This book is a fascinating re-creation of the lives of women in the time of great social change that followed the end of the French and Indian War in western Pennsylvania. Many decades passed before a desolate and violent frontier was transformed into a stable region of farms and towns. Keeping House: Women’s Lives in Western Pennsylvania, 1790-1850 tells how the daughters, wives, and mothers who crossed the Allegheny Mountains responded and adapted to unaccustomed physical and psychological hardships as they established lives for themselves and their families in their new homes.
Intrigued by late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century manuscript cookbooks in the collection of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Virginia Bartlett wanted to find out more about women living in the region during that period. Quoting from journals, letters, cookbooks, travelers’ accounts – approving and critical – memoirs, documents, and newspapers, she offers us voices of women and men commenting seriously and humorously on what was going on around them.
The text is well-illustrated with contemporaneous art– engravings, apaintings, drawings, and cartoons. Of special interest are color and black-and-white photographs of furnishings, housewares, clothing, and portraits from the collections of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.
This is not a sentimental account. Bartlett makes clear how little say women had about their lives and how little protection they could expect from the law, especially on matters relating to property. Their world was one of marked contrasts: life in a log cabin with bare necessities and elegant dinners in the homes of Pittsburgh’s military and entrepreneurial elite; rural women in homespun and affluent Pittsburgh ladies in imported fashions. When the book begins, families are living in fear of Indian attacks; as it ends, the word “shawling” has come into use as the polite term for pregnancy, referring to women’s attempt to hide their condition with cleverly draped shawls. The menacing frontier has given way to American-style gentility.
An introduction by Jack D. Warren, University of Virginia, sets the scene with a discussion of the early peopling of the region and places the book within the context of women’s studies.
Bartlett has written a lively and engaging study of everyday life in Western Pennsylvania from 1790 to 1850. Do not be misled by the title; Bartlett casts a wide net in discussing all facets of domestic life in the region and their impact on both genders.
Chronicles the lives of the daughters, wives and mothers who crossed the Allegheny Mountains, how they responded and adapted to unfamiliar physical and psychological hardships as they set down roots for themselves and their families in Western Pennsylvania. Drawing from journals, letters, cookbooks and other documents, the account is neither glamorous nor sentimental.
This volume offers manyintriguing details that will interest the general reader. It vividly portrays a resourceful and determined group of women—how they performed the myriad of duties assigned to early-nineteenth-century wives and mothers—and includes some of their favorite recipes with updated versions for the late-twentieth cook. While it does not suggest any new historical insights, it provides interesting and relevant data about the experiences of ordinary post-Revolutionary women outside the New England area, and thus extends the range of our existing knowledge about women's lives in the early years of the American nation.
A very entertaining and thought provoking book which richly documents women and their involement in all aspects of life in early America in an area which was then considered the frontier. . . . The book has a lively, captivating style, and covers diverse but interrelated topics such as how the women and their families traveled. . . goods they used, bought and made . . . religious and intellectual life; romantic love; marriage . . . entertainment, fun and games; and more. . . . The lives of women in western Pennsylvania make interesting reading for people no matter where they hail from.
Virginia K. Bartlett is the author of Pickles and Pretzels: Pennsylvania’s World of Food, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 1980. She lives in Hingham, Massachusetts.learn more