Monday, August 19, 2013

Vintage Housekeping Manuals

Commenter Miriam was kind enough to share the link to a vintage housekeeping manual called "The American Frugal Housewife" (for those of us who are not ashamed of economy!:). Be sure and check it when you have time!

What I noticed about vintage homemaking books is that those from the 19th century will usually give you general information on cooking, cleaning, saving money, managing the servants etc, while the manuals published in the mid-20th century usually attempted to give you a comprehensive plan on how to run your household.

For instance, the one I own from the 1960s has a long tedious chapter which describes in great detail how you are supposed to clean every room of the house. It also suggests that you write a daily plan somewhere along these lines:

7.00 a.m wake up and get dressed
7.15 morning excerices.
7.30-7.45 making breakfast.
8.00-8.30 washing the dishes.
10.15 drinking a cup of coffee (only one!) etc etc

If you follow this link , it will take you to a discussion board where you can read an extract from a 1947 housekeeping manual which suggests quite a rigorous cleaning schedule for every day of the week. Schedules always possess some sort of a charm for a beginner housewife, but I learned to avoid them like plague. I cringe when I read one. In fact, I start understanding why those 1950s and 1960s housewives rebelled and started burning their bras:)

Seriously though, a schedule can be helpful. I do have a housekeeping plan of sorts which I follow rather loosely; however, I am firmly convinced that the plans like the one above take all the joy out of housekeeping. After all, I'm running a home, not a factory. What if I have no desire for coffee at 10.15, but rather at 10.30? What if a friend phones me at an hour when my schedule calls for something else?

In my opinion, those mid-20th century manuals were written by the enemies of housewives who wanted to make housekeeping so unbearable that all the women at home would join the feminists!:) Well, what do you all think? Do you find schedules and plans helpful or frustrating? Feel free to express your opinion in the comments section!


  1. I don't really have a schedule, b ut I have some sort of basic idea in my head what needs to get done when. But now the month of August-all I am doing now is canning the vegetables from our garden. I am ready to be done:)

    1. August is a busy month for gardeners:)

      I used to be fascinated with schedules and spent a considerable time writing them but always ended up stressed out and frustrated due to my inability to keep them. There are usually too many interruptions at home for the thing to work properly. I found out I work better and can get more things done when I'm relaxed and take time for every job around the house, instead of checking every time with my timetable. It may be purely individual, of course, but the 1960s manual that I mentioned said somewhere that if you are more efficient at home, you'll be able to find time for a part-time job, which fueled my suspicions about the objectives of its authors!

      The key word to mid 20th century housekeeping seemed to be efficiency and I somehow feel that it is wrong.

  2. I own a copy of the book the American Frugal Housewife I got it when I first started my housewife career in ernst about 4 years ago. Started being a housewife late in life. Anyway, it is a very good book. The books with schedules I don't follow at all. The real life of a housewife is hard enough and can at times feel like drudgery, so one has to do things to keep lightheartedness and pleasantry in the day. I do have a schedule of sorts but I'm not a slave to it. Unexpected things happen during the course of a day so I stay flexible. When I get a certain hankering for something like rearranging the furniture even though it may not be on my agenda for the week I run with it. This week it has been homemade potholders and dishcloths. I had a great desire to have some lovely potholders and dishcloths as part of my fall/winter preparedness so I carved out some time each day to knit and crochet some. It is so nice to have that flexibility.

    I've known of some uptight homemakers when I was a kid, which caused me to think being a housewife must be unhappy work. So I thought that was the last thing I would ever want to be is a housewife. There are those folks out there that are control freaks and they have personal issues, for them tight schedules are a necessity and feel everyone else will be happy with their set up. As for me, I'm loosey goosey and shrug my shoulders if things aren't 'just so'. I guess I could be called the casual housekeeper. There is just waaaay to much to do for me to get obsessed with a schedule. When I started off being a housewife I tried to do things "by the book" and I was so stressed and exausted and felt I wasn't getting anything done even though I was working very hard. Finally, maybe 2 years ago I decided to do things differently (the way I do them now) and it has worked out better for me AND I'm getting a lot more done without the performance stress.

