Social and legal changes were enormously helpful to women – the right to vote, the right to own property, civil rights, anti-discrimination laws and more. But these domestic technologies revolutionized women’s daily lives. Many of our grandmothers born in the late 19th century or early 20th, lived lives with difficulties we can only imagine. Even our mothers, when young, managed children and household chores with much more time and difficulty.
1. Indoor plumbing, toilets– Hard to imagine managed menstruation, childbirth, little children – all with an outhouse. (My grandmother on a North Dakota farm with 10 children and winters!)
2. Plentiful Hot and Cold Running Water – Pumping and carrying water for cooking, cleaning and drinking still occupies much of the day for woman and girls in many parts of the world.
3. Washing Machine/Dryer – Even with a washing machine, I remember my mother using a wringer to get out water and of course hanging clothes on the line. Line dried clothes are nice – but every wash? Remember wooden clothes pins? Running to take clothes in when it rained?
4. The Refrigerator, Freezer – Our grandmothers often dealt with blocks of ice, cold cellars, perishing food, the need for cooking almost every meal.
Remember the term “ice box”? It really was just that in the early days.
5. Gas and Electric Stoves – No need to feed the stove with wood. Now it’s the turn of a switch and easily controlled.
6. Frozen, canned and prepared food – The work of meal preparation took much less time. The variety of food and family nutrition greatly improved. Canning took hours and very careful steps to provide enough food and foods out of season. Not all the choices are wise, but imagine starting from scratch for every item.
7. Disposable diapers – Soaking, washing, line drying cloth diapers took hours of time. Disposables may not be great for landfills but what an boon to time and hygiene for many mothers.
8. Disposable Pads and Tampons – Allowing us to move around, travel with fewer concerns the whole month. Women used to use ineffective folded cloth, stayed in bed or just bled into their clothing without warning.
9. The Automobile – Difficult for us to imagine (unless you’re living in Saudi Arabia) Our grandmothers (born in the late 19th century and early 20th) were the part of the first generation who could move around so freely and easily with cars. This was especially important in the more rural America of the time. As one farm woman in the 1920’s told an inspector from the United States Department of Agriculture who inquired why her family had bought a car rather than putting indoor plumbing into their home,” “You can’t go to town in a bathtub.”
Do you have any other candidates for technologies that liberated women? Family stories?