Good Housekeeping's Book on The Business of Housekeeping


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I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Good Housekeeping's Book On The Business of Housekeeping, A Manual of Method  by Mildred Maddocks Bentley, published in 1924.

There's all kinds of advice in the book.  If ever you wondered why so much work in the long ago days this book pretty much covers it.  Divided into five sections, the fifth is on laundry and is the longest and the most detailed. 

Every aspect of doing the washing is covered from making soap solutions and the equipment required to detailed instructions of exactly how full a load of laundry should be. While there were many labor saving devices back then such as an automatic washer and a wringer as well as ironers that could do many pieces of ironing in a day's time, it was fully expected laundry would take two full days work. The first day was solely compromised of washing, mending, treating stains, starching and drying. The second day was relegated to ironing. The more fortunate woman had a maid who attended to the laundry.  Otherwise the whole of the household work was shoved into a mere four days a week while laundry took up the first two.



I will discuss this in a little further detail later in the post because there are some interesting things presented in it and I think they might be well worth exploring.

While I won't list each individual chapter I do want to share some highlights from the book.  I mentioned the point about piercing tin cans so they wouldn't hold water and allow the breeding of mosquitoes.

The chapter on budgeting was not unusual but I was surprised to discover that it was highly recommended one use the envelope system.  This was preferred over the bank.  In fact, the author states that if you were to use the bank, then you should plan to allow the bank usage of your money for at least two weeks before you drew it out to pay bills.  It was considered to be a common courtesy to do so, if the bank was to have the trouble of watching over it.

My favorite bit of advice from this chapter was this:  "The important thing is not who handles the money, but how the money is handled."  The recommendation of the author was that the person in the household with the best skills would be the one who took care of the income.

In the section about the management of the pantry, I follow this advice, which I'm fairly sure I picked up from this book in my first reading:  "Treat the store room as your grocery store, and keep the kitchen cabinet stocked with current supplies.  Even the most intelligent of us is affected by an abundance to use a bit more generously than  is necessary."

The chapters on servants is hardly necessary for most homes today but did prove interesting reading as far as the listing of housekeeping routines mentioned.  This is then addressed more fully in the chapters immediately following.  It was in this section that it was mentioned pillow cases should be changed at least twice a week and the bedroom dusted every day.  I don't know that I'll dust mine every day but I'll certainly make a point of doing it once a week, which was my intention anyway.  I can well imagine that a fresh pillowcase mid-way through the week would be rather nice, especially in summer when we tend to be warmer.

I thought I'd mention the discovery I made in reading how to make a bed.  We've several of us mentioned how short many antique patchwork quilts are.  Apparently this was common of even wool blankets.  It was recommended that a bed be made up with two blankets.  One was fitted to the bed from head of the bed and tucked in along sides of the bottom half.  A second blanket was laid atop this, which went from about mid-bed and was tucked under at the foot and then along the sides  to the same point as the first blanket. I can only imagine that truly it was a very 'snug' bed!  The purpose of the double blanket method was not increased warmth but the assurance that blankets stayed in place all night long.  It was meant to prevent thrashing and kicking while asleep.  I'd imagine it was a lot like being swaddled!

In the chapter about dishwashing, I now see why there were previously so many ads in vintage magazines for 'dishpan hands'.  It was recommended that you use water that was "far too hot for the hand to bear."   Dishes were scraped, rinsed and then washed.  There was a natural order to washing dishes as well, one which I imagine most folks my age are more than familiar with, since dishwashers in a house during our growing up years was exception rather than the rule.  Silverware went in first, then glasses, cups, bread and dessert plates, dinner plates, any silver serving pieces, mixing bowls and cups, any stoneware baking dishes and last the pots and pans.  I must say that in our family it was always glasses and then silverware but the order of washing aside from that was (and is) the same.

Despite the advances in refrigeration care is pretty much the same now as then: wiping clean with a barely damp cloth that was wet in a bowl of water and baking soda.  I did garner a  little wisdom here.  It's that the cloth should be wrung very nearly dry to prevent the building of humidity in the refrigerator which will cause it to work harder to cool back down.  Scalding water should only be used if there has been food spilled that spoiled. 

There are chapters on the proper care and cleaning of metals (oiling stoves and washing machines and boilers), as well as cleaning various floorings.  The chapter on polishing furniture was a good one.  It gave the formula for making an 'oil soap' to wash furniture that has begun to look dull:
Into a gallon of warm water shave one half cake or 3 1/2 oz. of castile soap, then add one ounce of any bland oil such as corn, olive, cottonseed, etc.  When soap has completely dissolved pour into jars and label.  This soap is suitable for polished wood, wicker, enamel painted furnishings.  This solution is wiped on and wiped dry then the furniture should be polished very lightly afterwards.

Cleaning closets and preventing moths was a detailed chapter.  I don't guess we have too many moths these days due mostly to the fact that we seldom have wool clothing, at least not so much in the South.  The recommendation is for cedar lining paper in the closet.

There is a full chapter devoted to the cellar.  I found this one item most amusing.  In speaking of various sections of the cellar, the tool room is mentioned.  "In most cellars, there is a tool room sacred to the masculine members.  I would leave this untidy," states the author.   How many of us are too well aware that there are just areas where the feminine tidying up is most unwelcome?

Spring renovations and seasonal cleaning are detailed chapters though short.  The sheer volume of work recommended is daunting, let me tell you.  Yet it's nothing compared to the work that went into closing a house for a season or for long travel.

A few highlights from the chapters (yes chapters!) on laundry:
"While nothing can take the place of sun and air as routine practice in drying, nevertheless one of the automatic dryers is a distinct advantage for emergencies." 

