Modern stoves are a snap to use -- turn up the heat, put in the food and remove it when it's done. In the late 1800s, cooking on a stove was a much more arduous task. Homes didn't have electricity yet, so women cooked the meals on cast-iron Dutch ovens or wood stoves.
Fuel and Stove Maintenance
Stoves used wood or coal for fuel. Prairie pioneers used animal droppings, grass, weeds and corncobs as fuel for stoves. According to Digital History, stoves needed an average of 50 pounds of fuel per day to run. The chore of gathering fuel typically fell to the women. Housewives had to remove ashes from the stove at least twice a day and adjust the flues and dampers before lighting a fire. Women also had to rub cast-iron stoves with black wax to prevent the metal from rusting. A housewife often spent about four hours each day tending to the stove.
Cooking and Cleaning
Stoves in the late 1800s lacked temperature gauges or numbered dials, so housewives checked the temperature with their hands. The stove was hot enough to use if a woman could hold her hand inside it for 15 to 20 seconds. If the woman could keep her hand inside for more than 30 seconds, she added more fuel. Stoves were messy, so after cooking, a woman had plenty of cleaning to do. Wood- and coal-burning stoves spewed smoke and soot everywhere. The soot blackened carpets, curtains and walls. Cleaning the mess was a daily chore for families, unless they could afford to hire someone else to do it for about $1.50 a day, according to Digital History.
- Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images