Thursday, August 9, 2012


A Brief History of Domestic Goddesses

The Homespun Heroine

When: The American Revolution (and 17th century).

Specialties: Making homespun cloth, boycotting tea, keeping her forehead unwrinkled.

The women of colonial America did it all. They spun the cloth, plucked the chickens, ground the wheat, and made soap from animal fat and wood ash, and not because it was "fulfilling" (I'm looking at you, 21st-century "urban homesteaders"!). If they didn't, their families would freeze, starve, and stink (okay, they were probably pretty smelly anyway). It was important work, but didn't get much glory — women referred to their tasks as "my narrow sphere" or "my little Domestick affairs."

But in the years leading up to the American Revolution, women's domestic labors suddenly took on major political significance. Boycotts of British-made goods gave women a public role in supporting the fight for independence, as they wove their own cloth and made soap for the troops. The Domestic Goddess of the day wore homespun clothing as a badge of patriotism and hosted political-minded women's spinning and sewing circles. By rejecting British silks and teas in favor of rough linen and bitter, chicory-laced coffee, she became an image of patriotic heroism.

Many women, roused by this new sense of purpose, wanted to get involved in politics outside the domestic realm. But leaders of the era, even the most enlightened, saw public life as simply unbefitting for gentle ladies. On a visit to France, Thomas Jefferson was shocked — shocked! — to find Parisian women participating in political salons. America's "good ladies" are too wise to "wrinkle their foreheads with politics," he wrote, in a 1788 letter. "They have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all others."

The Angel in the House

When: The mid-19th century.

Specialties: Embroidery, pouring tea, self-sacrifice.

In the 19th century America, rapid industrialization meant that men were leaving the homestead en masse to work in offices and factories. Industrialization also meant that women didn't have to DIY everything — they could now readily buy factory-made clothes, soap, and other household necessities. The home stopped being a center of economic production, and instead became a refuge from the dirty, masculine world of commerce. Men went "outside" and did "work." Women stayed "inside" and did "homemaking." Enter the Cult of Domesticity.

The ideal 19th-century Domestic Goddess was "The Angel in the House," a position much moralized about by the leading writers, preachers, and politicians of the day. The Angel in the House was sweet, submissive, self-sacrificing, and godly, a model of good Christian behavior for her children. She sat in her velvet-draped parlor, reading the Bible aloud until her eyes crossed or embroidering handkerchiefs for her husband. (Virginia Woolf would later roll her eyes at The Angel's brand of mommy martyrdom: "She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it.")

Unsurprisingly, not all women were down with a steady diet of embroidery and self-sacrifice. By the late 19th century, utopian feminists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman were advocating for communal kitchens and government-sponsored armies of professional cleaners to replace homemakers. And then it happened, and it was awesome! JK.

The Home Economist 

When: The late 19th to early 20th centuries.

Specialties: Calculating the calories in a meal, practicing proper kitchen hygiene, suppressing carnal desires with bland cooking.

Poor Ellen Swallow Richards. The first female MIT grad (class of 1873), she wanted to complete her Ph.D. in chemistry, but was forbidden because of her gender. Ever hopeful, Richards hung around cleaning labs on campus and darning professors' shirts in the hopes that her earnestness would be rewarded with the chance to pursue an advanced degree. It wasn't.

So Richards brushed herself off and decided to invent her own academic discipline, one which the powers that be would consider lady-appropriate: Home Economics. Home Economics sought to claim honor for traditional women's work by applying the era's scientific discoveries to homemaking: if America's Domestic Goddesses would learn the Chemistry of Soap and how to calculate the calories in a potato, they might also be viewed as "professionals."

Unfortunately, the science of the day was often, well ... wrong (pork takes five hours to digest! Béchamel sauce curtails carnal desires!). Plus, the white, middle-class Home Economists often plowed over traditional rural crafts and ethnic cooking skills with their zeal for efficiency and professionalism. Rather than honoring the American homemaker, they often inadvertently denigrated her as an "amateur." In any case, by the 1920s women were entering the workforce, and Home Ec was relegated to soupy-smelling high-school classrooms filled with sullen girls making Jell-O rings.

The Frugal Housewife

When: 1929 to the end of World War II.

Specialties: Home canning, saving cooking oil, keeping her loose lips from sinking ships.

The Great Depression made back-to-basics skills necessary again, and turned the Domestic Goddess into a patriotic heroine just like she'd been during the American Revolution. Women's magazines were full of images of Domestic Goddesses cooking with bread heels and beet greens, saving scraps of tin foil, and cheerfully darning socks. Foods like creamed chipped beef on toast (a.k.a. "shit on a shingle") and mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers were the high arts of frugal housewivery.

