Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Housewives in History (and On the Road)

For the last few days I've been thinking about what a "housewife's" tasks should be while traveling. I assume I am like most women who choose the domestic life these days, in that I love being at home cooking, sewing, gardening, and tidying up the house. But when the time for travel comes I am happy to part with these day to day tasks to see a bit of the world - for a time. :) Our current trip was designed around our need to visit Norway and the University of Oslo before making a decision about wether or not to move there and we also wanted to visit Woodley's parents who  were in Italy. 

Woodley grew up visiting Europe fairly frequently as a child and has many favorite places he likes to visit from time to time. Since he knows so much more about traveling on this side of the Atlantic, he arranged our schedule and all of our travel plans. I was quite surprised and pleased to learn that we would be stopping in so many places on our trip in addition to our visit to Norway and Tuscany. This really is the perfect time to do a trip like this since we don't yet have small children and Woodley is between jobs/school. But, since he planned the trip and knows these cities so well, it feels more as if it is his trip and I am just along for the ride.

So far we have been having a very nice time. However, I am starting to miss home and my normal housewife duties. While we've been on the road I have been trying to keep our hotel rooms fairly tidy, keep track of our dirty laundry, do laundry whenever we get a convenient opportunity, and try to make sure that we get fairly regular meals (even though I'm not the one cooking them).

Since I haven't had much chance for true housewife work lately, before we left I ordered a couple of books about housewives of the past and I brought two of them with me for some inspirational reading. The first one I started in on is called "The Canadian Housewife, An Affectionate History," by Rosemary Neering (2005). It provides an excellent description of the duties and day to day lives of housewives throughout Canadian history and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. Another book I ordered, that I imagine will be fairly similar, is called "Just a Housewife" (1987) but is about housewives in America. Unfortunately it didn't arrive before we left California so I haven't had a chance to look through it yet.

"The Canadian Housewife, an Affectionate History" is divided up into 8 chapters whose titles I'll list here since I think they are rather amusing:

1: Salt Pork and Homespun: Housewives in Arcadia and New France (covering roughly the 1600's)

2: Candles, Complaints, and a Stiff Upper Lip: Housewives in the Backwoods (covering the mid 1600's to early 1800's)

3: The True Destiny of Women: The Victorian Housewife (covering the 1850's through 1900)

4: Dust and Its Dangers: Into the New Century (covering the 1890's through 1918)

5: Sod Huts and Catalogue Clothes: Settling the Prairies (pioneer life in the 1900s through 1920s)

6: Science, The New Woman, and Making Do: Housewives in the 20's and 30's

7: Ration Books and Knitting Socks: Housewives on the Home Front (covering the time of the world wars)

8: Miracle Fabrics and Marshmallow Salads: Housewives in the '50's

Each chapter has a general introduction to life as a housewife during the specific space and time covered in the chapter and then further investigates further 7 aspects of these women's lives: "The Cook," "The Housekeeper," "The Seamstress," "The Laundress," "The Nurse," "The Mother," "The Wife." Along with the general information are a collection of quotes from women of the various times as well as pictures of home life.

So far I have read 6 chapters and I find it inspirational, informative, and entertaining. Since there are not many housewives these days, it can sometimes feel like a lonely profession. As I read the stories and day to day challenges of housewives of the past, it feels as if there is a whole host of sisters who share the little ups and downs of this sort of a life.

I will leave you with a few of my favorite quotes that I have discovered so far:

On menu planing and cooking:
From Chapter 3 The Victorian Housewife, a quote by Kathleen Blake Coleman, "Woman's Kingdom," the Toronto Mail, October 17, 1891
"It is difficult, isn't it, to get up something different and yet dainty and not too expensive for breakfast, dinner, and luncheon every day? This everlasting cookery becomes very burdensome to the housekeeper after awhile, and in fact I have known more than one little woman to sit down and have a good cry over the difficulty of providing something 'nice and different' every day."

On pleasing our husbands:
From Chapter 2, Housewives in the Backwoods, a quote by Lucy Peel from Love Strong as Death a Canadian Journal written between 1833 and 1836
"My Harp (her husband) is not neglected, for I assure you I am not like some women satisfied with gaining the affections of the man I marry, but I wish to retain them as long as I can, forever if possible, and I am convinced that did the generality of wives think the same and act to that effect, there would be fewer neglected ones."

On keeping a tidy and well cleaned house:
From Chapter 3, The Victorian Housewife, a poem published in the Toronto Globe in 1889

"A Good Housewife

I can tell her
By her cellar,
Cleanly shelves and whitened wall;
I can guess her
by her dresser,
By the back staircase and hall,
And with pleasure
Take her measure
By the way she keeps her brooms.
And by peeping
At the "keeping"
Of her back and unseen rooms;
By her kitchen's air of neatness,
By its general completeness
Where in cleanliness and sweetness
The rose of order blooms."


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