Monday, July 3, 2017

"Keeping House"

Rising Homestead in West Hague, NY

Ann R: Age 39; Wife; Keeping House
Thus reads the 1880 census entry for my great-great-grandmother, Ann Rebecca.

Housekeeping was likely a practice of strict economy in rented housing during the years of Ann Rebecca's marriage to my g-g-grandfather, Henry Ross. Wed in 1854 the young couple are listed in the 1855 Bolton, New York census as part of his parents' household. Ann was age 16, Henry was 20 and listed as 'child' of the head of household, while Ann was designated as 'child-in-law.'

The 1860 census poses an interesting view of the extended Ross family--one that has led a few researchers to wildly inaccurate conclusions.
 On 6th July, 1860, the Ross home in Bolton, NY [previously described as a log house of 'no value'] was teeming.
In addition to parents Valorus and Fannie Ross, three young married couples were in residence, at least on the day of enumeration.
Henry and Ann with their 2 year old daughter, Emma; Sarah [Ross] and husband Thomas Baker with 3 month old son, Horton Baker; Harley Ross and wife Mary, both age 19.
The household also included Henry's younger brother and sister. 
All four of the married women were listed as 'house keeper' while the three younger married men gave their occupation as 'lumbering.'

Three weeks later on 31st July,  Henry and Ann were enumerated in Schroon, NY, a few miles away in an adjoining county.  Next door to them was the household of Thomas and Sarah Baker. 
I wonder: did the census taker for Bolton happen upon the Ross home with family gathered for the 4th of July holiday?  Perhaps Henry Ross and Thomas Baker were transferring at the time to the 'lumbering' job in Schroon and the parental home was a stop along the way? 

The birth month for Ann and Henry's older son, Amos, is traditionally given as July, 1860. 
This being correct, Ann would have been heavily pregnant or the birth very recent, although the infant Amos is not included in either listing.
I can imagine the crowded conditions, the untidiness, the early summer heat endured as the four women attempted their housekeeping; even though I assume a temporary situation, my heart yearns after them, coping as they were with men to feed, small children fussing, soiled laundry piling up.

Keeping house in Schroon at least eased the situation of over-crowding for Ann Rebecca, although a young single man is listed there as a 'boarder.'
Perhaps this move indicated the first time that Henry and Ann had 'set up housekeeping' away from his parents' residence.  Their housing may have been 'tied' to the lumbering job, company owned and poorly maintained.  Possibly Henry and Ann shared a house with the Bakers with Ann and her sister-in-law, Sarah keeping house as a team, a comfort to each other during the long days when their husbands were toiling through the heat and the swarms of 'black flies' that are a significant factor of summer in the Adirondacks.

When the census was enumerated on 14 June, 1870, Henry and Ann were living in a rented house in Ft. Edward, NY.  Henry was employed in a local sawmill; his 'personal estate' was valued at $150. Daughter Emma was 13, Amos 9, Eddie, 6.
A year later, in June, 1871, Henry, age 36, died leaving Ann Rebecca, age 32, a widow with three children. 
The following several years were difficult ones for Ann and her family.
Henry's parents, now in their 60's, had vacated the run-down log house in Bolton and were living in Ft. Edward, dependent on what Valorus earned working at a livery stable.
Thomas Baker, in pain from a badly healed hip wound during his service in the Civil War, worked in a sawmill, perhaps the same one where Henry was last employed. The Bakers shared a home with Sarah's younger sister Elvira and her husband Charles Southworth.

In 1875 Ann Rebecca, age 35 lived in the home of her mother and stepfather.  Emma, age 18, was employed as 'domestic servant' in the home of a jeweler.  Amos had found a position with the in-laws of Ann's younger sister.
I have not found [g-grandfather] Eddie age 12, in the 1875 census, though I assume that he was staying with extended family.

When a family provider died leaving a widow and children, the household was often 'broken up' as grandparents or other relatives might be unable to take on the support of the entire family. 
Ann is listed as 'domestic servant' in 1875.  The designation is ambiguous--was she merely helping in her mother's household or was she 'going out to work' for those who could afford household help.

Left rear: Amos Ross, Emma Ross, Henry Rising, Minnie Jane Rising.
Seated: Ann Rebecca Andrews Ross-Rising, Rufus Rising, Jr.
Missing from the family photo is Ann's younger son, Eddie.

 In 1877 life changed dramatically for Ann Rebecca when she became the second
 wife of Rufus Rising. The wedding took place at the home of Ann's mother and step-father.

Rufus in the preceding 18 months had lost a toddler daughter, with his wife Mary's death following within the year.
The Rising family were well established in Hague, NY, described as 'prosperous' with income from the home farm, timber lots, interest in a sawmill.
Rufus inherited the spacious and well-kept farmhouse that had belonged to his parents.
Ann Rebecca may have had few of her own possessions to carry with her to the comfortably furnished  house with its wide front porch and white-washed picket fence.

