Chicken Chore Clothes

The the last few days it’s been hot and unbearably humid. I’ve been trying to get my chores and gardening done in the morning. Even so, after ten minutes, I’m sticky, dirty and drenched with sweat. Thank goodness for sports bras, cotton tees and shorts. I went through 3 outfits yesterday. Thank goodness for showers and washing machines.

How did women work in corsets? In dresses that required starching and ironing? The woman pictured below (circa 1900) is wearing an everyday dress. She would likely have worn an apron while doing chores, and possibly took it off for this photograph, but still! That collar! The tight cuffs! The creases! Can you imagine churning butter, or standing over a hot stove canning vegetables in that?

69 - Version 3


Many households didn’t have running water. Once a week the bathtub was filled by hand. The last one in cleaned up in lukewarm, murky water.

I have to say, as I sit in front of a fan and drink iced coffee (ice!) that I am not feeling at all nostalgic today.


  1. I do not miss that at all. I have a vivid memory of my mother sitting on the sofa in our house in Lexington one horrifically humid night crying her eyes out at how disgusted she was with the walls and linoleum floors literally dripping wet. My heart broke for her. i used to sleep on said kitchen linoleum floor with our cat to try and find some/ any comfort in the New England summer. Today in El Cerrito California, our typical July morning is 59 degrees and overcast with the marine layer. A cold dry wind off the pacific blows. I’m wearing three shirts to keep warm. Granted I’m sweating and miserable, but my tomatoes are stunted and pathetic.

  2. My mother would sometimes tell me about how her mother would complain about wearing a corset. They lived in rural Kansas & Missouri. She survived the heat & awful humidity all while being covered head to toe in heavy cloth, underwear with actual boning to achieve the “right” shape, and raising a bunch of kids while cooking, cleaning and working her farm chores. And you’re right, no running water and grandmother WAS the washing machine. No wonder life expectancy was shorter back then. Throw in questionable medical knowledge (and access), and lack of sanitation and it no longer puzzles me why my mother was never, ever nostalgic. It makes for a pretty picture, but it was a hard
    life. Nice looking chickens, tho!

  3. Why on earth would she be wearing white?
    Also if i were only able to shower once weekly, I think I would take up skinny dipping in the nearest pond creek or lake

    • Maybe white may be cooler and deflects the heat rather than a dark color, and also may have been easier to wash with bleach, etc.

    • You definitely would not want to go skinny dipping in a pond around my grandmother’s Kentucky farm during midsummer. Ponds turned murky and green and became full of snakes, snapping turtles, and mosquitoes, and there was a good chance you would become host to several parasitic guests. Creeks tended to dry up and any remaining above ground water was reserved for cattle, poultry, and crops while drinking water came from a small spring. My grandmother said they used wet rags throughout the day to cool their skin and lots of talcum powder. But mainly they just got used to being a lot dirtier under their clothes. Saturday was wash day so they would be clean for church on Sunday, and this mainly involved a small wash tub out in the side yard, which was used for both clothes and people. We had this specific conversation when I was a child while I was helping her hoe the tobacco and corn fields. I asked her what women did when they had to use the restroom while working in the fields around men. I won’t go into details, but that’s when I learned what she considered a benefit to wearing a long skirt if you couldn’t stop working to tend to private matters.

      She was in her 70’s when she finally got a bathroom added to her house and while the flow of water coming from her new shower head was nothing more than a trickle, she couldn’t have been any happier.

  4. My Mom grew up for most of her young early years on a farm near Fayetteville, AR. They were on the farm during the Great Depression, so later than those years of corsets and boning I guess. Either that or being “hillbillies” from rural Arkansas they just didn’t bother with achieving the “right shape” :-) I remember Mom saying that they never went hungry, they had the farm, my Nemo canned or otherwise “put up” food for winter. They traded a lot for things that they didn’t grow, sugar, salt and such. Mom said that Nemo never turned anyone away from her door. If a “tramp” came by she would always share whatever they had to eat. It wasn’t fancy, but the kids never went hungry. They were dressed in dresses that my Grandmother made, a lot of them from the flour and feed sacks she saved. You always notice in the old pictures that we have a lot of the girls would have clothing made from the same sack fabric :-) With 6 girls and 1 boy and a husband that was partially disabled, Nemo had a rough life. Her life started a few months after an Indian raid that took her father’s life in Kansas near the Nebraska state line.
    I love to read through our family histories. The life was hard, but the rewards were sweet to them I’m sure.

