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Recreation For The Farm Wife

It is commonly supposed that the play movement is solely for the children in the crowded sections of the great cities, yet to the student of recreation it is perfectly certain that the greatest need is not that of the children of the city slum, but rather of the women on the farms. The cases are very different in outward appearance, but not so much so in reality, for in both it is demand for life and time to do, for the joy of the doing, what the spirit craves, rather than under the spur of necessity to do the thing they must.


The problem of the farm woman is threefold. She is working far too long hours, her work is monotonous and uninteresting, and she has almost no recreation or vacations. The need of the factory worker, and others who are toiling in the industrial treadmill of the present, is great, but the need of the farm wife is greater. The work of the factory may be uninteresting and monotonous, but it is not for more than ten hours a day or six days a week ; the work of the farm kitchen is uninteresting, and it is never finished. The farmer is often working much too hard for his own good, for it is quite impossible to pursue the modern methods of agriculture and work twelve hours a day in a field or elsewhere ; but the farmer's work is largely limited by the daylight and the endurance of his team. As his wife's work is in the house and she furnishes the horse power herself it has no such limitations. I believe my own mother worked fourteen or fifteen hours a day on week days and probably seven hours a day on Sunday all her life. She did not work harder than the neighboring women and not nearly so hard as some of them, as she never cared for the garden, fed the pigs, or milked the cows. I believe that the farm women of the entire country, or of the North at least, are working more than seventy hours a week. The law forbids the employment of women for more than fifty-four hours a week in Massachusetts and a number of other states ; but a woman may work in her own home as long as she or her husband pleases.


Farm women have not largely realized how hard they were working until very lately ; yet one hears constant expressions of weariness from them, and if we may judge from the songs that are sung and the inscriptions that we find on country tombstones, the one idea of heaven that prevails is that it is a place of rest. What shall we say of a time and a condition which develop an idea of heaven which has no positive content, but merely the ideal of the absence of toil ? There is surely something wrong in this life somewhere. t is hard to say how much the desire of the farmer's wife to escape from the drudgery of the farm is responsible for the alarming growth of absentee landlordism all over the country at present, but it is doubtless a considerable element in it. The boys and girls are leaving the farm. t must be that somewhere they have got the idea that it is not the best place in the world to live. This is often laid to a city-planned school system, but we cannot suppose that if the home breathed the spirit of satisfaction with conditions, the occasional influence of any city-bred teacher or curriculum could counteract it. Those of us who have had much experience with the rural school do not dream that it is thus effective in other things, at least in molding the lives of the children. t doubtless has some influence, but even what influence it has is largely due to the fact that it finds a mind that is susceptible to such a suggestion. Where country women have been questioned, it has generally been found that they did not wish their daughters to be farmers' wives. The farm girls themselves in their abstract choice do not wish to marry farmers, and the reason that is given is the endless drudgery of the farm home.

This is a problem to which the schools of domestic economy, the agricultural colleges, the high schools, and the farmers themselves should devote their best efforts. It is fundamental to the welfare of the home and the whole farming community, because the home has to fill the place of general society and overcome the isolation of the farm. The children cannot be properly taught and cared for if the farm wife is spending twelve or fourteen hours a day on her housework. t would be futile for any one to hope to solve this problem offhand, but the following facts seem to be reasonably plain. They demand immediate attention.


Since the women are working far too long hours, every sort of labor-saving device should be acquired until their hours of labor are brought down to a reasonable total. It is notorious that this has not been done thus far. Every new year has brought new machinery and labor-saving devices to the farm, but there has been almost no change in the home. This is not from unkindness or selfishness on the part of the farmer, as a rule, but because he has not realized the situation. If the farmer can afford to have a mowing machine for him-self, he can generally afford to have a windmill or a motor to pump the water for his wife.

The first great need is that the house should be planned not for show but to economize women's steps. The national Department of Agriculture and some of the agricultural colleges have designs for such homes that can be secured without cost.

If the farmer can afford to take his milk to the creamery, he can afford to take the family wash and perhaps the baking along and have it done at the same time. The editor of Farm and Fireside was speaking in a western farmers' institute and urging that the community arrange to have its washing done in this way, saying that it would not cost more than ten cents more to have the family wash done with a steam washing machine and mangle. A well-to-do farmer spoke up and said, "But what would my wife do if she didn't save that ten cents ? " When asked how many children he had he said "Nine." We will hope that this farmer was an exception. t is always wasteful to do with human muscles what can be done by machines. Any farmer ought to be ashamed to have a wife whose time is not worth more than ten or twenty cents a day to her family.

