What an informative and entertaining project this has turned out to
be! As you can well imagine, the scope of the source material
available for this is quite vast, so Ive culled explanatory sources
for each time period youve specified.
Ive treated each time period as a separate answer and have used
various styles for each, alternating between "journal entries",
summarizations and "DayRunner" styles - journal entries seemed more
appropriate for some time periods, based on the amount of information
available. (I also felt that since the topic is quite long, youd be
rather bored if I stuck to one style throughout.)
In some instances, where it is apparent from source material that
daily life had not changed much over the course of several hundred or
even a thousand years, Ive combined the time periods. Ive included
the relevant sources at the end of each section. If you should find
that any style used doesnt suit your taste, simply ask for a
re-write. Ill be happy to oblige.
40,000 years ago
Somewhere in what is now called Europe
Diary of a Cro-Magnon man
I rose shortly before the sun today to prepare for the hunt. It was
very cool last night, still a little wintery, so I had to push several
furs off to get up. Quietly, so as not to wake the rest of the tribe,
I pulled my fur raiments over my head, slipped into my tanned hide and
fur foot coverings, and slipped out of the cave into the still morning
air. Its still too chilly to wear the woven material the women have
been sewing garments from, even though the woven material is more
comfortable and smells better.
My brother waits for me by a small fire. He has brought water from
the stream to drink and there is dried meat and freshly caught fish
for breakfast. I am famished, and eat quickly. My brother tells me
he has seen the large, fluffy creature again - a "bear", he calls it.
We have seen this creature attack the Horned Ones and eat them.
He is very frightening, this "bear", so we must be extra vigilant.
This creature may also hunt our own young. I do not know, Ive only
recently seen it about. He seems to fear the fire, I will remind my
wife to keep it burning. Perhaps we will eventually capture one of
these ourselves - his fur appears thick and warm, and he is very
large. He would yield enough meat for the entire tribe!
My brother has been up for quite some time, creating our spear heads
from stone. He is adept at chipping bits of stone away with a larger
stone to create sharp edges - he has made about a dozen new spearheads
for us just this morning! I help him fasten these to sturdy shafts
with lengths of sinew, then follow him into the woods as the sun
rises. It is our task today to hunt a Horned One to feed the tribe.
We conceal ourselves silently in the brush, waiting for one of the
many Horned Ones that live in the woods to come past. They are
interesting creatures - nimble and graceful, a rich brown color, with
large, liquid eyes. The younglings have white spots on their backs
that seem to vanish as they grow older. They are plentiful and keep
our tribe well fed and warmly clothed. Presently, my brother spots a
large male ambling calmly along. He seems to be headed for the
stream, so we follow silently, and dash ahead quickly and quietly as
we are able.
My brother and I take up positions on either side of the animal,
darting quietly forward, and we both strike at the same time.
Success! The animal is quickly felled, and my brother and I each
grasp a pair of legs and begin to drag him home. He is very heavy and
the work is tiring, but we have a responsibility to the tribe to bring
meat, so we continue in spite of our weariness and ease our growing
hunger with berries and leaves along the way.
When we return to the tribe just before dusk, the women are out with
the children. Some are weaving plants into baskets to hold berries,
nuts, and tools. Others are working with sharpened stones to carve
shells and bits of tusk for adornments. An elder is seated near the
fire, carefully grinding herbs for medicines - some in the tribe
occasionally fall ill, and the elders have found plants that help ease
their discomfort. They spend a considerable amount of time searching
for these plants, and have found that they work just as well when
dried, which means we will have medicine during the winter months as
The children run in happy circles, their mothers ever mindful of them,
and raise a great cry when they see us approach. They rush to us, all
wanting to inspect our catch, all wanting to touch the fur. A small
one cries out that the Horned One is still warm and jumps back in
It falls to us to skin and clean the Horned One. We attack the task
quickly, removing the entrails and handing the hide off to the women
to be cleaned and tanned. It will serve us well for sleeping furs or
raiments - which will depend on what we are in need of.
Other women come to take portions of the meat away to prepare for
drying. Although the Horned Ones do not leave or hide in the winter
months, they are less easy to hunt. We have no cover in those months,
and often depend on the stores of dried food we have built up to
survive the harsh winter. A little of each kill is set aside for
There is still much meat left, and my brother and I cut it into
portions for cooking. The heads of each family within the tribe come
for their share, and head off to begin preparing the evening meal.
Each will roast his share of meat, and we will gather together to eat.
The young ones cry out to hear the tale of the hunt, and my brother
obliges them, regaling them in great detail with the story of our
days task. The little ones are wide eyed and fascinated - I must
interrupt my brother several times as he tries to insert a "bear"
sighting into the story. We didnt see a bear on the hunt!
He motions for me to be silent, and winks at the young ones who are
watching him. Hes quite a story teller! I am not given to such
antics, however. I prefer to draw. I retire to the cave, where many
of our tribe have already slipped into their sleeping furs - they are
the ones charged with the hunt tomorrow, so they are sleeping early.
Along one side, I have a small cache of stones and minerals, a few
pigments. I take these to the Secret Place, well to the back of the
cave, and through a treacherous tunnel. On a wall, I carefully sketch
out the details of our hunt with my fingers, showing my brother and me
with our spears at the moment we fell upon the Horned One. The Horned
One is somewhat difficult to draw, but I am satisfied with my work and
color him in.
It is late and I am tired. More and more of the tribe come into the
cave to sleep. My wife and children have already nestled into their
furs, spent from the days chores. I clean my hands on my garments,
creep back through the tunnel, and crawl under my sleeping furs. It
has been a very good day, and I look forward to my rest.
An Abbreviated Chart of Hominid and Human Evolution
Human Evolution Activity
Genetic study roots humans in Africa
'Modern' Behavior Began 40,000 Years Ago In Africa, Evidence Suggests
1998-07-07 - University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign
Humans Fully Modern Earlier than Thought
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
Rules of the Game - Did Early Interest in Eating Meat Spur Organized
By Lee Dye Special to ABCNEWS.com
The Evolution of Bears
Did Early Humans Mate with the Locals?