    • By 1920 the fashions had totally changed, and by the Depression rural people were wearing those feed sack dresses. Certainly more comfortable!

  5. Perfume was very popular back then, hide the fact that baths were taken only once a week, clothes washed once a week and more than likely each only owned a couple sets of clothes.

    My grandmother would have not faired well, she was Scrubby Dutch to the core, bathed once in morning and before going to bed. She slept on one side of the sheets and pillowcases, flipped them, slept on that side and then washed and hung out on the line she wiped with bleach on a rag and her just washed clothespins. Yes I know what some of you are thinking but I truly don’t believe she was OCD.

    I love to do some things the “old fashioned” way but I am very thankful for modern conveniences.

    • She certainly made a lot of work for herself. I’ve never heard the expression “Scrubby Dutch,” is it a midwestern thing?

      • I think it’s actually more of a St Louis expression. A large emigrant population of the Dutch settled in St Louis a long time ago. They were known for their extremely cleanliness, they actually scrubbed the front and back stoops.

  6. My mother always said the freezer was the best invention. She remembers her mother “putting up” fruits and veggies during the hottest time of year with sweat pouring off her.

    • Love the freezer, and I’d add that the vacuum sealer adds to the convenience. I don’t even bother blanching and skinning tomatoes anymore.

  7. Great picture! The flock is probably Plymouth Barred Rocks, or Cuckoo Maran’s, don’t you think?

    • Unlikely Cuckoo Marans as they weren’t available. If they’re Barred Rocks, they’re young and don’t have full combs. Could also be Dominiques, which have low rose combs.

  8. Today in Fort Worth, TX it was 69 degrees at 2:45 p.m. Yes, you read that right! We are all loving the 48 hours of steady rain and unbelievable cool temps. Still more rain to come. I am 52 and can not recall another July in history like this. What a blessing.

  9. I think about that quite a bit too…I do 1860s reenacting and even with the wonderful wicking properties of cotton, I am SOAKED at the end of several hours in the past doing very little in the way of actual chores. When people ask me, I tell them that the vote didn’t free women, automatic washing machines did.

    • Speaking of inventions, the bicycle was one of the reasons that corsets finally got tossed out! You couldn’t bicycle in a tight corset. You also needed split skirts and shorter skirts, and sleeves that weren’t tight up into your armpits…

    • Absolutely! When my mother got her wringer washer, it already freed up a big chunk of her household chores time. When she got her first automatic washing machine, she was ecstatic.

      • Jaye, see my post above. My dad and two uncles bought my grandmother a automatic washer one year and she refused to use it. She said it did not clean her clothes like her old wringer washer. It sat in the basement so long that the seals actually dry rotted. She never used an auto. washer, I have the old wringer sitting in my kitchen as keep sake and decorative item.

        • LOL – my mother was Dutch, but not “scrubby Dutch”. I think she was just so happy that she had time for something else besides laundry on laundry day that if things didn’t come out of the washer “whiter than white”, it didn’t matter to her.
          Lucky you to still have your grandmother’s old wringer washer! Does it still work?

          • It does. I make a point to roll it out onto the patio twice a year or so and use it.
            It is great to wash rugs, the dog beds, stuff like that. Wash, ring and hang over the railing to dry, one, two three…
            This old machines have few moving parts and no electric parts like modern machines and rarely breakdown.
            My dad is great Mr. Fix It and “rebuilt it” (replace the gasket, belt stuff like that) for me a few years back. It runs like a champ.

            • I`m jealous! Our family`s wringer washer is long gone. What a great idea, using it for dog beds and rugs!

  10. Maybe this photo was taken in October or April.

    • One would hope, but they really did dress like this all the way through the summer. If you were wealthy you might be fortunate to have a light weight lacy dress, but that corset would still be underneath.

      • … and if you were wealthy, it`s likely that you would have hired help for all the sweaty stuff. ! ;-)

  11. There was the coolest TV show on awhile back called The 1900 House. I was addicted!! You just reminded me of that show! It’s premise was to gut a house and take out all of the modern amenities and make it as it was 100 years ago. A real family was picked (out of a lot of families!) to live there. I guess it was kind of like a reality show. Was it ever interesting to watch! Now I’m going to have to see if any of it is on YouTube.

  12. My sister’s now deceased husband used to work in a feed mill. He was very used to heat. It didn’t bother him at all. I suspect we’re all pansies from air conditioning ;)

  13. I was just looking back thru this post and saw that you said these could be Dominiques. I had forgotten about them! When I was growing up, my Grandparents referred to them as, ” Dominickers”!