Motherhood in the 1800's

Motherhood in the 1800's
I spend a lot of time contemplating how motherhood has evolved through the years. While some may argue that motherhood has never been this difficult – the world has never been so harsh to raise children in - the challenges mothers must help their children face are constant and overwhelming – life in the 1800’s was certainly not easy for mothers.

Women of the 1800’s were just beginning to demand more equal rights – a journey we are still traveling on today. Before the 1800’s, women were viewed as material property and were expected to stay home, raise children, and keep a clean house. They abided by the demands of their fathers, brothers, and spouses.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War in the mid-1800’s when women began to work outside of their homes. Before that, only unmarried women worked and they were typically teachers by profession. When women began to work outside the home, there were still many restrictions that prevented them from holding equal positions to their male counterparts. There were limitations on how long their workday could be; controls on how much weight a woman could lift while on the job; and she certainly couldn’t hold the prestigious positions that men held.

Education was a difficult thing for all during and before the 1800’s. Because of the work that had to be done on the farm, boys often missed many months of school. Children typically walked over to a one-room schoolhouse where one teacher balanced the needs of a wide span of children. Girls of the time did not commonly carry on with school past the elementary years. It wasn’t merely because they were raising families – women were viewed as intellectually inferior and it was a waste of time to keep them in school.

Talk about MomME time – the women of the 1800’s had NONE. Either they were in the home all day, or, when they were done with work for the day, they returned home to prepare meals, clean the home and care for the children while their partners stopped at the pub for a round of drinks with their friends. And, the images that come into your mind about caring for children, cleaning your house, and cooking for your family are nothing like the tasks the moms of the 1800’s took care of.

The 1800’s brought the invention of useable electricity. Before that, homes were lit with candles, the fires in the fireplaces, and the sunlight coming through the windows.

Bathing a newborn was not as simple as filling one of our plastic newborn bathtubs. The water had to be drawn from the creek or a well, brought to the fire to boil and then cooled before bath time could take place with the homemade soap most families used back then.

It wasn’t until 1827 that useable matches were invented so imagine what had to occur in order to get a fire going. If your fire went out, you’d have to travel to your neighbors to restart it. And, that was a big deal – fire kept your house warm, provided light, and allowed you to cook meals for your family.

Going to your neighbors wasn’t always an easy task either. Families tended to live further apart than we are used to today. They needed land to farm and raise cattle because that was where most of their food came from. They did not have cars to get them from place to place.

Think about washing day. Washing clothes was an all-day process. Not that they had a lot of clothes – quite often, they had just two outfits – a school and everyday outfit and a church outfit. Clothes were washed in tin bins. The water was retrieved from the creek or well and was then boiled on the stove before it could be used. The first washing machine was not invented until 1916. That image of mom sitting on the porch with the scrubbing board is pretty accurate. Imagine having to watch and keep track of your children while you were scrubbing clothes!

What about all that time we spend taking pictures and capturing videos of our children so we can preserve the memories of their childhood? The first photograph was taken in the 1800’s. Would moms even have had time to stop and reminisce over photographs of their children?

As mentioned above, cooking took place on the fireplace. But, there were no refrigerators to store the leftovers. The first refrigerators for commonplace did not arrive until the early 1900’s. Much of a women’s day was spent canning and curing, farming and washing.

Moms today complain about not having privacy when going to the restroom. I don’t know about you, but an alarm goes off in my house every time I need to use the lavatory. Imagine the mother of the 1800’s, did she have to take all her children to the outhouse so that she could supervise them while she was doing her business? What about those bathroom runs in the middle of the night? Chamber pots were often used to prevent those midnight runs in the cold, but even the chamber pot would not sit well with most moms today. By the way, toilet paper was not invented until 1880.

The sewing machine was not invented until close to 1830, but they did not appear in homes until the late 1800’s. I can’t imagine having to sew my children’s clothing. No wonder children only had one or two outfits! The dishwasher was another late 1800’s invention, but it wasn’t the dishwasher you and I are accustomed to. This one was a hand- powered appliance. Certainly, it helped with mom’s dishwashing efforts, but it was hardly the luxury we have today.

Childhood changed greatly during the 1800’s. As technological advances were made and women’s rights grew, there was more free time for families to spend quality time together, and there was more time for children to be children. I’d imagine that as women acquired more rights and started standing up for themselves, their own identities were sharpened and their self-esteem increased.

Today, we often struggle to find time for ourselves, and we often hear the importance of mom’s self-care and how it will benefit her children and her spouse. While we are struggling to grab those moments for ourselves, let’s also take a moment to thank the moms before us who paved the way for motherhood as we know it today.

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