While technology made significant advances in the period surrounding the Industrial Revolution, the majority of household work in rural areas was still done by hand—and it fell almost entirely on a woman’s shoulders. While a husband or father was away at work, the women of the house were expected to perform all the daily duties required in order to keep the household running. And each day started early.
Most women were up at or before daybreak. For rural women, the day began with chores around the farm, such as collecting the eggs and milk for the day’s meals and to sell. In addition to preparing breakfast for the family, the wife may have been expected to draw the bathwater in the morning, and prepare the laundry and mending that she would do in the afternoon.
Many women also tended vegetable gardens and picked fruit and berries when they were available for the family’s meals.
With her husband off at work, or working in the fields, and the children away at school or work, the woman of the house would get down to the more difficult chores. This included cleaning the house, baking bread, doing all of the family’s washing and mending of clothes, and unless she could afford help or new equipment, most of it would be done by hand. Even if she was lucky enough to have a mechanical wringer to help her do the washing, and perhaps a sewing machine for the mending, the process still took hours and was hard on the back and the eyes.
Not only did a woman have to think of each day’s meals, she also had to plan for the weeks and months ahead. Canning and preserving vegetables was an essential part of living in Canada because during the winter months, fresh fruits and vegetables were simply not available. In the spring and summer, women of the household, sometimes working with other family members or neighbours, would spend long hours preserving food for the coming winter.
And remember, she would most likely do all her work while still watching and caring for her younger children. While some might have been old enough to attend school, families tended to be larger in the early 1900s. There may have been children too young to attend school, or there might be young girls staying at home who weren’t allowed to go to school. They, too, would be expected to help with some chores and childcare.
After the chores were done, the woman of the house would prepare and serve the evening meal, then clean and wash the dishes used for the meal afterwards. The next day she would do it all again.