University of Utah 24-Dec-02
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
Columbia University Press 2000
THE NEW STONE AGE IN NORTHERN EUROPE
BY JOHN M. TYLER PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF BIOLOGY, AMHERST COLLEGE
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1921
20,000 years ago
Scientists believe that early humans crossed the Bering Straits into
what is now called Alaska about 20,000 years ago. Somewhat taller and
more robust than their earlier counterparts, these humans had to
concern themselves with keeping warm. They built sturdy huts (from
animal hides wrapped around strong posts, bound together with sinew)
with central hearths for winter quarters, made innovations in
stitching their garments (bone needles with eyes in them, for
instance) from animal skin and developed new methods of weaving cloth
and better methods of tanning skins. In the summer, they followed the
herds and lived in easily moved tents.
As with their predecessors, the daily life of the Ice Age human
centered primarily around the hunt. Game was plentiful and varied -
large game birds, mammoths, caribou and bison flourished. It was at
about this time that the bow and arrow was developed, allowing for
greater flexibility in the hunt.
A more socialized tribal structure was developing. Art and story
telling are said to have flourished, and items such as beads, shells
and small carvings were used to barter for items, much in the manner
of modern currency. Based on some artifacts found, it seems religion
also began to develop - carved female figurines known as "Venus
figures" hint at Earth or Goddess worship.
The Ice Age humans day began before sun-up. As with his
predecessors, he shared hunting responsibilities with others of his
tribe. The few not out hunting for the day would remain behind to
help protect the women and children from predators (bears and
saber-toothed cats chief among them), to tan hides, cure meat, and
assist in repairing huts. Others were responsible for making tools,
spears, bows and arrows.
While the men were out hunting, women foraged for wild grains (such as
wheat and barley), root vegetables (such as yams and wild potatoes)
and assorted berries and nuts. They were also responsible for
catching small animals (squirrels and hares) to help supplement the
diet of the tribe. Like the men, they divided the labor - some women
would forage, others would see to catching small prey, others would
remain behind to mind the children and dogs (who were becoming
domesticated around this time), grind flour for unleavened bread,
cook, weave cloth from plants such as nettles, and sew garments and
boots. Evidence indicates that nets and ropes were also made, to aid
in the capture of small prey and in the catching of fish in coastal
Tasks alternated daily to help provide a fair division of labor.
The hunters typically returned shortly before sundown with their
catches, which were immediately skinned and cleaned, and portioned out
for curing or cooking. Meals were communal, and consisted of that
days kill, as well as the nuts, fruits and vegetables gathered that
In the evenings, those skilled at carving would take up their tools to
create beads, decorative carvings, and figurines. Evidence points to
some worship rituals that included the entire tribe, perhaps a
collective giving of thanks. Most members of the tribe retired to
sleep shortly after sundown, exhausted by the days strenuous
activity. Bedding consisted of furs and skins, and exhibits at
Chicagos Field Museum indicate that sleeping arrangements began
including raised beds fashioned from wood and rope at about this time.
Furs for Evening, but Cloth Was the Stone Age Standby
By NATALIE ANGIER
December 14, 1999
"Jurassic Park," eat your heart out
By Katharine Mieszkowski
History of Evolution
Nature Notes by Mel Moss
Timeline of dietary shifts in the human line of evolution
Notes and photographs from several visits to Chicagos Field Museum
Institute for Ice Age Studies
Reflections on the Origins of Scavenging and Hunting in Early Hominids
10,000 years ago
Address: Large Mud Hut Near The River
¨ Cultivation of wheat, barley, flax, and peas.
¨ domestication of sheep, cows and goats
¨ tanning of leather
¨ developed method of irrigation to maintain crops
¨ Feed livestock at daybreak.
¨ retrieve milk from cows and goats
¨ carry milk to wife for cheese making
¨ check crops for weeds, pulling any I find
¨ turn livestock out to graze
¨ retrieve water from the river, using a goat to carry buckets
¨ carefully water crops
¨ harvest as necessary
¨ hand cultivate plots for re-planting
¨ round up livestock before dusk, return them to their enclosure
¨ slaughter goat, sheep or cow for meat
¨ stretch hides for tanning
¨ make repairs on mud hut as necessary
When I am not working in my fields or trying to design a better
irrigation system, I assist my neighbors with their livestock and
crops. We trade often with each other - barley for wheat, mutton for
beef, flaxen cloth for woven woolens, milk for cheese.
My wife is a skilled weaver and cheesemaker - she is known throughout
the region for her finely woven flaxen linens and her rich and
perfectly cured cheeses. She works daily to maintain our household,
filling the air with the scent of her rich lamb stews and unleavened
bread, and working to spin yarn, weave fabric, and sew comfortable
clothing for us. Our daughter assists her in these daily tasks.
(Until his death recently from a mysterious fever, our son helped to
tend the sheep. He fell ill shortly after several sheep had died, but
the village healer could not help him. He suspected the boy may have
been made ill by the sheep!)
It is my goal to improve irrigation and harvest methods, as well as
ease the burden of working the soil, so that my entire day is not
spent in the fields. I would like to spend a bit more time learning
to fashion clay pots in which to store our grains, but this requires
time and I am very tired at the end of the day.
Mesopotamia - 8000 - 2000 BC
Mesopotamia: The Fertile Crescent
For A Change
Fertile Crescent Civilizations
Ararat, the Cradle of Civilization?
5000 years ago
About 3000 BC
Along the banks of the Nile, in what was called the "kemet" (the Black
Land), one could expect to find houses built from adobe - bricks
fashioned from mud and dried in the sun. Homes were typically divided
into a reception area, a hall for entertaining guests, and private
family quarters, and featured simple mud benches and rough wood or
Although women were considered equal to men in Egyptian society (they
were permitted to own land, hold jobs, and even represented themselves
in court), the division of household responsibilities still fell
largely along gender lines. In working class families, it was
expected that the men hunt, work the fields, or serve as craftsmen,
while the women remained at home to care for the daily needs of the
children and the household.
