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Woman's Work is Never Done

Domestic Work

Kitchen SceneDomestic work was an extremely time-consuming occupation, but unlike many jobs outside the home, domestic jobs were done out of necessity rather than by choice. Whether married or single, women did the majority of the daily housework. Often, hired help or slaves would contribute, but usually it was the responsibility of the women and the children of the house to complete the necessary tasks. This is the frontispeice image of a kitchen scene from Esther Howland's The American Economical Housekeeper,1845.

Some typical household chores for women who lived on farms or in small towns were candle dipping, soap making, wood chopping, butter-churning, and gardening, as well as everyday activities such as cleaning, weaving, and cooking. The image to the right is of a woman churning butter, from an 1809 children's book called A Peep into the Sports of Youth, and the Occupations and Amusements of Age.
butter churn
The Washing
"The Washing Day," an 1835 engraved sheet music cover, illustrates the need for many pairs of hands to complete the all-important household chores of washing, drying, and ironing clothes.
The family usually produced most of the food for home consumption, but they would also visit the local shop for other supplies as needed. Women who were a little more affluent or lived in a city sometimes took a more hands-off approach to running a household by supervising others in daily tasks. This John Bufford lithograph, "Feeding the Pigs," from the mid-nineteenth century, shows one aspect of women's work on a farm.
John Bufford Lithograph
Borax Soap Trade CardMerchants selling goods commonly bought by women used images and words in their advertisements that would attract their customers. The art of advertising through print did not get its start until the late eighteenth century, but it became vital to the country's commercial and industrial growth. This late nineteenth-century trade card for Borax Soap is a good example of this type of advertising.


This 1851 Boston trade card for North American Electric Washing Fluid promises to change the way women wash clothes.

Washing Fluid Trade Card
H. Bradford Lithograph  


Sewing, weaving, knitting, and spinning were an important part of domestic life for women of all ages, because they made clothing for themselves and other family members. If they could not buy domestic or imported cloth from a local shopkeeper, they could buy or make yarn for spinning cloth. Sewing and spinning were often the primary responsibility of the daughters or other girls in the house. This 1856 lithograph of an old woman making thread is by L. H. Bradford.  



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