My great-grandmother Ella Leighton Upton Owen published a series of miniature cookbooks from 1898 to the early 1900s. Among them was “Sick Room Necessities” that gave tips on how to cure ailments like indigestion, fevers and diarrhea — all using ingredients found in her kitchen.
Nellie, as my great-grandmother was known, was a woman ahead of her time. She self-published these books and sold them across the nation. They were popular as fundraisers for women’s church groups.
What was life like at the turn of the turn of the century in 1900 for a housewife? Here are a few fun facts:
Refrigerators for the home weren’t invented until 1913. Instead homes had ice boxes.
Ice was delivered by the “ice man” driving a cart and horse.
There were only 8,000 automobiles in the United States with zero west of the Mississippi River.
Less than two percent of the population graduated from high school.
Tuberculosis caused more deaths than cancer.
Washing machines consisted of tubs, scalding hot water, washing boards and excruciating hard labor.
Indoor plumbing and flush toilets were not common.
Bathing was generally a once a week affair because it was difficult to heat up so much water.
Yet, here was Nellie, publishing her books and selling them from her husband’s printing press in Illinois and eventually Washington state. Think of the work to set the type! Hint: it was all done by hand.
I’m currently working with a graphic artist and printer to get these gems back to life. This is an exciting project I’ve dreamed about for more than a decade! I’m finally doing it!
If you’d like to learn Nellie’s secrets on how to treat indigestion, fevers and diarrhea — please subscribe by email. I’ll send you an excerpt from “Sick Room Necessities.” You may find your cure is right inside your kitchen cupboard.
What other major things have changed in our homes in the last 121 years?
Indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing. And bathrooms in your apartment!
We had a cabin next to a river that my parents built in WA. It had a well outside and an outhouse. I got to experience what it was like to live without electricity and indoor plumbing — but it was for a few days at a time. Nothing like taking a flashlight out into the woods in the middle of the night to find the outhouse! Yes, for indoor plumbing!
Those outhouses were the reason “back door trots” was coined. This was fun thinking back to what was the normal and what is normal now. My first job’s income tax refund paid to have a well drilled so my folks could have running water inside the house.
I enjoyed your comment. How exciting for your mom and dad to having running water.
Women were very powerful back then. Can you imagine doing all of that work while no doubt wearing a heavy dress?
My grandmother was also named Ella, but never used it. Her middle name was Lucille, and she went by that name.
I can’t wait to learn more about your great-grandmother.
Thanks! The workload of women was amazing at the turn of the century. Imagine not having a refrigerator or washing machine.
I always think about that. Also, not having air conditioning in the summer. Having to do these tasks without AC??
I don’t know how they did it! Also my great grandmother type set her cookbooks by hand and the type is tiny!
I am in awe of the females that came before us.