Egyptians of this time are concerned with cleanliness. Most bathe
daily in the river, or from basins in their homes. Wealthy families
are bathed by servants, who pour water over their masters from large
jugs - precursors to modern day showers. The toothbrush has come into
existence during this time as well - a stick with a frayed end,
moistened and used to scrub the teeth daily. The homes of the wealthy
have toilets - fairly simple stone or wooden seats with keyhole shaped
openings over a tray or pit of sand. Common folk dispose of their
sewage in pits outside, in the river, or in the streets.
Unfortunately, the practice of dumping sewage in the streets or in the
river ensures that disease is common. Infections caused by sewage
borne parasites is commonplace, as are diseases carried by insects.
Some 700 herbal prescriptions are available from physicians of the
time to treat various illnesses, and physicians maintain a high degree
Worship of various gods is very much a part of Egyptian daily life.
Many begin and end their day with prayers to a given deity, some even
leave notes on the tombs of ancestors, asking for intercession.
Clothing is simple and plentiful, usually made from linen woven by the
women. Sandals are made from leather and river rushes. Cosmetics are
prevalent, both for aesthetic value and for the protection they
offered from disease carrying insects and the harsh, dry air.
The diet of this period is quite varied. By this time, closed ovens
have been developed, leading to better bread baking. Bread baking is
considered a sacred art, symbolic of giving life, and bakers are held
in high regard. Beer is the most popular beverage, having also been
developed during this period. Meals consist mostly of bread and
varying fruits and vegetables (fava beans, lentils, peas, lettuces,
cucumbers, pomegranates, leeks, dates, radishes), as well as honey,
sesame seeds and the occasional bit of roasted game (pigeon or hare).
Dishes of clay, bronze and silver are commonplace, as are cooking
utensils and clay stoves. Wood is used for fuel, in spite of its
Evenings in the average Egyptian household are devoted to quiet family
time, prior to retiring for the night to rest up for the following
Egypt: Daily Life
Life By The Nile (via the Internet archive)
Life in Ancient Egypt - Carnegie Museum of Natural History Exhibitions
Life of Ancient Egyptians
The History of Bread
A history of dental care
2,500 - 1,500 years ago
Around 500 BC to 500AD
Its well before daybreak when Mother wakes me for school. Im still
so tired! But I must rise, Mother tells me that my education is the
most important thing in my life. I stretch and rise from my pallet,
and head for the bath.
Julia, our servant, has laid a fresh tunic on the low stone bench for
me, crisp white linen with a deep crimson border. *sigh* I look
forward to becoming a citizen - next year! - so I may do away with
childish things and wear the pure white tunic of a citizen. She has
drawn a hot bath for me, and has left fresh towels for me as well.
Julia says that in other homes, there is only cold running water or
none at all, and that years ago, there was no running water! Even
worse, there werent any toilet facilities - not even the public
latrines we have in Rome today. Ugh. Dreadful. Im glad to live in
such modern, civilized times. I dont think I could bear living
without running water or a decent toilet.
I bathe quickly, wishing I could stay and soak, knowing my time is
limited. If I am late, the headmaster will be furious, and hes not a
man to be trifled with. I dry myself and dress, and quickly scrub my
teeth before dashing across the courtyard to the dining room. The
servants have already laid a good breakfast out - bread, wine, cheese
and olives. Mother sits at the table, father has already left for the
Senate for the day. We eat together and Mother asks after my studies.
She is very strict with me, reminding me that it is important to be
well educated, that I may become a Senator like Father. Though I
think Fathers job is interesting enough, She hands me a few candles,
my wax tablet and scrolls, and shoos me outside, encouraging me to
hurry so I am not late.
I scurry through the dark street, and find that my friend and
schoolmate, Marcus, is just ahead of me. I call to him to wait, and
we walk the remaining distance to school together. He has been to the
bakery, and is wolfing down a pancake as we walk. He rose late again,
his mother isnt nearly as strict as mine.
When we arrive at school, we stop to light our candles at one of the
oil lamps burning near the entrance. Its important to remember to
bring candles each day, lest we havent light enough to read by before
the sun rises. The headmaster is already there, and he greets us with
a curt nod and a gesture to sit.
We spend the day studying intensely. The Twelve Tables of Law, the
duties of a Roman citizen, philosophy, arithmetic, grammar, oration.
By midday, Im famished and my brain hurts. The headmaster pushes us
very hard, and it requires all of my energy to concentrate. Im
relieved to have a break to go home for lunch!
Julia has prepared lunch for me - Mother is at the Forum, most likely
shopping or visiting with friends. I have a piece of cold fish, some
bread and cheese, and then I go back outside to look for Marcus.
Marcus and I throw a ball around for a little while, each of us trying
to throw harder than the other. It feels good to be out in the sun
and fresh air! Our break time is soon over, though, and we rush back
to school to finish our lessons for the day.
When I return home, I find that my sister is in the courtyard with
Mother. They are sewing, and Mother looks very pleased with my
sisters progress. Father is inside, having returned from the Senate,
and is preparing to attend a dinner party in the home of another
Senator this evening. He claps me on the shoulder and asks after my
studies, particularly after my lessons in oration. I explain what the
headmaster has taught us, and he tells me I will make a fine Senator
some day. I hope this is so, I want very much to follow in Fathers
Father leaves for the dinner party, and I join Mother and my sister in
the dining room. Julia and our other servants have prepared a
delicious meal for us - roasted pigeon, figs, dates, cheese, grapes,
bread and wine. We linger over dinner, enjoying each others company
and the chance to relax. Mother informs us that we are to see the
physician tomorrow, to ensure that we are healthy. People dont seem
to fall ill very often, but when they do, our physicians are usually
able to cure them. We are very fortunate to have such skilled healers
here. We sit in the courtyard for a little while after dinner, to
look at the stars and enjoy the night breezes, then I retire to my
sleeping quarters, for it will soon be time to rise again and spend
another day at school.
