Fun at Home
A Child's Life In The 1850s
Childhood in the 1850s was very different from today's childhood. Many people viewed children as smaller versions of adults and expected them to behave as such. Children living on farms were expected to work as hard as their parents. They did not have as much time for fun and games that children do today, although they did find some time to play if their chores were finished early.
Girls were taught sewing, mending, darning, knitting, and crocheting. Tending gardens, milking, raising poultry, and preserving and preparing all types of food were also part of their duties. Women would also teach their daughters how to keep household accounts, do laundry, iron, and clean house. Whether you lived on a farm or in a town, these chores fell generally to the women and girls.
Boys would learn how to clean and repair items used on the farm and around the house, to keep the blades of axes and knives sharp, to make rope and repair leather harnesses. They were expected to learn how to care for the animals and clean the barn. They would learn how to chop trees, plow, and plant and harvest the crops. Their fathers would teach them how to calculate yield and estimate the amount of seed they needed to buy. The best weather to plant and harvest would be a much discussed topic. Boys would learn how to manage the family business, whether it was a farm, a business, or a store.
All children, whether they lived in town or on a farm, were expected to do chores around the house, mind their manners, and dress appropriately. Children's clothes of the mid 19th century were scaled down versions of their parents' clothes. Boys wore overalls or suits with shirts and ties; girls' dresses mimicked the styles of their mothers (although girls' skirts were shortened to mid-calf), which meant that a young lady might wear a hoop and even a corset! The cage crinoline was invented in 1856 and before that, ladies and girls might have to wear a dozen or more petticoats to fill out their dresses. The hoop skirt was lighter and cooler but it could be troublesome when sitting down or going through a narrow doorway.
To become proper young ladies and gentlemen, children were expected to learn good manners. Manners were very important. Children were expected to "be seen and not heard," speak only when spoken to, and never address an adult with other than respect. A girl was taught to curtsy and a boy to bow before speaking to an adult. A child's manners reflected on his or her upbringing; a family's reputation and status could be damaged by an unruly or sassy youngster. Parents believed the adage that if you "spare the rod; (you) spoil the child."
Girls played with toys such as dolls (including paper dolls) and would practice their sewing skills by making "dolly" a wardrobe. Boys played marbles and whittled with their penknives. Games, such as hoops and graces, hide and seek, checkers, and jackstraws (known today as "pick up sticks") were also popular.
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