Colonial Woman

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					                          Colonial Woman
                  During the 18th century, women’s work was extremely difficult,
                  exhausting, and under appreciated. Most colonial women were
                  homemakers who cooked meals, made clothing, and doctored
                  their family as well as cleaned, made household goods to use
                  and sell, took care of their animals, maintained a cook fire and
                  tended the kitchen gardens. Middle class and wealthy women
                  also shared some of these chores in their households, but they
                  often had servants to help them.

                  Both men and women had great social pressure on them to
                  marry. Young girls were often married by the age of 13 or 14.
Women who were not married by the age of 25 were socially humiliated. Women
married mostly for social and economic reasons, not for romantic ones. Once
married, a woman became the legal property or chattel of her husband. Married
women had no control of their earnings, inheritance, property, and also could not
appear in court as a witness or vote. Husbands could legally beat their wives. If a
woman ran away from her husband, she was considered a thief because she
was stealing the clothes she was wearing and herself. If a man murdered his
wife, he would be hung. If a woman murdered her husband, she would be burned

Widows were better off. They had control over their property, but could only
receive up to one-third of her late husband’s property. A widow could also vote in
some areas, but often widows were not aware of this fact or chose not to vote. In
addition, widows were pressured to get married as soon as possible. In some
colonies, laws were proposed that forced widows to marry within 7 years after
their husband’s death. Widows, however, were often married within a year if not

Given the difficult life that most colonial women faced, it should not be surprising
that many frontier women, when captured in Indian raids chose not to return to
their communities and spent the rest of their lives as adopted members of the
tribe by whom they were captured. Follow this link for the story of one such
                                  Women's Work

Colonial housewives and cooks began their days very early by modern
standards. They built the fire, carried water, gathered fresh fruits and vegetables
for the day's meals from the kitchen garden, got meat from the smokehouse, and
prepared breakfast. This meal usually consisted of mush with milk, which was
sweetened with molasses. The mid-day meal, dinner, was the heaviest, generally
served between noon and 3 pm. This meal was commonly a stew, the
ingredients of which varied with the seasons. The advantage of serving stew was
that it required little tending from the housewife and required only one pot.
Puddings could also be steamed in fabric bags suspended above the cooking pot
of stew. Individual portions of meat and vegetables were uncommon in the
colonies until the 1700's, and then were had by well-to-do colonists. Supper, the
evening meal, was generally warmed up leftovers.

Women trained girls to be wives and mothers by having them help around the
house. Girls helped with cooking, preserving food, caring for children, cleaning
the house, washing clothes and gardening. They milked cows, churned butter,
and made cheese. Girls' work was important to cloth making. After the men and
boys grew flax and sheared sheep, girls and single women did the spinning,
knitting, sewing, and sometimes weaving. Girls spun wool and flax so that it
could be woven into fabric or knitted into socks, hats, scarves, and mittens. They
usually brought yarn to weavers to have cloth woven and they used the cloth to
make clothing and sacks. Girls sewed by hand, with strong, tiny stitches that
would hold clothes together during many washings over years of wear. Most girls
became wives and mothers who worked on the farm and in the house. Some
became midwives, servants, tavernkeepers, or school mistresses. Girls could not
go to college.

Every Colonial housewife made a supply of candles in autumn. Candle rods,
each with a row of wicks, were made by repeatedly dipping in big iron kettles of
boiling water and melted tallow. This was an all-day, back-breaking job. Better
candles were made by pouring the tallow into pewter molds, which made
produced 6 to 24 candles. Store bought cotton twist, flax fibers, or the silky down
from milkweed pods were used as wicks.


The Quilting Bee was an imporant means of socializing for colonial and pioneer
women (and men). Through the winter months, the women would piece their quilt
tops. Since there was no central heating in these homes, there was usually only
one main heated room that was too crowded during the winter months for a quilt
frame to be assembled. When the weather became warmer, an invitation was
sent to the surrounding neighbors for the quilting bee. On the day of the quilting
bee, the quilters would arrive early and begin marking the quilt top which had
been put into the quilt frame by the hostess. Very often, plates, thimbles, and tea
cups were used to mark the quilting patterns. The quilters would then being to
quilt the top while exchanging conversation. The quilt had to be finished before
the husbands showed up in the late afternoon when dinner was served to all. The
hostess was given a chance to show off her cooking skills. After dinner, there
was very often a square dance or country dance with fiddles accompanying the
dancers. The quilting bee was an important part of the social life of these people
and was surpassed only by religious gatherings.


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