[ Although much changed in the government and in world events, day to
day life in ancient Rome changed very little over the course of a
thousand years. ]
Daily Life in Ancient Rome
Mr. Dowling's Electronic Passport: Rome
Roman Ball Games
Timeline of the Roman Empire
1,500 - 750 years ago
About 500 AD to 1250AD
The Dark Ages
Life in Middle Ages London, while often portrayed in books and movies
as glamorous and romantic, was anything but. Living conditions were
harsh and often dangerous.
The average Londoner of the time could expect to begin the day at the
Angelus Bell (first bell), usually rung at 4AM. This bell signaled
the beginning of the first Mass of the day and the end of the Night
Shop owners of the era were expected to open their doors at 6AM, to
allow for early morning shopping before a 9AM or 10AM breakfast.
Marketplaces were busy for the better part of the morning, leaving
precious little time for the busy shopkeeper to eat a few bits of
bread and a morsel of cheese to break his fast.
The tasks of going to market, cooking and minding the house fell,
perhaps unsurprisingly, to the women. They would rise at Angelus Bell
to prepare their fires, sweep the hearth, and get the children washed
before leaving for the marketplace. Upon returning, they would
prepare a simple breakfast of bread and cheese, and occasionally fresh
fruit when it was available, before beginning the days chores.
Women of the day spun their own yarn and often wove or knitted their
own cloth . Clothing was simple, often coarse and sewn at home.
Shoes could be purchased from tanners, but leather goods were
expensive. Much of the medieval womans day was spent marketing,
sewing new clothing, mending older clothing, educating the children
(though children were often sent off to work as apprentices) and
preparing the family meals, while the husband worked as a baker,
shopkeeper, tanner, tavern keeper, blacksmith or barber.
With the exception of blacksmiths, tanners, barbers and taverns, shops
closed at around 3PM, allowing the shopkeepers to go home for a midday
meal, before tending to their livestock and small gardens.
The diet was surprisingly varied for the time - grains such as wheat,
oats and barely were staples. Meat consisted of pork or chicken
(families often kept their own pigs and chickens in small pens behind
their houses), mutton from the market, and wild fowl caught during a
hunt. Leeks, onions and garlic were used for seasoning, and
vegetables such as parsnips, "welsh carrots", peas and beans were
cultivated in home gardens. Available fruits included small apples,
cherries and plums. Use of herbs and spices was very common, perhaps
to disguise the flavor of food beginning to spoil (which doubtless
contributed to many cases of food poisoning). Cookware was typically
of clay and sometimes iron, with bread being baked in a clay oven or
on an iron griddle. Since most cooking was done over an open fire,
meals typically consisted of stew of one kind or another, or roasted
Sanitation in medieval London was a cause for great concern. Sewage
was drained into channels along the streets, and garbage was thrown
onto midden heaps behind the house. It wasnt common to wash ones
hands regularly, so intestinal disorders from contact with sewage were
commonplace, as was disease spread by biting flies, and plague spread
by rats in the latter part of the era. Food harvesting methods often
made it difficult to sort weeds from grain, and and storage methods
were crude, resulting in the spread of foodborne illnesses.
Townsfolk were additionally bothered by pests such as mites and
bedbugs, which also carried disease.
Medical care, expensive and available primarily to the wealthy, was
often a very risky proposition. Physicians of the time believed that
diseases were caused by foul odors and "bad humors". Bloodletting was
the traditional treatment for all manner of illness, though it often
served to worsen the condition rather than better it. Herbal folk
remedies were abundant, but often included ingredients such as ground
earthworms, urine, and animal excrement!
Although building with stone was recommended to reduce fire risk, most
homes (those of the commonfolk) were built of wood, with thatched
roofs and very tiny window openings with shutters that were closed at
night or in bad weather. Commoners homes were typically very small,
just two or three rooms, with dirt floors and a large hearth.
Furnishings were very simple - low wooden benches (sometimes with
linen tacked or glued on for some measure of comfort if the family
could afford it), wooden tables, and straw mattresses for sleeping.
Light was provided by the fire and tallow candles.
Homes were veritable tinder boxes - homeowners of the period were
required to keep a large container of water outside their front door
to aid in fire fighting, and all were expected to go running with
whatever water and equipment they had at their disposal if a house
The more well-to-do common folk might venture forth at the end of the
day to enjoy a pint of ale and a bit of music at the tavern. Others
would sit before the fire after dinner - men often smoking a pipe or
telling stories to the children. Curfew bell rang at about 9PM,
signaling the remaining shopkeepers that the business day was at an
Residents were expected to go home then, and stay there until Angelus
Bell the next morning.
750 years ago - 400 years ago
About 1250AD - 1600AD
End of the Dark Ages through the Renaissance
Though many sources abound discussing the "cultural revolution" of the
Renaissance, there is very little that would indicate any sort of
change in living conditions. In fact, sources tend to lump the
periods together, with respect to living conditions. The changes were
largely political and cultural, and had very little effect on day to
day living, with the notable exception that there was more demand for
In the early part of the era, famine and malnutrition were common,
thanks to the unseasonably cold and wet summers of 1315 - 1317 and the
burgeoning population of the early 1300s. Towns were overcrowded,
food was scarce, and families often resorted to eating their seed
grain, draft horses - and pets.
Diseases such as leprosy, typhoid and pneumonia still ran rampant, as
sanitation was still a problem.
As the era progressed, the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe,
decimating the populations. The Black Death was responsible for the
deaths of thousands, wiping out nearly half the population of some
crowded cities, and fully a quarter of the population across Europe.
