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Never Done: A History of American Housework Paperback – November 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805067744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805067743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Lively and provocative . . . A wonderful book. For bringing housework into the light of historical scholarship, Strasser deserves to have her name become a household word."—Jacqueline Jones, author of American Work: Four Centuries of Black and White Labor

"A work of genius . . . marvelous to read."—Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Remarkable, rich and acute . . . Retrieves the taken-for-granted minutiae of the everyday life of ordinary people."—The New Yorker

"Rich in detail . . . I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished reading it."—Nina King, Newsday

About the Author

Susan Strasser is the author of Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash and Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation. A professor of history at the University of Delaware, she lives near Washington, D.C.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is a history of American housework, covering common household tasks, related equipment, and the people called on to do the work. The main topics of the book include food production and processing, food preparation and the evolution of cookstoves, home heating and lighting, the spread of domestic gas and electricity services, water supplies and plumbing, laundry, weaving and sewing, taking in paying boarders, maids, the scientific housekeeping movement and the birth of home economics, childcare, and consumption as an avocation. The book is amply illustrated with black and white reproductions of period paintings, drawings, and advertisements. In addition to a bibliographic note for further study, there is a section of source notes at the end of the book citing original materials, as well as an index.
In reading the acknowledgements of Ruth Schwartz Cowan's book "More Work for Mother," I had noted that Strasser was listed there as an undergraduate research assistant of Cowan's. With that in mind, I expected the thesis of this book to be similar to that of Cowan's, especially given the similar titles. However, whereas Cowan's book claimed in an almost contradictory fashion that American women have had to shoulder more and more housework over the last century due to industrialization, Strasser takes the viewpoint that industrialization gradually wore away at the value of the contribution women could add to their households by doing work around house, leading eventually to the necessity of their taking paid work outside the home. Strasser points out that in the pre-industrial period, both men and women worked the land with the goal of being as self-sufficient as possible, but that both men and women engaged in some activities to bring in outside resources or income.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Joel E. Bernstein on November 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
A dry but thorough history of American housework from the Herculean tasks of colonial days to the consumerist present which ties in broader factors of social trends, economics, and technological advances. Through substantial research and appropriate illustrations, the book documents well the massive, though little noted revolution in the management of the American home over the last 200 years.
The author's interest in the history of American housework traces back to a 1968 undergraduate thesis later expanded to a Ph.D. thesis. She has used as sources old cookbooks, etiquette books, woman's magazines, household manuals, catalogs, and studies by government bureaus, etc. An example of her source material is the series of comprehensive 19th century manuals published over four decades, beginning in 1841, by Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe's sister, which reveal in each subsequent edition essential changes in technique and expectations. Strasser noted that although it was clear that until recently woman's role was 'in the home', it was not clear what that entailed and how it meshed with broader societal and economic trends such as technology, urban growth, new work opportunities outside the home, etc.
The book's 16 chapters each address a major housework category: food availability and obtention; cooking; providing light and heat; the gradual advent of gas and electricity; water and sanitation; washing; making and mending clothing; home income opportunities like boarding, seamstressing, laundering; use of servants; growth of systemization and the home economics movement; child care; informed consumerism; proliferating appliances; fast food; and the environment of today's working mother.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "tamacat35" on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
I first heard about this book when I attended Evergreen State College. The topic of housework came up as we read "Roll, Jordan Roll" by Eugene Genovese. Some of my classmates wanted to know about housework in its relationship to slavery. And the teacher, Nancy Allen, mentioned that a great book on the subject of housework was "Never Done", by Susan Strasser. Nancy also used the book as a good example of source notes that we might want to learn from in our own course work/research.
Fast forward my life ten or so years. I'm in an English class and reading "O Pioneers!" by Willa Cather. I remember Ms. Strasser's book! So I read it to broaden my understanding of Ms. Cather's novel and of pioneer and womens domestic lives at that time.
I had a romanticised view of life in America; times were simpler and therefore better. Susan's book assisted in effectively yet politely dismissing those flowery notions from my thoughts.
The research required for such a book as this--- clearly labor-intensive, but Ms. Strasser effortlessly writes in a reader-friendly style which doesn't undermine the scholarly nature of this work and its value to Womens Studies.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 1, 1997
Format: Hardcover
A fascinating and delightful examination of the history of housework in American history - specifically about the changing role of women as "houseworkers" and consumers. Of the hundreds of books that I had to read for my Masters degree in U.S. history, this work stood out not only as one of the very best (it was a real eye-opener!), but one of the most enjoyable to read. An excellent work of social history and women's history, with a sense of humor to boot! Let's see it back in print soon
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More About the Author

Susan Strasser, Richards Professor Emerita of American History at the University of Delaware, has been praised by the New Yorker for "retrieving what history discards: the taken-for-granted minutiae of everyday life." Never Done: A History of American Housework (1982) won the Sierra Prize of the Western Association of Women Historians; Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (1999) was awarded the Abel Wolman Award from the Public Works Historical Society. She is currently working on A Historical Herbal, a history of the culture and commerce of medicinal herbs in the United States.