“This is How I Keep the House: I am a Young Minister’s Wife”, Newburyport 1951

This article appeared in McCall’s Magazine. It details one Newburyport housewife’s daily activities and the ways that her job as housewife was eased by modern appliances.

Number twenty-one in a series
by Elizabeth Sweeney Herbert

I am a Young Minister’s Wife

The parsonage range was new in 1908, the water heater was crotchety with age. Ruth Nyberg got by with them, but when a new gas range and automatic water heater came to the parsonage, what a difference they made

Walter and Ruth Nyberg live on a typical young couple’s income ($3,000) in a typical old Massachusetts town – Newburyport, 35 miles up from Boston. Walt, 28, is a GI theology student at Boston University. He is also minister to two Methodist churches, one in Newburyport, the other seven miles away at Byfield, both with too few young people and too little money.

Ruth, a home-economics graduate from Syracuse, married Walt when he was in the Navy, has followed him through six years of scrimping and schooling without question.

At the parsonage in Newburyport the range and water heater were of ancient vintage. To see what difference it would make in the Nyberg’s lives, McCALL’s installed a modern gas range and an automatic water heater.

The Aid ladies still come in on days of their famous church suppers to peel their onions and make their chowder and warm their pies and beans. But now hot water comes instantly, day or night. And the range glistens white, and it buzzes when cooking time is up and turns our pies and cakes softly crusted with gold.

Best of all, the minister can give the time he used to spend coddling the heater to polishing his sermons, and the minister’s wife can let the range pot-watch while she sews for the coming baby. Turn the page to see how they keep house today


The Nyberg day begins at seven each morning, ends when Walt is lucky enough to tumble into bed again. He serves three masters – his two parishes and his professors. And sometimes they all want full attention. Two days a week he catches the eight o’clock train for school in Boston. Four days he gives to his churches – right through the evening. “It’s amazing how much a minister must do that he doesn’t expect.” On Sundays he and Ruth leave Janie with their sitter (she sits free whenever they want her as her contribution to the church) and rush over to Byfield for Sunday school and a 45-minute church service, then back to Newburyport for services there. He puts in an hour of preparation for each minute of his 20 minute sermons. “I like to brood them like a hen on an egg. Results are better than when I push them out in a few hours.”

Ruth tries to hold her own work to a schedule – breakfast dishes done by 8:30, wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, clean on room each day. To make ends meet, she keeps a careful budget, spends $15.50 a week for food, 50 cents for entertainment. “Mostly we just get together with friends. That doesn’t cost anything and is lots of fun.”

What with the pressure of work (and because he usually sloshed kerosene over his clothes) Walt is happy now to be rid of the old water heater and the job of filling its kerosene jug. Every night in winter he would fill the jug from a tank in the cellar. And then he would soak the foot-long lightning stick in kerosene and touch a match to it. And with a flame licking lazily up around his arm, he would poke the lighter down into the stove to light the burners that would heat the kitchen and a tankful of water by morning. On washdays they ran the burner all day too. And still there wasn’t enough hot water. And in summer the heater made the kitchen so warm that often they didn’t run it at all. They learned to bathe like others in Newburyport: Fill the tub with fresh water in the morning and let it stand all day. By night the chill was off and you got a bath.


Elizabeth Sweeney, “I am a Young Minister’s Wife: This is How I Keep My House,” McCall’s Magazine (August 1951). Newburyport Archival Center, Newburyport, MA.