What did a traditional farm household look like? One thing is certain: households with ten or even fifteen children and three or four generations living together were the rare exception. The average overall size of a rural household in earlier centuries in Switzerland was just five people.
Frequent miscarriages, caused by hard work and a sparse diet, the high rate of infant mortality, the numerous fatalities of mothers in childbed and the low life expectancy, all had an effect on the size of a household. Within a few decades, a household with an extended family of fifteen to twenty people could shrink to just a single person.
There were considerable differences in the status of a farmer's wife depending on the economic circumstances. The «realm» of a wealthy farmer's wife, in charge of a host of maidservants, and that of a poor farmer's wife living in a day labourer's house, were worlds apart.
Even today a farmer's wife's main responsibility is the running of the household. This means that women spend most of their time in the house and garden. Whereas the farmer usually leaves the house at five or six o'clock in the morning, only returning for meals, his wife is kept busy cooking and preserving food, looking after the children, cleaning and washing.
A close look at the organisation and decoration of a typical house is enlightening. Even this domain, which theoretically belongs to women, is dominated by men. It is the farmer who chooses the furnishings in the living quarters, the farmer who signs the sales contract for a washing machine or an electric cooker. He decides whether the kitchen should be modernised or if the new stables should be built first. Even the wall coverings bear the stamp of the husband and his family.
At best, personal mementos of the wife's family can be found in the bedroom. Any initials on pieces of furniture are usually those of the farmer. Only cupboards or chests and linen, which are part of a wealthy wife's trousseau, bear her personal monogram.