The milk is coming to be pretty generally cared for by the farmer, as it should be. If he has not provided a windmill, he should also draw the water.


Perhaps the greatest trouble in this whole situation is that women have never learned the value of time. Their work has no money value put upon it ; as a rule they have nothing to look forward to if their work is quickly done, and consequently the girls often dawdle along over it, taking two or three times as long as they should. The country girls who have worked for us have always done so. When one notices the celerity and industrial efficiency of the girls who are doing piece work in the factory, and compares it with the listless movements of the girls working about the house, he is almost tempted to believe that he is beholding a different species or type of humankind. Yet these same farm girls make the very most effective factory workers when they go there. The trouble is that they have not been taught to be efficient and economize motions. The efficiency movement which would eliminate unnecessary steps and processes and do each task with a minimum of effort probably has a wider application in housework than it has anywhere else.

If the farm wife is given a convenient house, with running water, and her laundry and baking are done out, and she will study efficiency and celerity in doing her work, she can easily reduce her hours of labor to five or six, which is quite as much as any woman with children should be expected to give to her house. Eight hours a day is the legal working day on government contracts and in many states. If a woman works seven hours a day for seven days a week, she will still be working forty-nine hours a week. t is generally estimated that the child learns more in the first six years of his life than he does in all the years that come afterwards. The mother is almost the only teacher during this period, and to sacrifice her leisure is to sacrifice the future of the child.


The second difficulty with the work of the farm mother is the nature of the work itself. The farmer's work is out of doors, where he gets the fresh air, hears the songs of the birds, and sees the distant landscape and the ever-changing panorama of the seasons. His eyes are often closed to the beauty and the wonder of it all, but in some way it affects him unconsciously ; he cannot entirely shut it out. The woman's work is indoors. With her long hours she might almost as well be in the city, so far as any contact with birds or sunsets or an outdoor life is concerned.

The farmer's work changes from day to day. Each season has its special crops and harvests, its special forms of tillage, and its own problems. There is not the same change in woman's work. The beds have to be made, the floors swept, the meals cooked, and the dishes wiped every day of the year, summer or winter.

The farmer realizes the prospective profits as he tills the soil. He can measure his work by direct returns. He realizes that the work of today will not need to be done to-morrow, and that each day brings him nearer the end of the season and the reward of his labor. The woman does not have these sources of satisfaction. Her-work is like that of a man who would make a pile of stones on one side of the road to-day and then carry them across and pile them up on the other side the next day, and so on ad infinitum. The work she does today she will do again to-morrow, and so on to the end of the chapter. There is no direct reward for her work. t is unproductive. t largely disappears down the throats of the family and seems to yield no returns.

The processes of agriculture have almost entirely changed in the last three or four decades until the farmer must be a high-grade mechanic, business man, and scientist to perform his work successfully. All of these processes are interesting in themselves. t is doubtful if washing dishes can ever be interesting in the same way. If the work is uninteresting, the hours must be made proportionately short, for the life of the spirit, the only life that is worth living, must come out-side the work.

There are, however, parts of women's work that may be made much more interesting than they are at present. Cooking, canning, and preserving are interesting in themselves, have some changes with the seasons, and may be made much more interesting by the application of scientific principles to them. The girls' cooking and canning clubs, which have recently been organized in a number of states, will, I believe, do an immense amount to make woman's work more attractive.


However, the fact remains that the most interesting thing about the home must always be the children and the family life. The service that has been required in the past cannot be compensated without abundant appreciation. t seems almost an axiom that the training that the farm girls most need is a training in the care and love of children. It is in playing with the children that she gets nearly all her recreation, for, merely as play, it is much better sport to dress a real live baby than it is to care for a doll. It is the children who give a motive to the work she does and who occupy her thoughts while she is busy with brainless tasks. t is their future that is to compensate for the monotony and drudgery of her daily life.


