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Women on the Farm
Independent, LVIII (Mary. 9, 1905), 549-54

Responses to this article

Shortly after my graduation from a "freshwater" college for women, five years ago, I found myself in the following circumstances: Through changes in family affairs I was left with myself and an invalid sister to support My assets were as follows: A farm of two hundred acres, with an average amount of stock and farming tools, and a farmhouse that had been enlarged and remodeled and used for the past few years as a summer boarding house. This property was situated in southern Massachusetts, two miles from a village, and was genuine, simon-pure country. The farm was adorned with a $5000 mortgage, bearing 5 per cent interest; the whole plant under a forced sale would not have realized more than $10,000, which would have supplied a possible $250 a year income for the support of two persons. So much for the farm situation.

I had offered me an assistant teacher's position at my Alma Mater with a $600 salary, but this made no provision for my sister. Also I had a great prejudice against teaching for women, having seen numerous nervous wrecks after five years at this work.

Matrimony seemed unavailable for the moment, from lack of inclination on my part, or on that of any one else, for that matter, so this was dismissed.

A possible position, as bookkeeper or in any of the allied occupations would have entailed a course at a business college, and I had only a few hundred dollars as capital.

Considering all things, I decided on the farm. So, with many misgivings, I began active operation there March 1 st, 1900. The place had been in charge of the owner of the adjoining property for a year. He had worked it on the share arrangement and the house had been closed. My first act was to hire as foreman an Irishman, thirty years old, who, with his family, was installed in a small cottage on the place. His wages are $30 a month, rent free, and he takes his meals at the house. He hired his own assistants, two young men of the same nationality. These men get $23 a month and their board. They have proved honest and trustworthy servants. I have never had to change them. I go on the principle that a little nagging goes a long way, and my experience with farm help proves it a good one.

At the beginning of my enterprise there was a herd of twenty grade cows on the farm, and the milk was sold to a man who peddled it in a manufacturing town five miles away. He called for the milk once a day and paid 3 cents per quart for it. This arrangement was continued for six months, when a sanitarium being opened in the village, where fifty patients were cared for, I secured the contract to supply this institution with milk at 5'/o cents a quart, the milk to be delivered twice a day. The sanitarium was two miles from the farm. This contract is still in force, the sanitarium has grown until it now has a hundred patients, and the milk bills for the past year foot $2,558.04. Gradually I have worked up a retail milk trade along the way to the sanitarium and in this way sell about thirty quarts of milk a day at 6 cents a quart. One man regularly delivers the milk, keeping account of it on a milk sheet, which he hands in to me the first of every month and from which I make the bills. The milkman also has entire care of his cans and wagon.

I have put up two of the Williams Company's silos, one eighteen feet and one sixteen feet in diameter. The ensilage gives excellent satisfaction, bringing the cows through the winter in good condition This ensilage food is balanced with a ration of hay, wheat midlings and gluten or cotton seed meal. This winter the herd numbers thirty cows.

To return to the beginning of my work: I decided to take boarders, since the house was arranged for that purpose and much too large for ordinary use with its accommodations for twenty guests. I first hired a Nova Scotia woman as cook and her daughter as general assistant at $18 and $12 a month. With their help I put the house in order, papering ten rooms myself. The place was entirely furnished, and I made only some minor repairs that spring. In filling my house the first year a great deal of help was received from persons engaged in the same business in the village already mentioned, which is quite a summer resort They were kind enough to turn their overflow in my direction, and since getting fairly established my patrons have done my advertising. People come into the country nowadays earlier than they used to and stay later. The house is usually well filled from the middle of May until late in October. I charge from $9 to $12 a week for board, the average price being about $10. I have always done everything possible to encourage people to bring children here. The farm life is just the thing for them and, of course, my place entirely lacks the "resort" attractions which appeal to young people. Special attention has always been paid to the table to make the fare, tho simple, abundant and the best of its kind The foreman is an excellent gardener and I am able to serve my guests with fresh vegetables of all kinds, raising also quantities of delicious strawberries, raspberries and currants. People are very appreciative of these things. Milk and cream are had in plenty from the farm herd No butter is made on the place, but is furnished by a nearby dairyman. The farm is fortunate in being supplied by a unfailing spring of pure water, which runs to the house of its own power and in quantities sufficient for all uses.

