As I watched the movie Miss Austen Regrets last night I was reminded of how solitary life could be for a woman of the past. The social constraints were like chains for many until well after we fought for our right to vote. If a woman wanted to learn, to be independent, to be active outside of the home, she was considered by many to be different, difficult. I thought about the postcard to Veda Maud and how she conveyed in words her loneliness. It seemed to me that she felt isolated, she missed the women in her life, even the company of a passer-by.
It wasn't just the big battles that freed us, it was the little, everyday things that women changed by putting their reputations, their family connections, their financial security at risk so that they could live life more fully, defined more by themselves and less by "society". Thank you to those brave women who walked through the door first and left it open for the rest of us.
Some of the social mores were born out of the need for security and evolved into definitions of how a proper young lady should behave. Without a man to do her business a woman lived outside of the margins of "society". That is where most women lived. There were more poor, working, tenants than handsome, landed mistresses of beautiful Victorian houses. The old shacks fell down, the beautiful houses were maintained. Class structure ruled the day.
Work was hard too. Just think about our water. A woman hauled every drop of water that she needed, unless there was a child old enough to help. It was considered women's work to fetch the water and women spent most of their time indoors using it. Life was labor intensive. I read that at a "North Carolina Farmer's Alliance meeting in 1886 they calculated that one woman in attendance walked 6,068 miles from her outdoor pump to the kitchen (60 yards from her door) in the 41 years she lived in her home". * She walked to the pump anywhere from 6 to 10 times a day. Women also carried the dirty water back out too. It wasn't until the mid-1920's that most homes in the U.S. even had indoor plumbing.
*from Strasser, Susan. Never done: A history of American housework. NY, Henry Holt & Co. 1982. p.86.
The children. The lovely, sweet, innocent children.
Our son is the sun we revolve around, we are drawn to his every word, his very being like an apple to the ground. He is our joy, our light, the heart in our home.
These are the pictures of everyday things and the images of the people who share the journey.
And, the animals. What a luxury it was and is to have a horse. Pigs, yes; cows maybe; chickens, definitely; horses, if you were lucky. I found some amazing pictures of the family horse. People were proud of their horses, they were a symbol of success. But, most people walked everywhere they went, horses were expensive to keep. I imagine how different my life would be if I walked every where. I would be healthier for the walking I am sure.
The entire economic structure of the U.S. changed around the turn of the century. Mass production made our tools and food cheaper. More people could live a better life. More people left the farm and traded their time for money. They had a chance to get things that before might have been out of reach. But oh, the price we pay for unbridled growth and "prosperity". It seems every nook and cranny of our beautiful planet is polluted by our success. It seems that the things that were offered to us in our journey towards more free time may in fact be killing us or making us sick and sterile. And what about the animals? What gives us dominion over them? How can we ever make amends? What things can we give up? How much do we really need? Can we as a massive population in a hindered, crippled economy find the middle way? Are we ready to be honest about our consumption?