Before I wrote my novella for Be My Texas Valentine (several years ago), I had to do some research on how laundry was done in the late 1800’s, so I went to my bookcase literally filled with reference books not only on the craft of writing, but books about everything anyone would ever want to know about the 1800’s. I’d totally forgotten about a CD I’d purchased with a number of works on it, including a piece written in 1832 and simply titled The American Frugal Housewife by a woman only identified as Mrs. Child.

After reading a while, I decided in today’s economy it might be fun to visit some of Mrs. Child’s philosophy and guidelines from yesteryear.

The author’s premise is simple: “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost … Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to make any use of it, however trifling that use may be … every member of the family should be employed either in earning or saving money.”

Here are some of her tips.  Please note that I left much of the spelling, punctuation and length as it was originally written to truly reflect her authentic voice and the era.

•           In this country, we are apt to let children romp away their existence, till they get to be thirteen or fourteen. This is not well. It is not well for the purses and patience of parents; and it has a still worse effect on the morals and habits of the children. Begin early is the great maxim for everything in education. A child of six years old can be made useful; and should be taught to consider every day lost in which some little thing has not been done to assist others.  They can knit garters, suspenders, and stockings; they can make patchwork and braid straw; they can make mats for the table, and mats for the floor; they can weed the garden, and pick cranberries from the meadow, to be carried to market.

•           Provided brothers and sisters go together, and are not allowed to go with bad children, it is a great deal better for the boys and girls on a farm to be picking blackberries at six cents a quart, than to be wearing out their clothes in useless play. They enjoy themselves just as well; and they are earning something to buy clothes, at the same time they are tearing them.

•           ‘Time is money.’ For this reason, cheap as stockings are, it is good economy to knit them. Cotton and woolen yarn are both cheap; hose that are knit wear twice as long as woven ones; and they can be done at odd minutes of time, which would not be otherwise employed. Where there are children, or aged people, it is sufficient to recommend knitting. Run the heels of stockings faithfully; and mend thin places, as well as holes. ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’

 •           Patchwork is good economy, but it is indeed a foolish waste of time to tear good cloth into bits for the sake of arranging it anew in fantastic figures; but a large family may be kept out of idleness, and a few shillings saved, by thus using scraps of gowns, curtains, &c.

•           In the country, where grain is raised, it is a good plan to teach children to prepare and braid straw for their own bonnets and their brothers’ hats.

•           Where turkeys and geese are kept, handsome feather fans may as well be made by the younger members of a family, as to be bought. The sooner children are taught to turn their faculties to some account, the better for them and for their parents.


