The Wonderful Something – Electricity

In 1910 it took a woman an average of 12 hours per day to do her housework; six of those 12 hours were for cooking alone!

This 1909 newspaper illustration shows the women of the house (along with their daughters and hired helpers) working together to accomplish the annual Spring cleaning.


During Isabella Alden’s lifetime, housework wasn’t for sissies. Despite being referred to as the “weaker sex,” house cleaning was hard, physical work. Women hauled water; they built and maintained fires to heat the water; and scrubbed, brushed, polished and swept for hours every day. Even on good days the work could be exhausting; but in the Spring, when women took on the added task of giving their entire house a good, thorough cleaning, the work went on for days—sometimes weeks, depending upon the size of the house.

A 1921 magazine ad for furniture polish.


Spring cleaning was needed after a family’s house was kept closed up during the winter months to maintain warmth. But as soon as the temperatures began to rise in late April and early May, homemakers opened windows and doors, and began the task of airing out the house and furnishings.

Women dragged heavy carpets outside, hung them, and physically beat the dirt out of them. They did the same with upholstered furniture and mattresses, using beaters made of cane or wire.

They scrubbed kitchen cupboards and drawers, and lined pantry shelves with newspaper. They whitewashed cabinets and walls, polished stoves, and scoured tiles.

A portion of a 1921 magazine ad for Bon Ami cleaning powder.


The work was all done by hand. There were very few tools—besides brushes, brooms, and cloths—to make the job easier or faster.

A print ad for Old Dutch Cleanser, 1916.


In the 1880s Bissell began selling carpet sweepers, which helped with daily cleaning of rugs and floors, but it wasn’t until about 1910, when more and more homes were wired for electricity, that Spring house cleaning became substantially easier for women.

From The Iola Daily Record (Kansas) May 22, 1906.


In the early 1900s electricity was new and mysterious to many people. By 1925 more than half of all American homes had electricity, but an Ohio newspaper article declared that:

“Nobody knows what electricity is, but its many services in the home are none the less appreciated because of that.”


Electricity may have been unexplainable at the time, but its introduction was a definite boon to women. It opened the gates for new household appliances to enter the market—appliances that saved women time and energy in their daily homemaking responsibilities.

Electric washing machines cut in half the time required to do a family’s laundry, because they took the place of galvanized tubs, washboards and elbow grease.

New Electric Washing Machine ad from the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, 1909


Electric stoves and ovens like this one eliminated the need for women to constantly tend kitchen fires needed to heat water and cook their family’s meals.

Electric dishwashers were a luxury because of their cost, but by 1920 Whirlpool was actively marketing their dishwasher models in newspapers and magazines across the country.

But one of the best time and labor savors introduced during that period was the vacuum cleaner. They eliminated the back-breaking work of carrying carpets outside to beat and brush them clean.

Newspaper ad for the 1912 Hoover Vacuum Cleaner.


By 1920 most vacuums were sold with attachments that helped clean upholstery.

And the crevasse tool (which we still use today on our modern vacuums) was originally designed to clean 1920-era radiators.

These appliances revolutionized domestic life during Isabella’s lifetime, and paved the way for the time-saving appliances we use today.

Do you do an annual Spring clean at your house? How long does it take?

Do you have an old appliance—large or small—that you still use today? Tell us about it!


4 thoughts on “The Wonderful Something – Electricity

  1. This was very interesting…thank you for posting! I enjoyed seeing the pictures from early ads too.

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