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The Famous Five: Heroes for Today
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Traditional Roles and Responsibilities

Heritage Community Foundation, Albertasource.ca and The Famous Five Foundation

Reading: "Some Things a Woman Can Do"

Reading: Violet McNaughton


Household drudgeryMarriage and parenthood brought women new responsibilities. If they had done so before, most women no longer worked outside the home. A few women (mostly located in towns and cities) retained their jobs or acquired new ones, but only if necessary to support their families. Otherwise, they were expected to raise their children and perform most of the household chores. In the early 20th century, simple chores were a lot more involved. Clothing was washed by hand and usually had to be ironed. Most foods were prepared from scratch and might require milking the household cow or collecting eggs from the chicken coop. Wood-burning ovens required constant attention to maintain the right temperature.

McArthur churning butterEven when new household appliances became available, families were reluctant to purchase these labour-saving devices. As Nellie McClung observed in her 1919 book, In Times Like These, farm families were more likely to buy steam tractors or binders than washing machines. The former mechanized equipment helped to raise farms' productivity as well as alleviate the burden of backbreaking labour on men. Despite technological advances, most families were reluctant to invest in washing machines and women continued to wash their families' clothes using washboards.

In addition to their housework, in most cases, mothers were also responsible for caring for their children. This included bathing and feeding, consoling and disciplining, and in remote areas, mothers taught their children to read and write. As they grew older, children could be given certain chores, especially on farms. Girls were responsible for cleaning up after supper, and generally did more inside the house than their brothers. This type of division introduced at such an early age suggested that women's place was in the home. More outspoken girls and those who grew up in more progressive homes, including the Famous 5, were not so easily indoctrinated and more likely to challenge such beliefs when they grew older.

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