Country Traditions

September 16, 2010

17th Century Household Duties

Compared to present-day families, the seventeenth century household served a wider range of functions and had more porous and flexible boundaries. It served a variety of productive, educational, religious, and welfare roles that have subsequently been shed to other institutions. It was, first and foremost, a unit of economic production, whose size and composition varied according to the household’s labor needs (Mintz & Kellogg, 1988). Inside the household, the division of domestic roles was far less specialized or rigid than it would later become. This was especially true for women. The historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has aptly described seventeenth-century mothering as extensive rather than intensive. Households were busy and often crowded places where childrearing responsibilities had to be balanced with other demands on a woman’s time. Mothers were not only responsible for feeding, clothing, supervising, and instructing their own children, but also supervising, disciplining, and training apprentices and servants and assisting in their husband’s economic affairs. An industrious housewife was supposed to be a skilled spinner, sewer, knitter, food processor, brewer, and cook; a productive gardener; a household manufacturer; and a resourceful trader

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/mothersfathers.cfm

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