One of you mentioned looking for an iron and finding that some were quite heavy.  The weight of an iron is explained in this section of the book.  A six pound iron is recommended for general usage with a smaller four pound iron to use as an auxiliary for more lightweight fabrics.

The amount of equipment stated as necessary for a proper laundry is amazing to me.  I have a washer, dryer and iron and board.  That seems excessive to me, since I seldom iron a thing other than something I'm sewing. 

There is a whole chapter devoted to laundry soaps, softeners, bluings, tints, starches, etc. and how to mix them in order to achieve proper results.  The chapter on soaps was particularly interesting to me.  I am curious to find out exactly how soaps interact with soft water.  That is what we have hear and it measures as 'very soft' on an alkaline strip.  It makes me wonder if the build-up of soap in our clothing when I used homemade laundry solution was due to the many softeners used in the solution.  Did you know that borax and washing soda are both softeners?  I didn't until reading this particular chapter.  The most highly recommended water softener is rain water. 

Borax may be used in powdered form safely but washing soda should be thoroughly dissolved in hot water before adding to the washer.  

Did you know that it is not recommended you use boiling or very hot water to wash any cloth?  That soap might need to be increased depending upon the type of fabrics, and how soiled,, doubled and possibly even tripled in order to work properly?  It's recommended that clothing be rinsed two or three times in clear cold water.  I'm happy to note that my machine only offers cold water rinsing.
It's also recommended that clothing goes in after soap has been dissolved in the tub and agitated for a minute or two.  Only then would clothing be added to the machine.

These last chapters of the book, which comprises roughly one third of the total pages of the entire book, are the ones in which I'm most interested.   I've flagged them so that I can go back and really absorb the information.  I've mentioned my desire to get whiter whites and I have a feeling if I study this section more closely I'll be nearer the desired results.

All in all, if you stumble upon a copy of this book, whether at the library or an old book sale, by all means consider it worth reading! 

8 comments:

Little Penpen said...

This sounds like a very good read! I enjoy old homemaking books.

Anonymous said...

I love to read these old books. I'm going to the library in the next couple of days so I will certainly look for it. Thanks.

I was happy to read that about dissolving the soap in hot water before adding clothes. I always do that. I have this odd hanger I use as a stirring stick! I also always use hot water to soak undies since they drip dry. I read an article about bacteria, EColi, etc. and it said that it took hot water about 20 minutes to kill them. Or a hot dryer. Since my *new* undies are almost 4 yrs. old and still in pretty good shape, I'll assume I'm doing okay lol. Not using the dryer makes a big difference in how well the elastic does.

Debby in KS
P.S. Did the blogging world change how you can sign your name at the end? I can no longer post on If You do Stuff....there's no "anonymous" anymore. :( I noticed several blogs have changed.

Lana said...

When I was a child pillowcases were always ironed before they went on the pillows. They were so wonderfully crisp and fresh.

Anonymous said...

The newer washing machines wil not let you put in detergent then add clothes. You put the clothe in and the detergent in the opening for it and shut the door. No way to use Oxi clean cause you can't put it in first either. New is not always good. :-)
I have a very good old 1920s novel that is all about a women in her first year of marriage and her housekeeping and friends..but I forget the name and cant find it just now!! Sorry. When I do I will let you know. I reread it every year. I love it. I think someone said it is now on line for free. I think I remember the name and will go to Amazon and see if they list it to make sure... I like the Grace Livingston Hill ones too. I have the one. Haven't read the other. Thanks for the title!! I may be back! Sarah

Anonymous said...

Ok, I's Sarah...I found the book. I have originally got a copy of the book [the yellow covered one} that was redone in 2012. The time of the period was 1917 not the 1020s which I stated before. Then I bought the original book and it had a bit more stories than the yellow covered one had. The title caught my husband's notice at a church rummage sale. The title is: A Thousand ways to Please a Husband with Bettina's Best Recipes. You can find all about it on Amazon and I saw one of the sites had a Kindle edition. It might be found on line too. It contains 1001 recipes or some such number. There are other Bettina's recipe books. I bought two other original ones hoping they too had more of the stories but they just had recipes. :( If anyone knows of any of the other Bettina's books with stories or other good homemaking books please let us all know! You will Love this book though. She talks of using a fireless cooker. I found one mentioned in an old magazine. Like a hay box where you get the food hot and then put it in a lined box to finish cooking. Some had hot tiles that went round the food. It was her crock pot of those years. Look this books up and let us know what you think. :) Sarah

Carolyn @ Our Gilded Abode said...

I really enjoy your housekeeping posts - a subject near and dear to my heart! It's so interesting to find that as much as things have changed thru the years, some things remain the same - many related to housekeeping. I will certainly try to find a copy of the book you mention as well. A few books that I've found helpful are "America's Housekeeping Book" (compiled by the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute) from 1941. A couple of others, though not vintage, are "Home Comforts - The Art and Science of Keeping House" by Cheryl Mendelson, and of course, Martha Stewart's "Homekeeping Handbook." Such great resources. Thank you again for all the practical tips and info you share - I always look forward to them!

Terri Cheney said...

Lana, Dee still does this when she makes her bed each week. I think it sounds like a lovely thing to do if you have 100% cotton slips. So few are these days but I have a couple of sets that are. My trouble is that dusting is a coveted activity compared to ironing for me, lol.

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Terri, This book sounds fantastic. [i am going to our library and see if I can find it]. Thank you for sharing so many details in it.]
I love to read the old ones.. The ladies were so smart and used not only their money but their time wisely.

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