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Hints from the Past by Gary D. Crawford

In the old days ~ and I mean the really old days, a century and more ago ~ young women had a great deal to learn in order to “keep” a house. Now, wait. Before we go any farther with this and I alienate my audience, let me state that I realize women still have a lot to learn. Wait, wait, let me rephrase that! What I’m trying to say is that I don’t mean to diminish the role of the modern American woman in the slightest or in any way undervalue the scope and difficulty of their complex multiple roles. I just want to share some insights into the lives of our foremothers, both into the nature of what they had to learn, and how they learned it. OK? Now back to our story. (That was a close one!) Today the work of a paid “housekeeper” is primarily that of house cleaning, which may or may not include laundry services. But as everyone knows, “keeping” a house involves much more than just cleaning it. A better term for this broad array of jobs might be “housewifery” (that is pronounced housewiffery), or the more modern “homemaking.” In this family scene from the

spring of 1901, just weeks after giving birth to her first child, a woman scrubs away on a washboard in a tub. These are my grandparents, by the way. My father came along ten years later, the seventh of nine children, all of whom lived to adulthood. My grandmother, however, died at age 47 when her youngest child was just 25 months old. Even a cursory catalog of the skills required of American women in the late 19th century is impressive. In addition to house cleaning and laundry, she also looked after the family’s health, provided first aid, and even mixed ingredients for relieving pain and disease symptoms. She handled the grocery shopping, such as there was,


June 2013 ttimes web magazine  

June 2013 Tidewater Times

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