As I struggle to negotiate the programs for blogging and all the other digital equipment we deal with, I thought how appealing the ‘good old days’ were.
But were they?
The Shakers strove for a simple life but the culture then was essentially agrarian. The women cooked, sewed, canned and performed all those thrify housewifely virtues. Since talking was frowned upon they were essentially alone even in the midst of a crowd. And although they were equal in influence to the Brethern, everyone had to give up sex. I think most of us would agree that that is a tough sacrifice.
Outside the Shaker communities, women were not important at all. Documents of the period show that they were referred to almost exclusively by their married name, if that. Some are listed simply as wife. Talk about loss of identity. Women, as helpmeet to husbands, was a concept taken very seriously. Although most boys were taught to read and ‘figure’, many girls were not. It wasn’t seen as necessary and besides, they were all very busy. No wonder so many of them died young.
The women who had jobs outside the home were usually women who helped husbands, fathers or sons in a business. Sometimes they continued after they were widowed but not always. Many of the wills from that time put women firmly under the control and care of the eldest son.
Weaving was one of the very few non-gender professions. The male weavers, like my character Will Rees, took their looms from house to house. Those who traveled the roads were called factors (I wonder if there is a connection to the word factory? I’ll have to research it). Weaving was an honored middle class profession. William Findlay, one of the first legislators from the Pittsburg, Pa area and a moderate voice during the Whiskey Rebellion, was a weaver.