Life As a Homemaker in the 1910s [Homemaking History]

Life as a homemaker in the 1910s was far from easy. At home, women needed to be resourceful, frugal, kind, and very driven to keep their households in working order and a cozy atmosphere for family and for hospitality. Join me as we discover how the women of the World War I era managed their homes.

Family reunion in the 1910s demonstrating family life and life as a homemaker in the 1910s
Oberlin Family Reunion circa 1910’s, from my family heirlooms

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A Look at Life As a Homemaker in the 1910s

Many homemakers in the 1910s had to be resourceful with whatever they had at hand. They often made their own clothes, home decor, and food from scratch. They also grew gardens and preserved their harvest for later use.

Homemaking in the United States during this era was often filled with long days and hard work.

Women would rise early in the morning to start on their daily chores, such as washing dishes, sweeping floors (Without vacuum cleaners, mind you. Can you even imagine what they would have thought of robot vacuums! Sorry I digress), preparing meals, and tending to their family’s needs. They also took care of the children, which included teaching them basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. 

In addition to these duties, these women also had to manage the financial aspects of the household. Including budgeting, keeping track of expenses, and maintaining their records.

Despite these difficult challenges, homemakers in the 1910s found ways to make their lives easier. Support groups were formed to help each other, often with shared recipes for food preservation and tips for gardening.

In addition to their various duties, women of this era also found ways to make their homes more comfortable and enjoyable.

Many homemakers took pride in creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for their families and visitors. This could include decorations, furniture arrangements, or simply choosing cozy fabrics for upholstery.

In times of crisis, such as World War I, homemakers showed extraordinary resilience and courage.

During the 1910s the roles of women were changing to a certain degree. Many women had to take on additional responsibilities, such as working outside the home. Often this included helping out with local war efforts or doing factory work. Despite this, many managed to keep their households running smoothly while providing emotional support for their families during difficult times.

Overall, home life in the 1910s was far from easy.

Even though there were challenges and hardships, women found ways to create an enjoyable and comfortable home.

Homemakers showed great resourcefulness in managing their households and making sure their families had all that they needed. Courage and resilience is something that we can still draw inspiration from today.

1915 woman in kitchen tasting her cooking
Library of Congress, circa 1917

Household Duties: The Busy Routine of a Homemaker in the 1910s

The 1910’s were a challenging period for women in American history. The primary responsibility of homemakers in the 1910s was to ensure that the household was clean, meals were prepared, and clothes were washed and ironed.

Rise and Shine – The Start of the Day

The homemaker was typically the first person in the house to wake up in the morning. They would start the day by building a fire in the kitchen stove, heating water for washing and cooking, preparing breakfast, and setting the table.

Once the family was done eating, the dishes had to be washed and put away, the table set for lunch, and any leftover breakfast food stored properly.


Maintaining a clean house in this era was a very time-consuming task. The homemaker was responsible for sweeping, dusting, and washing every room in the house. This meant washing windows, dusting furniture, scrubbing floors, and washing walls.

The homemaker would also need to regularly wash bedding, curtains, and any other linens in the house.

Everything was done by hand. Laundry was done outside in a wash tub with a bar of soap, water that you carried by the bucketful and an old fashioned wash board.

The options when choosing a dryer were simple, a clothesline and clothes pins with which to hang your clean laundry was the only thing available at this time.

Ironing was performed with a metal “sad iron”, which had to be heated by placing it on a hot stove. Most women had multiple irons, so they could always have one or two waiting for when their current iron went cold.

Family Recollections:

After breakfast was when they would wash their dishes. Laundry was washed on Mondays. Ironing was done on Tuesdays. Wednesday was for sewing and mending. Thursdays they did their baking. Friday was their shopping day. Saturday was for finishing up any odds and ends. Sunday was for resting and visiting with family and friends.


Providing the family with three square meals was one of the most crucial tasks for the homemaker in the 1910s.

The woman of the home would prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day with ingredients she had on hand. This included preparing hot meals from scratch without the help of modern appliances. They had to chop vegetables, bake bread, and knead the dough by hand.