During World War II, women went to work in record numbers, taking over the manufacturing jobs the men had left behind. Though many women were working, they were still meant to be perfect frugal Domestic Goddesses at home. The "home front" was considered a critical factor in winning the war, and women were mobilized to do their bit. Government posters urged women to grow victory gardens to ease wartime food shortages and to save their leftover cooking fat to be turned into war materials. "Food is a weapon — Don't waste it!" barked a World War II food poster, reminding women that their private domestic choices had vast public consequences.

The Happy Homemaker

When: The late 1940s to early 1960s.

Specialties: "Glamorizing" cake mix cakes with mini-marshmallows, vacuuming in pearls, popping Nembutal.

By the late '40s, our Goddess is comfortably ensconced in front of her turquoise Magic Chef stove in her postwar ranch house, stirring "just add an egg" Betty Crocker cake mixes, and ordering new draperies from the Sears catalog. She's young — half of all women were married by their 20th birthday — and already on her way to producing her portion of the Baby Boom. Maybe she'd liked her wartime job, but too bad! Our GIs needed that work. A return to traditional homemaking was the way to bring back stability and old-fashioned American values.

But traditional homemaking was long gone. The de-skilling of the American homemaker, in process since the Industrial Revolution, was now complete. Suburban supermarkets meant women no longer needed to know how to spot the freshest fish at the fishmonger or the best chicken at the butcher. Frozen foods and boxed casseroles took all the skill out of cooking. Dryers meant women no longer spent Monday afternoons hanging laundry in the backyard. Homemaking had become ... boring.

B-b-but you were supposed to love homemaking! Maybe you were neurotic? Maybe you were an Unnatural Woman? Maybe you just needed a dose of Mother's Little Helper?

And then came Betty Friedan, and saved/ruined/liberated/oppressed everyone ...


The Crunchy Domestic (God)dess

When: The early 2000s to today.

Specialties: Gluten-free baking, raising backyard chickens, live-blogging her home birth.

Around the beginning of the 21st century, old-fashioned homemaking began to be re-imagined as a source of fun and fulfillment. Third-wave feminists talked of "reclaiming" traditional women's crafts like knitting and embroidery. The foodie/locavore movement had everyone and her mother obsessed with baking their own bread and curing bacon in the linen closet. Environmentalism and the recession also contributed to homemaking's new political purpose, making frugal domestic skills like darning socks and growing eggplants seem honorable rather than drudge-y.

This DIY domesticity finds its highest expression in the Crunchy Domestic Goddess (or, on occasion, the Crunchy Domestic God). She raises her own heritage-breed Araucana hens rather than support Big Agriculture. She makes her own toothpaste to avoid chemicals. She sells hand-sewn cloth diaper covers on Etsy, in the hope that one day she'll be able to quit her day job working for The Man. She calls her life philosophy Simple Living or Frugal Living or Radical Homemaking, or describes herself as a "punk housewife" or a "DIY homemaker" or a "neo-homesteader."

Her grandmother sometimes looks at her and says, gently, "don't you know you can buy butter now, dear?"


Emily Matchar is the author of an upcoming book about women and 21st century domesticity (Free Press, 2013). Read more of her thoughts at New Domesticity.

Illustrations by Gigi Rose Gray.



America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudge, Helpmates and Heroines, by Gail Collins
Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America, by Glenna Matthews
The Great American Housewife: From Helpmate to Wage-Earner, by Annegrete Ogden
No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, by Anne Macdonald

117 Comments / Post A Comment

Daisy Razor

I just imagined Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison side-eyeing Jefferson SO HARD.


@Daisy Razor After reading McCullough's biography of John (and Abigail) Adams, I kind of picture Jefferson as the world's most successful man-splainer.


This is so great! The history of domesticity was always my favourite part of my women's studies/feminist lit classes. Like when everyone else hated Roughing in the Bush, I was all TELL ME MORE ABOUT MAKING BREAD! Colonial ladies were kickass. I will look for your book!


@likethestore The only good parts of Roughing it in the Bush were the parts about making bread.


@likethestore PBS ran this amazing reality tv show about Colonial America and the early NE settlers c 1628 (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/colonialhouse/about_series.html). I so would have volunteered to be part of that show. (I'm from MA and still harbor dillusions of working at Plymouth Plantation).

Marquise de Morville

@likethestore I recently read
Northern Hospitality, a book on New England cooking, which tells you all about making bread. I highly recommend it if you are into interesting details, and biographies of women cookbook authors. I was amazed that Mock Apple Pie goes way back (pre 1800) same as does 'Turducken', and the 'eat more local' was an 1850s thing as well. It pretty much mentions all types of domestic godesses so beautifully illustrated in this article.

P.S. The Cambridge Public Library has the book.