Marketing is done in the usual country system of carts driving about and the service is good; groceries are bought chiefly at a New York wholesale house.

I make it a practice to be on the place all the morning. In summer I am up and dressed by half past six. By this time the early breakfast for the men and maids has been served and eaten, and I go out with the foreman to plan the work for the day, leaving him to give the orders to his assistants. I look over the barn and stable often to see that all the animals look well and contented Six horses are kept to do the farm work and to rent to the guests in the house for driving. Some of these horses are excellent roadsters, and all help cheerfully about the farm work. They are well fed and nothing unreasonable is asked of them, kindness to all the animals being one of the first rules of the place.

But I am staying too long out of doors; even if the lovely summer morning is tempting I must go in and superintend the eight o'clock breakfast for my guests. When this is over the other meals for the day are planned; a regular weekly bill of fare is never used Having acquired, by inheritance and study, considerable knack as a cook, I always prepare certain dishes myself, such as desserts, salads and made meat dishes. Through the summer two extra women servants are hired in addition to the two employed the year around I find no trouble in keeping busy about the house until the one o'clock dinner. In the afternoon there are often errands to do or a trip to be made to the town five miles away, where shopping is done. Walking is a great pleasure and few days in the year pass without my spending an hour or two in this recreation. Most women living in the country do not walk enough; nothing horrifies them more than a suggestion of walking three or four miles. I go often in the fields, partly to avoid constant offers of "a ride" from kindly neighbors, whose greeting usually is, "What's the matter with all your horses?" as tho no one would ever walk who could possibly avoid it. I am devoted to the life of the fields and woods and am a keen botanist.

I am often asked what there can be for the three men to do on the farm all winter. The care of the cows takes much more time during this season, when they are in the stable, than when they are at pasture in summer. Then there are thirty cords of wood to be chopped and worked up, for we use nothing else for fuel, burning great four foot logs in the furnace, cooking with wood, and supplying the six open fireplaces with plenty of birch and hickory logs. This work, considering the short and often stormy days, seems to keep all busy.

As for boasting of having grown rich in the past five years, I am afraid that is impossible. I have kept up the place in good order and made some permanent repairs at a cost of about $500 a year, supported my sister and myself, paid all bills and wages promptly, and have put $500 in a savings bank in case of a wet day. If I were like the people who write their experiences for the Ladies' Home Journal, the mortgage on the farm would doubtless have been paid off before this time. I am willing and, being perfectly well, am able to work hard, but I do not propose to deny myself the rational pleasures of life. Our home is made pleasant and comfortable, I buy books and subscribe to magazines and a New York daily paper. We subscribe to the library which the village boasts and which for $3 a year allows subscribers four books a week; also to the Tabard Inn Station in the town. The telephone connects us with the neighboring farmhouses and is a great help both in pleasure and business. In winter I mean to make two or three short trips to New York and an occasional one to Boston, and to dress well enough so that my friends in these places need not .`eel ashamed to see me come in. I am so much in love with country life that I feel out of place in the city, and after a short stay am thankful to get back to my own "neck of the woods."

I keep an accurate cash account of all receipts and disbursements, and in glancing through this for the past year I see that my receipts from boarders were $3,157. All the productiveness of the farm goes to maintain the dairy, for besides the $2,900 received for milk and cream I see only $150 for potatoes and $120 for pork sold The expenses are necessarily heavy. The wage item runs over$ 100 a month, and other items l notice are $135 for commercial fertilizer and seed; taxes, $106; interest on mortgage, $250; oats and feed, $500; fire insurance, $90. These, with daily running expenses, take the money about as fast as it comes in.

On the whole, mine seems a sane and pleasant course of life and I have never regretted the school teaching or other alternatives. It is some satisfaction to be "the boss," even if the domain is small.