The 1880 census for Hague listed the blended household:  Rufus, 54; Ann 39; Henry and Minnie Rising, ages 18 and 15 respectively--children of Rufus's first marriage.  Edna, age 2, was the product of Ann and Rufus's union. Amos and Eddie Ross, ages 19 and 17 were in residence and working on the home farm.
I can image Ann Rebecca's quiet joy as she settled into keeping house in her 'forever' home, the sense of security as extreme frugality was replaced with the assurance of a deep pantry.   I picture her finding her place in a hamlet where her 2nd husband's family had been established for several generations. 
How long did it take to win the confidence and respect of her step-children?
Henry has been described by those who knew him well as a rather self-important being, his entrepreneurial efforts as an adult cushioned by his father's standing in financial matters.
Minnie Jane was 'delicate' and likely more affected by her mother's death and the loss of that tiny sister than her brother had been. Did she welcome her step-mother and the arrival of another sister the year after her father's marriage?
Minnie Jane was on the cusp of her teens when Ann became part of the family and it would have been her task to share with her step-daughter the arts of home making.

Family stories suggest that young Eddie Ross was not always a part of his step-father's household--that he may have worked for a time in his own father's trade of lumberman.
In April of 1883 a month past Minnie Jane Rising's 18th birthday she became the bride of Eddie Ross who had turned 20 earlier in the year. 
The wedding was a shared occasion with Amos Ross and his bride, Belle Woodcock.
Eddie and Minnie Jane continued in the household of her father and his mother.

Eddie and Minnie Jane [Rising] Ross with daughter Helen and infant son, Lawrence circa 1890.

Eddie and Minnie Jane's daughter Helen was born 10 September,1884, 18 months after their marriage.
No doubt Minnie Jane found comfort in the presence of her step-mother, Ann Rebecca as she learned the ways of motherhood; hopefully they were in accord as joint keepers of the home.
A son, Lawrence was born  6 May, 1889.
When Lawrence was 2 months shy of his second birthday Minnie Jane died giving birth to the baby girl who would be named for her. 

Minnie Jane's death on her 26th birthday, left Ann Rebecca, now in her early 50's, not only keeper of the home but with the responsibility of three young children in addition to her own daughter Edna, now a school girl of 11 years.
 Eliza Bartlett, a quiet neighbor girl of 18 came to help soon after Minnie Jane's death, easing the burden of housekeeping which had fallen on Ann Rebecca. Thirteen months later she and Eddie were married.
I have told her story here. Eliza's Story

Ann Rebecca spent the rest of her life as chatelaine of the comfortable white farmhouse, keeping house with her daughter-in-law, Eliza, who shared the responsibility of nurturing another generation in the craft of making a home. 

 Ann Rebecca with daughter in law, Eliza and grand daughters Minnie and Helen
Ann Rebecca died, age 72 on 8 June, 1911.

Her obituary stated: "A large attendance at the funeral of Mrs. Rufus Rising of West Hague, who was buried Friday.  The deceased was a very friendly woman, and her loss is deeply deplored as she was greatly respected and loved by all who knew her."

Our recent span of cooler days has inspired me to tackle several 'housekeeping' tasks in addition to the usual things that need doing to keep us reasonably tidy.
As I've worked I've pondered this designation of 'keeping house.'

For generations it has been assumed that a young woman [and many were very young!] brought to the marriage certain basic skills, learned from the women of her own family. 
She needed to know how to prepare meals, [tend a wood-fired cook stove, bake good bread, prepare wild game or home-butchered meat, deal with garden produce.]  Hopefully, even a bride in her mid teens could darn a sock, sew on buttons, churn butter, care for a flock of hens.  Most newly married couples spent at least the first years living in  the home of the young man's parents, and the young woman, sharing duties of the household with her mother-in-law, would expand her range of skills, until the day came when, in a home of her own, she might be known as one who had 'a light hand with pastry' or such a fine housekeeper that 'you could eat off her floors!'  A woman's standing in family and neighborhood was in large part dependent on her proficiency at keeping house.

An unmarried woman might teach school or take in sewing, she might work for a time as a 'domestic servant' for a family who could afford the luxury of hired help.  Once wed, her duty was to care for husband and children.
Membership in their local church gave many women an opportunity to shine--to hostess the Ladies' Aide Society meeting, to labor on the committee who organized the annual strawberry festival or harvest supper. 
The expectations and opportunities for women were slow to change.

My mother and Jim's were both born in 1919. Both were college educated. Both young women were still single when the census was enumerated in 1940.
My mother's occupation is listed as 'school teacher.'
Jim's mother is listed as 'trained nurse, working in hospital.'

Vermont birth certificates in the 1940's had a space to enter the occupation of both parents.
In spite of their professional standing while single, on our respective birth certificates from the mid 1940's our mothers are designated 'house wife.'

