Advances in the manufacture of cast iron made possible the invention of the cook stove in 1820, women’s first labor saving device. Small by later standards, this stove put the cooking surface at waist height for the first time, eliminating the need to stoop and bend and pivot while lifting and moving heavy pots inside an open hearth…and the need to always hold her skirts back from the open flames. One popular model from 1820 – 1860 was the step-top design, looking somewhat like a tiered cake on legs. Some California-bound pioneers loaded these in their covered wagons, only to abandon them along the trail when their weight proved exhausting to draft animals. After the 1848 gold discovery and subsequent rush for riches, these stoves were shipped around Cape Horn, arriving in San Francisco as early as December 1849. Quite likely they were very expensive, as was everything else imported from “the states” that year.
Wash day was a consuming task in frontier days when the only machines were a woman’s hands and arms and washtubs were filled with hand-drawn buckets of well water, instead of flowing through a network of pipes. White laundry such as bedding, shirts, and petticoats were boiled in soap-filled kettles over a fire. Continue reading Working with Flatirons
She was tiny—less than five feet tall—but determined and confident. In April 1868, she married tall John Bidwell, a prominent California pioneer 20 years her senior, and took charge of his three-story, 26 room mansion on Rancho del Arroyo Chico. Their home, complete with gas lighting and the latest in 19th Continue reading Annie Bidwell
Only twenty-five and a nun for a mere six years, Sister Mary Baptist Russell was chosen as Superior when a group of eight Sisters of Mercy from the Kinsale Convent in Ireland accepted a plea from the newly created Catholic Diocese of San Francisco to fill an urgent need for missionaries in that city. Their journey was Continue reading A Sainted Nun
At eight years old, talented Lotta Crabtree was a potent box office attraction all over northern California—a red-haired, merry-eyed child blessed with an irrepressible laugh. She charmed toughened gold miners, and everyone else, with her singing, dancing, and comedy. Some of her Irish songs and dance steps were learned Continue reading Lotta Crabtree