Kids in the good old days (and other myths)

I’ve reached the age where my friends and I indulge in fantasies of the good old days. We had chores; our kids had chores; this was good.  I came across a passage in The American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia Maria Francis Child, published in 1832, that I wanted to share with you. (Why I read this stuff, I’ll never know.)

By the way, you may want to read this book yourself.  It has a recipe for Whortleberry Pie and hints for “How to Endure Poverty” that look too good to be missed. Here’s the passage.

In this country we are apt to let children romp away their existence until they get to be thirteen or fourteen. This is not well. It is not well for the purses and patience of parents, and it has a still worse effect on the morals and habits of the children. Begin early is the great maxim for everything in education. A child of six years old can be made useful; and should be taught to consider every day lost in which some little thing has not been done to  assist others.

Children can very early be taught to take care of their own clothes. They can knit garters, suspenders, and stockings; they can make patchwork and braid straw [for hats]; they can make mats for the table, and mats for the floor, they can weed the garden, and pick cranberries from the meadow, to be carried to market.

Provided brothers and sisters go together and are not allowed to go with bad children, it is a great deal better for the boys and girls on a farm to be picking blackberries at six cents a quart, than to be wearing out their clothes in useless play. They enjoy themselves just as well, and they are earning something to buy clothes, at the same time they are tearing them.

Comment if you like.  I’d love to read your thoughts.

(Now before you leave this site,  check out my page on the Saratoga storytelling open mic.  On Monday, November 8th, Jane Ainslie is our featured teller.  She is too good to miss!)

5 thoughts on “Kids in the good old days (and other myths)

  1. Margaret, wouldn’t you be the one to unearth this bit of “good old days” news. Tickles our tough and funny bones? Not quite right then, not quite right now? When will it ever be? But hanging in there with you…

  2. I believe you have a typo in your quotation. As I recall, the line from the American Frugal Housewife reads, “than to be wearing out their clothes in useless play”, not “useless clothes.”

    I remember this passage well, because reading it was prelude to my learning something important about the attitude of our society toward entertainers. If I have time, I’ll come back later and explain.

  3. Interesting post. I’m not sure how we evolved into a society in which children do nothing but play, but I don’t think it’s a good change.

    Recently my 8-year-old grandson came to visit and began to bug me to buy him a video game. I tried to have a serious talk with him about how happiness doesn’t come from possessions. It comes instead from service to others. It was a hard sell.

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