Family Care

Homemakers were responsible for the welfare of the entire family. They had to ensure that the children were clean, healthy, and well-fed.

More than just child rearing, they had to attend to the needs of the older family members in the household, take care of the sick, and sometimes even deliver babies.

Beyond the immediate family, it was also common for homemakers to take care of extended family members who were in need.

WWI propaganda poster to conserve food
Library of Congress, circa 1917

Budgeting in the Early 1900s: Managing Household Expenses on a Tight Budget

The early 1900s marked a time of transition in household management. Due to the demands of the war effort, some women began to step out of the home and into the workforce.

Budgeting during this period required careful planning, resourcefulness, and creativity to make ends meet. Here are some tips and tricks for budgeting in the early 1900s!

Track Your Expenses

As mundane as it may seem, tracking your expenses is key to budgeting. In the early 1900s, a budget would have been written on a piece of paper and recorded in a household ledger.

Every penny spent would have been recorded, from groceries to clothing to transportation. This allowed families to see where their money was going and make adjustments accordingly.

Keeping a ledger was common before and even beyond the 1910s. I have found a few of my grandfather’s ledgers from his expenses during his time in the military and while keeping a farm.

Cook from Scratch

In the early 1900s, meals were prepared from scratch. This was not only a healthier option, but it was also incredibly cost-effective.

Food was bought in bulk and often preserved by canning or drying.

Families used leftovers in creative ways, making stews and casseroles that could be stretched over several meals. Nothing was wasted!

Use Coupons and Sales

Coupons were not as widely used in the early 1900s as they are today, but sales were still a common practice.

Families would often stock up on items during sales and make do with what they had until the next sale. This required patience and strategic planning, but it was a great way to stretch the budget.

Family Recollections:

Children participated in chores too. It was expected. When my dad was about 12 or 13 (approximately 1914 – 1915) he had the job of watching the large kettle of heated sorghum used to make molasses. He would have to watch it as it came up to temperature and make sure it didn’t boil over.

Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning supplies were not readily available in the early 1900s, so families often made their own.

White vinegar and baking soda were common ingredients used to clean everything from floors to windows.

Families would also reuse rags and make their own homemade lye soap to save money. Cleaners were simple and many had multiple uses. A housewife would not necessarily have had a different soap for washing clothes than for washing dishes.

Grow Your Own Produce

Growing your own produce was a common practice in the early 1900s.

Families would plant vegetable gardens and fruit trees to supplement their diets. This not only saved money but it also ensured that the food was fresh and free from harmful chemicals.

Anything that could be grown and harvested, including livestock, was a huge help to the grocery budget.

Woman, child, and man working in the garden
Library of Congress, circa 1915

Daily Meals: Cooking and Serving Meals in the 1910s Without Modern Appliances

Cooking and serving meals in the 1910s was significantly different from how it is now.

There were no modern appliances like microwaves, electric stovetops, or dishwashers.

Meal preparation often involved a lot of physical labor and time-consuming methods to achieve the desired outcome.

Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time

Planning meals ahead of time gives you time to prepare the ingredients and cook meals in a timely manner.

It also helps you avoid wasting food and saves money.

Most women during this time had to plan several meals at once to save time and effort.

Prepare Ingredients by Hand

Without modern appliances, food preparation was strictly manual labor.

Food had to be chopped, sliced, and grated by hand using knives, graters, and other manual tools. Preparing food could take hours, especially for larger families.

Cooking Methods Used in the 1910s

The most common methods for cooking meals were boiling and baking.

Stove tops were fueled by coal, wood or gas.

Boiling was the simplest and the most-used cooking technique for many meals. For instance, vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and beans were boiled, and soups and stews were prepared in large pots over an open flame.

Baking was done in ovens fueled by coal or wood, and it was used for cooking dishes such as cakes, bread, and meats.

Serving Food with Limited Resources

Serving food in the 1910s was quite different from modern times.

Many households used heavy dishes, mostly made from cast iron or heavy pottery.

Serving food was done with the help of large serving spoons and forks, and people used their hands a lot.

Occasionally, meals were served buffet-style, with guests helping themselves to food on long tables covered with tablecloths.

