Life Back Then


Days began before the first ray of light from the sun.  Wood was brought in for preparing meals, water fetched from the well outside, cows had to be milked, animals fed, barns cleaned, clothes washed, meals prepared, vegetable gardens tended to, butter to be churned, chamber pots emptied, the house to clean and so much more.

The earliest of our ancestors were known to hand wash all their clothes in a creek or river.  The scrub board was invented about 1797.  The first electric washing machine was invented in 1908; but the scrub board was still in use up through the 1940s because not everyone had electricity. 

A newspaper reported that on Sunday, 8 July 1860, the temperature reach 104 degrees at 4 pm in Enterprise, MS.  The low for that day was only 90 degrees at 10 pm.  Our ancestors were use to the blazing heat of July and August.  The oscillating fan wasn’t invented until the late 1890s – early 1900, so you were lucky if you had electricity.

Women would prepare breakfast in the fireplace or on a cast iron stove fueled by wood, and then continue cooking the other meals for the day in the cool morning hours of summer.  No beeping from the oven when it was preheated to a certain degree, it was a guessing game when it reached the right temperature.  Supper was not a hot meal during the summer months.  Most of the time meals consisted of mostly vegetables and no meat.  On most Saturdays, they caught one of their chickens and wrung its neck to prepare for Sunday Lunch.

Most houses were up off the ground.  Many kept the potatoes they had grown under the house or in a hole dug in the floor of a smoke house, covered in hay or pine straw, to preserve them for the months ahead.  When retrieving potatoes from this cool place, one would encounter a mouse or rat from time to time.

The butter that had been churned was kept wrapped up and floating in the cold water of a nearby spring or creek.

Most clothing was cotton (except for the wealthy), and needed ironing.  Heavy (non-electric) irons were set next to the fire to heat, and I am sure many of clothing were scorched from time to time from that iron getting too hot by a beginner.

Outhouse and slop jars (aka chamber pots) were the common.  Toilet paper wasn’t available until the 1920s and a luxury known as “Geyetts’s Medicated Paper”.  There was a time when you would get a tub bath once a week.  That wash tub was hand filled with several buckets of water, and the water shared with the rest of the family before being dumped.  The other days of the weeks, you washed off from a bowl  or pan of water.

Most houses had only one fireplace for heat in the winter and/or just a cast iron stove.  In the winter, you slept in a room with no heat.

We live in a fast pace world of so many modern day conveniences and yet we complain about not having enough time to get things done.  We are so fortunate in comparison of our ancestors.  I’m sure they would shake their heads at us and tell us “You don’t know what hard work is.”


Guilliam Rex Graham, 85, of Quitman, Mississippi, passed away on September 23, 2020, at Anderson's... READ MORE