What Did Girls Learn at School in the 1930’s?

There is currently a programme airing on the BBC called Back in time for school . The programme takes modern day children back in time to experience school life through seven eras.

When I was going through my grandfather’s things following his death, I found an exercise book from when my grandmother was at school in the 1934. She had kept it because it contained recipes. The subject was domestic subjects and inside is a treasure trove of information about domestic life in those times and what girls learned at school.

When I was at school in the 80’s, we were taught domestic science which was basically cookery. What my grandmother learned, was a complete guide to managing a 1930’s house. This may be because most women in the 1930’s were homemakers, or perhaps some girls were still going into service and needed to know how to do domestic tasks in a large household. The lessons contain really useful things about baking that I wish were still taught at school, like tips and tricks for making cakes and pastry. The remainder of lessons relate to laundry and domestic chores. Here is an example:-

Method for washing white cottons and linens

  1. First put the clothes to soak to loosen the dirt, if possible over night.
  2. Wash them in hot water with plenty of lather
  3. Rinse in boiling water and wring all the soap out.
  4. Mangle them to get the rest of the water out.
  5. Put them on the line to dry
  6. If they dry too much, sprinkle with water and roll them up
  7. Iron, fold edge to edge and then once more.

In other laundry lessons they learned about blueing clothes, washing and ironing prints, washing silks and starching clothes. No wonder they set aside a whole day for washing! It certainly makes you realise how easy domestic life is in the modern day.

Domestic tasks included how to scrub white wood, cleaning brushes and brooms and my personal favourite – daily work in the dining room.

Daily work in the dining room

  1. Open the window
  2. Take out the rugs and flowers. Shake the rugs and change the water in the flowers
  3. Put the table chairs and cushions into the corner of the room and cover with a dust sheet
  4. Put down the hearth cloth and attend to the grate in the following order, Take out the ashes, keep the large to light the fire and empty the small ones into the ash bin. Clean and polish the grate. Lay the fire using newspaper, sticks, ashes and coal, then light it.
  5. Sweep the floor
  6. Remove the dust sheets and dust all the furniture
  7. Polish the floor
  8. Bring back the rugs and flowers and put everything in its proper place
  9. Lay the table

I’m not really sure if this one is meant for any household, or for those in service, I suspect the latter. It explains a little about how clean and tidy my grandmother was and how she always had a particular way of doing things. It uses to drive us nuts when we were kids and we used to think she was too fussy. As much as I may decry the teaching of such things to girls, sometimes it would be useful to have a system to follow to avoid the overwhelm.

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