The Housewife’s Lament


The Housewife’s Lament was written as a protest song, out of the experience of women in the not too distant past.  The song originated during the Civil War in the United States.  It was found in the diary of a 19th century Illinois pioneer woman, Mrs. Sara Price, who had seven children and outlived them all.  It is about the grit, the grim and the chores of everyday lived by those women.  Women have always worked although their work has been undervalued and underpaid, but they have always worked.

[audio: HousewifeLament.mp3]

The Housewife’s Lament  (performed by Anne Dubrofsky)

One day I was walking, I heard a complaining,

And saw an old woman the picture of gloom.

She gazed at the mud on her doorstep (’twas raining)

And this was her song as she wielded her broom.

            Oh, life is a toil and love is a trouble,

            Beauty will fade and riches will flee.

            Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double,

            And nothing is as I would wish it to be.

There’s too much of worriment goes to a bonnet,

There’s too much of ironing goes to a shirt.

There’s nothing that pays for the time you waste on it,

There’s nothing that last us but trouble and dirt.

            Oh, life is a….

It’s sweeping at six and it’s dusting at seven,

It’s victuals at eight and it’s dishes at nine.

It’s potting and panning form ten to eleven,

We scarce break our fast till we plan how to dine.

With grease and with grime from corner to center,

Forever at war and forever alert.

No rest for a day lest the enemy enter,

I spend my whole life in struggle with dirt.

[extra verse by Marion Wade]

We’re still chasing dirt but we’re not just complaining.

We stand up for our rights and we ask men to share.

We fight with them sometimes, sometimes we’re “explaining”;

If we’d all stop to listen, someday we might dare

            To make life worth its toil and love worth its troubles,

            Though beauty and riches may stay or may flee,

            And pleasures they’ll triple or certainly double,

            When things will be as we would wish them to be.

Anne Dubrofsky,an ex-Montrealer now living in Ottawa, is a classically trained singer who teaches voice and transcribes scores for music groups.