Digital History>Voices>Social History>One Farner's Wife

One Farmer’s Wife
Independent, LVIII (Feb. 9, 1905), 294-99

I 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.

I am not a practical woman and consequently have been accounted a failure by practical friends and especially by my husband, who is wholly practical.

We 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.

We 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.

In 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 own.

No 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.

I 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.

I 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 at j
eighteen years of age.

I 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.

All 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.

I always had a passion for reading; during girlhood it was along educational lines; in young womanhood it was for love stories, which'
remained ungratified because my father thought it sinful to read stories of any kind, and especially love stories.

Later, 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.

In 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.

The 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 away.

While 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 I do.

All 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, etc.

This 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 day's work.

Any 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.

While 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.

By 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.

The 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.

I 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

By 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.

Finally 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.

I 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.

With 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.

It is now about 9 0' clock p. m., and after a short prayer I retire for the night.

As 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.

Later in June we harvest clover hay, in July timothy hay, and in August pea hay.

Winter wheat is ready to harvest the latter part of June, and oats the middle of July.

These are the main crops, supplemented by cabbages, melons, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.

Fully 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.

I 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.

My 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.

By 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 music sometimes.

I 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.

I 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 income.

I 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.

I 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.

I 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.

All 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.

As 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.

I 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.

But 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 for rest.

I 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.

I 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 reading.

The 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.

This 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.

About 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 a consideration.

This literature I greedily devoured, and felt that I could not let the opportunity slip, tho I despaired of getting my husband's consent.
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.

When 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.

Contrary 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.

I 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.

My 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 spending money.

When 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.

I 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.

But 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.

Illinois

Copyright Digital History 2014