Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Was Everyday Life Like for Your Great-Grandparents?

What would you do if you had to live without electricity just like they did?

In the western world, our lives would not be what they are now without electricity. It runs everything we depend on. Numerous times during the day instead of flipping on a light switch, or plugging in an appliance, I ask myself "What would my Great-Grandmother do if she needed to accomplish this task?" My Great-Grandparents lived in the late 1800's. They didn't have electricity, yet  they cooked dinner every night, did the laundry, went to work and raised families. Unless you go back to school to get a degree in History, there really isn't any way to truly know how they handled every little detail of their lives. Living History museums try to give a flavor of what life was like, but I just don't think it is the same as living that life day to day.

My solution has been to turn to books to figure out how people lived. About 10 years ago, I found a book that I think gives a better picture of what everyday life looked like for our ancestors. The book is called: Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping.

This book is amazing! In the Preface, the author states:

"Unlike our grandparents, we seem to be too distracted by life to take the time to teach and pass on our wisdom from one generation to the next."

Reading this book is like speaking with your Great-Grandmother. It can give all of us some skills that would help if (or when) you ever find yourself without electricity for an extensive period of time and you start wondering how you are going to cope. There are time-tested and fun-to read tips on everything from keeping your home clean & organized to gardening and making homemade health and beauty preparations.

For example, you can find answers to the following and more:

  • How do you turn a recipe that must be cooked at 375 degrees to something that can be cooked in a wood oven or over an open fire? (Page 97)
  • How do you clean if you are out of cleaning supplies? (Hint: make your own! There are many homemade recipes in this book for everything from furniture polish to homemade paint! Plus tips to help you sweep, dust and mop when your vacuum won't work.)
  • How do you manage washing mounds of laundry by hand?
  • What do you do if someone gets sick? (Homemade health remedies that don't require a doctor's care are in Chapter Seven.)
While there is also a section in this book on how to plan the perfect party, almost everything else in it can be useful information if you find yourself without power. Here are some other tips that you will find in this book:
  • Natural control of household pests such as ants, roaches, mosquitos, bed bugs, moths and flies.
  • Lots of recipe substitutes if you find yourself out of an ingredient. (There are lots of recipes in this book too!)
  • What you need to grow in a kitchen garden.
  • Managing your supply of candles (and some info on oil lamps as well) so they last longer.
  • Laundry tips using natural ingredients. Also, tips for how to do things like eliminate wrinkles from clothes hung on a line to dry.
  • Lots and lots of household tips such as preventing mildew and controlling odors. (This could definitely be a problem if the power is out for an extensive period of time.)
Now, this book isn't written specifically for coping without electricity in our times. Instead, it tells how our ancestors lived without it in the first place!  In its pages you will find a non-electric answer to almost every household task you would need to accomplish.

If the power goes out at my house, I don't plan on skipping a beat! My goal is to live my life so I won't even notice that the power is out.  This book goes a long way towards helping me do just that!


  1. Thanks for posting this. Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. I must get this book! Sounds great.

    Another book that I just love is "The Original White House Cook Book" 1887 Edition! My DD gave it to me several years ago. It tells how to butcher, recipes, how to make cosmetics and how to care for the sick, besides telling about several of the Presidents' wives. Great book!

    I plan to live the best I can without electricity, too. Am gradually getting things that were common in my grandmother's home when I was a child.


    1. Thank you for your book suggestion! The Original White House Cookbook is going on my must have list! Maybe I can talk my husband into buying it for me as a Mother's Day gift...

      I would love to hear more about what you remember from your Grandmother's house. As you gather these things, take a picture of your favorites and send to me. I would love to post them here on the blog!


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