Medieval England - daily life in medieval towns
What Was It Really Like In The Middle Ages
The Medieval Europe Chronology
Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England
The Peripheral Period
The Medieval Experience - Medieval Life and Times Research Unit
Medieval and Renaissance Culture
300 - 200 years ago
1700 - 1800 Colonial America
During Americas Colonial years, fully 90% of the population lived in
rural areas. Though schoolhouses became increasingly common, the
majority of the population of the time could neither read nor write.
Life on a Colonial farm was bustling. Families rose before dawn -
women to start the cooking fires and prepare breakfast, men and
children to feed the livestock, milk the cows, gather eggs before
returning to have breakfast. Breakfast usually consisted of porridge,
bread, butter, cheese and cider or milk.
After breakfast, the children went to school to learn basic
arithmetic, reading, writing and prayers. Textbooks were scarce -
children were responsible for bringing their own bible, primer and
hornbook from which to learn. Mathematics lessons were recited and
learned by rote, as were simple poems and stories. "Disciplinary"
tactics such as whipping, dunce caps and "whisper sticks" were
commonplace to maintain order in the classroom.
While the children were at school men alternately hunted for game or
worked the fields, while the women spun yarn and thread, wove cloth,
sewed clothing, made soap and/or candles, and prepared meals.
Harvested fruits and vegetables were carefully dried and stored in
cellars for winter, meats were salted and cured or smoked. It wasnt
unusual for a Colonial woman to perform most or even all of these
tasks on a single day!
The children returned home from school shortly before dinner, usually
around 5 PM. They were expected to help with chores around the farm -
churning butter, feeding livestock again, hauling water, chopping wood
- while their mother prepared the evening meal and their father
returned from the fields or hunting. Children were expected to help
their father clean any game caught that day.
A young girl listed the following chores accomplished in her journal,
"Fixed gown for Prude, mend Mother's Riding Hood, Spun short thread,
Fixed two gowns for Welsh's girls, Carded tow, Spun linen, Worked on
cheese basket, Hatchel'd flax with Hannah, 51 pounds each, Pleated and
ironed, Read sermon of Dodridge's, Spooled apiece, Milked cows, Spun
linen-50 knots, Made broom from Guinea wheat straw, Spun thread to
whiten, Set a red dye, Had 2 scholars for Mrs. Taylor, Carded 2 pounds
of wool Nationally, Spun harness twine, Scoured pewter, Ague in face,
Ellen spark'd last night, Went to Mr. Otis's and made them a swinging
visit . . . "
Staple foods of the Colonial diet included pork and corn, often
supplemented with oats, barley and rye. Potatoes, carrots, and
cabbages were grown on the farm for family consumption, as were apples
and cherries. Venison was commonly served, as well as chicken, mutton
and occasionally beef.
Light was provided by the fireplace and by candles made by hand.
Women and girls often spent their evenings before the fire, sewing or
embroidering, while boys and men tended to repairs of furnishings
(wooden tables and chairs) and cooking pots, before retiring to
straw-stuffed mattresses for the nights rest.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Children in Colonial Times
Education for Boys and Girls
Colonial America (via Googles Cache)
Perspectives on Liberty
Daily Life in the 1700's
Colonial America - Ye Olde Research Links
About 100 years ago
"There was no welfare to help you out. If you were poor, you went to
My mother rolled tobacco into cigars at home to try and raise a little
extra money. Actually, we all pitched in and helped - my father, my
grandfather, me - everybody who was in the house. [
] We would spread
out these leaves and just roll and roll and talk and talk
"I started working when I was six years old, selling newspapers on the
Pittsburgh was very dirty back then. Everyone burned coal for heat,
and it was soft coal, which emits a lot of sulfur and black fumes.
Some days, you couldnt even see the sun at noontime because of the
thick smoke." (p10)
Excerpted from The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
Life in Pittsburgh in the early part of the century was difficult.
Daddy typically went to work in the early hours of the morning in one
of the many factories or canneries in the city. It fell to Mother to
tend to the household and care for the children (who often themselves
had to work instead of going to school). Clothes of the era were
usually handmade by the mother - in many families, the grandparents
were also in residence, and Grandmother assisted with the sewing and
Some vegetables were raised in backyard gardens, and canned for later
use. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available from farmers markets
in abundance, and butcher shops carried a variety of meats - spring
chicken, lamb, beef, veal, sausages, pork.
Families washed using a basin and pitcher, and bathtime happened once
a week - Mother would heat water on the coal stove until a large
washtub was filled, and the family would share the bathwater by turns,
starting with Daddy, all the way down through the children. (Ew.)
Laundry was scrubbed by hand in the backyard with a washboard and lye
soap in the washtub, then hung on the line to dry. Clothes were
pressed by hand, using an iron heated at the fire or on the coal
Although disease was still a problem - notably tuberculosis,
pneumonia, polio and diptheria, medical care was more readily
available in the cities than in rural areas.
Not quite 80 years ago
1903 - 1935
"Our house was typical of those occupied by middle-income landowners
of the time. Set back about 50 feet from the dirt road, it was
square, painted tan to match the dust, and had a broad front porch and
a split shingle roof. The rooms were laid out shotgun style, with a
hall that went down the middle of the house dividing the living room,
dining room and kitchen on the left side from three bedrooms on the
right. We also had a screened porch that extended across the back of
the house, where we worked and stored things such as well water, corn
for the chickens, and extra wood to keep it dry." (p29)
"There is little doubt that I now recall those days with more fondness
than they deserve. We drew water from a well in the yard, and every
day of the year, we had the chore of keeping extra bucketfuls in the
kitchen and on the back porch, combined with the constant wood sawing
and chopping to supply the cooking stove and fireplaces. In every
bedroom was a slop jar (chamber pot) that was emptied each morning
into the outdoor privy, about 20 yards from our back door. This small
shack had a large hold for adults and a lower and smaller one for
"It was a great day for our family in 1935 when Daddy purchased from a
mail-order catalogue and erected a windmill with a high wooden tank
and pipes that provided running water for the kitchen and a bathroom
with a toilet. We even had a rudimentary shower made from a large tin
can with its bottom perforated by nail holes." (p31)
"Our artificial light came from kerosene lamps, and it was considered
almost sinful to leave one burning in an unoccupied room." (p31)
"I didnt know of any rural families that had electric lights until
the rural electrification program came along in the late 1930s."