A New England Woman Farmer

Responses to this article:

A Pennsylvania Woman

My heart was touched by the tale of wo[e] told by the farmer's wife "Illinois" in your issue of February 9th, and fearing your readers might think that a majority or even many of the farmers' wives suffer like her I will give you my experience as a farmer's wife for the last 22 years. To begin, I am the daughter of Irish emigrants, who came to America as poor as English persecution could make them, and God knows that was poor enough, and settled in one of the valleys of the ' Alleghenies. I was not there, then, but came later. I did the usual chores about a farmhouse and went to the district school till I was fifteen years, when I was sent to school to a convent, from whence I came able to teach in the common schools. I taught in several counties, and every place I taught "Willie went a wooing," but I seemed proof against Cupid's arrows. Even when the man who is now my husband wrote me an introductory letter I rejected him. He was almost a stranger to me and things went along as usual for two years when I accidentally met "John" again. I could not but admire "the man" in him and the candor and boldness with which he practiced his religion. I had read Burns:

Conceal yoursel' as weel's ye can, Frae critical dissection, But keek through every other man Wi' sharpen'd sly inspection

I never thought it well for a young lady to let love get the better of judgment. My young lady friends said to me, "Give that fellow a wide berth He is too much of a buckwheat for you," but I listened to John, and you know when a woman listens what she will do.

John "led me to the altar," and then led me to his home, over one hundred miles from "my native heath" When I arrived at his home I found he possessed a large farm, with many buildings and much stock, and work enough for a small army; and, like the husband of "Illinois," "he was a hustler." He had a strong will, and his word was law about the whole place. My heart sank. Everything was out of my line. I said to myself," What can I do here?" But my husband's kindness came to the rescue. I found him not miserly or stingy, but right the opposite, caring not for money only as a means with which to accomplish his object He laid all his plans before me, asked my opinion in everything he was about to do, and when I told him I knew nothing about it, he said it would teach me if he were called "off to yonder." I found such knowledge very useful at times when he was away from home. I would sally forth to see that things were aright. I found he had a good library, was a lover of books, from which I often had to take him at the midnight hour, and that when we "locked horns" on a literary subject I was often vanquished. I had some money from teaching with which I bought some new things for the house, and gave the balance to my husband to use in the improvements he was making. He put a wind mill over a well and pumped the water into a tank high in one of the barns. From there he piped it into the kitchen, bathroom, stock troughs, etc. He bought a new piano, as I had been taught to play some. I had learned to milk when at home, and often on Sunday evenings when the hired men would "play hookey" I would go to the barn and help John milk thirty cows, come to the house and play "Garry Owen" in a manner that would make a Rough Rider think of Cuba When I ask John for money he doesn't lean back in his chair and say, "What did you do with the last fifty cents I gave you?" but gives me what I say I need, and never yet asked me what I did with it. I have never asked for a horse to go any place but it was ready, with a driver if I wanted one. We keep several horses, and John's motto is, "I keep the horses well fed and shod, and when we want to go they must." In all these years I have worked hard, but ever with a good will, always kept a house girl when we could get one, and was never asked to do anything I did not wish to do. When we were two years married a baby boy came to add his mite to the confusion, and they kept coming occasionally until we had five. We raised them tenderly; looked after the better part When John hired a man he always put this in: "If I know of you being profane or obscene your time is up." As they grew older we sent them to the common school, thence to a high school and thence to a university, and altho they are the sons of a "farmer's bond servant," they have always distinguished themselves on the forum and gridiron. They were raised away from the allurements of city life, have no bad habits and have never brought a blush to my cheek. I know always just where my husband is. He is never at a" club house" and his wife pining at home. When he goes to any entertainment he takes his wife along. We don't believe in the wife raising chickens for pin money. We have no separate acts. Everything is in common, both in earning and spending. John thinks or says, at least, that the wife is "the whole thing" at the home, and so has always treated me as the principal partner in the business. I have tried to act my part along these lines and therefore there is no hitch Now if I had the power and the will to be other than a farmer's wife, where could I better myself!

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Blenco, Iowa Mrs. F. A. Nisewanger

It seems to me that you have put us farmer folks in a wrong light in your last week's issue .... It seems to me "One Farmer's Wife" is not only unfortunate in her husband, but also in her place of residence .... having been a farmer's daughter 30 years, a farmer's wife 6 years, and having a varied experience from residence in Ohio, Colorado and Iowa, the article referred to reads, for the most part, like 20 years ago.

