The Canadian Housewife: An Affectionate History


256 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55285-717-4
DDC 640'.971'09





Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



In the Victorian era, Canada had a Rational Dress Society dedicated to
promoting the radical concept that no woman should have to wear more
than seven pounds of underwear. This image-provoking detail is only one
small example of the wealth of anecdotes waiting to be discovered in
this empathetic exploration of the Canadian housewife’s role over the
years from the first settlements in the 1600s to the 1950s. For each
historical era, the work looks at housewifery under the headings of
cook, housekeeper, seamstress, laundress, nurse, mother, and wife.
Within this framework, we’re given a social history that touches on
housing, household appliances, contraception, crops, wartime shortages,
women’s organizations, and work outside the home. We see housewives as
tenders of livestock, gardeners, preservers of food, weavers, spinners,
cleaners, the mainstay of early settlements, and advocates for social

Numerous relevant quotes, with sources, are presented as sidebars.
There are so many they constitute a secondary text. Together with a
scattering of archival photos, these quotes contribute to building the
atmosphere of the period and add a nice touch of veracity to the main
text. The author has an eye for the humorous and a nice light style. The
result is a book that’s fascinating and fun to read.

Unfortunately the layout and general appearance give the book a dated
institutional look that will work against its popular appeal.


Neering, Rosemary., “The Canadian Housewife: An Affectionate History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,