The Term “Housewife” in Genealogy

As summer rolls on Lorel and I have been thinking a lot about the women in our families and their lives. We’ve had several discussions and some of that will be posted here on the blog. To get that conversation rolling, we’d like to know what you think about the term “HOUSEWIFE” as so many women were and are referred to in census and other records. Their job is “housewife.” But what does and did that really mean?

Looking both in today’s society and the time of our ancestors, think about these questions:

  • Does the term housewife mean women have less value than men?
  • What does that term entail? Cleaning the house? Cooking, laundry, caring for the children and husband?
  • Does it mean she had no other skills?
  • Have you considered that maybe she had a small job outside the home but was referred to as a housewife when the census taker came around? Or that job was overlooked when an occupation was requested on a death certificate?

What does the term housewife mean to you if you are a woman today? How do you think being a housewife today compares to the role your grandmother or great grandmother played as a housewife?

Please share with us in the comments.

© 2013, Sort Your Story, Sonoma, California


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2 responses to “The Term “Housewife” in Genealogy”

  1. Christi says :

    It seems to me that being a housewife back in our great grandmothers’ days would have been an incredibly difficult job — things like cooking and cleaning that we do with relative ease today would have been all day chores. There are, of course, different things that make being a housewife hard today.

  2. Diane says :

    In my grandmother’s day, a housewife, if she lived in the country like my grandmother did, would have been, first of all a loving “married” wife and mother, a teacher, a reader of bible stories to her children, a butcher, a baker, and candlestick maker… A doctor, a nurse, a gardener, cook, a food preserver of many methods, a soap maker, laundress, seamstress, yes she was even a quilter, rug maker, fire tender, berry picker and a restaurant for wayward travelers that knocked on the door… Often times she was a farm hand, as she helped in the barn with the animals besides in the hay field.
    She was a downright beautiful God fearing WOMAN to say the least.
    She was so much more than mentioned here, but you get the picture.
    Sorry to say, but many of her arts, talents, abilities and personality are lost in today’s society of the hot & now, quick & easy mentality…
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to brag about my “Country Grandma,” a “housewife” of days gone by.
    As for myself, I’m a “country grandma/great grandma” that emulates many of her traits. NOT all of them for sure, but I’ve done my time with most of them.
    In my opinion, today’s “young” housewives are missing out on many of the pleasures and fruits of hard work and responsibility

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