I did not suppose there was a farmer's wife in the United States today doing the family knitting. The most of us have learned that it is not economy to do this, or to make our husbands' clothes or launder their "biled" linen.

Some of my neighbors eat in their kitchens, but I could almost say that every wife has a cream separator, a patent churn and other laborsaving devices. Some of them"do not have time" for solid reading, but most homes (particularly since having R F. D.) have the daily paper and several good magazines. And, yes, we have some gossips. Don't you have them in town, too?

We do work hard and long (but so do our husbands), and I am honestly grateful for your sympathy. I smiled a trifle bitterly the other day as I wondered if Mrs. Ashby Macfadyen didn't know that "housekeeping is genuinely hard work" for thousands of her American sisters, too. I have never feared that I should rust out. I am busy, busy, and must be quick and methodical or be swamped But when I am wofully tired from the dairy work, the pickling, the canning, etc., cannot you see that it is some compensation to know that my husband and babies will have pure cream and butter, that my pickles are not crisp because of the use of alum, that boric acid does not enter into my chicken salad and boned turkey, and that the latter are really chicken and turkey? Besides, our hobbies and dream castles lighten the monotony wonderfully. I have three friends who are quite proud of their blooded poultry. Must they be condemned as lacking in ambition and having no craving for the" higher life" simply because they" made chickens take them to St Louis last year?"
We are perhaps overworked often and become despondent and nervous, but do not some city wives go to Palm Beach for rest and some husbands to Europe for a stomach? If it is a question of bondage, personally I would rather be a slave to the fresh, sweet soil and my babies than to a pug dog and a social rule that obliges me to leave my dress waist at home and to" do" the "high up handshake" into the wee sma' hours. Pardon me, I do not wish to be rude. But you are independent and will credit this to my different bringing up, will you not?

As to this farmer sister of mine, her story is the most pitifully tragic thing that has come to my notice for many a day. It has been my observation that modern martyrs' crowns are usually uncomfortable and profitless, and if I knew her I should beg her to follow your plan of campaign to the letter. But you forgot to tell her to eat breakfast with her family and my husband builds the morning fires.

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De Witt, Iowa (Rev.) J. J. Mitchell

You may be interested to know that I was requested to read the article, "One Farmer's Wife" in the last issue of The Independent to the Clinton County Farmers' Institute. Probably 250 people listened with marked interest to the reading of the paper.
No public discussion was attempted, but in many private discussions it was variously estimated from pure fiction to cold facts, and apparently awakened a good deal of thought.

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Another Illinois Farmer's Wife

My husband and I read the article on "One Farmer's Wife" in last week's Independent. We have taken your magazine for over 20 years. We have always loved its pages, and read it with deep respect and interest The article spoken of was a shock to our family. I would like to send you a sunnier picture of a farmer's wife and her life in Illinois than that poor lady has depicted I do not wish money for it, but I would like to have the Eastern people know of the handsome homes, the culture and higher life of farmers 30 miles west of Peoria. We live on a beautiful farm of 200 acres, worth $150 an acre; have a house in town and 160 acres in Canada. My husband and I have been members many years of the First Congregational Church of C . I am a member of the Woman's Club in town, composed of ladies of wide culture and who have traveled in Europe. My daughter is a student at the Chicago Musical College and will graduate this year.

I was married in '76, went to the Centennial on my wedding trip, have one child, the daughter. Have never made garden or done a washing without help. Perhaps I have milked a cow two or three times in 28 years. Have kept a good girl many years and paid $2.50 a week. We take $30 worth of daily papers and magazines and weeklies. Last summer we took five dailies. We have a carriage, buggy, sleigh, fur robes, etc. Nearly all the farmers here have handsome carriage robes and everything comfortable.

When I was a young married woman I had all the cares and busy times that go with farm life, and kept it up for 19 years. When I could not get help we hired our washing and ironing done out of the house. Some years I made $90 worth of butter, often sold $60 worth of chickens, and that was my money. I bought lovely china, nearly furnished all my house handsomely with that money. When Sabbath morning came we always went to church in town; attended concerts that were good in town evenings. My husband is fond of travel, loves good music dearly, is an inveterate reader and well posted on the topics of the day. He usually spends three or four hours a day reading the magazines, besides the reading in the evening.

