Thoughts on a woman's daily schedule in 1890

Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grace Townsend, author of the 1890 book, "Dining Room and Kitchen: An economical guide in Practical Housekeeping for the American House Wife," suggested that the modern successful housewife should schedule herself. The following is such a schedule:

On Monday, wash; Tuesday, iron; Wednesday, bake and scrub kitchen and pantry; Thursday, clean the silverware, examine the pots and kettles and look after store room and cellar; Friday, devote to general sweeping and dusting; Saturday, bake and scrub kitchen and pantry floors and prepare for Sunday.

When the clothes are folded off the frame after ironing, examine each piece to see that none are laid away that needs a button or a stitch. Clean all the silver on the last Friday of each month, and go through each room and closet to see if things are kept in order and nothing is going to waste. Have the sitting room tidied up every night before retiring. Make the most of your brain and your eyes, and let no one dare tell you that you are devoting yourself to a low sphere of action. Keep cool and self-possessed. Work done quietly about the house seems easier. The slamming of oven doors and the rattle and clatter of dishes tire and bewilder everybody about the house. Those who accomplish much in housekeeping - and the same are true of every other walk in life - are the quiet workers.

Of course, all of the above was done along with preparing three to four meals per day. From my study of how meals were done during that period, I have found that there was a breakfast, dinner, lunch and supper, in that order. Lunch seemed to only show up on Sundays, which didn't always have a supper. The bills of fare for a Sunday in August was the following:

Breakfast: melon, fried chicken with gravy, fried tomatoes, cottage cheese, corn fritters and coffee.

Dinner: chicken soup, fried gumbo, broiled chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the ear, lettuce, cucumbers, watermelon and lemonade.

Lunch: light biscuit, sliced ham, sliced tomatoes, peaches and cream, cake and tea.

I guess these meals were for the hard working gold miner, farmer or lumber jack. It does seem quite substantial.

I have no idea what fried gumbo is; I looked everywhere and found nothing. Gumbo is made from sassafras leaves, dried and powdered, and generally added to soups. Many times, okra is part of the gumbo recipe and there are many old recipes for fried okra with gumbo. Maybe that was it. I will continue to look.

I was surprised that the breakfast didn't have any flapjacks, eggs or bacon. I guess they were a lot more rounded in their meals than I thought. However, I suspect that some medical people may have shuddered when they read the bill of fare with all the fried stuff. Well, it was a different time and the people of 1890 were hardy souls.

In most cases, coal oil lamps were in use for lighting along with wood cooking stoves and ovens. I suspect that the average household, back then, was using 15 to 20 cords of wood a year. That meant that someone was cutting up the logs, splitting the wood, stacking it and finally carrying it into the house. One cord is 128 cubic feet of wood or a stack 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. Multiply that by 20, and you have a lot of wood. It's little wonder to me that the old pictures of Juneau show large areas of stumps around the town.

• Jack Marshall is a 32-year Alaska resident who has been in Juneau for 26 years. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were pioneers of Oregon and Washington, leaving Alaska for him to discover.



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