Monday, May 16, 2016

Never-ending dish washing

Thomas Kinnicut Beecher (1824-1900), the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, cookbook author Catharine Beecher, and Henry Ward Beecher, was "astounded at the number of thoughts and steps and acts and processes involved in a very plain supper...from fifty to two hundred separate things."  He was also shocked by the number of items to wash when making each dish - biscuits 6, steak 8, strawberries 6, and to cook four eggs 6 items.  His lesson: every 'he' should have a 'she'. Then to Mr. Henpeck (photo below)...

Beecher was a pastor in Elmira, NY for 45 years.  Fifteen years into their marriage he suddenly realized that a wife "will dishwash her life away for him" and wrote the following article about taking over his wife's duties while she was gone. “She” was Francis Juliana “Julia” Jones (1826-1905), the granddaughter of Noah Webster of dictionary fame.

Her husband found out that wives had to wash the same dish 365 times a year.  After his few days as cook and dishwasher he could write: No wonder she breaks it [the dish] and is glad of it! What a relief to say, "I've done that dish!"

F.W.S., undoubtedly a woman, commented upon Beecher's experiences and suggested that he should consider a permanent "re-distribution of the household labors...for the good of his family."  I've italicized her comments which precede and conclude his original writing.  Comments which may still be made, albeit, more couples now share the work than in 1872 or 1972.  In this 1902 stereo-card "Mr. Henpeck" (really??) washes the dishes...

Oneida Circular.  Oneida Community, NY: 1872 -

The Rev. T. K. Beecher, after remarking (in a communication published months ago) that every "he" should have a "she," and that from his household "she" had gone on a visit, thus expatiates on his experience during her absence:

The quiet fidelity with which "she" will dishwash her life away for "him" is a marvel of endurance and grace. Just here is the servitude of woman heaviest—no sooner is her work done than it requires to be done again. Man works by jobs, ends them and takes his pay. This pay can be transferred into something else desirable. …

Not so with our mates. "She" mends our socks, and we put our irrepressible toe upon the darned spot and she darns it again. "She" washes, and the family makes haste to send back the same garment to be washed again. "She" puts the room in order, and we get it ready to be "rid" up again. The same socks, the same washing, the same room every time. "She" has no successive jobs, no terms, no pay-day, no tally-stick of life. "She" washes the same dish three hundred and sixty-five times every year. No wonder she breaks it and is glad of it! What a relief to say, "I've done that dish!"
Not only have we washed dishes, but also we cooked and served and helped eat a meal (with bated appetite because of cooking), and now we are astounded at the number of thoughts and steps and acts and processes involved in a very plain supper. And we had it, and with it came wisdom.

Gentlemen all! We go into a room and see a table ready set. It seems to us one thing—a supper. It is in fact from fifty to two hundred separate things, taken down one by one for us to use, and for "her" to wash and put back whence they came.

There is a plate of biscuit. To that plate of simplicity we with our own hands and feet brought together a new, quick fire for baking, viz: kindling wood, raking out stove, and hod [sic] of coal, flour from the bin, shortening from the gravydip down cellar, salt from one box, sugar from another, soda from the can, and acid (muriatic) from a bottle, a spoon, a pitcher of water, a dripping-pan, and a tin pan for mixing these ingredients,—and after all, happening to forget the whole thing for ten minutes we burned the biscuit half through in a way which we reckon quite unpardonable in a cook.

Meanwhile that one plate of biscuit, added to the eternal wash-dish, two spoons, two pans, one plate and a little cup. Just a little piece of steak contributed eight pieces to the dish-wash. A few strawberries sent in six pieces to be got ready to soil again. Four eggs impressed themselves on six separate articles.
Gentlemen, we began at ten minutes of six. and a quarter to eight we found ourselves triumphant, everything cleared away except the dish-cloth. You see we washed up the bread-pan, the dish pan and the sink, scalded them all, (and our fingers, too,) and dried them off with the dish-cloth. Now where on earth can we go to wash out that dishrag? Not in the clean pan? Not over the clean, dry sink!
We stood aghast for five minutes, and then wadded up the rag round like a ball, and tucked it into the far corner of the sink, and shut down the cover. Our sink has a cover. But the rag though hidden, was heavy on our conscience. "She" never would have done so. We have seen dish cloths, but how they washed them passes our skill.

And so we said "she" is away, leaving us to thought and good resolutions. We shall be a wiser and a better man for at least two days after her return. And whenever we stop to think, shall rank a successful housekeeper and house maid as a worker second to none on a scale of achievement and deserving. Her services are like the air, the rain and the sunshine, indispensable, yet too often enjoyed without thanksgiving.

Mr. Beecher's account of his experience is very entertaining, and his estimate of the amount of domestic drudgery imposed on woman in ordinary married life is evidently true. The one unfortunate feature of his humorous account is that the conversion wrought in him by his experience extended only to making him more thankful that he had a "she" to wait on him ordinarily, and to fixing him in the profound belief that every "he" should have a "she" for that purpose. There is no poetry in the idea of a woman spending the most of her waking hours in washing dishes and mending stockings, and Mr. Beecher might very gracefully have considered whether a re-distribution of the household labors might not have been for the good of his family as a whole. F. W. S.

Oneida Circular.  Oneida Community, NY: 1872
Thomas K. Beecher: Teacher of the Park Church at Elmira, New York, 1854-1900.  NY: 1900 (photograph)
Image of 3 ladies - 'Wash dishes with Sapolio' (trade card) Boston Public Library
Henpecked husband - from Library of Congress
©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
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