By Enoch P. Young
(July 3, 1824 - January 11, 1910)
The Exeter News-Letter
The Housewife of 65 Years Ago - Part XII
Editor, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- The good housewife of those times was an early riser, and much of the time the last to retire, verifying the old saw, "Man's work is from sun to sun, while woman's work is never done." She labored to disadvantages as great as did the man on the farm.
When no cook stoves were in use the large brick oven, built in the chimney, did most of the cooking, and was heated several times every week. As a side help was the large tin baker, whose place was front of the fire on the hearth of the great open fireplace. There was also the Dutch oven, so constructed as to hang in the fire place on an iron crane directly over the fire, with a cover so made that it would hold quite an amount of hot coals and ashes, thus assisting the fire beneath in cooking dinners. The long handle frying pan had its place cooking meats. While the pan and its contents rested on the coals, the handle usually rested upon the back of a kitchen chair, placed for the purpose of steadying. Potatoes were roasted by burying them in the hot ashes on the hearth of the big open fireplace, and when sufficiently cooked were raked out and placed on cloth, usually kept for that purpose. When the ashes were shaken off then they were ready for the table.
Kindling fire was one of the perplexing duties of those times. By a peculiar way of burning cotton cloth, tinder was obtained and kept in a tin box made for the purpose, with flint and steel, usually an old file. Such were the tools and means by which those who had lost their fire must start it again. Take your steel in one hand, with flint in the other, hold the file over the tinder, strike the steel with the flint a quick sharp blow and fire will issue, and going among the tinder will set it on fire. Take the tinder that has caught, place it between pieces of charcoal, and with your breath or a pair of bellows, always then adjunct of the fireplace, with the shovel and tongs, and using them you have the fire kindled.
Another practice then quite common, as no friction matches were then in use, was to borrow fire from some neighbor, who, after burying coals in the ashes over night, was lucky enough in the morning to have fire with which to start anew for himself, and a supply for his neighbor. That is the way our mothers had to do sixty-five years ago.
The first box of friction marches I ever saw, then called Lucifer matches, was in 1833, when one of my uncles, then employed in Boston, on a visit home brought several boxes. The matches were made of strips of cloth about three inches long, by one-fourth of an inch wide, and saturated with some sort of wax, with one of the ends dipped in a preparation which would ignite by placing it between a piece of sandpaper folded with the sanded sides together, then withdrawing quickly. Each box contained fifty matches and sold for a ninepence, 12 1/2 cents.
In those times most of the milking of cows was done by the women of the household. It was rear to see men milking the cows. How changed! Now no man who can possibly avoid it will consent that his better half shall delve in that uncanny place, the tie-up of the cows.
I can well remember when my father purchased the first cookstove used in his family, and his was among the first of the families in that neighborhood who used the luxury. The Jones, Helm & Co., I well remember its maker's name. Its quaint construction would be a novelty now, and, while great have been the improvements, architectural and otherwise, in the cooking apparatus now used, the cooked food of to-day hardly excels that of the mothers of those times.
With such mothers, the daughters were sure to become adept workers in that line, for the mother was ever looking forward to the future of her daughter's welfare, and did what she could to prepare her, that she might go out into the world and fill with honor the part of wife and mother, the grandest and proudest position a woman can fill, queen of the home, the longest loved, the last forgotten.
Nearly every family kept a flock of sheep, from half a dozen to several scores. The wool cards, spinning wheel and the old clumsy loom, occupying a large room in the house by itself, had their place in almost every family. Daughters as well as mothers early became familiar with their use, for a large part of the family clothing was obtained in that way, and the cards, spinning wheel and loom were in use many weeks of every year in many families. In some attics among the older families you may find today, stored away among the rubbish, quill wheel, flax wheel, reeds, wool cards, shuttles, all of which once helped make up the tools with which our mothers and grandmothers converted the wool taken from the sheep's back into garments for the family.
The clumsy, cumbersome loom has become almost extinct, having outlived its usefulness. It was turned over to the wood pile and became fuel. Look further in the attic, and possibly you may find a cradle, the worn rockers of which speak more forcibly than words can of the anxious, untiring devotion that mother endured all those years for the her large family while in their helpless infancy. She well earned the commendation of Him who said, "she hath done what she could."
There were no sewing machines. Mother's and sisters' brains and nimble fingers created the styles, no fashion plates from Paris, and did the sewing. Comfort counted for more than fashion. Calico goods were fifty cents per yard. One or two cotton mills had just started in Lowell and Fall River. Nearly all cotton cloths were imported. Cotton yarns were among the goods kept by many of the grocers. The women of many families used these yarns, weaving at home much of the cotton cloth used in the family, which cloth would outwear a generation of the goods we have to-day.
E. P. YOUNG.