  • Look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.  Look frequently to the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot.
  • See that the beef and pork are always under brine; and that the brine is sweet and clean.
  • Preserve the backs of old letters to write upon. If you have children who are learning to write, buy coarse white paper by the quantity, and keep it locked up, ready to be made into writing books. It does not cost half as much as it does to buy them at the stationer’s.
  • The oftener carpets are shaken, the longer they wear; the dirt that collects under them, grinds out the threads. Do not have carpets swept any oftener than is absolutely necessary. After dinner, sweep the crumbs into a dusting-pan with your hearth-brush; and if you have been sewing, pick up the shreds by hand. A carpet can be kept very neat in this way; and a broom wears it very much.  When a carpet is faded, I have been told that it may be restored, in a great measure, (provided there be no grease in it,) by being dipped into strong salt and water. I never tried this; but I know that silk pocket handkerchiefs, and deep blue factory cotton will not fade, if dipped in salt and water while new Keep a coarse broom for the cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard, &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things.
  • Suet and lard keep better in tin than in earthen. Suet keeps good all the year round, if chopped and packed down in a stone jar, covered with molasses. Pick suet free from veins and skin, melt it in water before a moderate fire, let it cool till it forms into a hard cake, then wipe it dry, and put it in clean paper in linen bags.
  •  An ox’s gall will set any color,—silk, cotton, or woolen. I have seen the colors of calico, which faded at one washing, fixed by it. Where one lives near a slaughterhouse, it is worth while to buy cheap, fading goods, and set them in this way. The gall can be bought for a few cents. Get out all the liquid, and cork it up in a large phial. One large spoonful of this in a gallon of warm water is sufficient. This is likewise excellent for taking out spots from bombazine, bombazet, &c. After being washed in this, they look about as well as when new. It must be thoroughly stirred into the water, and not put upon the cloth. It is used without soap. After being washed in this, cloth which you want to clean should be washed in warm suds, without using soap.
  • The covering of oil-flasks, sewed together with strong thread, and lined and bound neatly, makes useful tablemats.
  • Never leave out your clothes-line over night; and see that your clothes-pins are all gathered into a basket.
  • After old coats, pantaloons, &c. have been cut up for boys, and are no longer capable of being converted into garments, cut them into strips, and employ the leisure moments of children, or domestics, in sewing and braiding them for door-mats.
  • An ounce of quicksilver, beat up with the white of two eggs, and put on with a feather, is the cleanest and surest bed-bug poison. What is left should be thrown away: it is dangerous to have it about the house. If the vermin are in your walls, fill up the cracks with verdigris-green paint. Eggs will keep almost any length of time in lime-water properly prepared. One pint of coarse salt, and one pint of unslacked lime, to a pailful of water. If there be too much lime, it will eat the shells from the eggs; and if there be a single egg cracked, it will spoil the whole. They should be covered with lime-water, and kept in a cold place. The yolk becomes slightly red; but I have seen eggs, thus kept, perfectly sweet and fresh at the end of three years. The cheapest time to lay down eggs, is early in spring, and the middle and last of September. It is bad economy to buy eggs by the dozen, as you want them.
  • If feather-beds smell badly, or become heavy, from want of proper preservation of the feathers, or from old age, empty them, and wash the feathers thoroughly in a tub of suds; spread them in your garret to dry, and they will be as light and as good as new.
  • Feathers should be very thoroughly dried before they are used. For this reason they should not be packed away in bags, when they are first plucked. They should be laid lightly in a basket, or something of that kind, and stirred up often. The garret is the best place to dry them; because they will there be kept free from dirt and moisture; and will be in no danger of being blown away. It is well to put the parcels, which you may have from time to time, into the oven, after you have removed your bread, and let them stand a day.

I don’t know about you, but I became exhausted by just reading about the do’s and don’t’s of a frugal frontier housewife.  Many of her tips are still used today. To follow up on Tracy’s blog on Monday, based on the chores I selected from by-gone years and those of today what chore do you find the least pleasant and which one might be fun?

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Out of the Texas Night

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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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  1. My mother in-law when she was living used to tell stories of how her aunt would save all the threads from the floor and wrap them back on the spool to keep. She also talked about that were not allowed to sit on the feather beds during the day so they would last longer. My mother in-law said they were not allowed to sew on Sunday’s. Her grandmother would say “Every stitch you make on Sunday you will root out with your nose in hell.” Another saying was “If a job be big or small, do it well or not at all.” That last one wouldn’t work in this day and time most kids would say “Okay, I won’t do it at all.” I’m glad I didn’t live in those times!

    • Hi Kay, what great memories! I particularly love the story about sewing on Sunday. But, I really enjoyed the reason behind it. I hope you’re keeping a journal or writing down your stories in some fashion because it’ll mean so much to the rest of your family. Thanks for stopping by and leaving an excellent comment. I truly love it. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  2. Hello Phyliss- my least favorite chore is dusting and ironing, my favorite ( if there is one) is cleaning the bathroom and kitchen. I guess because those are two areas of the home that have to be very clean and areas we use daily.

    • Hi Tonya, glad you stopped by and read my blog. Yep, I’m with you totally on the dusting. I have a lot of knickknacks and books and my housekeeper (when I had one) wouldn’t even touch the areas where they are! I don’t have them anymore … I wonder why???? I meant I don’t have the housekeepers, but I still have my “stuff” and dust around them! I typically keep our bathrooms clean but have trouble getting on my knees since I had a knee replacement not long ago, but I use a couple of long handled cleaning brushes and it works. Again, thanks for leaving a message. Big hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  3. Oh, my! Of those above braiding sounds like the most fun – not so sure any of the others do lol. I come from a family that was fairly frugal – you always get the last drop of food out of the jars or bowls and I have more scrap paper than I know what to do with lol.

