I'm reading Little House on the Prairie with my four-year-old at present, and today's chapter included one of the many instances throughout these books of Laura's mother dialing her in for a manners-related infraction. This time it was singing about a "Dickie-Bird" while eating her breakfast. Tsk, tsk.
Etiquette codes of the past could certainly be far more stringent than our own. If I were to reprimand the kid for every outburst of song over the course of the meal, I would be a very busy woman indeed. However, as Steven Mintz points out in this interesting overview of manners and private life in days of yore, my expectations in other respects are far more advanced than anything mothers required prior to the Victorian era. My favorites are the comments made by Erasmus. Ew.
In a related realm: this particular Little House chapter also dealt with laundry. Caroline (the mother) blithely scrubs and scours the bedding, underthings and dresses and lays them out in the prairie sun, where they are sun-dried and ready for folding by lunchtime. Hmm. Kudos to Mrs. Ingalls for her skills. This page provides a fuller image of what housework was like for a woman (and we would have been the ones doing it all) in 19th century America.