Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Workin' Workin' Workin' Day and Night

"As a woman, I say they can keep the 'good old days'. I like having basic human rights, my own property and not being afraid to die in childbirth...Ever watch the PBS series 'Victorian House'? Being a woman, you were pretty much chained to the stove, that is unless you could afford to hire some poor unfortunate and make her work 14 hours a day for mere pennies. Phooey! Give me my washing machine, bank account and modern medicine!"

Not an unusual comment that many of us in the living history "hobby" - both female and male - hear every-so-often.
Technically, the writer is correct - the average woman did spend most of her time in the kitchen. And many (too many) died in childbirth. Surviving childbirth improved (thank God) for both mother and child as medical technology improved.
But, as for over-worked women, well, do those who feel this way ever take the time to research social history? If they had, they would know that the greater majority of all people worked long, hard hours on a daily basis - men, women, and children. There was little time set aside for daily frivolity, so they would do their best to make their chores a bit lighter, either by singing songs as they worked or turning the chores into a game. Boredom, although it did exist, was not a daily occurrence. Everyone had a role to 'play' in the family, and there was little choice in your part. It was called survival.

Now, you and I already know that, don't we? It still amazes me how many people don't, though. It still amazes me how many people believe every shred of one-sided information given by folks with an axe to grind who do not either do their research or will not present all facts given. But, when you read the diaries of those who lived in the mid-Victorian era, you will see that, for the most part, they didn't think of their lives as being so awful or too tough. They just lived, not unlike we do today and were thankful for what they had.
Comments from folks like the one at the top of the page tell me that too many people today place the 21st century lifestyle upon those from the past, and you just cannot do that when studying social history.
Were there women who didn't like the way they had to live back then?
A better question still, are there women in our time who don't like the way they live here in 2010?

An absolute YES would be an honest answer to both questions.
And the same for men as well, I'm sure.
The average person of the mid-19th century didn't have very many personal belongings in comparison to what we have in our modern day, but then again, they didn't need much either. To be honest, when you think about it, neither do we - a blogger friend wrote a wonderful post on just this subject the other day ( What do you *need* to be content?).
As far as free time folks from 150 years ago had in comparison to our free time today, I think of the time I spend - much of it totally wasted - doing "stupid stuff" on the computer. Or watching terrible shows on the 100 + stations on the TV.
Yes, I watch some fine TV, too, and I enjoy writing and working with my photographs while on the computer, but I really do spend too much frivolous time as well.
Too much.
You may ask, "Well, would you rather work the way people did back in the 1860's, from sun up til sun down, six or seven days a week?"
There is a part of me that does say, "Yes." Most of me will honestly answer "no."
But, I do believe that I could spend my spare time much more wisely.
I have to laugh when I hear someone my age state (quite seriously), "You, know, kids today couldn't hack living the way we did when we were their age. We only had 3 TV stations on our black and white TV - no cable - and there were no cell phones or home computers. They couldn't handle it."
Yes, I do remember those days - they sure were not easy times. I really don't know how we survived. Can you imagine only three TV stations on a black & white TV?? And how did we communicate without cell phones or Facebook? We actually had to dial a phone connected to the wall! And, to do homework we had to (oh man! I can't believe how rough it was!) walk to the library and then search for books to do research on any given subject instead of using google! I mean, what if it was Sunday and the library was closed?
We didn't have it so hard, but for some reason, many of my co-baby boomers tend to think we lived as cromagnons 'way back when.'

But, in the greater majority of letters, journals, and diaries that I own from the mid-19th century, most people tended to take their daily lives for granted just as we do today.
They survived.
We're surviving.
And folks will 150 years from now.



Chandra said...

Good post! It reminded me of a discussion I participated in during a class in high school, where we were asked if things like instant messaging had improved our lives or not. (This was even before Facebook and Twitter, now I feel old!) Most said yes, because it made communication easier, but I brought up the point that is also made us more impatient. Case and point- back in the good ol days of snail mail, people waited weeks or longer to hear from someone. With the advent of instant messenger, I can remember freaking out of someone didn't reply to what I had said within seconds. I would worry they were upset at what I had said, or got angry thinking they had walked away from the computer.

Side note pertaining to the intro quote- there has never been a PBS show called Victorian House. Just wanted to point that out. :)

Amy said...

Excellent post, Ken. I've been pondering this very thing, as Keith and I are planning our future house (it's in the design stages right now). We've gotten so used to having *so much* these days.