Digital History>Voices>Social History>One Farner's Wife
Independent, LVIII (Feb. 9, 1905), 294-99
have been a farmer's wife in one of the States of the Middle West
for thirteen years, and everybody knows that the farmer's wife
must of a necessity be a very practical woman, if she would be
a successful one.
am not a practical woman and consequently have been accounted
a failure by practical friends and especially by my husband, who
is wholly practical.
are told that the mating of people of opposite natures promotes
intellectuality in the offspring; but I think that happy homes
are of more consequence than extreme precocity of children. However,
I believe that people who are thinking of mating do not even consider
whether it is to be the one or the other.
do know that when people of opposite tastes get married there's
a discordant note runs through their entire married life. It's
only a question of which one has the stronger will in determining
which taste shall predominate.
our case my husband has the stronger will; he is innocent of book
learning, is a natural hustler who believes that the only way
to make an honest living lies in digging it out of the ground,
so to speak, and being a farmer, he finds plenty of digging to
do; he has an inherited tendency to be miserly, loves money for
its own sake rather than for its purchasing power, and when he
has it in his possession he is loath to part with it, even for
the most necessary articles, and prefers to eschew hired help
in every possible instance that what he does make may be his very
man can run a farm without some one to help him, and in this case
I have always been called upon and expected to help do anything
that a man would be expected to do; I began this when we were
first married, when there were few household duties and no reasonable
excuse for refusing to help.
was reared on a farm, was healthy and strong, was ambitious, and
the work was not disagreeable, and having no children for the
first six years of married life, the habit of going whenever asked
to became firmly fixed, and he had no thought of hiring a man
to help him, since I could do anything for which he needed help.
was always religiously inclined; brought up to attend Sunday school,
not in a haphazard way, but to attend every Sunday all the year
round, and when I was twelve years old I was appointed teacher
to a Sunday school class, a position I proudly held until I married
eighteen years of age.
was an apt student at school and before I was eighteen I had earned
a teacher's certificate of the second grade and would gladly have
remained in school a few more years, but I had, unwittingly, agreed
to marry the man who is now my husband, and tho I begged to be
released, his will was so much the stronger that I was unable
to free myself without wounding a loving heart, and could not
find it in my heart to do so.
through life I have found my dislike for giving offense to be
my undoing. When we were married and moved away from my home church,
I fain would have adopted the church of my new residence, but
my husband did not like to go to church; had rather go visiting
on Sundays, and, rather than have my right hand give offense,
I cut it off.
always had a passion for reading; during girlhood it was along
educational lines; in young womanhood it was for love stories,
remained ungratified because my father thought it sinful to read
stories of any kind, and especially love stories.
when I was married, I borrowed everything I could find in the
line of novels and stories, and read them by stealth still, for
my husband thought it a willful waste of time to read anything
and that it showed a lack of love for him if I would rather read
than to talk to him when I had a few moments of leisure, and,
in order to avoid giving offense and still gratify my desire,
I would only read when he was not at the house, thereby greatly
curtailing my already too limited reading hours.
reading miscellaneously I got glimpses now and then of the great
poets and authors, which aroused a great desire for a thorough
perusal of them all; but up till the present time I have not been
permitted to satisfy this desire. As the years have rolled on
there has been more work and less leisure until it is only by
the greatest effort that I may read current news.
It is only during the last three years that I have had the news
to read, for my husband is so very penurious that he would never
consent to subscribing for papers of any kind and that old habit
of avoiding that which would give offense was so fixed that I
did not dare to break it.
addition of two children to our family never altered or interfered
with the established order of things to any appreciable extent
My strenuous outdoor life agreed with me, and even when my children
were born I was splendidly prepared for the ordeal and made rapid
recovery. I still hoed and tended the truck patches and garden,
still watered the stock and put out feed for them, still went
to the hay field and helped harvest and house the bounteous crops;
still helped harvest the golden grain later on when the cereals
ripened; often took one team and dragged ground to prepare the
seed bed for wheat for weeks at the time, while my husband was
using the other team on another farm which he owns several miles
the children were babies they were left at the house, and when
they were larger they would go with me to my work; now they are
large enough to help a little during the summer and to go to school
in winter, they help a great deal during the fruit canning season
in fact, can and do work at almost everything, pretty much as
the season, from the coming in of the first fruits until the making
of mincemeat at Christmas time, I put up canned goods for future
use; gather in many bushels of field beans and the other crops
usually raised on the farm; make sourkraut, ketchup, pickles,
is a vague, general idea of how I spend my time; my work is so
varied that it would be difficult, indeed, to describe a typical
bright morning in the latter part of May I am out of bed at four
o'clock; next, after I have dressed and combed my hair, I start
a fire in the kitchen stove, and while the stove is getting hot
I go to my flower garden and gather a choice, half blown rose
and a spray of bride's wreath, and arrange them in my hair, and
sweep the floors and then cook breakfast.
