Notes on: Farm Life of the Early Settlers 1820-1860
Those who emigrated to the geographic and social periphery of the nation met a different set of conditions. The move itself usually
required some years of rather primitive living, but even after the early hunting-farming stage of pioneering had passed, the dominant
fact of life in the mid-west was the isolation of farmers from the commerce of the east. (236)
The technology of most Midwestern farms was a traditional force tying men and women to the hand-powered heritage. The
essential tools of the farm the ones overland emigrants carried in their wagons were the chopping ax, broad ax, frow, auger, and
plane. Farmers used these tools to manufacture their own farm implements; hoes, rakes, sickles, scythes, flails, and plows,
resorting to the blacksmith for ironwork. (237)
Two active males could utilize fifty acres of growing land; this was the upper limits of maximum with the traditional technology. (238)
A self-sufficient family could produce enough for its annual table, along with a small trading surplus, but the task required the close
attention of men and women to the needs of the land and the demands of the season. Hand-power technology did not deceive men
into thinking they could overcome nature; their goal was to harmonize man's needs with natural forces as best they could. (238-239)
Farm work was generally done from sun-up to sundown. In only a few areas did the work of men and women overlap:
Men's work: Heaviest work, Work with broadax, Cleared land, Constructing fences, Chopped wood, Plow land - symbol of hard
work! Planting, care, and harvest of crops (mostly corn and wheat), Upkeep and repair of tools, implements, and wagons, Clean-up
and maintenance of barn, Hog and sheep care, Hunting (early 1800s) later more of a sport and part of male identity.
Women's Work: Growing, collecting and butchering, Acre of good land for gardening - Onions, potatoes, lettuce, beets, parsnips,
turnips, and carrots tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and beans. Also, buckwheat, and a garden of kitchen
and medical herbs - sage, peppers, thyme, mint, mustard, horseradish, tansy, and others. Henhouse and dairy, Making butter and
cheese, Three meals a day, cooking in the morning saving the rest of the day for other work. (Cast-Iron stoves became popular
around 1830s. Running water close to the house by 1850, but still had to be carried) Carry water, House cleaning (The yard
between the kitchen and barn was always covered with enough dung to attract hordes of summer houseflies. In those days before
screen doors kitchens were infested; men and women alike ignored the pests. In wet months, the yard was a mess of mud, dung,
and cast-off water, constantly tracked into the house. A cleanly wife had to be a constant worker). Spinning wool and cotton into
threads - clothes, socks, towels, bandage, menstrual cloth, pillow cloths, etc, Bore children and nursed them - Over one-half of
emigrant women gave birth to their first child within the first year of marriage, 98 percent by the end of their third year. Thereafter, an
average of 29 months intervened between births throughout the women's twenties and thirties. A two and one-half year cycle of
pregnancy, childbirth, infant care and nursing. Nursing limited work, yet could prevent pregnancy, weaning as early as possible
meant freedom to do more work but become pregnant again. (245).
Men and Women's Work Shared: Butcher of hogs, Making apple cider or apple butter, Sometimes at planting; garden or field.
Children's work as they could, usually beginning around age 5-6: Gathered eggs, Cleaned the hen house, Carry water if old
enough, Odd jobs
Much of the women's products could be exchanged for family necessities. Corn and grain surpluses, managed by the men, were
frequently used for paying off the farm mortgage, speculating in new land, and innovations in farm tools and technology.
Faragher, John M. 1987. "Farm Women." Chapter 14 of The social fabric, American life from 1607-1877. Glenview, IL.: Scott
Foresman and Company.