Eleanor M. Rockwell Bennett

Household Hints from Eleanor Rockwell Bennett

Eleanor M. Rockwell Bennett was the wife of Hiram H. Bennett, son of Oliver Roby Bennett and Betsey Ford. These housekeeping hints from Eleanor's journal offer a look at how rural folk in the late nineteenth century handled some common household problems. These are presented here for historical purposes only and not as suggestions for contemporary use. Following the hints I've added some notes to explain some of the terms used by Eleanor. I've placed a question mark following terms I don't recognize. I've left the original spelling intact.


To drive away ants that infest the pantry, get 5¢ worth of Tartar Emetic1. Mix half of it with sugar and water to a thin syrup and put in a dish where they are troublesome. They will take French leave2. and they will not come back, not even the second season.


Mix common litharge3 and glycerine to the consistency of thick cream or fresh putty and apply. Let it stand in a cool place for a few days until dry and hardened before using. This cement is good for mending stoneware, coarse earthenware, stopping leaks in the seams of pans and washboilers, fastening on lamp tops and various other purposes.


3 qts cold soft water.
1 cake of Acme soap, 6 teaspoonsful of common salt, 6 teaspoonsful of salsoda4, 6 teaspoonsful of rosin5. After it has boiled enough, add three qts of cold soft water, then six teaspoonsful of turpentine.


1 oz salmoniac6, 1/2 oz salts of tartar7, 2 lbs Babbits potash8, 5 lbs grease, 5 gallons boiling soft water, 1 oz oil of sassafras9.


Take a peck of wheat bran, put in a tub with water on it, let it stand till it rises, take it off and strain the liquor and let it sour, the sourer the better. Soak the madder over night in vinegar, put 1/2 lb alum in a boiler with soft water, put in rags and boil 2 hours, then throw out alum water, put dye in boiler, let it come to a scalding heat for 2 hours, wash it in hot suds, and you will have a splendid red.
1 lb madder, 2 lbs goods. -- This from the Detroit Tribune.


Two lbs of cloth, one of madder, 1/2 lb red sanders10, 1 oz of cochineal11, 1/2 lb alum, 1 oz cream of tartar12 . Put the coloring stull (?) in a brass kettle, water to cover goods. Keep as hot as you can bear your hand in. Air the goods, let them remain in the dye 2 hours, rinse in cold water and dry.


Sugar of lead13 8 oz, bichromate of potash14 4 oz. Dissolve in separate vessels. Soak the garments thoroughly in the lead solution, then dip in the potash solution until the color sets. (To make an orange from this dip the goods while yet wet in hot lime water15.)


Melt together with a gentle heat 1 oz white wax and 2 oz spermaceti16. Prepare in the usual way a sufficient quantity of starch for 12 bosoms. Put into it a piece of British Enamel17, the size of a large pea and it will give your clothes a beautiful polish.

Rinse the articles to be starched carefully in three waters, then dip in the starch which should be previously strained through muslin. Squeeze and shake them gently and hang up to dry. When dry, dip them in clear water and squeeze again. Spread on linen and roll up and let remain an hour.


Melt over a slow fire 5 lbs refined parrafin and when it is all melted add 200 drops oil of citronella18. To a pint of starch add a little of this mixture. This gives an elegant luster to linen or muslin.


Peel and grait two good sized potatoes in a pint of warm water. When settled, pour off the liquid, sponge the silk on the right side and iron on the wrong. Rhoda


A good polish for furniture -- take one third vinegar, one third boiled oil (linseed), one third spirits of turpentine. Apply with a soft woollen rag and rub well.


Take guttapercha19 and dissolve it in chloroform to the thickness of honey. Warm the paste when ready to use and apply with a brush. It will stand all the elements except heat.


First, remove the legs and other useless parts and soak the skin soft, then remove the fleshy substances and soak in saltpeter and Glauber's Salt20, of each 1/2 oz, and wet with soft water sufficient to allow it to spread in the flesh side of the skin. Put it on with a brush thickest in the center or thickest part of the skin and double the skin together flesh side in, keeping it in a cool place for 24 hours, not allowing it to freeze.

Second, wash the skin clean and then take salsoda 1 oz, salsad boras21 1/2 oz, refined soap 2 oz (use white hard soap), melt them slowly together being careful not to allow them to boil and apply the mixture to the flesh side as at first. Roll up again and keep in a warm place for 24 hours.

Third, wash the skin clean as above and have 3 oz of saleratus (baking soda) dissolve in hot rain water sufficient to well saturate the skin, then take 4 oz of alum, 8 oz of salt and dissolve also in hot rainwater. When sufficiently cool to allow the handling of it without scalding, put in the skin for 12 hours, then wring out the water and hang up for 12 more hours to dry. Repeat this last soaking and drying 2 to 4 times according to the desired softness of the skin when finished.