"The worst job was getting up in the morning to start a fire going
somewhere in the frigid house. [
] There was an open fireplace in the
living room that we lit only late in the afternoon, when the family
would gather there, but the fire (later a wood-burning heater) in the
bedroom where Mama and Daddy slept was made at dawn
"Almost all our food was produced in our pasture, fields, garden and
An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, by Jimmy Carter
2001, Touchstone Books
Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
Former President Carter goes on to discuss daily life in rural 1930s
Georgia in vivid detail, beginning with rising before dawn to start
the fire, to assisting with chopping wood and tending livestock,
before leaving for a small, one room school house for his daily
studies. Clothes were simple and made at home, and shoes were worn
only when absolutely necessary, as they were considered an expensive
After school each day, he assisted in the fields - first as a water
carrier for the farmhands, and later as a farmhand himself, assisting
with the harvest of whatever crop was in the field at the time - corn,
cotton, peanuts, sugar cane.
Conditions such as hookworm, dysentery, pellagra and headlice were
very common, as were diptheria , influenza, pneumonia and polio. More
feared than polio in rural Georgia, however, was rabies - rabid dogs
were common, contracting the disease from rat bites. Treatments
ranged from patent medicines of the time for hookworm and dysentary
and kerosene shampoos for headlice, to a series of 21 painful
abdominal injections for rabies, and hospitalization for diptheria and
polio. There was no medical insurance, and doctors were typically
many miles off in the larger cities.
[ Note: I just finished this book not even a week ago. Its an
incredible portrait of rural life in the Depression era. Well worth
the time to read! ]
Other notes of interest in the early 1900s:
1900 - George Eastman makes first portable camera
1901 - Electric typewriter is invented
1902 - The U.S. Navy installs the first radio telephone aboard ships
1903 - Henry Ford founds Ford Motor Co.
- Orville and Wilbur Wright take the first test flight at
Kitty Hawk, NC
- The first World Series is held, Boston vs. Pittsburgh
1904 - The first comic book is invented
- The answering machine is invented
1905 - The first Yellow Pages is invented
- The Jukebox is invented with 24 songs.
1906 - 2,500 people die from an earthquake in San Francisco
- An animated cartoon is created
1907 - The Lamiere brothers create still color photography
1908 - Henry Ford makes his first Model T
1910 - First electric self-starter for automobiles
- First air conditioner invented
1912 - U.S. Public Health Service is established
- First use of zippers in clothing
1913 - Ford Motor Company introduces the moving assembly line
1920 - First radio broadcast
1922 - first traffic light
1924 - first road atlas and shopping center
1925 - first motel
1926 - first television transmission
1927 - first talking movie, The Jazz Singer
1928 - first animated cartoon - Walt Disneys Steamboat Willie
1929 - first public parking garage
The 1900s : A New Beginning
Decade of Tomorrow
The Roaring Twenties
The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, by Jimmy Carter
2001, Touchstone Books
Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020
60 - 40 years ago
1943 - 1963
At the end of WWII in 1946, affordable homes were not only in demand,
they were widely available. Returning veterans often fled the cities
and farms for newly constructed homes in the suburbs. Homes had
electricity, hot and cold running water, and electric appliances such
as stoves, refrigerators and washing machines. Some families also had
clothes dryers, but most still dried laundry on clotheslines outside.
Most families had automobiles, television made its appearance in homes
in the 1950s, and women who had worked during the war could often
choose between continuing work.
One woman of the era describes a typical day in the mid 50s:
"Ernie would get up every morning at 6 to be ready for work at 8.
Hed shower and shave, while I made coffee - we still had percolators
then - and breakfast. He liked to have oatmeal in the mornings. Id
pack a couple sandwiches or some fried chicken for him, and sometimes
a thermos bottle of soup to take for lunch. Ernie worked from 8AM til
5PM, Monday through Friday, and he was *busy*. You wouldnt think an
appliance repairman would be so busy, but he was. Hed have a dozen
orders waiting for him by the time he got to the shop, usually
housecalls for broken washing machines! After he left for work at
7:30, Id start the housework.
The first task was always washing diapers. Jim was just a baby then,
and he went through plenty of cloth diapers. We didnt have
disposable diapers, either, so I spent a lot of time doing laundry!
While the washing machine was running, Id wash the breakfast dishes
and make a couple bottles for Jim. Sometimes Id finish before he
woke up, but usually not, and Id have to stop to give him a bottle.
Then Id put him in his baby swing and finish that up.
Once the dishes were done, I hung the diapers out on the line to dry,
and came back inside to clean up the bathroom. Ernie always got
shaving soap all over the mirror, and left it for me to clean up!
Id stop for a little while to play with Jim, then take him into the
next room with me to do the dusting. We lived very close to the
grocers, so wed walk down every day to pick up whatever we were out
of. Wed stop on the way home to visit with neighbors or pick up
stamps at the post office, then go home to finish the chores. I had
diapers to take off the line and fold, and there were usually weeds
sticking up from the flower beds asking to be pulled.
Id feed Jim again, change his diaper and put him down for a nap, then
Id start dinner. Ernie wasnt very well paid then, so we ate quite a
lot of chicken and spaghetti. If we were having chicken, Id take it
out of the icebox, clean it and stuff it, and put it in the oven on a
slow roast. We always had potatoes and two vegetables, and bread and
butter. While dinner was in the oven, I would do another load of
laundry or do the mending.