Heather Thompson@facebook

@faience I had such a crush on Dominic until they did a "life after Colonial House" episode and it showed him singing, in Church, waving one hand around with his eyes closed :(


@faience Colonial House was my very favorite of the House series. I will be right in line behind you at a Plimouth Plantation casting call....after I visit the gift shop. I have a weakness for ye olde housewifery manuals.

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@TheLetterL Yes! or Regency House. Or Edwardian Manor House. Just not 1900 House. But we need more Houses!!!!


@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Also Frontier House! That and Colonial House were absolutely rugged. And equally fascinating.

The Hyperbolic Julia Set

@likethestore :O I have not seen Frontier House! I know what I'm doing when my sister comes to visit ;)


@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Oh it's great. I so vividly remember the part where they discuss frontier contraception methods...


Frontier house was amazing! I remember how whiny that one family (from California?)was, and how they SO all would have died the first winter.


@The Hyperbolic Julia Set Agreed! Definitely need more Houses. And we all need to star in them. Hairpin House?

Any love for Texas Ranch House? Also a favorite.


@likethestore My family and I happened to stay at the bed and breakfast in Montana where that family of Californians stayed before the show started. The host said EVERY negative stereotype you would have had about the two daughters was true!


I love this! Such a fascinating cycle. I have a friend who has a very successful blog about the gardening end of the Crunchy Domestic (God)dess spectrum, and she says that in addition to the liberal hippie crunchy The Man-averse portion of her audience, she also has a lot of readers who identify as "preppers-" they're preparing for the eventual economic collapse/peak oil/other doomsday thing. Some of today's domestic goddesses have guns and personal gold reserves!


@amysee Oh lord, the preppers! Their intense paranoia is seeping into all the fun crunchy domestic activities and making the whole thing seem crazy. I no longer feel safe reading some of my favorite blogs because in between the posts about canning tomatoes and stitching pillows there will be a rant about gun control and photos of the blogger's collection................


@amysee I definitely am way outside the paranoia crowd, but I'm comforted by the fact that I will definitely survive any sort of apocalyptic economic collapse. I don't, however, own a gun, so unless we're going all Hunger Games and I need to draw on the archery skills I developed at Camp, I'm kind of SOL on that front. But I do have a garden/like the crunchy DIY type of thing.

fondue with cheddar

@amysee We've been talking about putting together an emergency kit, but that's more for events like losing power for a few days, not some kind of apocalypse. But I must admit that I've put a lot of fantasy-thinking into that sort of thing (zombies!)

I hate guns and have never had any desire to own one, but I'm starting to think it might be a good idea to at least know how they work and learn basic shooting skills.


I am a terrible Domestic Goddess of any type. Mostly because I want to jump into making awesome things before learning the skilzz first. Example, I have never sewn before in my life. Last week I got it into my head that I was going to make a dress for myself. 20 hours later I had a sack with different sized arm holes and at seams on the outside. My sister (who just happens to be domestic as fuck) walks in and says "maybe you should start with a pillowcase". No thank you. I will go back to buying my clothes from now on.


@Pyxis I was once brought to tears by a set of Ikea curtains that were supposedly easy to hem by just ironing them with some sticky-melty tape stuff. I ended up "fixing" them with double-sided Scotch tape. Needless to say, that was the last home thing I tried to DIY.

sceps yarx

@Bebe Safety pins, safety pins, safety pins. And occasionally a stapler.

Steph Cousins@facebook

@Pyxis You would probably really, really enjoy making a dress if you did start on pillowcases or some other simple project... Walk, then run, then fly...

Stephany Aulenback@facebook

Love this! But you left out four decades. I want to know about those domestic goddesses, too, even if they were frowned upon. Back-to-the-land started with the hippies, I think.


@Stephany Aulenback@facebook Yes this! An exploration of communal life in the 70's and how even "liberated" men and women reverted to traditional gender roles when faced with doing it all themselves.


Does anyone want to talk about Lauren Groff's 'Arcadia' because I really do!

Marquise de Morville

@Stephany Aulenback@facebook Louisa May Alcott's dad was an 1840s proto-hippie (although I am pretty sue he was not the first either). I just read that he had a vegetarian, communal project Fruitlands that eventually failed. According to wikipedia "they only ate "aspiring vegetables" — those which grew upward — and refused those that grew downward like potatoes. "


@Stephany Aulenback@facebook Yeah, the end was a letdown. Plus, I grew up in the 90s seeing working women trying to keep up with old-fashioned standards of homemaking, and seeing some women (like my mom) opting out of the workforce... so that would have been interesting to cover. Maybe they're not exactly domestic goddesses, though?

The Attic Wife

@Stephany Aulenback If you want to go back even FURTHER, there were back-to-the-land communes in the 19th century, though these were usually religious communities. Look up the Oneida Community if you want your mind boggled. They spent their time having tons of sex and making their own silverware.