My husband has his carriage team of black Morgans and a Jersey cow to look after and makes his garden, the land being rented out For twenty years there has been a good tenant house, where one or two men boarded, taking that much work out of the house. At the present time we both take life quietly, travel when we wish to, go to Chicago occasionally to enjoy the music and advantages there for a few days.

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A Michigan Farmer's Wife

As I was reading the piece entitled "The Farmer's Wife" it came to me that I could write another side of that sister's life, as I am standing in almost the same position as she is, if you think it worth printing. I was not born on a farm, but in a small English village in the south part of old England, and when I was a mere baby my parents brought me over the seas to New York State, and there my father lived on a rented farm We lived thus for eleven years, from one place to another. It was most of the time too far for us children to go to school, so our mother taught us to read some at home. When I was twelve years old father came to Michigan to get a new home for his family. He bought a new piece of land and then came back for us, and we moved on to it the next spring.

Oh, there is so much to write in here between the lines of childhood times that we had in a new country of woods and wilderness! How happy we children were! But the work came into our lives as well, and hard every day work, too, for there was a large family of us; and the four oldest being girls, we had to take the place of boys in the work in the new home. Father felled the large trees and then we would help him split them up into logs, and then we would take the team to draw them up into large heaps to burn them to ashes.

We could not sell timber as now to clear the land of it so that we could raise corn and potatoes among the stumps. We girls and mother helped do all this work. After the land was cleared of the wood there were the fences to be built around the fields. We laid the rails as father split them from the logs into fences. Then the land had to be got ready for crops to be planted, and it then had to be hoed and cared for, and there was the harvesting of all the crops and so it went from one year to another, but we did not get weary of it, for the little word of love was in all we did Father didn't have any education, but he sent us to school winters. But I would not have you think that he was a selfish man thus to keep his wife and daughters at work out all day and then come into the house, and there help to get work in there done for the next day. When I was sixteen we had a Sunday school and meetings started in our school house. We went every Sunday to the school and meeting. Such you see was my life as a farmer's daughter.

Now I must pass on to that of a farmer's wife. That came when I was nineteen years old. My husband was a man of no education at all, and was brought up not to go to church or Sunday school; to dance was his pleasure, and to such places he went. But he loved me, and I did not attend such places; so he gave it up for my sake. We commenced to go to church when we were married Sometimes he did not feel like going, but I would ask him if we were not going to church, in a kind of loving way, and he would get ready to go. I believe it lies in every woman's power to lead her husband in right or wrong ways if she will go in the right way to do it She must love and respect her husband, if she expects him to do the same for her. There is not man in his right mind who will not do anything for the loved one.

I am a great lover of reading. As my husband cannot read in the evening we would sit and I would read aloud to him, so he could get the good of it as well as I did In this way he came to like to stay at home evenings to listen to the readings. He came to like books as well as I did, in his way, for he did not know how good it is to have education, which his parents neglected to give him My work as a farmer's wife has been very much as the sister said hers has been, only I have eight children to bring up. They may not have the polish of some children, but I can say, if I am their mother, that they are a credit to the community they live in and I am proud of them. And do you think they would respect me if I did not respect their father? Oh, no, for a child is a close imitator of his mother in such things. I do not think my husband is selfish because he wanted me to help him out in the field and let my work in the house go till his was done. And I did not work while he ate his meals, for that was one very wrong thing for the sister to do. Why did she not sit down with him and talk to him about his work and his business? And then when she wants to make her wishes known they would know each other better and he would understand her desires better. We must keep in close touch with our loved ones, and not get the idea in our heads that we are better than they, for what is life without love in it? I have worked hard all my life, but I always find time to eat at table with my husband and children

My oldest child is married and keeping her own home now with her little daughter. The others are at home yet, and we are a happy family. My husband has been a church member for a long time, and so are three of my children, and we go to church and Sunday school almost every Sunday. Oh, there is much to write on this theme, but it must come to a close, for I can hear some one say "She is a goody good."

But, dear sisters, I am no better than any of you are, only for God who has given this holy love through himself if we accept it for ourselves and to give to others we meet in this great world.


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