What constituted a “Good Wife” in those days was a combination of skills in household tasks such as cooking, sewing, weaving, animal husbandry, child rearing and household management. Management generally meant keeping the household on budget and on schedule for seasonal tasks. There was an element of social secretary for the family. She was expected to be a tutor or even home teacher. She was often the spiritual center of the home and family as well.
So what constitutes a “Goodwife” today?
Now a career outside the home is often desired by the wife and appreciated as a second economic engine by the spouse.
Fidelity, now as then, is admired. It may surprise some, but while the Puritans took a dim view of sex outside of marriage in any way, they actually encouraged married couples to have a healthy, if not robust sex life. But only privately, there are numerous tales of couples reunited after a husband’s return from a long sea voyage being put into the stocks for embracing in public upon his return.
There has always been a premium on beauty, but the competition has gotten a lot tougher. A woman used to compete with other local women. Now there are international actresses, models and porn stars all equipped with make up professionals and photo-shop magic. One truth is that even great beauty fades.
That is where personality, education and a good sense of humor can make up the difference. All of that comes down to being a good companion. Still held in reasonable esteem, the ability to converse, play games, read aloud, listen, laugh at jokes or help create family “stories” are all part of being a good companion, then as now. This may be easier now then in the Colonial period. Long nights at home or even weeks snowed in required perseverance. It helped to be able to sing, play an instrument, recite poetry and be willing to re-read or re-hear the same stories over and over. Now there are more ways for couples or families to divert themselves – movies, TV, video games, board games, much great mobility with far more destinations for “date night” or family outings. Still modern companionship may require a wider variety of skills, and certainly is helped by a sense of humor.