WOMEN HAD DIFFICULT TIME IN EARLY YEARS - WORKED HARD, GIRLS HARDLY EVER HAD SCHOOLING
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Women first came to this country from England. They were religiously treated as second-class persons. These laws stated as to whom they could marry, and what was considered a suitable woman-like conduct. Participation of the ladies in religious ceremonies was rare.
It was considered a disgrace to wind up pregnant without a husband, consequences being the lady in question would be ignored by the rest of the community for such a regrettable situation. Experience from this unfortunate situation consequently kept most women from daring to engage in sex before marriage. Women who provided sex as a means of income were recognized as a part of the community, but were thoroughly rejected by the church and by ordinary citizens.
Some women entered this country as indentured servants. These women thus sought to pay off their trip to an owner. Seven years was the customary time frame before they were allowed their freedom. Marriage during this time was prohibited unless her future husband agreed to pay back the remainder of her debt. Money being rare during this time, this was considered an almost impossible task.
The women in a household's garden grew family food. Some families allowed the excess produce as well as butter, eggs and chickens to be sold. It seems that the largest commodity that women sold was flour. Processing of flour meant that grain had to be transported to a flourmill where it was ground.
Schooling for young girls was almost unheard of. They were taught in the homes, subjects being sewing, cooking, religious and explicit manners.
Money management and lands were the belongings of the head of the family. Women were definitely under the control of these men. Traditional circumstance states that the man of the family decided for all what was best.
The ladies, moving to the new western lands (west of the Alleghenies), worked hard to fulfill the obligations of building the home, caring for the children, and feeding the family, that it was sometimes unbearable. The woman, minus an advantage, had to work extremely hard to fulfill her need in yesteryear's society.
I guess if you were lucky enough to wash up in the morning, your room consisted of a small basin with a pitcher of water. Neither water nor soap was wasted because if too much lather was applied it meant more water. Many families cleaned up in the kitchen. Normally a teakettle was set on the wood stove, which meant you could slip a little hot water to the cold for a nice clean-up.
The mother gave haircuts. Jokes were always present when the bowls were set on the heads of boys; the hair that hung below the bowl was trimmed, this being the common practice. The same process was prepared for the girls. If the girl's mother had the time and patience, braids were the best options. This process was to roll your hair into little rag strips, which were tied in little knots before bedtime. This only worked if your hair was inclined to curl. Sometimes hair was rolled over little bags of cut hair, or cotton, and your own hair pulled over it which was hair pinned in place.
Usually when the pioneer took his or her weekly bath the hair was washed. Girls, always trying to look attractive, would rinse their hair with rainwater from barrels collected outside. Well water was hard and rainwater was soft. The latter would allow the soap to lather more and result in a more thorough rinse, very possibly leaving your hair softer and shinier. Vinegar was another product used to rinse the hair. Unfortunately, it had an overpowering odor that was quite offensive.
The young ladies always carried a handkerchief. The material consisted of small cotton squares, often cut from flour sacks. These items were decorated with embroidery work made up of the finest stitches. Petticoats were laced in this way with the utmost beauty. Hopefully the young lady could have two petticoats to make her skirt stand out more fully.
Lace with crocheting was the first procedure the young lady learned. Once learned, lace was placed on everything including pillowcases, petticoats, nightgowns and undershirts. The young lady first learned to crochet with heavier thread. Time improved the process, results being a lighter thread. This method was quite inexpensive and a ball of thread could go a long way. Also on the list of important items was their small homemade purses, generally used to contain flower petals which would smell nice in their clothes.
Tooth brushing generally consisted of a rag dipped in baking soda and applied with a finger. Aprons, always the homemade style, were important to keep the clothes clean as long as possible. Many men wore aprons when they butchered or cooked.
Shaving in pioneer days was quite different than today. Men owned a leather strap upon which they honed their razors to sharpen them. These razors of olden days were called straight edge. The razor folded out much like a pocketknife does.
Men would steam their face with a hot cloth. Then they would take a small round brush and a little water. The soap was then held in a cup and they would circle the brush to the soap until lather was formed. The lather was then placed on the face and the razor more or less scraped off the whiskers.
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