@The Attic Wife And kicked out Charles Guiteau for being too weird, and then he killed President Garfield! HISTORY!

The Attic Wife

@anachronistique I see you too have read Assassination Vacation :-) Great book or GREATEST book?


@The Attic Wife GREATEST. I reread that all the time. Which is probably kind of morbid, but it is so great.


@anachronistique Just came here to triple like all the Assassination Vacation talk. My friends made fun of me because it was all I would talk about for weeks after I finished it. Poor old Robert Todd aka Jinxy McDeath.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@meetapossum I just read Assassination Vacation a few weeks ago! And then immediately put all of Sarah Vowell's books on my TBR list. :)

The Attic Wife

@meetapossum Poor Robert Todd! The guy just could not catch a break. I'm sure every time he walked past the White House he held his breath hoping the papers the next day wouldn't say 'PRESIDENT MYSTERIOUSLY DEAD.'


@The Attic Wife I wish Sarah Vowell would write a history book to be used in schools. How did the authors of my textbooks manage to make stories of uprisings and conquests seem so boring?


Man, chicken legs are the best part anyway.


I never had to/got to take Home Ec, and it holds a weird fascination for me as a staple of middle-grade literature and TV shows. Oh no, they created a bread dough monster! Oh no, something's overflowing with bubbles! Egg and flour babies! I feel like I missed out.


@frigwiggin Oh man, you are not missing too much. I don't think I ever had anything interesting happen in a home ec class, beyond getting to eat some acceptable snickerdoodles (which, to be fair, is better than several other classes).


@frigwiggin It wasn't that much fun. We made disgusting "pizzas" out of English muffins, tomato paste, and processed fake mozzarella slices, and then did the dishes. I got points off one of our projects for measuring flour in a measuring cup meant for liquid ingredients.

HOWEVER, we had a life skills class in HS, and that was awesome! We learned how to balance a check book, we had a field trip to the grocery store where we had to buy everything on our list for a certain dollar amount, and other totally useful necessary things.


@frigwiggin I managed to sew a sewing machine needle into my thumb... otherwise most of Home Ec was making overprocessed concoctions like monkey bread and for some reason we had to sew boxer shorts. It was also part of my first year of jr high in a new town and I spent most of it friendless and isolated. On the plus side, I have since taught myself to cook and am working on the sewing half.


@Bebe Man, evvvverybody should take a life skills class. I know it's a common sort of thing for developmentally disabled folks, but every single person could use a class on this stuff.

Speaking of Home Ec and life skills, what's the best strategy for making grilled cheese? I got a craving for grilled cheese and tomato soup the other day, but I have made grilled cheese literally once before in my life and it was pretty anticlimactic. I can make Indian curries with ease, but grilled cheese stymies me! Do I do it in a skillet? In the toaster oven?


@frigwiggin Sometimes I wish I could *still* take life skills class...

Grilled cheese - must be done in a skillet. Use a soft, spreadable butter-type product and a lot of it - greasy, gooey deliciousness. Annnnnd, now I know what I am having for dinner!


@frigwiggin My grilled cheese method: use a skillet and plenty of butter. Start with it set at low-medium heat to melt the cheese, and then turn up the heat to medium-high to toast the bread--but watch that it doesn't burn. Works every time for me.

Ten Thousand Buckets

@frigwiggin I take a pan, and leave it off the stove. Butter bread, put in pan. (Top bread with mustard or tomato or whatever if that's your thing.) Cheese. Butter other bread, put on top. Put pan on stove, turn burner on.

I think this is the best way because the cheese has a chance to get really melty before the bread gets too brown. But I tend to turn the heat up too high (like 5 - 3 is probably better) and burn the sandwich. It takes a bit longer, and you have to keep checking it until you work out the exact time and temp, but I prefer this method for real cheese sandwiches.

Normal people put everything in a hot pan, but I only like that if I'm doing Kraft singles. (Sometimes you just need a Kraft single grilled cheese.)


@frigwiggin I think a life skills class should be mandatory at some point in middle or high school. I came to this conclusion my first year of college, in the dorm, when I witnessed a girl throw out TWO sets of bedsheets her mom had bought for her, because she didn't know how to wash them. So many things wrong there.


@Ten Thousand Buckets You have just solved my, "Now where I am going to put this buttered slice of bread to build my sandwich without smearing butter everywhere? Must I dirty another dish?" dilemma forever. You are a GENIUS.


@jilt I want to say "whaaaaaaaaat" but that doesn't surprise me a whole lot. I knew a lot of college kids who really couldn't figure out basic stuff once they were out on their own. One of my dad's college roommates had never used a broom before.