Lastly, finish by pulling, working, etc. and finally by rubbing with a piece of pumice stone and fine sandpaper. This works admirably on sheep skins as well as on fur skins of dogs, cats or wolves, making a durable leather well adapted to washing.


Dissolve 1/2 oz of gum accacia22 in a wineglass of boiling water; add Plaster of Paris sufficient to form a thick paste and apply with a brush.


Dip into melted paraffin and withdraw quickly. The paraffin should simply be melted, not hot. The flowers should be fresh and perfectly dry. They should be dipped one at a time, holding them by the stalk and removing them gently to prevent air bubbles.


Take soda 4 parts, chloride of lime23 one part, boil the soda with one gallon of water for 15 minutes, then stir in the lime previously pulverized. When cold, it can be put in a jug and kept ready for use.


  1. Tartar Emetic is a poisonous efflorescent crystalline salt KSbOC4H4O6 used to fix dyes and to treat infections caused by amoebas.
  2. French leave refers to the eighteenth century French custom of guests departing without taking leave of the host or hostess. Colloquially it meant a hasty departure.
  3. Litharge is lead monoxide PbO, a poisonous yellow to brownish red compound used in manufacturing rubber and glass.
  4. Salsoda, also known as washing soda, is transparent crystalline hydrated sodium carbonate Na2CO3 .
  5. Rosin is a translucent amber to black colored brittle, friable resin produced chemically, usually from the oleoresin or dead wood of pine trees. Rosin is used in making varnish, soap, and in treating the strings of musical instruments such as violins.
  6. Salmoniac or Sal ammoniac is Ammonium Chloride NH4Cl, a white granular and fibrous solid which sublimates at low temperatures.
  7. Salts of tartar, also called pearl ash or salt of wormwood, is Potassium Carbonate K2CO3, a white salt that forms a strongly alkaline solution used in making glass and soap, and in photography.
  8. Babbits potash is, I assume, a brand name for some kind of potash. Potash refers to many kinds of potassium compounds, especially potassium carbonate K2CO3 or potassium hydroxide KOH . Potash forms a strongly alkaline solution with water and is frequently used in manufacturing soap.
  9. Oil of sassafras is extracted from the rootbark or fruits of the Sassafras tree (usually Sassafras officinale). The fragrant oil is used to manufacture perfumes and to add scent to soap.
  10. Red sanders probably refers to the Red Sandalwood tree (Santalum rubrum). Wood extracts from this tree are used for coloring and dyeing.
  11. Cochineal is a red dye formed from the dried bodies of female cochineal insects.
  12. Cream of tartar is a white crystalline salt C4H5KO6 used in baking powder.
  13. Sugar of lead is lead acetate, the poisonous soluble salt PbC4H6O4 . Among its many uses, ead acetate can be used to fix dyes.
  14. Bichromate of potash usually refers to a reddish orange chromium salt which contains the radical Cr2O7, e.g., K2Cr2O7. Also called Dichromate of Potassium, Potassium Bichromate, or Potassium Pyrochromate.
  15. Lime water is an alkaline water solution of calcium hydroxide CA(OH)2 or natural water containing calcium carbonate CaCO3 or calcium sulfate in solution. Lime water has long been a constituent of dyes.
  16. Spermaceti is a waxy solid derived from the oil of whales, particularly sperm whales. Spermaceti was commonly used to manufacture ointments, cosmetics, and candles.
  17. British Enamel probably refers to some kind of enamel paint, usually composed of zinc white, petrol, and resin. Enamel dries with a glossy appearance.
  18. Citronella is a fragrant grass Cymbopogon nardus of Ceylon, Java, and Burma. Oil derived from citronella is used in perfumes and insect repellents.
  19. Guttapercha is a touch plastic substance produced from the latex of several Malaysian trees of the sapodilla family. Guttapercha resembles rubber but contains more resin. It is used as an insulator (as in this boot recipe) and in dentistry.
  20. Glauber's Salt is a colorless crystalline sulfate of sodium Na2SO4 named after the seventeenth century German chemist Johann R. Glauber. Glauber's Salt was often used in dyeing.
  21. Salsad boras probably refers to a solution of borax. Boras is an old way of spelling borax. Borax is a white crystalline compound consisting of hydrated sodium borate Na2B4O7 . Borax is used as a cleansing agent, water softener, and preservative.
  22. Gum acacia or Acacia gum is derived from one of many species of Acacia shrubs or trees. The gum is collected from the trunk of the trees from which it exudes spontaneously.
  23. Chloride of lime, or bleaching powder, is a white powder containing mostly calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2, calcium chloride CaCl2, and calcium hypochlorite CaCl2O2. Chloride of lime is used as a bleach, disinfectant, and deodorant.

Eleanor Rockwell's household hints courtesy Paul Lowrey.

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Last modified by pib on April 17, 2005.