Cleaning Up After a Meal

After the meal, all utensils and dishes had to be washed by hand.

Rubbing the dishes with baking soda was a common technique for removing stubborn grime. Towels or dishrags were used to dry the dishes after washing.

1914 table setting
Library of Congress, circa 1914

The Role of a Homemaker in 1910s Society: Expectations and Challenges

The role of a homemaker in the 1910s was vastly different from what it is today. Running a home was an extremely challenging and time-consuming job that required a great deal of skill and patience.

Expectations of a Homemaker

In the 1910s, the role of a homemaker was strictly defined. Women were in charge of cleaning the house, cooking the meals, washing laundry, and taking care of the children.

These tasks were seen as women’s responsibilities. Husbands were the breadwinners, and the success of the family was often measured by how well the wife kept the home. Societal expectations were vastly different from modern day.

Challenges of a Homemaker

Homemaking in the 1910s was an extremely challenging job. Women often had a large families to care for and maintain.

Cooking involved using a wood or coal stove, which was time-consuming and required a great deal of hard work.

Food had to be made from scratch, and there were no electric or gas stoves or even microwaves to cook meals quickly. Much of a woman’s day was spent doing these routine tasks, leaving little time for anything else.

In addition to the physical demands of the job, homemakers faced a great deal of isolation. Women often spent the majority of time in the home and possibly did not have much access to the outside world, unless they lived right in town.

There were few opportunities for socializing, especially in a small town, other than visits from neighbors or church activities. This lack of social support often led to feelings of loneliness among homemakers, especially in rural areas.

Old Dutch Cleanser ad from 1914
Library of Congress, circa 1914

The Differences Between Homemaking in the 1910s and Today: A Comparison

Homemaking has undergone significant changes over the last century. This is due, in part, to advancements in technology, social norms, and gender roles.

The homemaking practices of the past might seem drastically different from what we do today.

Home Appliances

In the 1910s, homemaking was labor-intensive work.

Hand-washing laundry was a weekly household chore, and ironing the clothes took hours.

Cooking was also a long process, with homemakers using wood, coal stoves, and ovens.

Today, modern homemakers have access to high-tech appliances like washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and microwaves, making homemaking less labor-intensive.

Kitchen and Food

Food preservation techniques have come a long way since the 1910s when homemakers utilized canning and pickling techniques to save food.

Now, refrigeration, pasteurization, and freezing make food preservation much simpler. Homemakers also have access to a wide range of food cuisines and cooking methods, from grilling to baking to sous vide cooking.

Cleaning Products

In the 1910s, homemakers cleaned homes using simple cleaning supplies like vinegar, baking soda, and lye soap.

Today, a wide range of cleaning supplies are available, from all-purpose cleaners to disinfectants to cleaning wipes.

Modern homemakers have access to cleaning supplies that may be quicker and more efficient, than what was used in the past.

1919 WWI food preservation ad
Library of Congress, circa 1919

Final Thoughts on Homemaking in the 1910’s

Life for a traditional homemaker in the 1910s was so much more than just household chores. In addition to their daily duties, being a homemaker required a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication.

Families had to be resourceful, creative, and diligent in order to make the most of their limited resources.

While times have changed, the principles of that era remain the same. Tracking expenses, cooking from scratch, using coupons and sales, making your own cleaning supplies, and growing your own produce are all effective ways to efficiently run a household, no matter the era.

Although cooking and serving meals in the 1910s required a lot of effort, it had its advantages. Meal preparation was often a community effort, with multiple family members doing their part.

Women were considered to be the backbone of the family, and this was evident in the way they skillfully cooked and served their meals without any modern conveniences.

Modern kitchen appliances have made meal preparation much easier, but it’s important to appreciate the hard work and dedication of our ancestors in the kitchen.

While the role of homemakers has evolved, it is still a vital part of everyday life. The advancements in technology and cultural transformations have made homemaking more efficient, and more productive.

Overall, being a homemaker in the 1910s was a demanding job. Despite these challenges, many women found joy and satisfaction in their roles as homemakers, and their contributions to the family were crucial in shaping society at the time.

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