the other members of the family are eating breakfast I strain
away the morning's milk ( for my husband milks the cows while
I get breakfast), and fill my husband's dinner pail, for he will
go to work on our other farm for the day.
this time it is half past five o'clock, my husband is gone to
his work, and the stock loudly pleading to be turned into the
pastures. The younger cattle, a half dozen steers, are left in
the pasture at night, and I now drive the two cows a half quarter
mile and turn them in with the others, come back, and then there's
a horse in the barn that belongs in a field where there is no
water, which I take to a spring quite a distance from the barn;
bring it back and turn it into a field with the sheep, a dozen
in number, which are housed at night.
young calves are then turned out into the warm sunshine, and the
stock hogs, which are kept in a pen, are clamoring for feed, and
I carry a pailful of swill to them, and hasten to the house and
turn out the chickens and put out feed and water for them, and
it is, perhaps, 6.30 a.m.
have not eaten breakfast yet, but that can wait; I make the beds
next and straighten things up in the living room, for I dislike
to have the early morning caller find my house topsy turvy. When
this is done I go to the kitchen, which also serves as a dining
room, and uncover the I table, and take a mouthful of food occasionally
as I pass to and fro at my work until my appetite is appeased
the time the work is done in the kitchen it is about 7.15 am.,
and the cool morning hours have flown, and no hoeing done in the
garden yet, and the children's toilet has to be attended to and
churning has to be done.
the children are washed and churning done, and it is eight o'clock,
and the sun getting hot, but no matter, weeds die quickly when
cut down in the heat of the day, and I use the hoe to a good advantage
until the dinner hour, which is 11.30 a m. We come in, and I comb
my hair, and put fresh flowers in it, and eat a cold dinner, put
out feed and water for the chickens; set a hen, perhaps, sweep
the floors again; sit down and rest, and read a few moments, and
it is nearly one o'clock, and I sweep the door yard while I am
waiting for the clock to strike the hour.
make and sow a flower bed, dig around some shrubbery, and go back
to the garden to hoe until time to do the chores at night, but
ere long some hogs come up to the back gate, through the wheat
field, and when I go to see what is wrong I find that the cows
have torn the fence down, and they, too, are in the wheat field.
much difficulty I get them back into their own domain and repair
the fence. I hoe in the garden till four o'clock; then I go into
the house and get supper, and prepare something for the dinner
pail tomorrow; when supper is all ready it is set aside, and I
pull a few hundred plants of tomato, sweet potato or cabbage for
transplanting, set them in a cool, moist place where they will
not wilt, and I then go after the horse, water him, and put him
in the barn; call the sheep and house them, and go after the cows
and milk them, feed the hogs, put down hay for three horses, and
put oats and corn in their troughs and set those plants and come
in and fasten up the chickens, and it is dark By this time it
is 8 o'clock p.m.; my husband has come home, and we are eating
supper, when we are through eating I make the beds ready, and
the children and their father go to bed, and I wash the dishes
and get things in shape to get breakfast quickly next morning.
is now about 9 0' clock p. m., and after a short prayer I retire
for the night.
a matter of course, there's hardly two days together which require
the same routine, yet every day is as fully occupied in some way
or other as this one, with varying tasks as the seasons change.
In early spring we are planting potatoes, making plant beds, planting
garden, early corn patches, setting strawberries, planting corn,
melons, cow peas, sugar cane, beans, popcorn, peanuts, etc.