@all Ooh, these are good cheese-grillin' tips. Thanks, everybody, this will be the optimal grilled cheese!

Ten Thousand Buckets

@Bebe Haha, it definitely takes some practice to get the timing down though.


@Bebe I had a pretty good set of Home Ec classes - they did cooking and sewing, and the cooking unit had a section on grocery shopping (comparing unit prices, telling if produce is OK, that sort of thing). We actually cooked a decent amount of stuff, including omelets. I think I liked it because I already liked cooking, so it was kind of a break during the day? And the sewing unit was like an extra arts-and-crafts class.

Ten Thousand Buckets

@jilt I don't think any of my Home Ec rooms ever had a washer and dryer, so now I'm picturing a book full of diagrams of various laundry machines like some kind of Muggle Studies text.


@Bebe Oh my God that life skills class would've been so handy for me (I think a lot of people just reason that kids will pick up obvious stuff from their parents but college taught me that they don't).

I only had Home Ec. for two semesters (one in sixth grade, the other in seventh) in middle school; it was useless and (again) taught with the idea that your parents taught you the basics. To make matters worse, the teacher the second semester was kind of friends with my mom, so she targeted most of her outbursts at me when anybody did something wrong. I've forgotten most of it, but still vividly remember the day we had to cook bacon on the stove (which mystified me because my mom always cooked it in the oven because she doesn't like grease splatter) and it all ended with the teacher running over and screaming at me because the two guys I was partners with were using a pan instead of a skillet or griddle (I forget which) and I should have told them because I know better and your mother will be disappointed in you blah blah blah at the top of her voice.

It ended in tears and suffice to say, I still don't know how to make bacon on the stove (although happily home ec. was cut in eighth grade and my mom and that lady aren't really friends anymore because my mom was really displeased with how that lady treated me).

Sea Ermine

@jilt The first week of college during my freshman year I ended up taking 2 girls and 3 guys down to the laundry room and explaining how to use the machines (there was a sign on the back of the laundry room door but it was apparently too confusing?) and answered a bunch of laundry questions. This sort of baffles me because even though I'd been doing laundry since I was 12 I was never taught. My mom just recommended that I use cold water to keep from shrinking things and told me that I can use less detergent than what's listed on the bottle but beyond that I just read the labels over all the buttons on the machine and figured it out. I'm not sure why it's so hard?


@frigwiggin Our home ec class was called "tech" and the only domestic thing we did was sew boxer shorts with machines. The rest was building marble runs (?!).


@likethestore Haha, I built a marble sorter for the Space and Engineering program I attended in high school! Half that class was building inane stuff like towers and things with Legos and the other half was learning how to do weird shit with Powerpoint. So useful.

baked bean

@Sea Ermine I had to teach two college girls how to use an ice cube tray. That one blew. My. Mind.

I don't understand how people don't learn things before they leave home? Like, I guess I was a naturally curious child and wanted to learn how to take care of myself, and my mom made us do things on our own anyway so we'd learn and not be helpless. I feel like teaching kids how to do things on their own is part of parenting. Did it not dawn on anyone, "Oh let's teach the kid how to do laundry so he knows how next week when he goes to college," or "Oh maybe I should ask Mom and Dad how to do the laundry before I leave?"


Ugh, +1 on this.
I had a highly intelligent best friend who opted to leave home at 19 - she didn't know how to cook anything beyond pancakes or shop at all. This wasn't for her lack of accompanying her parents to the shops her whole life - she just had never bothered to pay attention to the correct way to select produce, what's good/bad value for money, nutritious vs highly processed.
I could not conceal my shock.
It was painful witnessing her reliance on choc chip muffins and tofu burgers for sustenance and her total lack of interest in learning how to take care of herself properly even though I offered to help out frequently, as did her parents.

baked bean

@TARDIStime Yeah, I had a friend like that. She had no desire at all to learn to do anything for herself. I attempted to teach her how to do basic (box noodle mix) cooking in high school and she paid no attention at all. She went from mom taking care of her every need to a bf that took care of her every need. Needless to say, I am not friends with her anymore.


@baked bean
It's weird, isn't it? Like, you're really great friends and hanging out is so much fun and then BAM! You respect for them disappears when you see them eat one meal a day and it's a muffin. And it's not like they don't have money to eat properly and buy real ingredients for food - they just really can't be effed.

baked bean

@TARDIStime Yeah my respect for her disappeared when I tried to teach her how to boil water and she would not pay attention no matter how hard I tried.


