Goodbye Corset, Hello
Ever wonder who or what exactly was
responsible for the womenís movement, a crusade to free women
from the bondage of cooking, cleaning, and generally working like
a mule till she dropped from sheer exhaustion?
I know what youíre thinking.
There was a crusade to free women?
When was this and more importantly, who won?
First, letís take a trip back in time to
say, 1900 and see what the typical womanís day was like.
Step aboard my time machine, everybody in, okay if we all
suck it in we can fit one more, watch your feet the doors are
Now if I described everything the typical
woman did in a day, weíd be here till the next century so
consider this the condensed version, the Cliff Notes of Household
On the subject of
cooking consider this: the stove had to be continually fed with
new supplies of coal or wood - an average of fifty pounds a day.
At least twice a day, the ash box had to be emptied, a task that
required a woman to gather ashes and cinders in a grate and then
dump them into a pan below. Altogether, a housewife spent four
hours every day sifting ashes, adjusting dampers, lighting fires,
carrying coal or wood, and rubbing the stove with thick black wax
to keep it from rusting.
Cleaning was an even
more arduous task than cooking. The soot and smoke from coal and
wood burning stoves blackened walls and dirtied drapes and
carpets. Gas and kerosene lamps left smelly deposits of black soot
on furniture and curtains. Each day, the lamp's glass chimneys had
to be wiped and wicks trimmed or replaced. Floors had to scrubbed,
rugs beaten, and windows washed.
Homes without running
water also lacked the simplest way to dispose garbage: sinks with
drains. This meant that women had to remove dirty dishwater,
kitchen slops, and, worst of all, the contents of chamber pots
from their house by hand.
Laundry was the
household chore that nineteenth century housewives detested most.
Rachel Haskell, a Nevada housewife, called it "the Herculean
task which women all dread" and "the great domestic
dread of the household." On Sunday evenings, a
housewife soaked clothing in tubs of warm water. When she woke up
the next morning, she had to scrub the laundry on a rough
washboard and rub it with soap made from lye, which severely
irritated her hands. Next, she placed the laundry in big vats of
boiling water and stirred the clothes about with a long pole to
prevent the clothes from developing yellow spots. Then she lifted
the clothes out of the vats with a wash stick, rinsed the clothes
twice, once in plain water and once with bluing, wrung the clothes
out and hung them out to dry. At this point, clothes would be
pressed with heavy flatirons and collars would be stiffened with
It is at this point that I declare, dear ladies, that it is MEN
who are responsible for the womenís movement, or more precisely,
inventors of the modern household appliances, the fore bearers of
the same items we still use today.
Items such as the vacuum cleaner, invented by John S.
Thurman in 1899, the washing machine, invented by Alva J. Fisher
in 1908, and the electric iron, invented by Henry W. Seeley in
1882, broke the chains of bondage, allowing the mistress of the
house more time to explore the world of politics and social
reform. (If youíre wondering why, it seems, we still spend just as
much time on housework today, itís because of the higher
standards of cleanliness adopted in the 1930ís.)
Technology was also pivotal to the education of women with the
invention of the radio and telephone, which provided communication
outside the home, broadening womenís access to news and
information. The radio and phonograph also acquainted women with wider
worlds of culture, entertainment, and news.
The printing press, which printed newspapers at a penny per
copy, also helped open new worlds to working class women.
The final technological advancement to change
the lives of women was birth control, which became available in
the 1920ís. Condoms,
diaphragms, and cervical caps were adopted by increasing numbers
of women, who were for the first time able to reliably predict and
plan the arrival of their children, which allowed them much more
freedom to engage in activities outside the home and to
concentrate their resources on the quality of life for fewer
children, rather than spreading their time and resources over
larger numbers of children.
There you have it ladies.
So the next time your man becomes nostalgic for the days
when a man never washed a dish or changed a dirty diaper, remind
him that he need only look in the mirror to see whoís to blame.
For more information, check out the following
Modernization and the Social Role of Women"
A paper presented by Dr. Reid S. Derr of East Georgia College
An extensive website of inventors and inventions
throughout history in all fields of study.
What happens when a family from present day agrees to live
according to the standards of the 1900ís?
Letís just say itís an eye opening experience.