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Was it easier being a mother in 1908?

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A photo from that era shows a mother balancing a baby on her lap while she assembles cigarettes at her kitchen table. Two other children stand nearby.

Even mothers without paid employment labored endlessly doing housework. In 1908, a New York settlement worker estimated that the average woman, even in middle-class families, spent 40 hours a week just cleaning and shopping. Laundry was an arduous, two-day task, washing one day and ironing the next. Wood and coal stoves required tending and cleaning.

In 1908, Hoover introduced the electric suction sweeper, revolutionizing housecleaning. "It'll sell itself if we can get the ladies to try it," Mr. Hoover said. Assuming, of course, that the ladies had electricity. A majority of women still lived on farms. Until the New Deal Rural Electrification program was implemented in the 1930s, electricity was unavailable to huge sections of the country.

Although the birthrate was falling in the early 1900s, women still bore an average of 3.5 children. Farm women averaged closer to five.

The mothers of 1908, like their counterparts today, received advice from pediatricians. Emmett Holt, author of "The Care and Feeding of Children," was the Dr. Spock of his era, Coontz says. His advice to women: Don't pick babies up when they cry, and do not breast-feed. And a noted psychologist, Dr. J.B. Watson, cautioned against using pacifiers or indulging in displays of affection. He wrote, "When you are tempted to pet your child, remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument."

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