@baked bean Re. "maybe I should ask how to do the laundry": I am a person who left home without really knowing how to clean, and the reason I didn't ask any questions was that I thought I already knew. Like, "I wasn't raised by wolves, I know how to sweep and run a vacuum and spray cleaner on things and then wipe it off" -- but it turns out I didn't know how often to do any of that stuff so that I'd be doing easy preventative cleaning rather than awful get-rid-of-this-filth cleaning, or which cleaning products were best for which surfaces/types of dirt, or anything like that. I think a lot of young people are in that position: you know sort of in general how to clean, but you aren't prepared to make cleaning-related decisions because someone always told you what to do before, and also because you think of cleaning as simple and not requiring a lot of thought.


@frigwiggin The first time my brother in law tried to make Kraft Mac N Cheese on his own, he dumped the pasta and the cheese powder in the water together and put it on high. He was 18. TRUE FACT.

Springtime for Voldemort

@frigwiggin My cooking class involved very little "and here's how to make toast, and pancakes, and a lasagna" (which so many didn't already know), and too much "and here's how to can your own jam". Because when you're 19 and broke, know what'll save you time and money? Canning your own jam. Also, we made Shepard's pie, but she didn't explain it as "when it was created a long time ago, you just threw leftovers in, because what you had for leftovers was different from what we have", but just "you just throw leftovers in!", so for years I was terrified that someone would make Shepard's pie with moo-shoo pork, Kraft Mac 'N Cheese, and some sheetcake, and then I'd have to eat it to be polite. It did teach us some good stuff, like which vegetables freeze and how to balance a checkbook, but even that stuff is either stuff you can look up real quick on the internet, or get around doing by being really on top of online banking.

The relationships class, by the same teacher as "knowing how to can your own jam is a major life skill", was horrible. HORRIBLE! Things we learned: how to plan a wedding with an opposite-sex classmate; the 4 C's of diamonds; how to get an arranged marriage, especially if you're the one Indian girl in the class; some Christians do 19th century courting, where the pair are never allowed to touch or be together without a chaperone, except maybe a couple days before the wedding when the chaperone will take them to the mall, fall several steps behind, and let them hold hands for about 10 minutes, and this is obviously an ok choice for anyone and we shouldn't judge; it's not child abuse if there aren't really bad bruises or broken bones. Things we did not learn: how to tell if you're in an abusive relationship outside of that bullet-point list with "isolates you" and "doesn't respect your opinions" (so helpful!); how to not break an egg child; sometimes, homosexuality exists; poly exists and that's an ok life choice and we shouldn't judge; atheists love, too; how to tell if you and your partner are compatible in an everyday grind, long-term kinda way; staying with someone you don't want to be with because you're afraid of hurting them isn't respectful.

So, in theory, I'm all for life-skills classes, but they really need to suck less than mine did.


@baked bean
oof. That's a shocker. Pretty sure your respect dropped away because from that info, I'm guessing there was no respect for you or your help, either.
Congrats on being courageous enough to become ex-friends! You're worthy of more, obviously. :-)


@Elsajeni I agree - I learned how to do laundry and deep clean a bathroom because my mother got sick of the amount of laundry and filth my sister and I generated as (pre)teens. I *thought* I knew how to cook, too, since we would make ourselves pasta with Prego sauce or Kraft dinner or whatever, but it never actually occurred to me that that wasn't the same thing as cooking an actual nutritious meal until way, way into my 20s. And to be honest, real cooking always looked like such drudgery to me I never bothered to ask how it was done. (I still hate it and am not good at it at all). The stuff I did want to learn was always so vague - old family recipes that had never been written down, so it was always, "a pinch of this, a few of those, and handful of that, and then just cook it until it is done" - and without knowing the basics, that is completely baffling.


A bit late, but I did want to throw out there that grating the cheese(s) adds to the meltiness factor, so you don't have to slow-cook or resort to processed slices. Sharp cheddar (taste) and mozzarella (texture) is the best, with chopped up tomatoes/bacon in between. Happy cheesing!


@frigwiggin George Foreman grilled cheese, I'm telling you. The best!

fondue with cheddar

@Bebe English muffin pizzas are awesome when you make them right! My mom taught me to make them when I was a kid, only we used seasoned tomato sauce and sprinkled oregano and cayenne on top.

In my school, home ec was really only for cooking and sewing. The financial skills were covered in "consumer math", which was really only taken by the kids who were bad at math, but in hindsight it probably would have been good for everyone.

@yourfaceislikethepaleautumnmoonareyadeaf That lady was awful. I'm glad your mom isn't friends with her anymore. And besides, everybody knows bacon is best in the microwave.

@Inkling I like to use American cheese (gross, I know) for the meltiness factor and asiago for flavor.


@Ten Thousand Buckets My father has this crazy new fangled way of making grilled cheese: he microwaves the cheese sandwich first, to get the cheese a melting! Finish as usual, buttered in a pan. Revolutionary! Oh, that dad!


