Friday, October 4, 2019

Housekeeping: Women's Work by Kristin Holt

Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author

Washing on Monday.
Ironing on Tuesday.
Mending (and churning) on Wednesday.
... or is it Market on Wednesday?

No matter how the old rhyme goes, every fan of nineteenth century fiction knows that the household was the woman's domain. Women, protected by husbands, fathers, brothers (men) from the coarseness of the world, "thrived" as they strove for "middle-class" comfort and ease. Middle-class wives might be able to hire one or two part-time servants to assist with the worst of the housekeeping chores, but the bulk of housekeeping's daily chores remained Mother's.

Kristin Holt | Quote from Mrs. Livingstone's System for Housekeeping. "Mrs. Livingstone had a system; she ate, drank, slept and nearly died by it.

Note that this article, published in The Waterloo Courier of Waterloo, Iowa on January 21, 1880 not only clarifies the fictional "Mrs. Livingstone" but warns other homemakers (all wives, essentially) to not work too hard.


Since when did Victorian Americans and their ideals of home and family allow room for not working diligently? After all, keeping the home comfortable for husband and children (with everything that entailed) was a woman's lifetime work. The division of labor between men and women was strict: men earned a living and women kept the home (and spent her husband's income wisely and lived within his means) and raised the children.

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Mrs. Livingstone's System for Housekeeping. Part 1 of 3.

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. 2nd quote from within this 1880 newspaper article: "The System must not be inteerfered with."

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Mrs. Livingstone's System for Housekeeping. Part 2 of 3.

A Good Husband

I get a real kick out of exploring Victorian-era United States attitudes about Who Makes the Best Wives? How does a wife buy the right gift for her husband at Christmastime? How should a man properly court his chosen bride (long before he pops the question)?

This one-line quote from within this 1880 newspaper article says a great deal about Victorian attitudes about what makes a good husband. (I happen to like this one. A lot.) Granted, a woman named Anabel C. Andrews made this statement when she penned this article for publication (first) in Country Gentlemen. Her persuasive article was then reprinted in The Waterloo Courier.

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Quote 3 from this 1880 newspaper article: "He was a good, faithful husband--one who did all he could to lighten his wife's labors... "

I also know what it is to have my (declining) health impact my ability to work. Yuck.

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Quote 3 from this 1880 newspaper article. "...Months of weary convalesence... slightest jar enough to draw tears from her eyes..."

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Mrs. Livingstone's System for Housekeeping. Part 3 of 3.

Best Advice of the Lot

"A dirty floor is better than a back-ache..."

Kristin Holt | Housekeeping: Women's Work. Quote from 1880 article: "Look out for these systems, sisters; they areking invalids and old women of many of us... A dirty floor is better than a back-ache;...The family loses all pleasure if the home mother is tired and depressed."


I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into nineteenth century homemaking / housekeeping (1880). Here are a handful of related articles. Click on the images, below. Thanks for reading!


Kristin Holt | Victorian-America's Crabapple Jelly and Preserves

Kristin Holt | Economical Victorian Housekeeping

Kristin Holt | Victorian America: Women Responsible for Domestic Happiness (1860)

Kristin Holt | Victorian America: Women Control Happiness at Home (1876)

Kristin Holt | Wives Must Buy Correct Christmas Gifts for Husbands (1896)

Kristin Holt | Victorian American Headaches, an 11-part series of articles 

Kristin Holt | Warsh: Grandma's Receet (Washing/Laundry, Granny's Recipe)

Kristin Holt | 19th Century Washing Machines

P.S.: Old Laundry Implements... On Vacation 

Kristin Holt | Soap Making on the Old West Homestead

Kristin Holt | Butter-making in the Old West

Kristin Holt | Victorian Yeast Bread: Easier After the Centennial

Kristin Holt | Victorian Fare: Corn Cake, Corn Bread, & Johnny Cake

Kristin Holt | Spring Cleaning Victorian Style... the wallpaper?

You'll find many more blog articles about all things nineteenth century American West on my website:

Kristin Holt | Historical Articles by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt


Thanks for visiting with me today. May you appreciate your role as a twenty-first century woman (19th century history has a way of providing that appreciation in contrast), and find keeping house to be simple.

Warmest thanks,
Kristin Holt 

Kristin Holt - USA Today Bestselling Author of American Historical Romance set in the Victorian American West.

Copyright Ⓒ Kristin Holt LC


  1. Thank you so very much for posting this article, it is so, so very interesting and oh so very true! And yes, I Thank God that I was born when I was. It was so very hard for everyone born on those days, now a days we all have it made. We just need to stop taking things for granted. We need to take one day at a time and make time to enjoy our lives in this world. I am very Blessed to have a husband like I do , he believes as we all should that actions speak louder than words. He is a very Big help to me, when 2 people get married it is a 50 - 50 sharing of everything. Thank you for your very good post. God Bless you.

    1. Hi Alicia!
      Thank you for stopping by, reading, and sharing your insights and views. I love the "conversation" part of blogging. =)
      You are a very Blessed woman to have a loving and kind husband. (Me, too.) Makes ALL the difference, doesn't it? I've been very blessed by 32 years of marriage to one great guy. We've learned how to best support each other through work, play, life, hardship, ups, downs. that "lighten his/her burden" is one example of how beautiful romantic love can be.
      Thanks so much, Alicia!
      Kristin Holt

  2. Kristin, I love your Victorian blogs. Like you I can't do my house cleaning, but hoping soon I can again. It's hard to keep up a home without help. Now when women are often working outside the home it's almost impossible. But back then the did take care of everything. Thankfully now we can skip and rest as needed. Sometimes I would have loved to live back then, but I would have hoped to marry someone who could afford paying for servants.

    1. Hi "craftydr"--
      Thanks for stopping by, reading, and sharing your thoughts. With you, I'd have wanted, desperately, to have hired help. Life is so much easier now, isn't it?
      Warm regards,
      Kristin Holt