When Housekeeping Became A Science


It was after Miss Beecher’s day that central heating by furnace and boiler became standard, that stoves and fireplaces, with their daily clutter of ashes, kindling, fuel, and paper squills, disappeared forever. She never foresaw that the backyard woodpile would give way to basement coalbin, buried gas pipe, hidden oil tank, nor imagined that electric lighting would someday eliminate the sooty lamp chimney or faulty gas mantle. The continuous refrigeration of perishables (in the home, the grocery, the dairy, or the abattoir) took better than two centuries for Americans to accomplish. A thorough-going technological revolution had to occur before milkman, butcher boy, and iceman appeared at the back door. But only then could the labor of milking and churning, butchering and lard-rendering, soap and candle making, disappear forever.

The food industry had by then also been busy removing the processing of fruits and vegetables from the kitchen. Another constellation of domestic facilities dropped out of sight: root cellar, icehouse, vegetable garden, and grape arbor. Municipal garbage collection- was instituted, and trash pile and garbage pile disappeared. Finally the trolley car and interurban, and then the automobile, replaced the horse and buggy: and gone along with Dobbin were his boxstall, hay barn, pasture, and manure pile. Catharine Beecher had by this time long since gone to her reward. She did not live to see the modern suburb, row on row of the houses that her own plans prefigured, designed to be occupied by the new women she had fought to create. They, like Catharine Beecher, believe in combining comfort, culture, and convenience; and they share with her that characteristic American daydream of a happy ending which has everybody smiling, nobody hurt, and nobody a penny out of pocket. She dreamed it first.