The women who wrote these diaries worked hard, but not to earn money. Although they had paid help in their homes, such as maids and seamstresses, they also did a lot of the housework themselves. Managing a household was a job in itself because many people lived in the house and there were always frequent visitors.

Click to see a larger image (167K)
Mother sewing up little boy's pants,1904
John Boyd fonds
Reference Code:C 7-4-0-0-32
Archives of Ontario, I0003740

Woman's Work is Never Done


Today we buy what we need at any convenient time. In the 19th century these women prepared foods that were only available seasonally and made most of the clothes for their family. After her mother’s death, Marty Hastie managed the household, at first with help, and then on her own.

“The more I do the more I see to do & it keeps me going as hard as I can …”

Photo: Murphy family and friends at Hanlan's Point, Toronto Island, [ca. 1901]
Click to see a larger image (305K)

Murphy family and friends at Hanlan's Point, Toronto Island,[ca. 1901]
Photographer unknown
Rowley Murphy collection
Reference Code: C 59-1-0-7-1
Archives of Ontario, I0013699

Photo: Domestic servant getting dinner ready,1906
Click to see a larger image (143K)

Domestic servant getting dinner ready,1906
M. O. Hammond fonds
Reference Code: F 1075-9-0-8, S 9103
Archives of Ontario, I0028040

“Busy canning cherries, Jennie helping to stone them. Boiling ½ my vinegar.
… Bottled & sealed vinegar
Busy in my raspberry vinegar still.”

Milne, August 2, 3, and 5, 1869

“Busy at my rug & knitting sock in the evening.
Jan 29: Finished rug.
Started 2nd sock for Em.
Cut my lilac print.
Busy at my lilac print dress,
Cut Wm.’s shirts.”
Milne, January 17, 28, 29; February 1; March 14-15; April 28, 1870



“The worst of it is we, Miss M & I, have no time to think of keeping cool or resting but its work work all the time over the hot stove in that little hole of a kitchen, which is like an oven itself, or ironing & when that is over there is no end of sewing, mending & dusting besides Harold to put to sleep, dress & amuse.”

Hastie,  June 19, 1884



“The last time I wrote about my housekeeping I was in very good spirits. I had not had a long enough trial of it, but today I was pretty low spirited. The more I do the more I see to do & it keeps me going as hard as I can keep to things in proper order, & often I get thoroughly exhausted … Sometimes I feel as bright & lively as a cricket working around & thinking what a splendid little housekeeper I make, then I will get discouraged & be in despair for a while ...”

Hastie, September 9, 1884

Photo: Domestic servant, Beatrice, ironing, 1906
Domestic servant, Beatrice, ironing, 1906
M. O. Hammond fonds,
Reference Code: F 1075-9-0-13, S 9572
Archives of Ontario, I0028034

Working on the Farm


Frances Milne not only managed all the housework, childcare, and sewing but also did many of the farm tasks. She spent a lot of time preparing meals for both live-in farm hands and seasonal workers. Every year she hired a seamstress to come to the house and help with the sewing.

“Busy preparing for the [barn] raising tomorrow, beheaded 2 geese for it.”

“Busy day preparing for butchering tomorrow.” and “Killed 7 hogs and got them salted before dark. … Got them all killed before dinner. Margaret & I got on very well alone & quite delighted that this job is over.”

Milne, December 28-28, 1869

“ … baking in the afternoon preparing for a lot of men tomorrow.”
Busy preparing for the [barn] raising tomorrow, beheaded 2 geese for it.”

Milne, 22 September and 11 November, 1869



Photo: Men raising a barn, [ca. 1905]
Click to see a larger image (81K)

Men raising a barn, [ca. 1905]
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-6-0-12-5
Archives of Ontario, I0003941

Photo: Miss Annie Swan, Dressmaker; 85 King Street West, Cobourg, 1910
Click to see a larger image (80K)

Miss Annie Swan, Dressmaker;
85 King Street West, Cobourg, 1910
Photographer unknown
George S. Mitchell Collection
Reference Code: C 4-0-0-0-13
Archives of Ontario, I0007389

“William & I stuffed mattress. We sewed it all & did it very nicely. … We both tied the twine. Didn’t finish today.
William & myself finished mattress today, had a race in cutting threads, he coming out victorious as he usually does.”

Milne, May 24-25 1869

Frances recorded Miss Hood’s days of work and pay for 1868 on an end page of her diary.

A page from Frances Milne’s diary, 1866
Click to see a larger image (166K)

A page from Frances Milne’s diary, 1866
Frances Milne fonds
Reference Code: F 763, MU 866
Archives of Ontario

Photo: Woman and two young children standing in a farm yard, with chickens, [ca. 1900]
Click to see a larger image (224K)
Woman and two young children standing in a farm yard, with chickens, [ca. 1900]
Photographer unknown
Rowley Murphy collection
Reference Code: C 59-2-0-0-2.
Archives of Ontario, I0013795

The Milne Farmhouse


Photo: Home of W. A. Milne in Scarborough, [ca.1885]
Click to see a larger image (212K)

Home of W. A. Milne in Scarborough, [ca.1885]
Reference Code: S17135
Archives of Ontario, I0028047

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