A Belated Revolution

It took a long time for the Industrial Revolution to reach inside the homes of subsistence farmers.

While there were trains and factories in the outside world, at home women spun and wove cloth, sewed clothes, grew and canned vegetables, ground wheat and corn, baked bread, scrubbed pots and floors with sand, made jam, and washed clothes, sheets and blankets by hand; men made furniture for their families, walked behind oxen to plough, butchered their own livestock, threshed cotton and flax, cut hay, built and repaired fences, and chopped firewood to heat their homes to keep their large families alive during winter.

Two things play in my thoughts when I think about this.

First, how much bloody work it was for everyone just to keep your family fed and clothed and clean.

Second, that Alphonsine lived through a time when it became more common to buy cloth made in factories rather than spin and weave it yourself, have your grain ground at a mill instead of doing it by hand, and for doctors and businessmen to have automobiles instead of buggies and carriages. She witnessed the defeat of smallpox and minor infections.

Her mother’s generation’s life expectancy was about 50. This abysmal outlook had a lot to do with their lack of antibiotics and vaccination, but also because people literally worked themselves to exhaustion just doing what had to be done.

It must have been wonderful and tragic to watch the world change so that many of the deaths she had witnessed suddenly became so easily preventable.

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