Oats are sown in March and April, but I do not help do that, because
the ground is too cold.
in June we harvest clover hay, in July timothy hay, and in August
wheat is ready to harvest the latter part of June, and oats the
middle of July.
are the main crops, supplemented by cabbages, melons, potatoes,
half of my time is devoted to helping my husband, more than half
during the active work season, and not that much during the winter
months; only a very small portion of my time is devoted to reading.
My reading matter accumulates during the week, and I think I will
stay at home on Sunday and read, but as we have many visitors
on Sunday I am generally disappointed.
sometimes visit my friends on Sunday because they are so insistent
that I should, tho I would prefer spending the day reading quietly
at home. I have never had a vacation, but if I should be allowed
one I should certainly be pleased to spend it in an art gallery.
As winter draws nigh I make snug all the vegetables and apples,
pumpkins, and such things as would damage by being frozen, and
gather in the various kinds of nuts which grow in our woods, to
eat during the long, cold winter.
husband's work keeps him away from home during the day all the
winter, except in extremely inclement weather, and I feed and
water the stock, which have been brought in off the pastures;
milk the cows and do all the chores which are to be done about
a farm in winter.
getting up early and hustling around pretty lively I do all this
and countless other things; keep house in a crude, simple manner,
wash, make and mend our clothes; make rag carpets, cultivate and
keep more flowers than anybody in the neighborhood, raise some
chickens to sell and some to keep, and even teach instrumental
have always had an itching to write, and, with all my multitudinous
cares, I have written, in a fitful way, for several papers, which
do not pay for such matter, just because I was pleased to see
my articles in print.
have a long list of correspondents, who write regularly and often
to me, and, by hook and crook, I keep up with my letter writing,
for, next to reading, I love to write and receive letters, tho
my husband says I will break him up buying so much writing material;
when, as a matter of course, I pay for it out of my own scanty
am proud of my children, and have, from the time they were young
babies, tried to make model children of them. They were not spoiled
as some babies are, and their education was begun when I first
began to speak to them, with the idea of not having the work to
do over later on. True, they did not learn to spell until they
were old enough to start to school, because I did not have time
to teach them that; but, in going about my work, I told them stories
of all kinds, in plain, simple language which they could understand,
and after once hearing a story they could repeat it in their own
way, which did not differ greatly from mine, to any one who cared
to listen, for they were not timid or afraid of anybody.
have watched them closely, and never have missed an opportunity
to correct their errors until their language is as correct as
that of the average adult, as far as their vocabulary goes, and
I have tried to make it as exhaustive as my time would permit
I must admit that there is very little time for the higher life
for myself, but my soul cries out for it, and my heart is not
in my homely duties; they are done in a mechanical, abstracted
way, not worthy of a woman of high ambitions; but my ambitions
are along other lines.
do not mean to say that I have no ambition to do my work well,
and to be a model housekeeper, for I would scorn to slight my
work intentionally, it is just this way: There are so many outdoor
duties that the time left for household duties is so limited that
I must rush through them, with a view to getting each one done
in the shortest possible time, in order to get as many things
accomplished as possible, for there is never time to do half as
much as needs to be done.
the time that I have been going about this work I have been thinking
of things I have read; of things I have on hand to read when I
can get time, and of other things which I have a desire to read,
but cannot hope to while the present condition exists.
a natural consequence, there are, daily, numerous instances of
absentmindedness on my part; many things left undone that I really
could have done, by leaving off something else of less importance,
if I had not forgotten the thing of the more importance. My husband
never fails to remind me that it is caused by my reading so much;
that I would get along much better if I should never see a book
or paper, while really I would be distracted if all reading matter
was taken from me.
use an old fashioned churn, and the process of churning occupies
from thirty minutes to three hours, according to the condition
of the cream, and I always read something while churning, and
tho that may look like a poor way to attain self culture, yet
if your reading is of the nature to bring about that desirable
result, one will surely be greatly benefited by these daily exercises.
if one is just reading for amusement, they might read a great
deal more than that and not derive any great benefit; but my reading
has always been for the purpose of becoming well informed; and
when knitting stockings for the family I always have a book or
paper in reading distance; or, if I have a moment to rest or to
wait on something, I pick up something and read during the time.
