All in a Day’s Work

There was always order in the day of the 19th century woman. I often wonder what such a woman would think of women today if she had the opportunity to peek in on our lifestyle. I would imagine that such a woman would be amazed by the technology that allows us to get our work done faster. I can also imagine that overwhelmed by the change in today’s woman.

I’ve often heard the mature woman say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with this generation of young women.” They say this simply because many women of today are much too busy with careers and outside activities to care for the home like the woman of yesterday. Home cooked meals have been replaced by evenings dining out. Homes have become more of a place to see rather than a haven, or a place of comfort. Rarely do you find the grandmother who has a plate full of buttermilk biscuits and homemade jam or freshly baked from scratch cookies waiting for her grandchildren when they burst through the door with their liveliness. Least of all do you find the majority of mothers who create home as place where a child can smell the stew pot cooking in the cold weather or the warmth of laughter and conversation in the living room.

Here is a most typical day for a homemaker (which we all should learn to be) in the 19th century, taken from the “The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking” published in 1893. These ways are truly from the women of past times who strongly believed in the scripture as it says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1Corinthians 14:40). 

“In the woman’s hand is the key to home-happiness, but it is folly to assert that all lies with her. Let it be felt from the beginning that her station is a difficult one, that her duties are important, and that judgment and skill must guide their performance; let boys be taught the honor that lies in such duties,—and there will be fewer heedless and unappreciative husbands.” The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking by Helen Campbell.

The Day’s Work

“First, then, on rising in the morning, see that a full current of air can pass through every sleeping-room; remove all clothes from the beds, and allow them to air at least an hour. Only in this way can we be sure that the impurities, thrown off from even the cleanest body by the pores during the night, are carried off. A neat housekeeper is often tempted to make beds, or have them made, almost at once; but no practice can be more unwholesome.”

“While beds and bedrooms are airing, breakfast is to be made ready, the table set, and kitchen and dining-room put in order.”

“The table can be set, and the dining or sitting room swept, or merely brushed up and dusted, in the intervals of getting breakfast. To have every thing clean, hot, and not only well prepared but ready on time, is the first law, not only for breakfast, but for every other meal.”

“After breakfast comes the dish-washing, dreaded by all beginners, but needlessly so. — Wash glass first, paying no attention to the old saying that “hot water rots glass.” Be careful never to put glass into hot water, bottom first, as the sudden expansion may crack it. Wash silver next. Hot suds, and instant wiping on dry soft cloths, will retain the brightness of silver, which treated in this way requires much less polishing, and therefore lasts longer. China comes next—all plates having been carefully scraped, and all cups rinsed out. hen take any tin or iron pans, wash, wipe with a dry towel, and put near the fire to dry thoroughly. A knitting-needle or skewer may be kept to dig out corners unreachable by dishcloth or towel, and if perfectly dried they will remain free from rust.”

 “The cooking-dishes, saucepans, &c., come next in order; and here the wire dish-cloth will be found useful, as it does not scratch, yet answers every purpose of a knife. Every pot, kettle, and saucepan must be put into the pan of hot water. If very greasy, it is well to allow them to stand partly full of water in which a few drops of ammonia have been put. The outside must be washed as carefully as the inside. Till this is done, there will always be complaint of the unpleasantness of handling cooking-utensils. Properly done, they are as clean as the china or glass.”

 “Plated knives save much work. If steel ones are used, they must be polished after every meal. In washing them, see that the handles are never allowed to touch the water.”

“The dish-towels are the next consideration. A set should be used but a week, and must be washed and rinsed each day if you would not have the flavor of dried-in dish-water left on your dishes. Dry them, if possible, in the open air”

“Keep hot water constantly in your kettles or water-pots, — Put away every article carefully in its place.”

 “If tables are stained, and require any scrubbing, remember that to wash or scrub wood you must follow the grain, as rubbing across it rubs the dirt in instead of taking it off.”

“The same rule applies to floors. A clean, coarse cloth, hot suds, and a good scrubbing-brush, will simplify the operation. Wash off the table; then dip the brush in the suds, and scour with the grain of the wood.”

“The table must be cleaned as soon as the dishes are washed, because if dishes stand upon tables the fragments of food have time to harden, and the washing is made doubly hard.”

“Leaving the kitchen in order, the bedrooms will come next. Turn the mattresses daily, and make the bed smoothly and carefully. Put the under sheet with the wrong side next the bed, and the upper one with the marked end always at the top, to avoid the part where the feet lie, from being reversed and so reaching the face. The sheets should be large enough to tuck in thoroughly, three yards long by two and a half wide being none too large for a double bed. Pillows should be beaten and then smoothed with the hand, and the aim be to have an even, unwrinkled surface. As to the use of shams, whether sheet or pillow, it is a matter of taste; but in all cases, covered or uncovered, let the bed-linen be daintily clean.”

“Empty all slops, and with hot water wash out all the bowls, pitchers, &c., using separate cloths for these purposes, and never toilet towels. Dust the room, arrange every thing in place, and, if in summer, close the blinds, and darken till evening, that it may be as cool as possible.”

“Sweeping days for bedrooms need come but once a week, but all rooms used by many people require daily sweeping; halls, passages, and dining and sitting rooms coming under this head. Careful dusting daily will often do away with the need of frequent sweeping, which wears out carpets unnecessarily.— for a thorough sweeping, remove as many articles from the room as possible, dusting each one thoroughly, and cover the larger ones which must remain with old sheets or large squares of common unbleached cotton cloth, kept for this purpose.

“A feather duster, long or short, as usually applied, is the enemy of cleanliness. Its only legitimate use is for the tops of pictures or books and ornaments; and such dusting should be done before the room is swept, as well as afterward, the first one removing the heaviest coating, which would otherwise be distributed over the room. Remember that in dusting, the process should be a wiping; not a flirting of the cloth, which simply sends the dust up into the air to settle down again about where it was before.”

“All brass or silver-plated work about fire-place, doorknobs, or bath-room faucets, should be cleaned once a week and before sweeping. For silver, rub first with powdered whiting moistened with a little alcohol or hot water. Let it dry on, and then polish with a dry chamois-skin. If there is any intricate work, use a small toothbrush. Whiting, silver-soap, cloths, chamois, and brushes should all be kept in a box together. In another may be the rotten-stone necessary for cleaning brass, a small bottle of oil, and some woolen cloths. Old merino or flannel under-wear makes excellent rubbing-cloths. Mix the rotten-stone with enough oil to make a paste; rub on with one cloth, and polish with another. Thick gloves can be worn, and all staining of the hands avoided.”

“The bedrooms and the necessary daily sweeping finished, a look into cellar and store-rooms is next in order,—in the former, to see that no decaying vegetable matter is allowed to accumulate; in the latter, that bread-jar or boxes are dry and sweet, and all stores in good condition.”

“A look into the refrigerator or meat-safe to note what is left and suggest the best use for it; a glance at towels and dish-cloths to see that all are clean and sweet, and another under all sinks and into each pantry,—will prevent the accumulation of bones and stray bits of food and dirty rags, the paradise of the cockroach, and delight of mice and rats.”

“The preparation of dinner if at or near the middle of the day, and the dish-washing which follows, end the heaviest portion of the day’s work; and the same order must be followed. Only an outline can be given; each family demanding variations in detail, and each head of a family in time building up her own system.”

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