The book sat wedged between two other volumes at the used bookstore. With a worn spine that was unreadable, the book looked forgotten and forlorn. That’s when I decided that regardless what its pages contained, Saturday Mornings needed to come home with me. I gently pulled the book from the shelf, opened it, and realized I’d found a treasure. Saturday Mornings was a housekeeping story.
Written by Caroline French Benton in 1906, Saturday Mornings is instructional, but uses a story to get its point across. Like many of its competitors through 1919, the book explains how to complete tasks within the framework of a story. I’ve always loved these books and have several in my collection. This one is actually titled Saturday Mornings: A Little Girl’s Experiments and Discoveries, or How Margaret Learned to Keep House.
I recently found it on my bookshelf again, nestled between a few vintage cookbooks. I decided it was time for an airing, to use an old housekeeping term.
The Book’s Story
Saturday Mornings began as a series of articles in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1905. Titled “Margaret’s Saturday Mornings,” each article became a chapter of the book, with a little more added. The articles were edited a bit before their final form. I found that words changed between the Good Housekeeping article and the printed book. Fun became delightful. A list of bathroom tasks was shortened to clean the grates and other things. Overall, however, the book and the articles remained almost the same.
Margaret’s journey begins at the Christmas Tree, where she finds everything she needs to run a household tied to the branches. In addition, a small red book nestles among the branches. Its title is Saturday Mornings, and it holds everything she needs to begin her adventure in housekeeping.
Throughout subsequent chapters Margaret learns the best way to keep a kitchen fire alive, and set and serve various meals in the dining room. She learns about laundry and linen, bedrooms and bathrooms. The last short chapter takes Margaret through an entire day’s work, where she showcases everything she knows.
Looking over the pages, some housekeeping tasks remain the same over 100 years later. Others, however, changed quite a bit. We no longer clean anything with gasoline, for instance. It was used to cut deep grime and for other tasks, but I couldn’t imagine wetting a cloth with gasoline to clean anything. Of course, in 1906 your choices for cleaners included ammonia, vinegar, cake soap, and other similar chemicals. Since fiberglass tubs and electric clothes washers stood far in the distance, the materials used to clean these items were unheard of as well.
Caroline French Benton wrote many other articles and books on the home and the women’s sphere. Her most well known book is probably A Little Cook Book for a Little Girl in 1905, although she went on to write about women’s clubs, motherhood, and thrifty lifestyles.
Read it Yourself
You can find a copy of Saturday Mornings, a housekeeping story, at Project Gutenberg, and download it in several formats or read it online.
If the history of housekeeping interests you, you will enjoy this book. In fact, you might also like Never Done: A History of American Housework by Susan Strasser. (Amazon link).
And if you enjoy stories of youth from 1905-1915, you might enjoy this post on the Motor Maids School Days, where Billie and her car find friends and solve a mystery.