David, Joanna, and Abigail Mason,¬†1670. M. H. de Young Memorial Museum of the Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco.
Most people in colonial America were farmers, tilling land that had been passed down from their ancestors who had settled in America. Girls were an active part of farm life, often spending their entire youth on the farm, sometimes traveling to a nearby town with their parents or visiting neighbors. ¬†
Girls learned everything they needed to know at home, as public schools had not yet been established. ¬†In some communities there were schools, but they was mostly reserved for boys. A girl’s education was limited to basic reading and writing (enough to read the Bible and write their name) and everyday tasks to maintain their home. Some girls were also taught basic math at home, or may have been further educated if their parents deemed it a preferred skill. ¬†
Most young girls learned to cook, spin, and sew from their mothers. They would also learn how to make household goods, such as candles, and help tend the animals, kitchen garden, and fields. Some girls were sent to apprentice under a master tradesman, but this was rare and usually only occurred when the girl was orphaned or lived in a town rather than on a farm. ¬†
Eventually, a girl’s life would fit into the seasonal cycles. During the winter and spring, spinning and sewing were done, as well as caring for children and socializing with neighbors. In the summer and early fall, girls helped cultivate crops, especially the kitchen garden, and tend the animals. They would also sit outside, making candles and lye soap. In the late fall, they would can vegetables, cure meats, and dry herbs for the long winter ahead.
Eventually, these skills would help a girl establish her own household when she married, typically around age 16. These skills also came in handy if a girl’s father or husband died, enabling her to continue the farm and household on her own. Their lives were quiet, and often went unaccounted for in the history books, but their daily tasks were vital to family life. They did the majority of the work to keep the house and raise the children, allowing their husbands to focus on cash crops and trading for goods they could not make at home.
Girl Museum Inc.