    • Hi, Miss Catslady. Good to hear from you. My Aunt Martha took waxed paper and foil she used to cook with and washed it, flatted the paper and put it in a drawer. Like so many people her age, she grew up being frugal and although at the time they could have bought a warehouse full of paper, she stayed frugal. I can’t stand anything left in a jar either. I have a dozen different size plastic scrapers to get “every bit” of what’s in a jar. I even scrap the butter off the wrappers. Thanks for a great comment that brought back a ton of memories. Big hugs from me to you, Phyliss

    • Hi Kim, so glad you stopped by and got some good information. Whether you are doing research for a book and can use the information or this is just a blog that makes you happy with the “modern” ways of doing things, I’m pleased to hear from you. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

    • Hi Colleen, happy you stopped by. I know this was a long blog and a lot of people don’t have the time to read all of it, but the information was just too good not to use. Hope it made you smile. It did me. Hugs from me to you, Phyliss

  4. This reminds me of my mom’s post-war generation that suffered shortages during WWII and so ever afterwards everything was saved–just in case, you know? By the way, my mom went to high school in East Texas, but she may have been closer to Amarillo when the family lived in Oklahoma City.

    As for settlers’ chores, I’d pick the rug-making, quilting, clothes mending and the like any time, staying as far away from kitchen duties as I could, especially as described in your post–although I wouldn’t mind the outdoor stuff like berry picking and gardening.

    • Hi Eliza, I love quilting and used to make all of my two girls’ clothes, so I’m totally with you. We are on the High Plains or the Texas Panhandle, so we’re 4 hours via I-40 from OKC. Where in East Texas did you mother go to school? I have two grandkids in college in North and Northeast Texas. Thanks for dropping by. Hugs, Phyliss

      • My mom made my clothes too, and I have made several quilts using clothing my son wore growing up to help remember those times. My mom went to high school in Gladewater. Ever heard of it? Thank you for answering.

  5. Oh wow, how did they keep up with all of that. I can’t believe they washed the feathers in the beds, sounds like a whole lot of work. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • Hi Quilt Lady. I guess when you don’t have any TV, radio or any electronic devices, plus went to oil lamps at dark they made good usage of their daylight. I had to retire an older comforter recently when I discovered that after washing it twice close together than the quills of the feathers we coming through the cloth. Made me sad, but I got a much more comfortable one. Thanks for stopping by and hope you have a great evening. Hugs, Phyliss

  6. I laughed at the “buy paper and lock it up!” Wow, it was tiresome reading all that and thinking of doing all that! I hate dusting. I don’t know why – maybe because there is no real good dust collector. It shows up everywhere.

    • Hi Susan, I totally agree on the dusting, plus in this part of the country with the wind your tables and items to be dusted might only stay clean for 20 minutes after you’ve dusted. This is the truth. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great week. Hugs, Phyliss

  7. I think I would least like to have to deal with washing and dealing with the feathers of a feather bed. I have done the feathers from a pillow and it is a mess. For one thing, I don’t like the smell of wet feathers. For another, I do not have a garret to put them in to dry. I put mine in a large box to dry, turning them frequently. When they were dry, they ended up all over the place. I can’t imagine a mattress full of them.

    I am not sure what I would enjoy doing the most. Though not on the list, I would pick making bread. Kneading bread dough is rather therapeutic and relaxing.

    It was a bit sad and stressing that they felt that children should not be allowed to waste their time playing. “A child of six years old can be made useful” is rather a cold way to look at your children. I realize life was hard and there was much work to do, but that is such a mercenary attitude. There is such a lack of joy in all she lists. It sounds like she didn’t enjoy life or her family much.

    I have a couple of books dating from the early to mid-1800’s. They deal with child care, house keeping, social graces, etc . Fascinating reading. The largest one was printed about 1865. A thin one deals with behavior expected of young adults, social behavior, selecting a life partner, how to sleep, relations between spouses, etc. With some of their strictures and advice, it is a wonder any of their students ever had children. The pictures of the men and women on the committee that wrote the book are a bit frightening.

    thanks for another interesting post.

  8. That does wear me out reading it. I like being a housewife, but if I had to do all of that work, I would rather work some place else.

  9. Phyliss – Thanks for the blog, housewife’s had it rough back then. Wonder if that bed bug info would work today? Nasty, little things. Saving buttons & threads would come in handy even today. Being a housewife today is a do over job, you do the same jobs over and over until you die.

  10. Back when I was a young mother I did all that. Our church group called it “provident living.” Hmmm…..I wonder why I didn’t have time to write much back then…..

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

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