Early Dutch Settlers

The Housewife Was The Boss Of The Household

The Husband Might have His Say - So Around the Farm, but in the House the Woman's Will Was Supreme-Turmoil of Housecleaning

While speaking of the men of early Monmouth Dutch families, we must not forget the women. The woman was indeed the "king pin" or rather the "queen pin" around whom the whole family life, past, present and future, revolved. The old Roman historians when describing the Teutonic tribes, often mention, as something very singular, the consideration and respect shown by these "barbarians," to their women; that they were treated as the equals and in some cases as the superiors of the men. In important affairs the women were not only consulted but were entrusted with the management of them. Sometimes they led the men in battle. Among the Oriental and Latin races, females were treated as the inferiors of the males: as untrustworthy and on the level with children. They were caged in harems among the Orientals, and secluded behind barred windows and doors among the Spaniards, Italians and other Latin peoples. The Batavians or Fresians from whom the Netherland people spring belonged to the Teutonic race, and their regard and respect for women was a national characteristic. During the long war with Spain the Holland women often fought in the front ranks, side by side with their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands.

During the sieges of some of the cities when people fell dead from starvation in the streets, and when it seemed as if human beings could not endure further suffering, the women encouraged the men to hold out and suffer death before surrendering to the hated Spaniards. Another trait of the Dutch women which is always noticed and commented upon by travelers through Holland, is their extreme cleanliness. Sweeping, washing, mopping and scrubbing form a passion with them.

Cleanliness is said to be next to godliness. If this saying is true then the Holland women must "take the cake" for superlative piety. Among the farm houses scattered through Pleasant Valley, Atlantic, Marlboro and other townships and occupied by the descendants of the Dutch, these same traits have been noticed about the women folks. To soil the kitchen floor was deemed a serious matter and the men in some houses were required to take off their boots or shoes before stepping over the sill of the kitchen door.

Housecleaning two or three times a year was a solemn and an important work, especially so if it was suspected that a bedbug had effected an entrance into the domicile. Then the "huisvrouw" was up in arms. An angry frown marred her usually placid features and her tongue clattered all day like the machinery in a grist mill, giving commands, orders, and urging "all hands" to the work of hunting out and exterminating the pestiferous insects. The house, from foundation to turret, was deluged with floods of water and soapsuds, so that the men folks had no dry place where they could place their feet. They thereupon retreated to the barn or wagonhouse to get a little peace and comfort, from the fierce rushing to and fro of the angry vrouw and the ceaseless clatter of her tongue. The bed clothes were also inspected with a microscopic eye. The bedsteads were all taken apart, the furniture all moved, the carpets all taken up, and beaten and beaten and beaten and then hung on a line outdoors for the free winds to blow away what little dust there was left. In short the whole house was turned topsy turvy, and there was no rest, peace or comfort for anybody, but more especially for the unfortunate bedbug, who wished he had never been born. After the whole house had thus been deluged and scrubbed, if the vrouw still suspected there was yet a solitary bedbug lurking in a deep crack of the floor or walls, she brought up her heavy artillery in the shape of scalding water and bedbug poison, and poured that into his hiding place, until the miserable insect gave up the ghost. Then and not till then, did "order reign in Warsaw." After the whole house had been thoroughly swept and garnished and whitewash applied from cellar to garret, and the furniture all polished and varnished and returned to its usual places, then and not till then were the men folks allowed any peace or comfort. The long exile was then over, and once more the good man of the house could comfortably sit in his chair by the chimney corner and smoke his pipe. Among these families the real boss was the vrouw.

The very name "huisvrouw" means "the woman of the house or home." Her authority was absolute in the home. No one dared to dispute her edicts, for a woman can scold with more terrific effect in the low Dutch language than in any other. A true story is told of a Mrs. Benjamin VanCleaf or VanCleef which will illustrate the power and authority of the wife. During the early part of the present century many of our school teachers were Irishmen. They were paid by the parents of the children. It was greatly to the interest of the teachers to have all the children sent to school whom it was possible to get. This Irish teacher taught school at or near the old Tennent church. Benjamin VanCleaf lived some two or three miles from the schoolhouse and had a large family of boys and girls, all of whom were under eighteen years of age. The Irishman had no personal acquaintance with him, but hearing about his family, called at his residence in order to persuade him to send his children to his school. A colored man, who had long been a slave in Mr. VanCleaf's family, came to the door, and upon his inquiring for the master of the house was informed that he was not at home. Thinking he could learn something from the old negro the Irishman slipped a silver shilling in his hand, and then asked how he could induce Mr. VanCleaf, the boss to send his children to the school in question. "Ah," said the old slave, "you go and see de vrouw. She is de real boss. You git on de right side of de vrouw fust and you can hab no trouble den." The shrewd Irishman took the old darkey's advice and secured all the children.

To show the respect and regard in which the women were held, look at our court records of criminal cases in Monmouth county for the past two centuries, and I doubt if you could find a single case where a man of true Dutch descent has ever been indicted for striking or beating his wife. At least I have never seen or heard of any such case. The vrouw was the ruler of the home and inmates. The parlor was her throne room, a place kept sacred from all common uses, closed and darkened except when respectable company came or when the damsel of the house was visited by an approved suitor for her hand. Here before the open fireplace, in which the fire cherrily (sic) blazed and sent its dancing light and genial warmth through the room, the young couple took their seats on each side of the hearth to spend the long winter evening in courtship.

The young "Lochinvar" would gradually hitch his chair nearer and nearer to the blooming and blushing fraulein. If she did not move away, his chair, before the long winter evening wore away, would get very close to hers, and before he hardly realized it he was tied hand and foot in the matrimonial knot. His liberty was gone. He was engaged. After the wedding feast the parlor was sternly closed to him, for he was one of the family and only entitled to the family usage.

The huisvrouw had her store of household linen, her heavy blankets, home woven, her patchwork quilts, with more colors than Joseph's famous coat, and many other household articles prepared and laid away to start her daughter in housekeeping.

The parlor was the trap in which many a roystering, devil-may-care, hot headed young Dutchman was caught in the marriage noose and compelled to settle down as a sedate, meek and docile married man. Thenceforth he was ruled by the vrouw and his mother-in-law. Yet his lot was by no means an unhappy one. The great majority of the Schencks, Conovers, VanCleafs, VanBrockles, Gulicks and others of the Van name, had wives of unadulterated Dutch blood on the farms of Monmouth county during the past generations, and were truly described as follows:

    "She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life."
    "She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands."
      *     *     *     *     * "She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens."
    "She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reachest forth her hands to the needy."
      *     *     *     *     *
    "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness."
    "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.

Source: Red Bank Register, Wednesday, April 27, 1898

More Early Dutch Settlers

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 1 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 2 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 3 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 4 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 5 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 6 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 8 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 9 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 10 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 11 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 12 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 13 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 14 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 15 Red Bank Register

  • Early Dutch Settlers Part 7 Red Bank Register