Duties Of A Pioneer WomanRenee' Bailey
Ah yes, cooking on an open fire, washing clothes by hand, keeping a diligent eye on the kids while also tending to some worn clothes in dire need of a patch job. This was common life for a woman back in pioneer times, and no woman was a stranger to this lifestyle. I know it is hard to believe with the way today’s society paints the role of a woman living in the 19th century, that all she did was sit around, waiting submissively on the commands of her husband, and had no mind of her own. But back then there were no smart phone companies in need of lots of employees to keep millions of customers happy, no TV shows in need of actresses and make-up artists, nor were there any Walmart stores to drive to where you could find something to satisfy your every need. The world was quite different, and the duties and responsibilities of men and women were also different. Oftentimes, both parents “careers” laid within their home, as they worked together to feed, cloth, raise, and love their children, while maintaining a happy life, full of hard work, joy, and fulfillment. Though you may not believe it, women played a great role in the lives of all, and their presence, or lack thereof, affected everyone. Let us take a look at some of those things.
With the convenience of fast food restaurants, frozen meals, and boxed dinners, the idea of having to prepare an entire meal by hand everyday would be a shock to the system of many women today. Nevertheless, women that lived during the time period of the Oregon Trail did so every day, even when they were tired, or just didn’t feel like cooking. The exception was during times of illness or there was a daughter old enough to help out or fill in. Some of you even now may be thinking , “Well, that’s not too hard.” Yes, it may not be today with the ease of electric stoves and refrigerators, and pre-made cornbread and cakes that come out of a box. Today, keeping a wood-burning fire is thought of as an absurdity and might be met with laughter, however, the pioneer woman had to gather the wood, start the fire, and tend it as she cooked. It is also lost on the minds of young people in this generation that, milk and dairy products were not simply sitting on a shelf waiting to be used, and eggs did not come packed in a carton. Instead, animals had to be fed, watered and milked, and eggs had to be gathered daily for cooking. Gardening was usually a family affair, as growing enough vegetables for the entire family for the year was hard work, with the excess being canned for use during winter months or lean times.
Ah yes, the great simplicity of being able to throw your dirty clothes in a washing machine that takes care of all the hard work for you. Or head off to the nearest clothing store to find that favorite pair of jeans. It allows us to have a much lighter load on our minds, knowing that most of the hard work is done for us. But with that we slowly begin to forget those crafts and skills that were used and needed in everyday life. Sewing, mending, and making clothes were the only form of “buying a new outfit” the pioneers knew. When something ripped, it was not classified as useless and thrown away, instead it was kept, and, by the hand of a woman, made whole again. When an item became too small for an older sister or brother, it was passed down to the younger siblings and worn until either they outgrew it, or it tore to the point of no return. Sewing, knitting and crocheting were common place for almost every woman back then, for it was their only source of getting new clothing. Washing machines were a thing of the future, so everything was taken care of by hand. Everything. Need I say more?
It truly saddens me when I hear people saying things like “I don’t want to be a house wife,” “Why should I have to stay home and take care of the children?” or “I’m a working woman, I don’t have time for kids.” Just think about it, if our mothers or grandmothers thought the way we do now, I’m sure quite a few of us would have never been born. On top of all the duties a woman had (we have only scratched the surface here,) her greatest joy was raising and looking after her children. Rain, sun, snow or hail, a mother had a watchful eye on her kids, and they were her greatest duty. A lot of you may know the struggles of raising a child, even living with all the conveniences of today. Still, you hardly find time to put a load of laundry in the washer, put clean dishes away, and fold a disheveled stack of clothes. Yet our ancestors found the time and energy to do all that and more with the a heavier load to bear, and no high tech gadgets to get them through.
So think about it next time you complain you don’t want to load the dish washer…. You could be washing them by hand in a bucket.