  3. The problem nowadays is that women are seldom taught the necessary skills to run the household and have few role models in real life and so they turn to books. Sometimes you have to learn by trial and error, what works for one homemaker won't always work for another.

    BTW, knitting dishcloths must be fun, though I personally prefer knitting clothes:)

    1. P.S. I meant those books with schedules because they provide the detailed descriptions on what actually needs to be done around the house.

  4. Knitted washcloths are my newly discovered necessary item (also called spa cloths), I used one of my homemade washcloths in the shower this week and I was hooked. Such a homespun luxury! I will not buy terry cloths washcloths again! I gained a new skill by knitting it in a diagonal which was cool.

    Crocheted dish towels; excellent! Far superior to store bought and take maybe an hour or two to complete.

    Cute handmade potholders really create a warm homey feel in the kitchen. There are lots of free crochet and knit patterns on line for potholders, dishcloths, washcloths. I'm gonna hang some of my potholders on the wall. A sort of kitchen artwork!

  5. Knitting Pattern Central has a lot of free dishcloth patterns. You must be really good with a crochet hook! I once crocheted a towel and it took me like a month to finish it, if not longer! But then my knitting projects also take forever to complete.

  6. Thank you for mentioning me! :-)

    I am not at all a schedule kind of woman. Not at all. I find them so stressing that I get paralyzed. There it stands, on the paper, what I am supposed to do, but somehow I find myself doing something entirely else. Oh, the quick help of internet...maybe Martha Stewart can help... she has all kind of lists...maybe I'll check them and print some... and there we go, one click leads to another and soon it's evening and nothing gets done from the list. This is my sad experience.

    Lists can be good tools. But one should not let tools take over... Some people, even I sometimes, work more effictively under certain amount of pressure. But if your day is scheduled from the dawn to the nightfall, that's a sign of something, I think. Some call it time management, but I think they can't deal with real world, which is not perfect at all and full of interruptions and plan Bs because of other people. If you live alone in your perfectly planned and scheduled world, that might work...

    I've read some blogs, that leave me overwhelmed. As an older woman (ahem) I can't help thinking that those young mothers are in danger to burn-out some day. Yes, they are accomplishing alot, but I have seen that there's time for 'taxes' in life. All I hope is that they learn to be kind to themselves before it's too late. Everybody live in their own kind of circumstances, but anyhow...

    Where were we?

    I think the more relaxed way of doing is better. As you said, Sanne, homemaking is to be enjoyed :-) And when you enjoy, you are more efficient. You don't have to prove anything to anybody :-)

    I think I'll stop ranting now :-) you all already said it all.

    By the way, one of the gems in my bookself is a 4 volume set of homekeeping books in Finnish from the 1930's called something like Encyclopedia for (farmer's) wives. I love the old-fashioned language. I've picked some of topics under the category "Emännän tietokirja" on my blog.

  7. You are welcome, Miriam! I know the sort of blogs you mean. Sometimes just reading about what one such woman does in one day makes one exhausted:) I think part of the problem is that since full time homemaking is frowned upon by the society in general, a lot of housewives try to go extra mile so to say, in order to prove that they, too, work. Sometimes it's just activity for the sake of activity, and then they are encouraged to have a home business even if there are small children in the picture and the family does not need extra money.

    It may sound crazy, but you can get a burnout at home, as a housewife. I know it from personal experience:)

    This Encyclopedia for farmers' wives sounds like fun, I went to look at your blog, but unfortunately, I can't read Finnish:) I have some Dutch ladies' magazines from the 1930s and they only gave general advice on homemaking, scheduling seems to be something from the period after the WWII.

  8. What books do you have with schedules? I have the American Frugal Housewife... but I was wondering if you had any more?

  9. I have Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson which has some schedule suggestions, and a series of books from the 1960s in Dutch, however, through the years I have followed many homemaking blogs with schedule ideas, I think I have linked to a couple in some of my previous posts. Try searching for the posts with label "housekeeping"

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