Home Sweet Home: Around the House in the 1800s (Daily Life in America in the 1800s)
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In rough frontier cabins, tidy farmhouses, and elegant townhouses, Americans in the 1800s were dedicated to living as well and as comfortably as their circumstances allowed. The American home was a sacred institution, the seat of family life where the patriarch ruled with Mother at his side as guardian of the home, and the children were raised with strict discipline and strong values.
Changes in taste and fashion, improvements in technology (indoor plumbing and a host of new labor-saving devices), and social change transformed home and family life in the 1800s, as opportunities for leisure activities and commercially produced consumer goods came within reach of the average American.
But the strong American tradition of the sanctity of the home, consumerism, and the importance of a happy family life has its roots in the homes of nineteenth-century Americans.
Americans were in transition in the 1800s. They were moving from one way of life to another, and as they changed, so did their houses and their ideas of home. For one thing, the purpose of a house changed a lot between the years 1800 and 1900. In 1800, most houses were the center of production as well as family life. The purpose of a farmhouse or even a townhouse was to produce goods that sustained life. Farmhouses produced crops and other food products such as cheese and bread. In townhouses,
house than in it. Men and women alike took to the cities looking for a job, a way to make more money and improve their way of life. The financial or economic use of the house no longer existed. The house was now a place where goods and services were consumed, not created. At the beginning of the 1800s, the home was the place where the production of food and clothing took place. This re-creation of a nineteenth-century home in the Appalachian Mountains shows a woman spinning yarn. By the end of
with her more famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) she imagined a house more convenient for women. In the book, which is filled with drawings and floor plans for her ideal home, she envisioned how the many chores and hard work that an ordinary house required could be made easier. As it turned out, many of Beecher’s imaginings would become realities in the houses of the late 1800s and early 1900s. For example, her ideal kitchen had shelves built into walls for
houses. The Victorian house was designed to be a center of culture and refinement. Work was to be kept out of sight. Whenever possible, servants did the cooking, cleaning, and washing away from the family and their guests. A scullery maid hard at work, out of sight of the family who lived in the home. The Scullery The scullery was the Victorian solution to keeping housework out of sight. Usually built near the back of the house, behind the kitchen, the scullery was where laundry and other
materials were less likely to provide hiding places for insects. Mattresses were made of feathers, if possible. Although feather bedding was expensive, a good night’s sleep was highly valued, and many Americans considered the bed a symbol of a family’s future happiness. A typical children’s bedroom in the 1800s. In general, the bedroom was a dreary room. It was considered the most private place in a house. No one but family members entered, and so it was rarely decorated or well-lit. Usually, a