Traditionally women’s primary job has been the household chores.
During the early pioneer years, this job was not small by any degree, since before homes were equipped
with indoor plumbing, electricity and major household appliances, chores
involved much time and energy. Women
needed to haul in water and collect coal and wood for the fire.
One chore that took up the majority of women’s time was food
preparation because many of the subsistence foods needed to be made from
scratch. Women baked
their own bread, milked cows and churned cream to make butter.
They collected eggs from chicken pens and berries from the fields in
summer. Vegetables were grown in
the gardens women kept by their houses and many fruits and vegetable were
canned, thus preserving them for the winter.
Once an animal was butchered, women were responsible for the preparation
of the meat, which could involve salting or smoking to preserve it.
Another household chore was sewing. In many instances, women sewed her own and her families’ clothing. In a large family with many children, this could mean that women spent
much time making and mending clothes. She
was also responsible for cleaning the clothes.
Laundry was apparently one of the most dreaded tasks, as it involved a
great amount of energy scrubbing the clothes in hot water, hanging them to
dry and then ironing them. Cleaning
was also one of women’s main tasks. In
many of the rudimentary homes, with dirt floors and sod roofs, cleaning could
prove to be one the most frustrating tasks, but women learned many methods of
keeping the dust levels down. The
final task that fell within the realm of women’s household work was caring for
the elderly, sick and children. Before
the arrival of health-care professionals, women developed their own home
remedies for caring for the elderly and sick. Children, especially when they were in their infant stages, took up a
large portion of women’s time especially if women were also responsible for
educating them. Children, however,
were quickly given chores, especially daughters who, when older, were expected to
work alongside their mothers in performing the household chores.
If a family could afford it, a domestic servant could also be hired to
help out wives in their numerous tasks.
Despite the sometimes tedious and lonely nature of their
work, it is evident that many women took great pride in their household duties.
Opportunities to show off their work at fairs and community gatherings by
bringing baked goods, homegrown vegetables and crafts were often seized.
During threshing season, when men in a community would group
together and move around to each farm to perform the threshing, women
had the opportunity to show off their cooking. When
the crew came to her home, a woman would attempt to outdo her female neighbours in
making the largest and best meals. For some, the stress of this season was too much, as one
“In Alberta, as in Illinois, each housewife vies with the others in
demonstrating her ability as a cook, and I was almost in panic.
I finally decided that I would give them plenty of good food, but would
not compete with other women around in a line of work in which I did not
Also, despite the rudimentary nature of their homes, which
were sometimes no more than "soddies" or shacks, women attempted to create
clean, comfortable and pleasant living environments. Items, such as tablecloths, printed curtains,
pictures and vases, which were outside the realm of necessity but nevertheless
contributed to the aesthetics of homes, were introduced to achieve this goal.
Women, more than any other family member, spent the majority of their time
inside the home; therefore, she was improving mostly her own living and working
environment. However, this attempt to make the home attractive and comfortable
– that is moving it beyond the merely functional use of space – was also
seen as essential to the civilization of the West. By reducing the crudeness of her home, a woman was taking an important
step towards reducing the primitive nature of the Western frontier.
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Household Drudgery, 'Democratized Consumption,' and Patriarchy." Framing
Our Past. Eds. Sharon Cook, et al. Montreal: McGill University
Gagnon, Anne. " 'Our Parents did not raise us to
be independent:' The Work and Schooling of Young Franco-Albertan Women,
1890-1940." Prairie Forum 1994 19(2): 169-185.
McManus, Sheila. "Gender(ed) Tensions in the
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Columbia Press, 2000.
Millar, Nancy. Once Upon a Wedding.
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Wetherall, Donald and Irene Kmet. Homes in
Alberta: Building, Trends, and Design 1870-1967. Edmonton: University of Alberta