By in Books

Lessons From Yesterday

My tendency toward procrastination got me thinking one morning about how I needed to be more organized and motivated. And that reminded me of The Book. It was many years ago that it came into my possession, probably in a junk box that we bought at an auction.
It was a good-sized book, maybe 8X10X2 inches thick, bound in fraying black cloth, and published (if my memory serves) in 1898. Now, I own a few books that are from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but not like this one. This was basically a primer for newlywed ladies (or, perhaps, not so newly wedded ladies) who yearned to be more organized and efficient, to run their households in an orderly and economic fashion, to raise healthy, intelligent children, to be the perfect help-mate to their husbands, and to do it all without breaking a sweat.
On the verge of tossing it out, I (the one who used to read so voraciously that even soup can labels and cereal boxes weren’t safe from my perusal) opened it up and read a few paragraphs. It contained everything one needed to know about being the perfect 19th century housewife. What a hoot!
Here, one learned the proper method of blacking a stove, how to treat the servants (yes, the servants!) to how to create frugal, yet delectable meals and have them ready when The Husband returned home from a long day at work. It covered how to stretch one’s household allowance to cover not only the basics, but some niceties as well. It described how one could make their home stylish and attractive on any budget by means of artful disguise and frugal crafting. Oh, yeah, it was a laugh a minute, but…..
There was a lot of truth in there, as well; a lot of things that apply today just as surely as they did then. I don’t expect ever, in my lifetime, to have to black a stove. I do not expect ever, in my lifetime, to have a maid or a laundress, or social responsibilities that require the use of calling cards, but I found a few nuggets I could use.
Back then, running a household was a woman’s “job” and it was full time. It had to be, because without the modern conveniences we enjoy today chores took longer. The lady of the 1898 household didn’t have the luxury of flipping a switch to light her living room at night. She had kerosene lamps that had to be filled, their wicks trimmed, and their mantles cleaned. That kitchen stove had to be blacked. The grocery didn’t stock pre-sliced bread, frozen pizza or fancy pre-sauced vegetables. Bread had to be baked, vegetables had to be picked and cleaned before anything else could be done with them, and after dinner there was no noisy little machine under the counter to wash the dishes and kettles. Those got done by hand, in the kitchen sink, in water heated on the stove.
No vacuum cleaners meant wooden floors that had to be swept, mopped, and waxed by hand. If there were rugs, they had to be taken outdoors periodically, hung over a line, and beaten to remove the dirt. Presumably, that job would be left to the maid if she had one.
So, how did the lady of 1898 get everything done and still have time for her “social obligations”? And why can’t we, with all our modern technologies, do the same? We can. Most women today don’t have the luxury of not having to work outside the home so necessity dictates that some changes be made in the process, but the basic tenets remain the same. Plan ahead, work ahead, and be consistent. It takes organization, a plan, and the willingness to adhere to it.
Yeah, like that’s gonna happen in MY household!

Image Credit » by ArtsyBee

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MegL wrote on April 12, 2015, 7:56 AM

Sounds rather like Mrs Beeton! Don't throw it out, people like books like that, you might be able to sell it. And one woman has made a business out of old pictures like that. She uses the best for zazzle and etsy products and the others as giveaways on her blog / newsletter

BeckyWiegers wrote on April 12, 2015, 8:01 AM

Sadly, the book is long gone. I must have lost it during one of my moves. I don't even remember the proper title in order to try to replace it. Too bad, because it is one I really wanted to hang on to.

MegL wrote on April 12, 2015, 8:12 AM

You can download Mrs Beeton's book from Google's Gutenberg project, but sadly no images at My daughter in law has my copy. Very interesting book to read.

Kasman wrote on April 12, 2015, 11:47 AM

How times change! Is there by any chance a companion book on how to be a perfect husband 'cos I could surely do with a look through that one! emoticon :winking:

BeckyWiegers wrote on April 12, 2015, 12:53 PM

LOL! I think, at that time, all a husband had to do to be perfect was to have an income and breathe!

Kasman wrote on April 12, 2015, 1:05 PM

No change there then! emoticon :winking:

valmnz wrote on April 12, 2015, 6:27 PM

I now marvel at how my Mother filled her day, everything seemed to take forever. Reading this made me realise I need to stop moaning about doing the basic housework!!

BeckyWiegers wrote on April 12, 2015, 7:45 PM


BeckyWiegers wrote on April 13, 2015, 6:20 AM

I went and had a wee read. Very interesting! It's very, very, similar to what I had. Thanks for the link!

GemOfAGirl wrote on April 26, 2015, 9:47 PM

I love stuff like that - social history reveals how so much is so different, and yet, so much is still the same.

cmoneyspinner wrote on July 21, 2015, 6:07 PM