Ernie would come home at dinner time, ready to eat. Hed give Jim a
bottle while I got dinner on the table, then put him back in his swing
while we had dinner. Wed do the dishes together, then take the baby
outside to sit on the porch. Sometimes wed visit neighbors or they
would visit us, but usually wed just sit and watch people and the
In the evenings, wed listen to the radio - we didnt own a television
until the mid 60s! - and Id feed Jim again and put him down for the
night. Sometimes we would read, Ernie would carve, I would knit or
crochet. We never stayed up very late. Bed time was about 9PM!"
WWII: The Home Front
The 50s Web
The Century for Young People, by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
1999, Random House, Inc. 1540 Broadway, NY, NY 10036
I also interviewed my mother in-law (a retired nurse) and my father
in-law (an army veteran and retired appliance repairman) for their
perspectives. It is their daily life from this era described above.
10 - 20 years ago
April 6th, 1993
Journal Entry, young working class mother.
4AM - The doorbell rings. Thats my cue to get out of bed - my
newspapers are here and I have a large route to throw. I have about
400 customers between 5 apartment communities, including my own very
small one. As Im pulling on my fleece pants and sneakers, the bell
rings again. AI! I wish he wouldnt do that
people are sleeping.
I dash to the terrace door and lean over the railing. My district
manager is waiting with special instructions. Great. I tell him to
wait long enough for me to brush my teeth, then Ill come down. I
pull my hair into a ponytail, not even bothering to brush it - that
can wait! I quickly brush my teeth, then check my carrier bag to make
sure my portable CD player is still in it. I add a banana and a
granola bar to the bag, dash into the hall, and sprint down the
4:15AM - Thomas has a short list of customers who are on vacation and
dont need papers today. They called too late to be added to the Stop
List automatically. Also, I have 6 new customers at Lake of the
Woods, and 4 more at Greenleaf. Mrs. Patterson at Lake of the Woods
has left instructions that Im to pick up a small box from her
doorstep - she hasnt said what it is, just that Im to take it. I
grin insolently at my manager, tell him hes holding up progress, and
drop my first bundle into my bag. I put my earphones on, start up the
CD player (U2 this morning), snap a handful of green rubberbands
around my wrist, and take off to throw my route, rolling the
newspapers as I walk quickly along the paths. I have to key in to
each building, but Ive been throwing the route long enough that I
dont have to climb stairs - each rolled paper is pitched up over the
rails to land in front of the appropriate door. I used to have
terrible aim, but now its perfect.
I finish my complex quickly, stop at my door to pick up the next
bundle, and continue to the next community - there are 5 communities
clustered together, and I walk to them all. First to Giant Oaks, next
door. Stop home, pick up another bundle, cross the street to
Greenleaf. Stop home, pick up the last two bundles. Deliver the
first leg of Lake of the Woods, following back to the fence the
property shares with the last community. I hoist the second bundle
over the fence - it will remain unmolested until I go to pick it up.
As I walk back to resume delivery, I pull my banana out of my bag, and
I quickly throw Lake of the Woods, retrieve the package from Mrs.
Pattersons stoop (which turns out to be a t-shirt from her recent
trip to the Bahamas, for Alex), then round the corner into Country
Trace, retrieve my last bundle, and throw my remaining 75 papers,
rolling and banding them as I walk. I complete the circle, and hop
the fence back over to Lake of the Woods. I take my granola bar out
to eat on the way home, cutting through the back of the community,
past the duck pond, and slipping through the hole in the fence to find
6AM - All is quiet. I lay down on the couch to nap, and the cat takes
the opportunity to curl up on my stomach.
7:15AM - Husbands alarm sounds. I wake from my nap to help him get
ready for work, grinding coffee beans and setting a pan of bacon to
fry. I scramble some eggs, and start packing a lunch of roast beef
sandwiches (from pot roast from the previous night), a piece of fruit,
a cup of tapioca pudding, and a can of soda. Our budget is very
tight, so he packs instead of going out.
7:30AM - Alex is awake and complaining that he wants breakfast. At
nearly three, he sleeps in a bed instead of a crib now, which has made
life a bit more active. He just gets up when he pleases and comes out
when hes ready. No extra nap for me today! He climbs into his
booster seat on his own and pelts me with questions: Wheres Daddy?
Whats for breakfast? Can I have orange juice? Can I have bacon? Is
7:45AM - Husband emerges from shower, to great cries of glee from
little Alex. They converse happily about the upcoming day. Alex is
going to look at the pre-school today! We sit together for breakfast
and go over the plan for the day: work for the husband from 9AM -
4PM, then again from 7PM to 10PM at second job. Appointment for me to
tour the Montessori school from 9AM to 10:30AM with Alex. Grocery
shopping, laundry, dinner preparations.
8:30AM - Husband leaves for work. Alex helps clear the table. I load
the dishwasher and start it, then ask Alex if he wants his bath first
or if hed rather watch TV while I showered. He chose bath. I run a
tub of warm water for him, with a splash of bubble bath. He complains
when I wash his hair, because hes afraid of getting shampoo in his
eyes, then drastically changes his tune when I pull him out of the tub
to dry off. "I am NAKEY BABY!", he shouts and streaks off sans towel,
giggling. I let him go. It makes him happy and I dont have time to
chase him down. I shower quickly, and step out to find that Alex has
dressed himself. More or less. His shirt is inside out and
backwards, but otherwise not bad. I tell him what hes missed, towel
off, and dress myself, then turn my attention to getting him ready to
go. He protests that he can do it himself, thank you, and squirms
free to adjust his clothes on his own.
8:50AM - I instruct Alex to go into the hallway, then follow him with
a basket of laundry under my arm. We dash down the steps, and stop at
the washer and dryer in the downstairs alcove. I dump the basket into
the washer, scoop out a measure of detergent, close the lid, push the
quarters in, and start the machine. Alex reaches up to take my hand,
and we quickly dash across the street to the Montessori school.
