October 29, 2022 | Last updated Jun 2, 2023

Timeline Tuesday: Fuel and Water — The Housewife’s Needs

Four women stand in a kitchen setting, date and place unknown

Four women stand in a kitchen setting, date and place unknown. RG2343.18


By the late 1800s, new household conveniences were available to lighten some of a homemaker’s manual tasks. Examples are the sewing machine, first patented in the 1850s, and the carpet sweeper, which came into vogue during the 1880s. However, chores that involved the use of water and fuel-usually wood-were particularly demanding. Living standards and the general level of health for late nineteenth and early twentieth century Nebraska farm wives depended heavily upon the availability of wood and water for household needs. “A water supply and fuel are two things which enter prominently into the domestic economy of every home,” said the Western Rancher and Brand Recorder (Ainsworth) on February 1, 1905, “for water and fire every house-wife must have, whether she presides over a shanty or a mansion. In lieu of providing these two essentials in domestic economy some very heavy and unless [useless] burdens are often placed upon wives and mothers, who have enough to do even when these essentials are made as convenient as possible. “We know of well-to-do farmers who have gone to a great deal of expense and trouble to pipe the water from their well to their barns, so that a water supply may be handy for their use by just turning a faucet, who indifferently permit their wives to get the supply of water for the home as best they may from a well located ten rods from the house, men who will have their barns guttered and leave their wives to depend upon an old board and a rain water barrel for a supply of soft water. “There are a few things which every farmer’s wife has a right to demand. They are a hardwood floor for the kitchen or at least a lineolum [linoleum] cover for it, a good cistern, accessible by a pump in the kitchen sink; a supply of hard, or well water, under pressure where there is a windmill on the premises, and a convenient and ample supply of fuel, conveniently located. This making a woman lug water and split wood or hunt for fuel is a relic of barbarism. A young lady with a farmer on the string as a prospective husband will do well to have these things settled right before the parson gets in his work.” By the 1920s many Nebraskans enjoyed new household conveniences, including hot and cold running water, gas stoves, automatic washing machines, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners. In 1927 Mrs. Will Minear, president of the Nebraska Federation of Women’s Clubs, noted that “electricity, gas and the telephone have made great Progress in our state because of the interest of the menfolk.” In an article reprinted from the Omaha Bee by the Rushville Recorder on February 11, 1927, she still urged that “energy-saving and health conserving home conveniences” that directly benefited women, be given an equally high priority.

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