Just the word chores brings back memories of the good old days on the farm: milking the cows, feeding the chickens or cleaning out the barn. Although I never lived on a farm but in mining and railroad communities, there were still daily chores to do at my grandparent’s homes. The most important work was chopping kindling and wood for the fires needed year round for cooking, heating, and warming water for bathing or washing clothes.
Each family member was important and needed to help with the chores everyday. Dad and/or the boys generally did the hard work like chopping wood or carrying kindling or coal in, and ashes out from the home. The girls’ work was domestic––helping Mom: cooking, washing, babysitting, ironing, canning, sewing and mending. My grandmother was a widow and had to work outside the home, that necessitated her oldest daughter Esther taking over as the babysitter. Ethel, the youngest child in the family, grew up calling her sister mom.
The older boys gave their substitute mother a hard time with their constant fighting. That’s probably why Esther was the first to leave home before finishing high school. She escaped to Salt Lake City with two of her girl friends from Silver City. She shared a small apartment and found employment in the local laundry for about $3/week. It was drudgery work, but she was on her own and being paid to work. Esther sent some of her money home to assist her mother. This enabled her mom and sisters to have their first nylons and perms, and her brothers to have a radio to listen to ball games.
During the summers, Esther’s sisters would come to the city and spend their vacation riding the streetcars, buying penny candy, and going to Liberty Park or Saltair. When Esther married and started her own family, she still worked outside the home to supplement her husband’s income. Her household chores were never done. Cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing plus raising the children still had to be accomplished in the time available after her day job.
Women today have smaller families, but more of them work outside the home. Gone are the days of chopping wood and milking cows for most families, but there still are chores to be done daily. Hopefully, each family member helps out with the work and contributes whether mom works outside the home or not.