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Housewifery 101

Housewifery 101

"McKinley School lab." Home economics at McKinley High School in Washington circa 1910. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Wires and Gas

When I first moved into my old house in Atlanta, a house built in 1910 or so, I found cloth-insulated wires for overhead lamps running through the gaspipes to every room ceiling. It confused me until I realized that electricity was added onto the house in the twenties. There were also the "knob and tube" ceramic insulators all over the attic. I got that overhauled quick!

Gas hoses for tabletop use

Scary as it seems to me, combination gas and electric chandeliers also provided convenient sources for portable gas table fixtures via rubber hoses such as the one in this photo. I've seen a 1910 photo of a gas table lamp in the parlor of Ulysses S. Grant Jr.'s house in San Diego, using just such a hose dangling down from a gascock on the chandelier overhead.

I would have failed the class

Since I really hate to cook!

I don't think it's jetting

The light fixture on the right has tubing coming out of what would be the jets, so I'm not sure where the flame was supposed to be. Unless... the ends were cut off and fixed with lightbulbs. But they're sorta facing downward instead of upward.

[That's a rubber hose for something like a Bunsen burner. So the gas must still be connected. - Dave]

All right Dave, explain

So why do you think there weren't many white girls in circa 1910 Washington pursuing careers in domestic service? Seriously, do you know something I don't? From what I've read, photographs, etc, there seem to have been scads of white servants in that era. It's pretty darn common vocation for a girl of modest means, and those frilly white caps indicate a servant uniform. You don't see many housewives wearing those - strictly for the help. I'm not sure how being in Washington in 1910 would have changed that. Was there a highly localized white-domestic plague that year?

[Anything is possible. Maybe McKinley High did have a "maid training" program where you got to play dress-up. Most of the girls shown taking food-preparation instruction in photos from this era are shown wearing aprons and caps. Then as now, food preparers in an institutional setting would wear a cap or hairnet. If these girls had career aspirations that involved cooking, I think nursing or restaurant work would be the more likely choices. The McKinley course offerings as listed in the Washington Post archives are pretty general -- machine shop, carpentry, motor repair, home economics. The classroom in our photo was the "domestic science" (home economics) lab. Instruction was given in "plain and fancy cookery," invalid cookery and menu planning. - Dave]

Combo lights

It appears those lights are combination gas and electric- with a gas jet pointing up behind each bulb.

[They're gas fixtures that have been wired for electricity. A common practice when electricity was replacing gas for illumination. - Dave]

As far as the asbestos mat,

As far as the asbestos mat, Asbestos has a bad reputation because of asbestosis, but a well made asbestos blanket is perfectly safe as long as you don't let it get frayed.

However, I think Dave's got the title wrong on this one... these young ladies aren't studying to be housewives, they're studying to be the hired help, kitchen maids or cooks, judging by how they're dressed. The room isn't even set up right to properly emulate a "normal" home of the era.

Of course, I could be wrong....

[McKinley Manual Training School was, at least in name, a vocational high school. But that doesn't mean these ladies aren't learning the domestic arts while they're in the cooking lab. The aprons, like the aprons in any lab or kitchen, are there to protect your clothes. Something tells me there weren't many white girls in circa 1910 Washington pursuing careers in domestic service. - Dave]

Chains on the ceiling

If it's anything like the high school I went to the chains operate the sashes on skylights.

Oh Good

It's comforting to see that "1 - asbestos mat" is included in the chalkboard list of kitchen must-haves!

Asbestos mat?

Well at least they did not have guns, drugs, or knives.

Ok, I'll bite

What are the twin chains hanging from the ceiling for?

[My guess would be damper chains. - Dave]

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