Women's Chores in Maggie's Era, Part 2
Let's look at the other major chores women faced in the 1860s: dishes, cleaning, and laundry. You'll be happy we have modern conveniences when you get to the end of the blog.
After a meal, there were a pile of dishes and pots to wash up. There was no dishwasher. There was no hot and cold running water. There was no dish soap. (In fact, women might have made this themselves.) The excerpt below, from The Enlistment, gives you an idea of what women went through.
House cleaning also presented the homemaker with hard work. Before the invention of the vacuum cleaner, rugs were swept with a carpet broom. To get the dust out, though, they needed to be rolled up, lugged out to a sturdy rope line strung between two posts, and beaten with a carpet beater – a device that looks a little like a tennis racket with extra big holes. That must have really made the dust fly!
Hardwood floors were swept with a broom. Next a homemaker would pump cold water into a bucket, add hot water from the tea kettle or wash boiler on the stove, add soap, and scrub the floors with a brush on her hands and knees. Alternately, floors could be wiped down with a rag.
Feather dusters aided dusting. One also could wipe down furniture and other surfaces with water and rub in beeswax to polish and protect the wood.
As for bed chambers, a landlady like Maggie would shake out and air the bedding, shake the curtains to free them of dust, and open windows to freshen the room. She also would dispose of dirty water in the washbasins and fill them with fresh. Finally – urghh – she would empty and clean chamber pots into which her boarders would do their nightly business. There were no indoor toilets and paying a visit to the outhouse at night was no fun. So, it was either hold it until morning or use the chamber pot.
Like many women of her time, Maggie cleary dreads laundry day. She makes mention of the dreaded task in several of the Saint Maggie series books. In Walk by Faith, when her family is relocated after a fire takes the boarding house, she makes note in her journal of the feelings that she and the other women have about living at her brother Samuel’s house, where the maids do the laundry: “We have no scrubbing, no steaming tubs of water, no bluing, no rinsing, no hanging wet things on a line or draping them before the fire. Our hands are no longer red and chapped, nor do our backs hurt. We never knew we could feel so good.”
Today we throw our stuff in a washing machine, toss in some detergent, close the lid, and walk away until the spin cycle is finished. Face it. We've got it pretty good.
In fact, even preparing the laundry for the washing was a big deal for Maggie and other women. Read this excerpt from Saint Maggie:
The general wash involved stirring the laundry in soapy water, then rinsing, wringing, and hanging on a line. Once the laundry was dry, everything needed ironing. The irons of Maggie's day were heavy things that had to be heated on the stove. That meant while one iron was in use, another was heating up. Women in those days must have had great biceps.
Personally, I would not give up twentieth-first century conveniences to go back to Maggie’s “simpler” time. The back-breaking drudgery women of her era experienced is daunting. Plus, women couldn’t vote, they had few opportunities to work outside the home, there was no birth control, and in some states married women could not own property and did not have the right to keep any money that they may have earned. Everything legally belonged to hubby. That said, some of these rules varied state to state.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll stay in my own era, thank you very much
Until Monday, friends. Have a great weekend!
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder