Housework in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was hard and laborious. Women who were fortunate to live societal lives simply employed servants to “keep house” for them. They would have at least one maid if not several to clean and take care of all the family’s needs. At least these large, stately homes would almost always have some sort of running water in the kitchen to make washing the dishes easier even though the water would still need to be heated over a stove most times.
Dishes in these homes were almost exclusively fine china and very delicate. Servants were expected to clean and store the dishware without even a scratch to the sometimes decades old china that was passed down through generations. “They had not a clue about the handling of expensive and delicate china pieces (Ward, 2010)” if a piece were to be damaged the price of it would be deducted from their meager wages. Sometimes the girls were just considered “stupid” because they were unfamiliar with the precious items found in even the humblest of middle-class homes (Ward, 2010).” Most servants were from humble upbringings and were more accustomed to sturdier, less important dishes.
Most women of the time lived on much less during those times however and could not afford to pay servants to do the chores for her family. The typical woman did not have running water in her home and may have to fetch it in pails several times a day for the family needs. After the water was brought back to the home she would have to heat it over a wood or coal burning stove and use soap made with skin irritating lye to do the washing. Dishes for a typical family may have been made out of wood, tin, or even ceramic if they were lucky.
The chore of washing dishes was many times handed down to the children of the family. In an interview with a woman that lived in the early 1900’s we get a sense of how this chore was taken care of in those days “Mrs. Swaim was 5 years old and her sister, Esther, was 4, when their father, the Rev. James Blaine Ray, offered them a penny apiece per week and made them a stool for washing dishes. “When he found out we could really do it, we started having to do it for free,” she said (Hubbard, 2010).”