@baked bean To be honest, that ice cube tray ignorance sounds like me at that point in time, and I probably did seem pretty clueless to my better-educated friends. But it was definitely not because I didn't want to learn, but because my mother was a bit of a personality-disordered juicebox and would not LET me do anything in the kitchen for fear I would get some life skills and be less controllable--or else supplant her and therefore potentially be better than she was at the rudimentary home ec things she knew. If I ever tried to learn anything kitchen-related, tantrums (not mine) and punishment would ensue. (Also, since I knew nothing, she could therefore feel justified in yelling at me for knowing nothing--makes sense, right?) I did my best to learn though, the minute I escaped my parents' house and hit college. But yeah, there is no excuse for not knowing AND not caring/expecting everyone else to pick up after you instead.


@frigwiggin I had a roommate in *graduate school* try to cook rice in my rice cooker by just putting everything in the cooker bit (minus the bowl). WTF?

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@frigwiggin Someone - I think here on the Pin - advised using mayo on your grilled cheese bread instead of butter (so the bread goes mayo-side-down on the pan/griddle...or if you're me, the mayo goes on both sides of the bread). I swear it took my grilled cheese sandwiches to a whole new level of delicious.

Carrie W.

My cousin sat me down two days before college started and taught me how to balance my brand new checking account. I still do it every month paper and pencil style and it is the best! But why didn't I learn that in high school??? I took home ec in middle school and it was lame. But I'm now a pretty good cook/baker, self taught by watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS. I sew a lot of dresses for my two girls. But a word on that: it's not necessarily cheaper and it is swear-inducing. My mom lives nearby and can help with zippers and mistakes. If you're a beginner, find a sewing class or group with a nice lady who can get you out of (literal) jams, else you will melt into a puddle of hot tears.


I can't be the only one waiting for Third Wave Housewive to comment?


@Althea she has a new name, involving peddling porn...


I'd be interested to see how this post might be different if it were a history of black domestic goddesses - quite different for them in the 17/1800s (and for the 1950s for that matter), but I bet they still cooked. Not a slam on the article - I thought it was interesting.

baked bean

@Megoon There would be a lot of doing other people's housework and then your own housework, be it during slavery or later during the days of having "help."

H.E. Ladypants

@Megoon I would be totally interested in that, too!

I would be super interested in the internal perceptions of black women's domestic roles within the black community- particularly given that black families have certain matriarchal perceptions at times?

The Attic Wife

@Megoon Good point. Oftentimes, when discussing the lives of women we tend to focus on those who were white and middle/upper-middle class, whereas the poor and especially poor minorities would often work a full day (we're talking 12-16 hours pre-labor laws, possibly more if you were enslaved) and you'd STILL have to go home and keep your family relatively clean and fed. Not exactly the image of the angel of the house.

The book 'Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South' by Stephanie M H Camp discusses some of this, to an extent. It gets into the idea of a woman's role as a slave on a plantation and why women were less likely to become fugitives than men - that is, run away without plans of returning - and the author theorizes that it has a lot to do with the way families and communities were structured. It's an academic book, but it's very readable.


@Megoon I was just about to comment that this post is more specifically "History of White Women in America." Nice, so so pretty to see all the white ladies! But it ignores a whole lot of people who did domestic work.

H.E. Ladypants

@thebestjasmine Hell, not even just white ladies, a certain strata of white ladies at that. I come from a long line of ranch/farm wives and I highly doubt that any of them were ever referred to as "angels of the house." And I am quite certain no one ever, EVER suggested that they did not work. And they didn't know just how to process food and cook, make clothes and clean, they also knew how to build and mend fence, birth animals and shoot. As my grandmother used to say, "In Wyoming the women work like men and the men work like mules."

It's interesting to me, though, that we're still talking about the ideals of this swath of urban, middle class white women as if they were the whole. Just look at Anne-Marie Slaughter and the whole "women having having it all" argument.


@The Attic Wife Thanks for the rec!

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

My domestick isn't little, but it could use a few affairs.


@Bus Driver Stu Benedict
Trying to thumbs up this but it's not working!

Roaring Girl

Béchamel sauce totally cures carnal desires if you eat enough of it. I've never once finished a meal heavy on the white sauce and still felt like screwing. SCIENCE!


Thank you Emily, this is wonderful.


I spent forever making myself feel guilty that my hobbies include baking and embroidering, fearing I was a DIY Crunchy Housewife in the making/A Bad Feminist... and then I realized that I just like that shit. I mean, come on, if I've got time, and the ability to make cookies... why the fuck not, who doesn't like cookies? Brownies? Mousse if I'm feeling fancy and I have the ingredients? Fruit is made 10x better with fresh made whipped cream. Learn how to cook and bake! Mostly cook, actually; I stopped baking for a while because I gained weight.