I even take a paper with me to the fields and read while I stop
often hear ladies remark that they do not have time to read. I
happen to know that they have a great deal more time that I do,
but not having any burning desire to read, the time is spent in
some other way; often spent at a neighbor's house gossiping about
the other neighbors.
suppose it is impossible for a woman to do her best at everything
which she would like to do, but I really would like to. I almost
cut sleep out of my routine in trying to keep up all the rows
which I have started in on; in the short winter days I just get
the cooking and house straightening done in addition to looking
after the stock and poultry, and make a garment occasionally,
and wash and iron the clothes; all the other work is done after
night by lamp light, and when the work for the day is over, or
at least the most pressing part of it, and the family are all
asleep and no one to forbid it, I spend a few hours writing or
minister who performed the marriage ceremony for us has always
taken a kindly interest in our fortunes and, knowing of my literary
bent, has urged me to turn it to account; but there seemed to
be so little time and opportunity that I could not think seriously
of it, altho I longed for a literary career, but my education
had been dropped for a dozen years or more, and I knew that I
was not properly equipped for that kind of a venture.
friend was so insistent that I was induced to compete for a prize
in a short story contest in a popular magazine not long since,
tho I entered it fully prepared for a failure.
that time there came in my way the literature of a correspondence
school which would teach, among other things, short story writing
by mail; it set forth all the advantages of a literary career,
and proposed properly to equip its students in that course for
literature I greedily devoured, and felt that I could not let
the opportunity slip, tho I despaired of getting my husband's
I presented the remunerative side of it to him, but he could only
see the expense of taking the course, and wondered how I could
find time to spend in the preparation, even if it should be profitable
in the end; but he believed it was all a humbug; that they would
get my money and I would hear from them no more.
I had exhausted my arguments to no avail, I sent my literary friend
to him, to try his persuasive powers. The two of us, finally,
gained his consent, but it was on condition that the venture was
to be kept profoundly secret, for he felt sure that there would
be nothing but failure, and he desired that no one should know
of it and have cause for ridicule.
to his expectations, the school has proven very trustworthy, and
I am in the midst of a course of instruction which is very pleasing
to me; and I find time for study and exercises between the hours
of eight and eleven at night, when the family are asleep and quiet.
I am instructed to read a great deal, with a certain purpose in
view, but that is impossible since I had to promise my husband
that I would drop all my papers, periodicals, etc., on which I
was paying out money for subscriptions before he would consent
to my taking the course. This I felt willing to do, that I might
prepare myself for more congenial tasks; I hope to accomplish
something worthy of note in a literary way since I have been a
failure in all other pursuits. One cannot be anything in particular
as long as they try to be everything, and my motto has always
been: "Strive to Excel," and it has caused worry wrinkles
to mar my countenance, because I could not, under the circumstances,
excel in any particular thing.
have a few friends who are so anxious for my success that they
are having certain publications of reading matter sent to me at
their own expense; however, there's only a very limited number
who know of my ambitions.
friends have always been so kind not to hint that I had not come
up to their expectations in various lines, but I inwardly knew
that they regarded me as a financial failure; they knew that my
husband would not allow the money that was made off the farm to
be spent on the family, but still they knew of other men who did
the same, yet the wives managed some way to have money of their
own and to keep up the family expenses and clothe themselves and
children nicely anyhow, but they did not seem to take into account
that these thrifty wives had that time all for their own in which
to earn a livelihood while my time was demanded by my husband,
to be spent in doing things for him which would contribute to
the general proceeds of the farm, yet would add nothing to my
income, since I was supposed to look to my own resources for my
critical housewives spend the day with me I always feel that my
surroundings appear to a disadvantage. They cannot possibly know
the inside workings of our home, and knowing myself to be capable
of the proper management of a home if I had the chance of others,
I feel like I am receiving a mental criticism from them which
is unmerited, and when these smart neighbors tell me proudly how
many young chicks they have, and how many eggs and old hens they
have sold during the year, I am made to feel that they are crowing
over their shrewdness, which they regard as lacking in me, because
they will persist in measuring my opportunities by their own.
might add that the neighbors among whom I live are illiterate
and unmusical, and that my redeeming qualities, in their eyes,
are my superior education and musical abilities; they are kind
enough to give me more than justice on these qualities because
they are poor judges of such matters.
money is king, and if I might turn my literary bent to account,
and surround myself with the evidences of prosperity, I may yet
hope fully to redeem myself in their eyes, and I know that I will
have attained my ambition in that line.