Book Review: Never Done
October 12, 2010
Have you ever said the words, "the housework is never done"? If so, you are not alone. Women have been saying the same words for centuries. The book, Never Done by Susan Strasser, examines the role of housework throughout history. Strasser researched many primary sources, including advertisements, mail order catalogues, diaries, letters, and cookbooks to piece together daily life for women in the past.
Before industrialization, each household produced all the goods and services used within the house. Not only did they women have to sew clothes, but they spun and wove the cloth. They also grew the food they prepared, and made the soap and candles that were used in the house. Many of the household chores took up a great deal of time. Cooking three meals a day was not only time consuming, but in the early days with fireplace cooking, it could also be a dangerous task. Many tasks could be physically demanding as well. Laundry was the most complained about task in 19th century. It consumed large amounts of time and labor—one wash, one boiling, and one rinse used about 50 gallons of water (400 pounds).
Gas and electricity altered lifestyle because you no longer needed to plan your activities by natural light and darkness or heat and cold. Technology made many new inventions available, but they often were not within the means of the family budget. New technology and inventions came to the rich first and then the poor, to the people living in cities and then to those in rural areas.
American daily life has changed over the years, and the family today is much different than the family of generations ago. In studying history, the everyday life of women is overlooked. Though genealogy is about dates and names; family history is about getting to know our ancestors. Understanding the lifestyle that our ancestors lived and how they spent their time will give each of us a greater appreciation for them, as well as a greater appreciation for the modern technology and conveniences that we have now.
Check out Never Done: A History of American Housework by Susan Strasser.
Midwest Genealogy Center