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Keep Up Your Fires!
1874 admonition to homemakers

Before the days of central heating, keeping warm was a constant concern, even during the moderate days of spring and fall. Frugal housewives avoided consuming any more fuel for heating purposes than was necessary-a practice opposed by Jeremiah Behm, editor of the Central Union Agriculturist and Missouri Valley Farmer of Omaha. In November of 1874 Behm reprinted in the Agriculturist an admonition to "Keep Up Your Fires," even in summer, if necessary, for comfort.

"There is one cause of sore throats and lung diseases which has hardly been thought of, and deserves to be reprimanded. That cause is chilly houses in damp weather. Nothing in the limits of bad housekeeping more incites the ire of a sensitive person than the poor economy of putting out fires as soon as the almanac indicates warm weather. After the fifteenth of April, most housekeepers have stoves taken down and heaters removed, leaving the family to shiver through the long May storms and chilly mornings of June-for our latitude knows such mornings-and bringing on coughs, checking perspiration, and laying the train for fevers and neuralgia.

"The cause of at least one-third of the disorders common in spring and fall we believe to be the half-chilled condition in which the people force themselves to live. It is wrong to allow a child or a sensitive person to shiver at any time, for the chill which causes such a sensation must do harm. The system is half penetrated by cold before the creeping, shivery sensation comes on.

"A full-blooded, healthy person may take a cold bath in a cold room, in winter, without shivering, the instant touch of the water being followed by a warm glow; the same person may be so chilled sitting in a room below the proper heat a length of time, that serious consequences follow. When women go about the house wrapped in shawls, it is a sure sign that fires are needed, and if economy refuses to light them, it will be justly rewarded by the colds and headaches that are sure to follow.

"One grand maxim of life is to keep comfortable, and there is much more in that sentence than most people see. It does not enjoin mere self-indulgence, but it compels one to keep one's own body and mind in the best working order. You can't be useful or good humored when suffering, and regard for others, as well as your own happiness, will prompt you to be both. So have fires lighted if you are cold, even in August."

(November 2005)



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