Thursday, September 10, 2015

Perception an Understanding of a House wife's Work

This is a fun piece. I always enjoy reading from the 19th Century perspective.

The man who moves west to a new country cannot pay for many of the modern conveniences. The demand for them is not great. Such a man usually builds a house of two or three rooms. The family cook and eat in the kitchen; they sit there between meals. The other rooms are for beds. There is not a great deal of house-work to be done in a house of this kind. The trouble comes when the pioneer becomes wealthier, and builds a large house "in town " or on the farm. Possibly his wife or daughters do the work as they did in the smaller house. If not, it is done by one servant. The work in this house is a great deal harder. There is a great deal more of it than there was in the two or three room house, which was built during their earlier life. In the former house, if they had coffee, it was poured from the pot in which it was made directly into the cups which were on the table. The meat was taken from the skillet in which it was cooked and put into the plates of those who ate it. If they had pancakes, the wife would sit with her back near the stove, where she could easily reach the griddle to grease it and turn the cakes while she was eating her meal. There was no formal dessert. The pie was eaten from the same plates as the rest of the food. There were no napkins; often, no tablecloth.

It did not take long to wash the dishes after a meal of this kind — there were not many of them. In from fifteen to twentyfive minutes after the meal was over, the wife could be seen sitting by the kitchen stove, sewing or knitting. The pans and the kettles were out of the way, and the kitchen was turned into a sitting-room. If the weather was cold, the door into the bedroom was open; the whole house was warm and comfortable. Wood was plenty and cheap.

This woman's troubles began when her husband, by dint of hard work and close economy, found himself in a position to gratify his pride in his accumulated wealth by building a new house. It was a big white house with green blinds. The stories were twelve or thirteen feet high; a large hall ran through the centre; the kitchen had nothing in it but doors and windows and a stove-hole; there was no sink, no conveniences of any kind. They now had a separate dining and sitting room, and an awful parlor with brussels carpet on it, which had red and green flowers all over it. The bedrooms were upstairs. They were all large; wood-work painted white. In the winter they were cold. The old habits of economy which made this house possible had so fixed themselves upon the occupants that they would not build a fire in the bedrooms. They said that they " didn't think it healthy to sleep in a warm room."

People go to see Mrs. Green in her new house. They go through and look at it, and say, " Oh, how nice." But they find a tired woman. She doesn't sit down to sew or knit in a few minutes after the meal is over, as she used to. She is at work all the time. The children must have clothes to fit the house. There is more sweeping and dusting to do; there are more dishes to wash; there is more of everything to do. Still, she came into the new house expecting to find things different and easier than they were before.
The modern conveniences are those arrangements and appliances which make it possible for people to live comfortably in a larger house, without seriously increasing the cares which they had in a smaller one. In the old house of two or three rooms the mother would bathe the children once a week in a tub by the kitchen fire. The tub would be dragged out the door, which was not very high above the ground, and the water emptied into the yard. In the new house it is different. The water is carried from the pump in the back yard, and from the kitchen stove, upstairs into one of the rooms. Then it has to be carried down again, emptied into the alley or the yard. The living habits are all changed without the compensating conveniences which naturally belong to them. It is probable that Mrs. Green keeps a "girl," but even then she has infinitely more work to do than ever belonged to the old home. She cannot understand it. She has a new house and a girl, and yet she is always tired.

Most of the houses in the newer cities and towns are, in a measure, similar to this. Nearly every one attempts to live up to the mark set by those who have all of the appliances of modern housekeeping. Coal and water have to be carried all over the house. Slops and ashes have to be carried downstairs and out of the building.

By attracting attention to the inconveniences of housekeeping, we may see and understand the full meaning of the term "modern conveniences." There is a natural call for dish-washing arrangements to take the place of the square table, with the dishpan, the tea-kettle, and the water-bucket. In its place, we have at one side of the kitchen, a sink, with cocks for hot and cold water immediately over it. The tables and drain-board are arranged to simplify the operations of dish-washing. The water, instead of being carried to the yard or alley, finds its way naturally into the drain through the sink. Modern laundry arrangements make it unnecessary to carry great tubs of water outside, or to delay wash-day on account of the weather, or to bring in the frozen clothes during the cold winter days. The bath-room, with the tub, the water-closet, and the wash-stand, is on the second floor. This saves a great deal of work. The water does not have to be carried upstairs nor the slops down. There is hot and cold water within easy reach of all the rooms. Often it happens that there are stationary wash-stands in the various bedrooms, though this is only usual in the most expensive houses.

The amount of work which a furnace saves is not readily estimated. It also saves money. Others of the modern conveniences are " places to put things ;" large closets in the bedrooms, well supplied with drawers, shelves, and hooks; a general closet on the upper floor, which is accessible from all of the rooms, for bedding and other articles of common use; a ventilated closet in the bath-room, in whieh soiled linen may be put without contaminating the atmosphere. There should be a closet or place on the second floor for brooms, dust-pans, and dusters. Where there is no particular place for these articles, the housekeeper or the servant has to use time in searching, or in going up and down stairs. Anything which saves labor may be regarded as a modern convenience.

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