Our mothers, and their mothers, and grandmothers, and on back, certainly lived in a very different world than our world. I think we vaguely understand that, but it's really hard to appreciate it unless we stop to think about the way people lived for hundreds of years, prior to the Industrial Revolution, and in many cases, for a century or at least decades after the Industrial Revolution.
Our ancestors were hard working women. We know that because they survived long enough to give birth to at least one child, and in many cases, they had very large families. Sometimes they may have had several children by each of two or three different husbands. For some of these families, it was probably beyond their means to provide proper care for such a large family, but somehow, they managed. "Another mouth to feed" truly meant a lot more work for the women, from raising food to feed the next baby to raising flax or shearing sheep to spin and weave into cloth, to actually making the clothing and bed linens, to adding more clothes to the family wash day, to finding eating utensils for another child, it may have been a challenge.
I've been reading the Whitley County Historical Society Bulletins, which provide a good insight into life in the middle to late 19th century. For instance, "Monday wash days" were truly an all day experience, and somehow there had to be time to make three meals during the day, too. For many women, it actually started earlier, when soap was made to use for laundry and other purposes. On the actual wash day, huge amounts of water had to be heated and carried, the clothes had to be boiled, washed and rinsed and rolled up for ironing, or hung out to dry. When all of that was done, the left over scrub water was used for such things as washing down porches, scrubbing the outhouse, and taking care of other outdoor needs. I think our ancestors always slept well on Monday nights!
Tuesday, according to the nursery rhyme, was ironing day. Depending on the number of children in the family, this may or may not have taken all day. If it didn't take all day, there were crops to tend to (women would typically tend the vegetable gardens), animals to feed, mending to do, possibly harvesting to do, depending on the season and housecleaning chores inside the house or cabin or hut.
Wednesday is described in the old nursery rhyme as mending day. Of course having just done the laundry, it would be apparent what needed mending. It may have also given our ancestors an excuse to sit down (probably on a stool or bench) for some much needed rest.
Thursday, for many of our ancestors, was churn day. Butter needed to be made, and if there was an abundance, perhaps it could be sold or traded for something that was needed. The challenge would be in keeping it cold and safe for the week. Before iceboxes, there were different arrangements for underground cooling, sometimes augmented by running water from an underground stream or spring.
Friday was cleaning day. I would imagine that not everything got cleaned every week. Sometimes this would involve putting new straw ticking in the mattresses, or beating carpets, or washing windows. In earlier times, in a log cabin or hut, it may have meant just sweeping a dirt floor with rushes, and possibly adding a pleasant scent to the air with flowers or dried herbs. And who do you suppose raised the flowers and herbs?
Saturday was generally baking day. Our mothers would bake the bread for the week, which would have been several or many loaves, and it was important that the baking be done before Sunday. Most of our ancestors had little money for sugars or spices, but they may have fixed a treat of some kind with what they had. Then it was up to "Mom" to make sure the food baked lasted for the whole week, without getting spoiled. In some really frontier locations, they may have had to grind their own grain, too, although mills were usually one of the first things to go up in a settlement.
Sunday was church day, if there was a church near enough to travel to. This may have meant making food on Saturday so that Sunday could be a day of rest for our mothers. Of course, there was still dishwashing to do, the animals to tend to, eggs to gather, and so on.
Wait! I haven't really mentioned child rearing! Where did our ancestors get the time to raise their children? How did they teach them values, and the Bible, and supervise their education? When did they find time to teach their children colors, and later on, which plants were safe to eat, and where the honey trees were? When did they give their children love and nurturing?
As time went on and the Industrial Revolution started making things like sewing machines and vacuum cleaners available, life slowly got a little easier for our ancestor mothers. So what did they do? Well, they started working outside the home! Some may have worked from inside the home, taking in laundry for bachelor or widowed neighbors, or doing seamstress work, or teaching music. Others went outside the home. Married women were not allowed to teach school in most areas until very late in the nineteenth and even into the twentieth century. But as time went on, our mothers did pretty much everything men did, from teaching to becoming astronauts, in addition to keeping the household running and the children learning.
To all our ancestor mothers, I appreciate you. I can't begin to understand the strength you had, but I think I understand a little of the vision you had, that life for your children would be better, no matter what you had to sacrifice and do to make it possible. To all our mothers and grandmothers and twelfth great grandmothers, I value you and I thank you. Without you, I would't be here, enjoying my children and grand children.