Saturday, January 7, 2012


“The modern housewife keeps her house clean rather than house cleans[,] giving each room a rather thorough cleaning as often as may be necessary. For this cleaning the following program is suggested:
1.     Dust bric-a-brac and clean metals. Place them all together and cover them up
2.     Dust wood furniture and vacuum-clean overstuffed furniture. Remove the smaller pieces to another room if possible. Cover those which remain. In bedroom take off bedding and thoroughly clean spring and mattress, make up again and cover
3.     Clean rugs with a vacuum cleaner and roll them up
4.     Remove portieres and draperies and clean them on a flat surface with a vacuum cleaner
5.     Dust ceiling and walls
6.     Dust wood trim, doors, and surbase
7.     Clean windows and mirrors
8.     Dust pictures
9.     Dust lighting fixtures, wash globes
10.  Clean and polish floor
11. Replace everything”
-- from the Rumford Book on Home Management, c. 1920

I don’t know. Any way you look at keeping the house clean, it sounds like house cleaning to me. The biggest challenges in the above program would be removal and re-hanging of the drapes and rolling up the carpets, which most surely means lifting or moving some furniture. Just how often is “as often as may be necessary?” I would perform those heavy chores no oftener than quarterly, while the rest I would divide between monthly and weekly. And just how am I going to fit this into my weekly schedule, published in the previous post.

But, when I think of housecleaning, I tend to think of cleaning the whole house, or even a whole room, at one time, instead of dividing the work into doable tasks. Perhaps I should alter my imaginary cleaning regimen so that I deep clean one room each week (see Thursday), and if I did that, eventually my house would be maintained in a state of cleanliness. That’s probably the point.

My mother told me that when she was growing up – and that would be the ‘20s – she was to clean the living room weekly on Saturday. She said she moved the furniture out from the wall and vacuumed under it routinely. (This may have been Grandma’s expectation, but Mother didn’t say so.) One day a workman came to the house for some purpose and the living room furniture was moved. The workman complimented my grandmother, saying that he had never seen such a clean home. Grandma beamed at the compliment but didn’t mention that Mother had done the work. Mother saw this as a slight and vowed to herself that she would always give credit where credit was due. Mother was most generous in this regard.

[The picture is of my maternal grandparents’ home in Orofino, Idaho, dated August 28, 1921. Grandmother Nina Portfors (35) stands in the background. The children are Francis (13) and Dorothy (11). Whatever the scenario, it seems to be a typical day. Grandma appears to be wearing an apron and dust cap. About five years prior to this picture, my grandfather opened a Ford garage – the right place at the right time – which means this was a good era for the family. This house continued to be the Portfors family home until it was sold about 1965. Note the hill to right of center. Today you can see the Gilbert Grade there, leading to the homestead of my paternal grandparents.] KW


Chris said...

I never would have recognized the house although the one next to it looks familiar. Your grandparents must have added the second story I remember.

The picture was taken 28 years to the day before you were born!

Kathy said...

Yes,they remodeled the house, and it must have happened soon after this photo. Mother and Uncle Porkie had small rooms upstairs and there was a third room --storage and a half-bath. The front porch disappeared and there were stairs to the basement on the outside of the house but inside a screened porch. While the house is still there, it's all different now. Perhaps the interior is improved but the exterior is sort of horrible. That's my opinion, of course. That '20's charm is gone.

Of course, you're right that 28 years later my birthday would be Aug. 28.

Leah said...

I believe when central heating became a part of our lives, housecleaning took a big detour. Dusting ceilings & walls was a necessary part of our grandparents cleaning chores, but not much today. I can keep everything clean & tidy except when it comes to getting behind furniture. I'm always going to move the furniture "next time."

An old book titled "Dr. Chase's Recipes, Information for Everybody" was passed on to me in 1959 when my grandmother died. Publication date was 1880. It covers every situation that would face a man or woman 132 years ago. Today, we assume a book with "recipes" would be about cooking. In the 19th century, the definition of recipe was a description of how to do something. My grandmother pronounced it "Receipt." The author brags that his book contains only 400 subjects. The book has recipes for medicines, how to make dyes, a Farrier's Dept, & keeping bees. Homemade matches gets 2 full pages, with the disclaimer that the match business is an unhealthy occupation (phosphorous poisoning). One item is titled "One Hundred Pounds of Good Soap for $1.30. The author's opinion about how to deal with sex & teenagers is to have them marry young.

Food recipes are included and one thing that caught my eye was "dominos." The recipe just explains that you make a sheet cake and let it cool. Then you cut the cake into very small oblong shapes & frost these little things all over, with dots on top. These dominos are recommended for children's parties.

Other recipes are: pickled beef, mushroom catsup, Saratoga chips (potato chips) & a wedding cake that keeps for 20 years. Hmmm. Some marriages don't last that long today.

In the cleaning section, subjects are: oilcloth, milk paint, removing fly spots, how to keep ice in summer & other long forgotten tips.

The book has a list of 10 items in the chapter titled "How to Live Long." #9 is "Shun bad habits." #10 is "Do Not Injure the Body." Well, yes!

This is getting way off subject, but my book has tips on: how to get something out of a child's nose (think toy soldier), cure for drunkenness, injury to the eye from gunpowder, drive away alive, how to detect counterfeit money, how to shake hands, how to catch foxes and my interest table with a 10% rate. Those were the good ole days!

Leah said...

Footnote. Amazon has Dr. Chase's book. I looked at the title page (mine is missing this important part). It was first published in 1867.

Kathy said...

Thanks for telling about Dr. Chase's book. People had need of practical knowledge in that age, and sometimes I think we'd be better off today if we were less paranoid and more confident in meeting challenges.

I had to laugh about the toy soldier in a child's nose. I think it would be more like a bean. Oh, and my dad told me about making Saratoga chips.

I'll think about adding Dr. Chase's work to my collection.

Leah said...

Dr. Chase didn't give the toy soldier analogy. That was my idea. I was trying to think of a toy in that era and metal toy soldiers came to mind. You're right, it was more likely a bean up a child's nose.

It is a fascinating book which fleshes out what it was like to live in the 1800's. There was info about setting broken bones, reviving someone who nearly drowned, treating gunshot wounds and on and on. Many people lived on farms a long way from medical professionals. The fun stuff was reading about cooking & cleaning, which has changed a great deal in the past 100+ years. We don't spend much time on either today.

He even had a couple of pages devoted to young men who were unemployed and how to deal with that. Another section was devoted to caring for the elderly. People have the same problems today that humanity has had to deal with for centuries.

Kathy said...

That's exactly what I think about these antique housekeeping books -- they really "flesh out" what life was like in the era, including values. There's a certain nobility in maintaining a standard for oneself and one's home, and women were encouraged in that. Well, the bad part was that it could be judgmental, but I'm not sure but what society was the loser when we began to see maintaining the home as drudgery.

Leah said...

Correction to my earlier post. The comment about marrying young was credited to Dr. Chase. The passage came from another book, "Safe Counsel or Practical Eugenics" by B.G. Jefferis, MD and J. L. Nichols. The word "eugenics" scares me. Copyright is 1926. It came into my possession after my grandmother died in 1959. I remembered the comment, but forgot which book it was in. Dr. Jefferis's book is about love, marriage and procreation. His comments about men, women, the perils of an unhealthy lifestyle and the joys of a healthy life are strictly his own, but were shared by many in that time.

"No parent worthy of the name would willfully send his son out into the dangers of the street. Preach the gospel of the early marriage. Coupled with education it will save the day."

My apologies to Dr. Chase. His book and his advice get high marks from me.