With the aid of technology, household tasks take less time, leaving the modern-day homemaker with time to be busy outside the home if she doesn’t go out to work.
When she gets up in the morning to make a cup of tea she plugs in the kettle and puts a tea bag in a cup.
To make a cup of tea the 1800s homemaker would send one child to get some wood, another to collect water in a bucket and bring it to the kettle, another to light the fire and keep it stoked and another child may have been sent to get some milk from the cow. Then she would make a cup of tea.
Volunteers at Howick Historical Village devote their time to recreating the lives of the Fencible families who arrived in the area in the mid 1800s.
Education team leader Sue Popping says mothers today are probably just as busy because they are involved with their children’s activities and they do more of the household jobs themselves.
“In those days the mother had the help of the family. Everyone was involved. Today, children don’t do as many household jobs because, with technology, they don’t need to.
“We don’t know how lucky we are. We have an activity which involves unpacking the trunk brought from England showing people the household appliances they brought with them.”
Among them would be a goffering iron, a device used to enhance the symmetry of frills in clothing.
“The modern homemaker would scream,” Sue says.
“I had to put some washing in a copper on one of our days so I came in as usual at 10am and lit the fire for the copper. By 1pm the water had still not boiled but it didn’t cross my mind that it would need longer,” Sue says.
In comparison with today’s wash and wear fabrics, dresses were made of wool, cotton, silk and linen so were only washed once or twice a year, while there were no dry cleaners to handle men’s suits.
They couldn’t buy household cleaning products off the shelf. Instead, they mixed concoctions of vinegar and baking soda. In England at the time it was common to collect chamber lye (urine collected from chamber pots) sometimes called lant, used as a stain removal product. If they wanted to eat a chicken, they would have to kill it, pluck it and draw (eviscerate) it.
What would they say about the 21st century homemaker?
“They would probably say that we are a lot of lazy lumps,” Sue says. “We’d feel redundant. But what we think is important was not to them. They were house proud and spent the day doing household jobs because they had to.
“We do other things and we spend more time on ourselves, such as having a shower, putting on make-up and making ourselves look nice.
“The one thing they would be in awe of today would be the fridge. It must have been a nightmare keeping food cold.”
The volunteers know full well what it feels like to work physically hard dressed in layered long dresses.
“They were working in clothes not suitable for housework. But these clothes are comfy and warm in the winter,” Sue says. “We get used to what we wear and when we get home we often don’t change out of them in the winter.
“Modern women would say `I can’t go up a ladder in those clothes’. But it is possible. A woman climbed a glacier in full Victorian dress. A big difference is what we have to work in when the modern mum wears sweat pants and a T-shirt.”
In comparison with the new-age men and house husbands of today, boys of the 1800s would not be seen dead doing ironing or washing, Sue says. “But then you wouldn’t find the new age metro male digging toilet slops into the vegetable garden. They don’t want to do anything yucky.”
Sue says she would have liked the gallantry shown by men in the old times, even though women did not have equality.
“A man was judged on the way he treated anything in his care, his possessions, including his wife. The good husbands cared how their wife was treated because it reflected on them. So they did chivalrous things like opening doors or sitting down after their wife was seated.
“Today’s young men say ‘why? You want to be equal’. I can see why the modern kids go first.Here at the village we make the girls go first and the boys say ‘why? They are equal to me’.”
Equality may have something to do with the worrying trend of increasing numbers of young women binge drinking in public. But as the village volunteers point out, some 1800s women were often arrested for drunken behaviour and outbursts of profanity on the streets.
Which begs the question, whether things change all that much.
• The village is on the corner of Bells Road and Lady Marie Drive, Lloyd Elsmore Park, Pakuranga.