9AM - We meet with Miss Karen at Westside, and spend the next hour and
a half touring the school, discussing the Montessori curriculum, and
discussing tuition. Alex is enthralled by the bright colors and the
happy children, and flits from table to table to look at projects. I
fill out the papers and write the first tuition check as he bounces
happily. Its expensive, we really cant comfortably afford it, but
he wants to go to school so badly. Oh well. This is why I throw the
10:35AM - We cross the street to go home, stopping again in the
laundry alcove downstairs. I switch the laundry from the washer to
the dryer, start the machine, and head upstairs. There is a message
waiting from the pediatrician, reminding me of Alexs appointment next
I drop to the sofa in exhaustion, and ask Alex how he feels about a
little Sesame Street. He is delighted with the idea, and climbs onto
the sofa with me. I stretch out and he clambers down to sit behind my
legs. I doze off just after the opening credits.
NOON - I wake to Alex tugging at my hand. He wants to know if its
time for lunch. It is, and he insists that he has to have a hot dog.
On the grill. With a toasted bun. Hes very particular about his
lunch. I step onto the terrace and turn on the gas grill, then set a
single hot dog on the grate to roast, and slip a bun into the toasting
rack. While lunch is cooking, I feed the cats and change their water,
then take Alexs lunch off the grill and turn it off. He sits at the
table with his lunch of a hot dog, a pickle, a banana, and a cup of
chocolate milk, while I unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away.
12:30PM - I run downstairs to retrieve laundry from the dryer, bring
it back upstairs, and fold it. Alex follows the cats around, meowing.
He likes to pretend.
1PM - Out the door again. Alex and I meander to the new bus stop at
the corner to go to the grocery store. The bus is late, but we dont
mind. The trip is about fifteen minutes long, and we spend half an
hour in the store to replenish the basics - milk, bread, eggs, cheese,
pasta. I select a few fresh vegetables for dinner, and we head out to
catch the bus home.
2:30PM - We arrive home. I put the groceries away, then set about
preparing dinner. I decide on roasted chicken, so I pull a chicken
out of the freezer and put it in the microwave to thaw. I peel
several potatoes and place them in chilled, salted water, and clean
the carrots I just purchased at the grocers. Theyre large and very
fresh, with bright green tops. I slice them and put them into a
covered dish. They will be steamed later and dressed in butter.
3PM - the microwave sounds, and I pull the chicken out. I rinse it in
cold water, pat it dry, and rub it with lemon, salt and basil. Into
the oven it goes to roast. If Ive timed it right, it will be ready
to come out of the oven just as the husband gets home from work.
3:30PM - I quarter the potatoes that have been sitting in the salted
water, toss them into a pot of fresh cold water, and set them on the
stove to boil.
4PM - the potatoes are done. I drain them carefully, and transfer
them to a large glass bowl, to which I add salt, pepper, cream and
butter. I mash them thoroughly and set them aside. The covered dish
of carrots goes into the microwave to steam. I pull the chicken out
of the oven, transfer it to a platter to cool slightly, and make gravy
from the pan drippings.
4:15PM - husband is home for dinner. He changes clothes, then sets
the table while Alex plays in his booster seat. I finish the gravy,
give the potatoes a good stir, pull the carrots out of the microwave,
and carve the chicken. We sit down to dinner and converse about the
5:30PM - husband takes Alex out to the duckpond to play while I take
care of dishes and kitchen.
6PM - I sit down to computer briefly to edit route list, making note
of new Stops, Adds, and Collects. The computer is old - nearly ten
years old! - but serves the purpose admirably, and helps me keep the
route list well ordered. I remember when computers became more
common, and am grateful to have a computer to make my book-keeping and
list-making tasks more efficient.
6:30PM - Husband brings Alex back in, covered in mud! Oh dear. He
kisses us both goodbye, and heads for his second job - in the produce
department of a local market. I hustle Alex off to the tub to see
about finding him under the layers of grime. While I scrub, he
regales me with tales of chasing the duckies. *sigh*
7PM - Bedtime for Alex. I brush his teeth, dress him in pajamas, read
him two stories, then turn off his light and caution him to stay in
7:45PM - settle into chair to read newspaper that I delivered to the
rest of the neighborhood fifteen hours ago. I catch up on
correspondence, pay bills, call my sister in-law to make plans for the
following week, and watch a little television. Theres not much to
watch, so I turn it off, pick up a thick book from the shelf, and
settle in to read.
10:15PM - husband returns home from second job. He notes that the car
is making strange noises and asks me to make an appointment with a
mechanic in the morning while he is at work. We talk briefly. Its
been a busy day and were both exhausted, but there are still plans
that need to be made for the rest of the week. At last, I toddle off
to brush my teeth again, coil my hair into a bun, slip into soft
pajamas, and crawl into bed.
11PM - lights out. Im surely asleep before my head hits the pillow -
necessary to get up and do this all over again tomorrow, with only a
Source: personal journal entries and recollections.
This was quite an expansive project, taking a little longer than I had
expected, and I owe thanks to those who helped:
Digsalot-ga and his Archaeology site: http://www.archaeolink.com
Omnivorous-ga and his source suggestions.
Larre-ga, for the amusing correspondence
Kutsavi-ga for the interesting extra reference
My eldest son, Alexander, for the kind loan of his prized Field Museum
photos and notes, and for keeping the household out of trouble while I
My search strategy included: [ "(insert number) years ago" life ], [
"(insert number of years) BC" life OR timeline ], [ "(insert number
of years) AD "life OR timeline ] and assorted phrases culled from
these results (in no particular order):
"sanitation in the Middle Ages"
electricity "in homes"
History of Food Development
LIFE: Our Century in Pictures
by Richard B. Stolley and Editors of LIFE Magazine
I used Google, Questia [ http://www.questia.com ] and BigChalk
[ http://www.bigchalk.com ], as well as online access to the
Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, The Encyclopaedia Britannica
Online, several books from my own collection (including personal
journals and "The Century for Young People" by Peter Jennings), notes
from the Michelangelo exhibit I attended at the Toledo Museum of Art
last year, and I caught a few interesting details while watching the
Discovery Channel during dinner.