By Ruth Schwartz Cowan

In this vintage paintings of women’s background (winner of the 1984 Dexter Prize from the Society for the heritage of Technology), Ruth Schwartz Cowan exhibits how and why sleek ladies commit as a lot time to house responsibilities as did their colonial sisters. In energetic and provocative prose, Cowan explains how the fashionable conveniences—washing machines, white flour, vacuums, advertisement cotton—seemed before everything to supply working-class girls middle-class criteria of convenience. over the years, despite the fact that, it turned transparent that those contraptions and gizmos typically changed paintings formerly performed by means of males, kids, and servants. rather than residing lives of relaxation, middle-class girls chanced on themselves suffering to take care of with ever better criteria of cleanliness.

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Extra resources for More Work For Mother: The Ironies Of Household Technology From The Open Hearth To The Microwave

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Similarly, corn would have served as the likely thickener in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while wheat flour would have replaced it in the nineteenth. Whatever the ingredients, the technique remains essentially the same, and so this dish can serve as the focus for our investigation of the tools with which it would have been done-and the work processes dictated by them-at various periods of time. Let us begin by imagining that this particular pottage was being prepared in the home of a young childless couple living on a small farm in Connecticut in the middle of the eighteenth century, a 22 Household Work under Pre-Industrial Conditions farm that was as yet too small to require hired help in the fields or in the house, but was large enough to supply the basic needs of wife and husband.

10 In the pre-industrial economy the relationship between tools and productivity was straightforward: the more tools people had, the more they were able to wrench from the land. They could break the soil without a plow, a team, and a yoke-but not as effectively as they could do it with these. They could make maple sugar with wooden taps, buckets, and a large kettle, but with wooden or metal troughs they could collect more sap with the same expenditure of labor. The fur trade was enhanced by better traps and guns; potasheries, by larger kettles; fishing, by more effective nets and larger boats.

The important point about this dependency is not that it existed, but that it related to goods that were absolutely essential to the survival of individuals and communities: guns for obtaining fresh meat, salt for preserving the meat of domesticated animals, plows for breaking the soil, pots and pans for cooking, axes for felling trees. Without these tools (and replacements for them when they wore out or were damaged), the colonists could not initially feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and certainly could not subsequently improve living conditions.

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