My mother continued to teach for two years after marriage.  In the mid 1950's with the younger of my two sisters about to enter first grade, mother prepared to resume teaching. At the time she was certified, the requirement for teaching grades 1-8 had been a two year course at the local 'normal school.'  Mother, along with several of her teacher contemporaries, attended summer or evening classes to update their qualifications.  During this time she began teaching music in several of the area one-room schools.  Her return to full time teaching was interrupted by bouts of ill health, but she continued for many years to teach music--her first love--both in the public school and as a private instructor of piano and organ.  She also served for many years as church pipe organist and choir director. 
Jim's mother had achieved her training as a practical nurse before the United States entrance into WWII prompted upheavals and changes to her plans. 
She was in her early 50's when she returned to her alma mater and embarked on the two year course which resulted in her degree as a Registered Nurse.  She worked for a time at New England Sanitarium, preferring the 3-11 shift. When semi-retirement took Jim parents south for the winter months, they returned each summer, and she worked again at a local hospital often serving as 'charge nurse' on her evening shift.

'Keeping house' as a life work has fallen out of favor in recent decades, but ironically even career woman with high paid jobs still own the major responsibility for keeping home and family in order.
The term 'home maker' gives a bit more grace as a title.

My thoughts have brought me to a concept of 'tending the home'--maintaining implies a sense of needed responsibility, but tending conveys a feeling of carefully creating a refuge, a place of familiar and beloved spaces, of good meals, inviting bedrooms, a welcoming place to enfold the family at the end of a day.
We can take a class in gourmet cookery, learn to make curtains and cushions, figure out how to shop wisely, stretch the budget. 
Keeping house well means acquiring skills, learning old ways and new;  there's no certification, no degree--other than that of satisfaction in realizing we are encouraging each other in the age old arts of caring for a family.


  1. I read your gardening posts with great interest. I am finally also trying to tame weeds and bring order to my plots. Everything here is not only behind you but also for us having had a cold spring. Our strawberries have just ripened; it will be many weeks before we see blueberries to eat. Meanwhile I also enjoyed reading your fine post on Keeping House. Though half a continent away, my grandmothers dealt with very similar issues and their well being so often dependent on the men they married. Being good housekeepers, baking bread, helping with the fish, growing their own vegetables,and spinning their own wool to knit into clothes for the family...As one grandmother said to me, they were hard times Jocelyn, but also good times.
    Thanks for this.

    1. Jocelyn; I have enjoyed reading about the experiences of your grandmothers, as well as how your gardening progresses. 'Half a continent away'---somewhere in the UK?
      I would love to read more about what you do in your own 'house keeping.'

    2. Hi I presently live in Ontario Canada but I am from the most eastern province of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador. My grandfather was a fisherman which was what the island was founded on. The tiny outports quite isolated where people had to get by on their own wits and hard work and of course good neighbours to help. I have many stories from both my grandmothers of their life during those times.

    3. Jocelyn; Jim and I hoped to visit Newfoundland on one of the several trips we made years ago to the Maritimes. We never made the right connections.
      I think men who have made their living off the land--or the sea--have always had a sense that many things were 'beyond their control'--prosperity depending on variables of seasons and weather no matter how hard one worked. In the same way, the women of the family made do in whatever circumstance they were placed by the employment of their husbands.
      I hope you have a way to save and share the stories of the grandmothers.

  2. What a n amazing record of your family you have. So many died so young. I was educated as a teacher, but at heart I've always been a homemaker, that's my first love, even when I complain about housework. I went into marriage not having a clue how to cook, it was on the job training right from the get go.

    1. Janet; My mother urged me toward a career in teaching and I followed the college prep course in high school. I couldn't see teaching school as a good fit for my personality, and the options of the day still centered around nursing, teaching or secretarial work. I took a year 'off' after high school hoping I could decide what to do, met Jim and married him a scant year later! I had to develop skills to help in his entrepreneurial ventures--no paycheck for me, just responsibilities!

  3. What a lovely piece of writing (as ever). I love the way you can take the bare bones of the fact and embroider them so skilfully. I know that my maternal grandmother was very skilful in garden, kitchen and made all their own clothes. I seem to have a bunch of her genes anyway (though the clothes making is but a weak one - I am more skilful with my needle than a sewing machine).

    I have always categorized myself as a home maker, though if I had had the opportunity to carry on with an MA following my degree, who knows what I might have ended up as. I am a teacher by nature - I enjoy imparting knowledge - and used to love teaching for the Pony Club.

    I too had to learn to cook from scratch, as despite mum's mum being brilliant in the kitchen, it skipped a generation in my mum!

    1. Jennie; The women of my maternal line loved to discuss family--past and present--and I was the sort of child who soaked in these details.
      So many people of other generations died 'before their time!' women in childbirth, children from a myriad of ailments which today could be quickly cured. Consumption--so prevalent--I've wondered if that took Henry's life at 36.
      In creating the stories of my family I'm blessed to have the archives of the local paper which reach back to the late 1800's--the 'news notes' along with vital event and census info make a good framework of reference.
      What we might have been! I doubt I could have balanced career and family. My skill with words might have been my biggest asset if it had been properly directed.
      Your baking always sounds/looks appealing--I daresay we can all learn to cook a decent meal; it surely helps if we find that we enjoy working with food and flavors to make even simple menus a delight.