Monday, October 3, 2016

Moving West - 1828 The Life of the Frontier Wife


Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans. Written during her stay in America, 1827-1831

1828-29. The Life of the Frontier Wife

Henry Ossawa Tanner (American artist, 1859–1937) Spinning by Firelight
"But if the condition of the labourer be not superior to that of the English peasant, that of his wife and daughters is incomparably worse.

"It is they who are indeed the slaves of the soil. One has but to look at the wife of an American cottager, and ask her age, to be convinced that the life she leads is one of hardship, privation, and labour. It is rare to see a woman in this station who has reached the age of thirty, without losing every trace of youth and beauty.

"You continually see women with infants on their knee, that you feel sure are their grandchildren, till some convincing proof of the contrary is displayed. Even the young girls, though often with lovely features, look pale, thin, and haggard. I do not remember to have seen in any single instance among the poor, a specimen of the plump, rosy, laughing physiognomy so common among our cottage girls.

"The horror of domestic service, which the reality of slavery, and the fable of equality, have generated, excludes the young women from that sure and most comfortable resource of decent English girls; and the consequence is, that with a most irreverend freedom of manner to the parents, the daughters are, to the full extent of the word domestic slaves. This condition, which no periodical merry-making, no village fete, ever occurs to cheer, is only changed for the still sadder burdens of a teeming wife.

"They marry very young; in fact, in no rank of life do you meet with young women in that delightful period of existence between childhood and marriage, wherein, if only tolerably well spent, so much useful information is gained, and the character takes a sufficient degree of firmness to support with dignity the more important parts of wife and mother. The slender, childish thing, without vigour of mind or body, is made to stem a sea of troubles that dims her young eye and makes her cheek grow pale, even before nature has given it the last beautiful finish of the full-grown woman.

"We shall get along," is the answer in full for all that can be said in way of advice to a boy and girl who take it into their heads to go before a magistrate and "get married." And they do get along, till sickness overtakes them, by means perhaps of borrowing a kettle from one and a tea-pot from another; but intemperance, idleness, or sickness will, in one week, plunge those who are even getting along well into utter destitution; and where this happens, they are completely without resource."