Education: Wagner-Ritter House

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Teachers' Guide

(Wonder)Women's Work: Real vs. Ideal


Woman sitting on the floor in front of the cast-iron stove she is cleaning

A housewife "blacking" the cast-iron stove in her kitchen.

Living up to the Ideal of Ads and Advice Books

Pressures to be a "Super-Mom" are not new. Neither are sage advice from Martha Stewart or the Home and Garden Network! The impossibly thin, well-dressed, and well-organized, nutrition-minded moms of TV commercials are also not the first ads to subliminally set unachievable standards.

A century ago, the media -- in the form of advice manuals and advertisements for an explosion of new products and services -- projected ideal views of housekeeping that view real women could live up to. Most working class families couldn't afford new conveniences like electric light, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. They could barely afford rent and groceries. Learn how women held the family economy together -- a more than full-time job of back-breaking labor.

Meet Anna and explore her life...

Anna Wagner, like her brothers, attended Immaculate Conception school, and prior to her marriage in 1897, she lived at home and worked as a domestic servant.

In 1897, Anna married Joseph Ritter, who had grown up on Chestnut Street.  Anna and Joseph had probably known each other their entire lives.  Joseph was a machinist, and upon their marriage, the two moved to Morrellville, a neighborhood that was home to many second generation immigrants.  Their first child, Marie, was born in 1898.  Joseph, Jr. was born in 1900, and Louis is 1901.  In 1903, Joseph Ritter died and Anna was left widowed with three children under the age of five.  As a widow, Anna's options were limited.  She chose to move back to her parents' home on Broad Street.

George Wagner, Anna's father, had long since retired from the Cambria Iron Company and was now 76 years old.  Frances, her mother, was now 69.  Whether Anna moved back to the Broad Street home to care for her parents or whether they were to help Anna care for the children is not known.  Anna returned to the work force by taking in laundry and also working at the German Brewery as a cleaning lady.

After George Wagner died in 1910 and Frances in 1917, Anna stayed in the Broad Street home with her children.  Her boys grew up, and Joseph entered Cambria Mills as a machinist.  Marie went to work for the B&O Railroad and lived in the house until her death in 1984.  Louis, Anna's youngest child, worked as a bricklayer for Bethlehem Steel.  Anna lived to be 102, dying in 1968.  The changes she saw in her lifetime seem unimaginable.

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