My school doesn't have a Life Skills class, and we really should. I've taken notes from comment sections on places like The Hairpin, and even tumblr, about how to ask for raises and write resumes. Still need to find something on How to Do Your Taxes and Balance a Checkbook. What is balancing, and why do you do it...O.o

baked bean

@Shayna Liking those things fits in fine with feminism. Gender equality would mean that there would be no shame for a dude to be interested in those things too. That there's worth in traditionally women-only hobbies.

I'm a graphic designer, so I do computer designing all day, but when I'm at home I do things like cook, crochet, embroider, sew, whatever. And when I get tired I learn things on the internet, like how to do more things.

What pisses me off is the people that scoff at people like me that have hobbies like we have no life because we have the "free time" to do those things. I think hobbies are good for people. I wish everyone would pick up at least one thing.

oh! valencia

@baked bean @Shayna I'm the same - I have chickens and garden and knit and bake and other hippie shit... I love it and I don't want to feel apologetic about it! I don't do it because i have to - but because I love to - and I acknowledge my privilege in being able to pursue some of these things as creative outlets.


@baked bean The decline of hobbies is sad. Hobbies being replaced by Bravo: sadder.

sceps yarx

@Megoon I am sooo angry that my cable company keeps trying to bundle a billion tv channels in with my internet access. I would pay more to NOT have more channels. I was raised on PBS, and gosh darn it, that's good enough for me.


Interesting reading. But you skipped from 1960 to 2000, leaving out an entire mini-generation. I'm talking The Hippy Housewife. Homemade yogurt, Deaf Smith Peanut Butter and local honey on home-baked challah bread. Bean sprouts with soy-mustard sauce over brown rice and string beans. Indian print maxi-skirts worn with bikini tops and combat boots, feather earrings and frizzy hair. Breast-feeding, much to the chagrin of their mothers. Driving the ur-minivan, the VW bus. Macrame plant holders hung in the window along with proto-new-age stained-glass medallions with dolphins. Op-art upholstery and shag carpets and children named Cinnamon and Barley. Husbands who want to grow pot in the back yard but instead go to work as teachers and social workers, in corduroy sports jackets with suede patches on the elbows.


P.S. And as the Hippy Housewives entered their 30s they went on to join consciousness-raising groups and the whole women's-lib brouhaha. And in the 80s they went to work, and they discovered a whole new set of nightmarish problems involving the glass ceiling; the conflicting demands of marriage, children, and work; and divorce. And they paved the way for their daughters and grand-daughters -- the software engineers, judges, DJs, PhDs, MDs, infantry soldiers, architects, long-haul truckers, attorneys, police officers, poets, hipsters, academicians, fashion designers, accountants, priests, and the rest of the things that women do today that used to be considered way beyond their capabilities.

Ten Thousand Buckets

@Binnebrook I've been wondering - is it humanly possible to macrame anything other than a plant holder?


@Binnebrook Beautiful!

oh! valencia

@Binnebrook She's got to save something for her book!


@Binnebrook Well I did see macrame BALLOON holders on some blog recently, so... that's useful...


@Ten Thousand Buckets Trust me, you can also have macrame throw pillow covers. They look really pretty when you're eating homemade yogurt at your La Leche League meeting in 1983 (love you, mom!).


@Binnebrook Beautiful!....New Ipad

Valley Girl

Love this! I spent last night reading "The Woman's Manual" from 1916 thanks to Jolie posting it on her tumblr...The section on periods (I assume?) was very entertaining:

sceps yarx

@Valley Girl I actually kind of agree with this. There are two or three days a month where laying on the sofa all day seems imperative to my survival.

sceps yarx

@sceps yarx I've often thought that period taboos in traditional culture are actually a female sponsored conspiracy to avoid work during cramps. Heck, sometimes it's the only vacation you can get!


@sceps yarx The tribal Menstrual Hut as getaway and gossip center.


why are all of these women white?


I noticed the author listed this as a source...but to anyone who enjoyed this, I really cannot recommend ENOUGH Gail Collins' wonderful book "America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines."

sceps yarx

@D.@twitter I just checked it out from the library onto my Kindle right this second! Woo hoo!


this post is ridiculous to me. no mention of the original "domestic goddess" : the house SLAVE? Not funny, quirky, cute enough to cover. better this selective and (wonderfully illustrative) version of American "domestic goddesses." emphasis on the MYTH.


@ashwhat Chiming in to say of course Jefferson thought the women shouldn't be there, as his favorite woman was the slave whom he fathered several children with. Also that he kept slaves for 50 Years, time in which he would have had plenty of time to think the whole concept over. At least he freed those children. Not a fan of TJeffs.


I did enjoy the article, but were all house servants even female? I'm thinking of the Chinese servants glimpsed in TV shows such as "Bonanza" and later, "Kung Fu."


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