tedious story, but she hauled me and my sister in the summers out to someone's farm to pick green beans, or black-eyed peas, or corn, or okra. Back home my sister and I were taught how to prepare and can all these things. Makes me tired to this day to remember.
    When my mother died about 8 years ago at age 94, my two sisters and I cleaned out the house. Mother had one refrigerator in the kitchen, and two refrigerators in the garage. In the laundry room, she had she huge upright freezers. All these were filled with carefully, lovingly prepared fruits, vegetables, chickens, and much beef. We all cried when we had to unload all five appliances of the contents, haul the packages to the back pasture, empty and unwrap everything, and let it thaw and rot on the ground. Mother always feared she would not have enough food for her precious family.
    She was the epitome of the perfect 50s housewife, and was sorely disappointed when I did not want to learn how to can anything--I told her I could buy these at the grocery store. To this day, I hate myself for making her angry and cry because I would not be the housewife she envisioned for me.
    Wow. I'm going to stop.
    What a good brought back so many memories.

  4. All I can say about housework is UGH! I used to like to cook, but now I don't even like that. So grateful that I have a husband who cooks for me and does his own laundry and a lady who cleans half days alternate weeks. Good blog.


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