The Real Housewives of Perry County – 1800’s Edition

This post was inspired by an e-mail our museum received this past week.  It came to us from an individual in Germany who has discovered our blog and website and is looking to find information about what happened to some people from Germany who came to America as part of the Gesellschaft.  First of all, we are really excited to have the opportunity to share the information we have with a new friend in Germany.  One of the main purposes our our research library is to provide services such as this.

One of the names being searched is Zeibig, and it just so happens that I noticed a connection between a man by that name and a couple that was married on this date in 1877.  John Andreas Lorenz and Martha Caroline (Mueller) Zeibig were married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg, Missouri.  When this marriage took place, Caroline was a widow… fact quite a recent widow.  Her first husband was Carl Gottlob Zeibig.  Caroline and Carl were married in November of 1876, and then Carl died of anthrax just months after that marriage in January of 1877.  These circumstances led to the wedding of John Lorenz and Caroline later that same year.

Let me backtrack to just say a few things about the Zeibig family.  Gottlieb and Henrietta Zeibig, along with two children, Karl August and Ernst Wilhelm, left for America aboard the Olbers in November of 1838.  During the voyage, one year old Ernst Wilhelm died at sea.  Here is the passenger list of the Olbers as it was recorded when this ship arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana.

Zeibig passenger list Olbers
Zeibig family – Olbers passenger list

The cross behind Ernst Wilhelm’s name indicates that he died on the trip.  What is not indicated on this passenger list is the fact that there was another Zeibig on board.  Henriette was pregnant.  On April 27, 1839, a daughter was born in St. Louis, about a month before the immigrants headed to Perry County.  Then tragedy struck again in August when Henrietta died in Perry County, leaving Gottlieb as a widower with a three year old and an infant.  The next February, he remarried.  His second wife was Sophie Weber.  This couple would have six more children, the last of which was Carl Gottlob, the first husband of Caroline Mueller.

That leads me to show you this census entry from 1880 showing the Lorenz household.

John Lorenz 1880 census Altenburg
1880 census – Altenburg, MO

Let me run down this list of people.

  1. First, we have John Lorenz, who is a farmer and living in a house with several women of a wide variety of ages.
  2. Second, we have Caroline, his wife, also the mother of one infant child.
  3. Arthur, who had been born in December of 1879.  He was the Art in the story, Art and Tillie, that was published on this blog.
  4. Christiana Mueller was Caroline’s mother.  She also happens to be my great great grandmother.  Someday I am going to have to look further into the fact that she is here described as being a midwife.  She was alive for the first three children born to this family, and probably was very helpful to Caroline during those deliveries.
  5. Ernestine Mueller was Caroline’s younger sister.  She got married later in 1880.

John died in 1924; Caroline died in 1939.  They are both buried in Trinity Lutheran Cemetery.  Here are their gravestones.

I choose to use this account to write about housewives.  As I write these stories about the past, I often find myself imagining what life must have been like in the past.  There certainly would have been stark differences between life back then and life as we live it now.  I am going to attempt to describe some of those differences.  I will focus on the housewives.

  • Most of people’s activities must have happened during daylight hours.  We are so used to just walking into a room, flipping a switch, and we immediately become surrounded by light.  Life in the 1800’s was not like that.  If someone wanted light after the sun went down, they had to light a candle or lantern, or they could sit close to a fireplace.  Women would probably have a limited number of tasks that they could accomplish in these limited light conditions.  It is likely that these women would plan their days considering which activities could still be done at night.
  • A housewife certainly could not hop into a car to go to the local store to get an ingredient she was missing for a dish she was preparing.  Transportation consisted of using horses or mules or just plain walking.  Trips to town by those living in the countryside had to be planned ahead of time.  A housewife was more or less confined to her home on most days.
  • Back in those days, it was typically the housewife’s job to plant and tend a vegetable garden.  The gardens would provide many of the food needs of a family, but it also meant a cook would have to wait for the produce to be ready for harvest before it could be used.  Then during times of bounty, there would also have to be efforts to preserve the harvest for future use.
  • Cooking was another thing that must have been so very different.  The fuel for stoves and ovens was wood.  A steady supply of firewood was necessary.  While a man may have been responsible for cutting the wood, a housewife would likely have to carry plenty of wood to the place where it was needed.  Some families would construct outdoor bake ovens.  At certain times of the year, I am sure a housewife would want to keep the cooking outside in order to keep the sweltering heat out of the house.  Some farms were known to have what were called summer kitchens.  Other times of the year, the cooking inside the house would assist in providing heat during the cold season.
  • The social life of an 1800’s housewife was severely limited.  Practically the only means of communication, especially out in the countryside, was face-to-face talking.  Add to that the fact that one’s neighbors may have been quite a distance away, and you have practically no social life on most days for the housewife.  In addition to having the opportunity to worship when the family went to church on Sunday, it must have also been a real treat for especially the ladies to get together and have the opportunity to share their lives with others.  Husbands may have had opportunities to go to town for supplies and talk with other men while there, children got to see their classmates at school, but the ladies must have felt very isolated.  Nowadays, people often tell each other through the social media like Facebook just about everything they are doing, with photos to go along with their stories.  We also get to see what is happening all over the world, sometime being able to view events as they are happening live.  In the 1800’s, there were some newspapers in the larger cities, but not in a community such as existed in rural Perry County.  National and world news probably trickled into the community after much time had expired.  People certainly were not able to read daily blogs like this one.

I could go on and on, and I am sure you could add many other things to this list as well.  Let me just point out something that I consider very important.  As you look at old census records, when the wives are listed, the column for “occupation” often said “keeping house” or “none”.  Those terms are completely inadequate for describing the life of an 1800’s housewife.  I know that when I consider the lives of these hearty women, I am very impressed by what they were able to accomplish (and I haven’t even mentioned child-bearing and child-rearing).  They deserve a whole lot of credit for their influential role in the family.  We should never forget or minimize their important contributions.


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