Never Done: A History of American Housework

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9780805067743: Never Done: A History of American Housework

Finally back in print, with a new Preface by the author, this lively, authoritative, and pathbreaking study considers the history of material advances and domestic service, the "women's separate sphere," and the respective influences of advertising, home economics, and women's entry into the workforce. Never Done begins by describing the household chores of nineteenth-century America: cooking at fireplaces and on cast-iron stoves, laundry done with boilers and flatirons, endless water-hauling and fire-tending, and so on. Strasser goes on to explain and explore how industrialization transformed the nature of women's work. Easing some tasks and eliminating others, new commercial processes inexorably altered women's daily lives and relationships—with each other and with those they served.

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About the Author:

Susan Strasser is the author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash and Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation. A professor of history at the University of Delaware, she lives near Washington, D.C.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Industrialization replaced the arduous productive work of the nineteenth-century household with products that raised the standard of living and made life easier for many people by the 1930s; the large centralized concerns that manufactured those products invaded daily life with their advertising, creating new needs to establish economic demand. The very activity of buying came to represent happiness, and perhaps indeed to produce it, if only temporarily. The new consumerism declared that things that cost money had more value than those that did not; it even defined the time of year as tasks like spring housecleaning and laying in the wood for winter once did. The expandable task of consumption, like the other new task of motherhood capable of taking up whatever time the new products released, became ever more necessary as families adapted their daily lives to manufactured existence.

Without indoor plumbing, most women hauled every drop of water they used for cooking, dish washing, bathing themselves and their families, laundry, and housecleaning; after using it, they hauled it back outside the house, though not necessarily going as far as they had come from the well, the spring, the creek, or the urban hydrant or pump. Heavy work even in the spring or fall, it became unbearable in summer's heat, and in winter women had to crack ice and thaw pumps to get to their frigid water supplies, and empty more chamber pots.

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