From soap to sausages

A Closer Look

Mary Whipple had many of the same troubles that other well-bred women of the time had while keeping house on the frontier. Here is her description of housekeeping issues from a letter she wrote in the fall of 1862:

“Dearest Mary,

I am disgusted heartily, thoroughly disgusted with everything in general and many things in particular and I feel as if I must grumble it out to some one — I told George, but he only looked sorry and surprised and I felt ashamed that I had troubled him. Men never can comprehend women’s worries…

I lost a week [of housekeeping] when I was at Hastings during the Indian excitement, and have never found it again. I have a woman-servant and sometimes I think her very good help, but I have to look after her constantly to prevent waste and destruction of all sorts, and to be sure that I do not eat more of my share of dirt…She went off to a ten days visit and came back…drunk. That was cheering certainly. Well, I resolved myself into a committee of one and gave her such a talking to. She vowed amendment, but before I had a chance to test her, she received a summons to attend her sick sister-in-law…

I felt glad to be alone, it was such a comfort to have a clean kitchen and to know that my dishes were properly washed, but my hands grew so sore and stiff. ...I had invited… company. So I was obliged to do all my housework, dress the children, get the dinner and entertain four people with the ghost of a large basket of ironing beckoning to me all the time. I… was examining applicants for my service…. when my ‘bad Jenny’ returned… and to do her justice she has worked out well. But with trying lard and making soap and sausage and finishing cleaning up for winter and fussing with stove pipes and oil-clothes and zincs, I am quite used up… the children are tearing around. I have just made four pies and some tarts. My mending for the week is untouched, and I must stay home tomorrow…[to complete] Muhlenberg’s cloak, which the seamstress left unfinished…

Now I must get tea, wash the silver, put the children to bed and then attack a huge basket of mending…This is a good long growl, isn’t it? I shall feel better now. Good Night.”

Women sewing and knitting, ca. 1880.
Women sewing and knitting, ca. 1880. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Alexander Faribault

Faribault's French House
Fur Trade
Making the Town Grow
Site of the Bluffs
Trading Post

Mary Whipple

Bed Bugs
Divinity Students
Emma and Eva Havens
Emma Willard School
Eva's Death
Hastings to Faribault
Hawaiian Fever
Letter of August 25, 1862
Longed to Travel
Mary's Wedding
Sandwich Islands
Soap to Sausages
Some Clothing
Sound of Bells


Big Woods
Fort Snelling
Saving Others
When it Started

Henry Whipple

Back Home
Bad Teeth
East to School
Gull Lake
Loved to Fish
Six Children
Time of Crisis
Treatment of Indians
Youngest Child

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