Uterine History

Have you ever noticed that the vast majority of historical information is dedicated to the exploits of men? Wars. Regimes. Exploration. The fact is that we often don’t have a clue what was going on in a day-to-day, routine sort of way in most periods in history. Especially in the lower classes. I call this Uterine History, and it’s shamefully overlooked.

How on earth did women with toddlers manage to keep them from burning themselves on the wood stoves they labored over for much of the day? (Well, yeah, many of them didn’t, which is why so many children didn’t survive to adulthood, but how did ANY of them succeed?)

How did you manage to find the time and supplies to sew clothes when out on the prairie, days away from civilization? If you dropped a needle through a crack in the floorboard, your family would be wearing rags. How did you feed your family when the men were off to war? In times of drought, what did you do when your children cried out for water? What did they do for toilet paper in the year 1000? How did you cope with menstruation while toiling in the fields? How did you handle childbirth when you were never even taught the birds and the bees?

It’s the daily grind of life that is often passed over in the history books, because, frankly, people engaged in that grind didn’t have time to write about it. You don’t even see cave paintings depicting people doing laundry or cooking or fetching water or changing whatever passed for diapers.

I used to think history equaled what happened in the past, but really it equals what people felt was worthy of mention, completely ignoring the fact that if someone didn’t take the time to cook, no one ate.

indian mother

Inuit Woman With Child. 1900. Alaska.

[Image credit: facebook.com/mosesonthemesa]


7 thoughts on “Uterine History

  1. Elaine Lorefield

    I find well-researched historical fiction wonderfully interesting. many of the questions you posed are answered to some degree, even if the dialogue and drama are fictionalized. I imagine that toddlers were penned to some part of the room away from the stove and the older watched the younger.. also, once burned, maybe they learned to listen. Both my parents came from very large families (as in I have or had 17 sets of aunts and uncles) who lived in rural Mississippi. Grandmothers lived with someone after gramps died.. she helped with the baby and toddler care..Everyone had chores to do. My mother (nearly 94) tells about churning the butter and cleaning the kerosene lamp chimneys when she was 4, sewing her underclothes when she was 6, and having one pair of shoes a year. There were 2 bedrooms in their house and 8 children.. imagine! Families back then were much more like a community where it took all of them to make sure everyone survived. I can’t imagine living so closely with others, since I only have one brother who is 10 years older than I. There are some parts of that life I think we are missing in the modern western world but lots of parts we are better off not having to know about.

    1. I like fictionalized history, too! I love reading James Michener and Colleen McCullough, both of whom put a lot of research into their novels. I can only take them in short spurts though. It’s almost too dense to swallow in large bites. I just wish the everyday domestic stuff was taught to our kids in history class. I think a lot will be lost otherwise.

      Thanks for your fascinating comment, my friend!

  2. Elaine Lorefield

    I bought the book _The Civil War_ way back when it was on PBS. Ken Burns had researched for years.. and the most heartbreaking part of the series for me were the letters and diaries of the women of the South, talking about how they were harvesting dandelion greens in the spring.. first fresh vegetables they’d had since autumn.. killing the horses.. finding a trove of rose hips so they could make tea.. and of course the loss of loved ones and the lack of hope. but rife with detail of day to day survival. An amazing look into how women survived and maintained their families with what dignity they could, cutting down old dresses, turning collars and cuffs, lining shoes with woven straw to cover the holes.. amazing strength.

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