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A Book Review: The Illustrated History of the Housewife

The role of the housewife has played a very strong and relevant part in social history. Although it has been generally ignored, housewifery has had to withstand and evolve through historical events and technological changes. Over the last 150 years or more, advertising has been a big influence on how a housewife runs her household and feeds her family. Even wars have affected the woman’s role in the home and the decisions, sometimes difficult, that she has had to make.

But the one influence that has made the most dramatic difference in our homes is surprisingly, and probably one that we don’t consider, fuel. How fuel has developed over the years has changed the way we cook, clean, light our homes, keep our families warm, store food, amongst many others. In the last 300 years or so, we’ve gone from burning wood, peat, even animal dung to coal, oil, gas and electricity. Each one of these has developed and evolved how a home looks and used.

The Illustrated History of the Housewife
The Illustrated History of the Housewife

Rather than talk about how the housewife did her many chores, in The Illustrated History of the Housewife, Una A Robertson discusses the transition of the role over a 300 year period. By taking this different viewpoint, Una gives a fresh look at the housewife’s role. Taking her subject from 1650-1950, she uses many reference sources to show how people of all classes lived and coped with the many changes. She also discusses in more detail the different technological advances and how they affected the household. Altogether an excellent reference work.