Also, the lady of the household carded wool or kneaded bread in other women’s kitchens. Other household activities would include washing and ironing of clothes, sewing shirts, pants, gowns and other garments for their husbands and children. In households with young, growing children, women would have an endless task of mending, altering and knitting clothes. As England was a naval empire at the time, many colonials were seafearers. During their long absenses from home, itis the lady of the house who would take charge of the shop owned by their husbands. In the case of Hannah Grafton, she managed a retain store offering “door locks, nails, hammers, gimlets, and other hardware as well as English cloth, pins, needles and thread”. But it is important to remember that “the lives of early American housewives were distinguished less by the tasks they performed than by forms of social organization which linked economic responsibilities to family responsibilities and which tied each woman’s household to the larger world of her village or town.” (Ulrich, p.53)
How did those economic activities vary between rural and urban women, and middleclass and poor women?
By comparing the lifestyles and household inventories of women such as Beatrice Plummer, Hannah Grafton and Magdalen Wear, we can come to understand the economic contributions made by women from different socio-economic backgrounds. While Plummer lived inthe frontier, Grafton lived in a farm; Wear though lived in an urban environment. In Colonial America, while the society was segregated into the propertied and unpropertied classes and disparities of wealth existed between the two divisions, the role of women was quite similar across the board. Beatrice Plummer’s marriage to land-owning farmer Francis Plummer (whose estate was worth 343 pounds) did not relieve her of everyday household duties. Similarly, Hannah Grafton, despite having married a mariner Joshua Grafton (whose estate was worth pounds 236) and who had connections with the ruling elite of New England, lived and raised a famly in a modest house. Magdalen Wear was the poorer of the three whose husband’s estate hardly added up to 90 pounds in value. The fact that Wear lived in a single-story cottage with an additional loft for extra space shows the level of relative poverty suffered by her. These three ladies might represent housewives from different economic classes. But a close inspection of their household responsibilities shows how their household duties and responsibilites were largely common and how much they contribute economically.