Visionary who wanted to free women from the slavery of housework

by Angelica Basile - 2017.07.28
Visionary who wanted to free women from the slavery of housework
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Frances Gabe, the ingenious woman who invented the self-cleaning house recently died at the age of 101, forgotten in silence.

A half-century ago, after years of a daily routine as a simple housewife, Mrs. Gabe, threw her husband out of the house and with 2 mouths to feed, she was determined not to spend her entire life concerned with endless chores around the house. In fact, she was often found repeating: “house clearing is not only thankless work but it is useless”. For this reason, she abandoned her old profession as an artist of ceramics and jewelry, she decided to think big. And to take advantage of all that she had learned during the years watching her father, an architect and builder.

With 10 years of work under her belt and an investment of 15,000 dollars, she launched, not far from Portland, what many journalists at the time referred to as a huge dishwasher-like house cleaning contraption. That, upon simply pushing a button, would in less than an hour, thanks to an automatic irrigation system, spray water and soap up to the ceiling, rinse everything, and then dry it by a forced jet of hot air, with the whole house clean as a whistle, as they say.

In the self-cleaning house, everything was perfectly planned and programmed. Clothes, for example, once washed, were hung on hangers and dried in an air-tight closet. And plates were ready to be used on special shelves that kept them away from dust. Artwork and electric outlets were protected by plastic covers, and a special waterproof paint kept flooring safe from harm. An acrylic resin was wiped on furniture to prevent any damage.

A real domestic revolution, it seemed, that after 68 inventions was finally patented in 1984. Too bad, though, that the first prototype was also the last. Due to Gabe’s difficult and outlandish personality that made social relationships almost impossible. She often just let things go and behaved strangely, or at least we can say outside of the norm. At times, being called totally bizarre. Like the time she decided to do her gardening completely nude. The problem was that she never thought about more practical things, such as making sure she had enough money to keep her patent from expiring.

There are some, however, who claim that the self-cleaning house failed thanks to housewives themselves, who were worried that their safeguarded role of Queen of the household would be threatened. A sentiment that was probably conceivable, especially in rural America at the time, where women did not at all feel like they were in a cage. A hypothesis that even Frances supported in an interview in 2006, when she told the story of a group of housewives who showed up at her door shouting that she was taking their work away from them: “they said that if they stopped cleaning the house, their husbands would no longer have any need for them. To which I responded that their husbands would probably be happier to have more time to spend doing enjoyable things together”.

Published in Gender issues.
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