Monday, June 18, 2012

Household Tips for Living in the Old West

In the early 1800s, four fifths of all Americans worked on farms, either as the owner of the farm or hired hands. To say such work was exhausting is an understatement and as the larger cities in the North opened more and more factories, many settlers abandoned their farms for industry jobs, including the women.

However, some women learned to thrive in their new roles on small farms, often by sharing household tips, such as these offered by a Mrs. Childs printed in The American Frugal Housewife in 1836. Some of these tips are particularly interesting to me as they are similar to advice we might offer our children today when they start their own families and move into their first home, tips such as covering the water pump in cold weather, which would be similar to the advice to insulate water pipes when the weather dips below freezing. Most of all, though, this list interests me because it is a quick glimpse into the lifestyles of women in the early to mid-1800s and the things that concerned them as housewives.

Household Tips by Mrs. Childs

Look frequently to the pails to make sure that nothing is thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot. See that the beef and pork are always under brine, and that the brine is sweet and clean. [Brine is water filled with large quantities of salt.] An ox's gall [derived from the bile of oxen and often used in mixing paints] will set any color--silk, cotton, or woolen. I have seen the colors of calico, which faded at one washing, fixed by it. Where one lives near a slaughterhouse the gall can be bought for a few cents.

Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared. One pint of coarse salt and one pint of unslacked lime to a pailful of water. If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs; and if there be a single egg cracked, it will spoil the whole. They should be kept covered with lime-water, and in a cold place. I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years. [I think I would take her word on that one. A three year old egg does not sound appealing! However, if you are traveling by ship or in a wagon train, this type of advice on food preservation could save your life!]

If feather beds smell badly, or become heavy from want of proper preservation of the feathers or old age, empty them and wash the feathers thoroughly in a tub of suds, then spread them in your garret [I believe this refers to the attic.] They will dry, and be as light and as good as new. New England rum, constantly used to wash the hair, keeps it very clean and free from disease [No doubt!] and promotes hair growth a great deal more than Macassar oil. [Macassar Oil was a popular compound oil used as a hair conditioner and stylist in the Victorian Era that continued in use during the years of the Old West.]

Barley straw is the best for beds; dry corn husks, slit into shreds, are far better than straw. In winter, always set your pump as high as possible before you go to bed. Except in very frigid weather this keeps the handle from freezing. When there is reason to apprehend extreme cold, do not forget to throw a rug or horse blanket over your pump; a frozen pump is a comfortless preparation for a winter's breakfast.

Very hard and durable candles are made in the following manner: Melt together ten ounces of mutton tallow, a quarter of an ounce of camphor, four ounces of beeswax, and two ounces of alum. Candles of these materials burn with a very clear light. [I have made my own herbal candles. It is a bit time-consuming, but fun and rewarding.]

Honey mixed with pulverized charcoal is said to be excellent to clean the teeth and make them white. [I've recently read suggestions for honey and charcoal separately as tooth whiteners on a holistic website.] Limewater with a little Peruvian bark is very good to be occasionally used by those who have defective teeth, or an offensive breath. [And I thought they simply pulled "defective teeth" in the Wild West!]

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The Oregonian, Thomas Dryer, Henry Pittock, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood

  Mount Hood reflected in Mirror Lake, Oregon. Public domain. Courtesy of Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory. Released into public domain ...