“Some Problems Solved for Housewives”: Cooking, Cleaning, Dressing and Entertaining in Historic Newspapers

When you think of reasons to read a newspaper, either in its traditional print or dynamic online format, it probably goes without saying that one of the first things you think of is news, whether it is local, state, national or international. We rely on newspapers and other media outlets to keep us abreast of current affairs, and it was no different for our ancestors living in an era before the Internet and television.

Other items that might compel you to pick up a newspaper are (to name a few): opinion pieces, entertainment features, advice columns, weather forecasts, music and movie reviews, comic strips and advertisements. And this was also no different for our ancestors. Newspapers served as one of their primary forms of communication and, as such, were jam-packed with a variety of content. Reading historical newspapers is a great way to find information about specific events, people and places—but it is also a wonderful way to gain insight into the culture of the times during which our ancestors lived.

Header from a newspaper section geared toward women (Ogden Standard, December 29, 1917, p. 22, via Chronicling America).

Header from a newspaper section geared toward women (Ogden Standard, December 29, 1917, p. 22, via Chronicling America).

An article featuring general tips for baking a cake (Marion Daily Mirror, April 15, 1911, p. 6, via Chronicling America).

An article featuring general tips for baking a cake (Marion Daily Mirror, April 15, 1911, p. 6, via Chronicling America).

One easy and fun way to find information about the domestic life of the 19th and early 20th century is by looking at newspapers available through Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s free digital newspaper website. From the Marion Daily Mirror, you can learn the “Mysteries of Cake Baking”; in the Mt. Vernon Democratic Banner, read about the newest trends (as of 1918) in repurposing old materials to make new clothes; and in the Hillsboro News-Herald, learn how to play Edythe Wilson’s The Fortune Teller on piano.

Clipping from the Hillsboro News-Herald (January 12, 1905, p. 3, via Chronicling America).

Clipping from the Hillsboro News-Herald (January 12, 1905, p. 3, via Chronicling America).

There are over six million pages of historic American newspapers published between 1836 and 1922 available on this website, including over 200,000 pages from Ohio. That means countless articles related to household matters.   Wondering what sort of food your family might have prepared for dinner during the early 20th century? You can find that in the newspapers. Are you curious about what games they played at parties? You’ll find the answer to that question too. You can also learn what outfits were fashionable for spring, summer, fall and winter; gardening advice; cleaning tips; dancing instructions and more.

Click here to see one of these topics, recipes and cooking tips, featured in an Ohio Historical Society’s Chronicling America Search Strategy Video available through YouTube. In addition to showing you how to find recipes in Chronicling America, this short video will teach you why and when to use the proximity search option when performing other searches on the website. Be sure to check out the Recipes and Cooking Tips Subject Guide, available through the Ohio Digital Newspaper Portal Subject Guide Collection, for even more information.

Learn to dance the “‘Hesitation’…a variation of the Modern Waltz” (Washington Herald, June 21, 1914, Image 7, via Chronicling America).

Learn to dance the “‘Hesitation’…a variation of the Modern Waltz” (Washington Herald, June 21, 1914, Image 7, via Chronicling America).

The Chronicling America Search Strategy Videos  was developed by the Ohio Historical Society with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress  as part of the  National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio staff. Please visit the Ohio Digital Newspaper Portal for more information.

The National Digital Newspaper Program is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress and state projects to provide enhanced access to United States newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. NEH awards support state projects to select and digitize historically significant titles that are aggregated and permanently maintained by the Library of Congress. As part of the project, the Ohio Historical Society contributed 200,000 newspaper pages to the project between July 2008 and August 2012 and will contribute an additional 100,000 pages by the end of August 2014.

Jenni Salamon, Project Coordinator, NDNP-OH

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