Were the good old days really so good?
It seems as we grow older we reach a stage in life where we miss the good old days. Just in the fact we are human we tend to better remember the good times. When we are young we see movies based in another time and gain a wrong impression of that era. PBS has done a number of shows where people attempt to live the lives of their ancestors. What one quickly finds is that the good old days really were not so good. One thing I have noted on most of these types of shows is that the teen age girls complain the most, and for very good reason. For the average woman in the past life was extremely hard compared to today. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. were physically demanding tasks. Families were large, so there was a lot of work to do. If you were a girl you were expected to help with the domestic chores. Having used a wash board once or twice while roughing it, I can see how two days a week could be consumed just doing the family laundry. We talk of modern conveniences such as washing machines. But these were major labor saving devices that we just take for granted today.
Cooking was another area that was no joy. My family has food allergies so we cook a lot from scratch. My friends consider this a lot of work. But I have a freezer, refrigerator, bread maker, electric oven, a hot water heater, dishwashing machine, etc. Cooking in the old days involved canned goods, dried goods, and fresh foods. There was no such thing as the 15 minute meal. To feed a large family several meals a day took a lot of effort. The term slaving over a hot stove was a reality in the past. Just think of living in a time before electric fans and air conditioning. In areas where the summer got hot the kitchen got hotter. I have seen some old century houses where they have outdoor kitchens that were used in the summer for this very reason. Safety was another factor in the kitchen. Kitchens are one of the most dangerous places in the modern home. There were even more unsafe in the past. You may have had a wood stove with a water heater. If it did not work properly it could explode. The stove tended to be wood or coal feed. Having cooked using a wood stove I can tell you there is an art to cooking with them. They were hot all over so getting burned was much easier than in today’s kitchen. In fact catching ones clothing on fire did happen. If you had a fire you did not have a fire extinguisher. So if you could not smother a grease fire it was a major problem.
Another area of life that took a lot of work was the garden. It was common in many areas to supplement ones food supplies with food from a garden. Now I like gardening, but I do not go hungry if my plants die. I try to grow organic but organic today mean I can still buy organic fertilizer, insecticides, etc. Back in the old days you were likely to save your own seeds or trade them. So you started your own plants. The culture you lived in tended to determine the methods you used to raise your plants and what plants you raised. They did not have the selection of plants I have access to today. They tended to grow plants that their parents and grandparents had grown successfully. There were not tillers and not everyone had a horse and plow. The kitchen garden was generally hand tilled and organic matter was worked into the soil. Now there were no herbicides, weed barriers, etc. so all weeding had to be done by hand. When I was a teenager I work on a berry farm. We got paid to hoe weeds from strawberry fields at certain times of the year. Even using a hoe can be a lot of work and many times the weeds have to be removed by hand. There was also likely to be not running water. You had to fetch the water and use a watering can when the plants were dry. Food from the garden was important for many. We forget that before World War II malnutrition and starvation were happening in America. There was no social safety net. During World War II over a hundred thousand men were rejected from military service due to the health effects of malnutrition.
So yes life for many women was no joy in the past when you compare it to the life in modern America. Much of the good old days were really not so good. But millions women in the world still live as their ancestors lived.