The New Stove

Above: Granite Beach Stones, A Color Scheme for a New Kitchen

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

The New Stove is a small essay about self assertion, about carrying enough about your own self worth to tackle change. It’s also a simple story about friendship. It was written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton about a neighbor of hers. This neighbor needed a new kitchen stove. This was 1852, when stoves were wood burning, and this stove was old and and miserable to cook on. The stove didn’t even provide decent heat for the kitchen, and the neighbor couldn’t keep a cook.

I read Stanton’s essay for the 70th volume of the LibriVox Short Nonfiction Collection.
You can listen to my recording here.
You can read the essay here.

Stanton asked her neighbor why she didn’t buy a new stove (she had enough money) and the neighbor blamed her husband, who had said they didn’t need a new stove. Stanton’s response: “If he attempted to cook a meal–granting he knew how–on your old stove, he would set it out of doors the next hour. Now my advice to you is to by a new one this very day.”

The two women go to to the hardware store together and, accordingly, select “the most approved, largest sized stove, with all the best cooking utensils, best Russian pipe, etc.” Then the neighbor admits to Stanton that what she’d really like is two stoves, the second stove for her sitting room, “with the pipes of both stoves to lead into dumb stoves above, and thus heat two or three rooms upstairs for my children to play in, as they have no place except the sitting room, where they must be always with me. But,” the neighbor murmurs wistfully, “I suppose it is not best to do too much at one time.” Stanton’s response, translated into modern English is Nonsense! Go for it!

So, the story concludes “the stoves and pipes were ordered, holes were cut through the ceiling, and all were in working order the next day. The cook was delighted over her splendid stove and shining tins, copper-bottomed tea-kettle and boiler, and warm sleeping room upstairs; the children were delighted with their large playrooms, and madam jubilant with her added comforts and that newborn feeling of independence one has in assuming responsibility.”

I happened upon this story one day recently. It resonated with me immediately, as I had been agonizing about my own kitchen stove; the oven had stopped heating ages ago, and I hadn’t had a home-cooked pizza for months. I kept thinking I should call a repairman, but I hated to “waste the money.” What I really wanted was a new kitchen. The stove and the kitchen dated back to 1983, when my late husband and I had remodeled the 1955 original. 36 years ago…

I read the story. I skipped the repairman and called a contractor.

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