The farm woman is more dependent socially on the family than any other woman. She is almost completely isolated from outside society. She has no vacations, as a rule, and travels very little if any. t is in the family that she must find her real life. Even the farmer's contact with the world is wide beside hers. For the sake of the children and the wife alike the evenings should not be counted the unproductive period and eliminated as nearly as possible by early retiring and early rising and evening duties, which prevent the wife from being a companion. The farmer should not forget to bring home his bit of news, whatever it may be, and share it with the others. The farm woman should endeavor to plan her work so that she can spend her evenings as far as possible with her family, and she should have something to bring to them. If she can play or sing, this will add much to the pleasure of the evenings. She should know how to play several games, both for her sake and the sake of the family. She should be able to tell stories or to read aloud at times. From some source her mind must be replenished, so that she will have something to talk about that is worth while. The farm home has been the moral strength of the farm and the country. If the farm wife is not overworked, she should be able to make the farm home yet more attractive by developing a more intimate and interesting life about the fireside at night. The wife must inevitably be the real entertainer in this home social center ; she must plan and provide for the things to be done. If this is well done, there will not be many cases of boys and girls going wrong or wanting to leave the farm as soon as possible. It seems a sad reflection on our civilization that we should have thought of washing the dishes as woman's work but should have regarded this ministration to the spirit of the home and the family, which is surely the wife's most vital function, as a mere extra, which she was under no obligation, either social or moral, to perform. This is so obviously putting the lesser before the greater, the body above the spirit, industry above life, that it perhaps gives some point to foreign criticisms of our materialistic view of human values. It is a. sad criticism on our education that we are teaching the girls all about cube root and compound proportion and nothing about the care of children and making the home attractive. The young people are not staying at home in the evenings either in the country or in the city. Why ? Because there is nothing going on in the homes, and because the girls are not taught as they should be how to make the home attractive or to develop its social life.


If the farm wife is to make an attractive home, if she is to be able to take part in the conversation and to organize the social life of the family, she must have access to a woman's magazine and books. She cannot read aloud or tell stories to the family unless she has something to read from. Some arrangement should be made so that books will be readily available in the country, either through the school or through the traveling library. They have an excellent arrangement in Missouri and I know not how many other states, that fits well into rural conditions. The state librarian purchases the books. The books are sent out in strong boxes holding fifty. Any seven people can on application receive a box of these books and keep it for three or six months. This makes possible the placing of a usable library of sorted books in every neighborhood. All that the local group need to pay is the freight, which is a mere trifle. t is really a much cheaper and more effective way of providing books to the people than the city library, as it saves the cost of the building and the librarian. t puts into the community a small selection of really suitable books and avoids the confusion and helplessness that an inexperienced reader is apt to feel in the presence of the vast cases of card indexes of a city library. Why should not every state have this or a similar system ? Novels, and books of travel, biography, and history, are needed for recreation; books on farming, domestic economy, and hygiene, for daily instruction and use ; and a few good books of poetry for inspiration.


The farm woman is isolated, more so than her husband, who is overmuch by himself. t is essential to her welfare that at least one day or evening of the week she should meet for social purposes with the other people of the community. Otherwise she will not have enough to talk about in the evenings or enough to think about at her work. I see no possibility of satisfying her social needs in most cases with-out the social center, unless she goes each week to a social meeting at the grange or the church, and it is to be feared that even here the social opportunities are more limited than they should be. The social-center movement has often been thought of as a city movement, but it is surely more needed in the country than it is in the city.


A very large part of the recreation of the farm woman must come, as we have indicated, from the home life and the social center, but this should not be all. She needs a vacation, with a complete change of scene and thoughts, for two or three weeks every year. This probably is not possible, however, in most cases, and she must get her vacation as she goes along. t should be of such a character that it will give her something pleasant to think about while she is washing the dishes and making the beds. If these times that require little thought in themselves may be periods when thought is being incubated and policies determined, they need not be lost to spiritual growth on account of their lack of mental content.


The farm woman should play certain games in the yard. It would cause astonishment, I suppose, in many quarters to see the farmer and his wife out playing tennis after supper in the fall and the spring of the year, but I know of few things that would mean more for the common welfare.


But in general recreation for the farm woman will be pretty dependent upon her ability to get about. Every girl ought to learn to harness a horse, to ride horseback, and to drive, in order that she may be independent and go where and when she wishes. This means, of course, that a horse should be put at her disposal when she cares to go. At least one after-noon a week a horse should be understood to belong to her. This should be possible in most families at nearly all times of the year, but in order that the privilege or opportunity of going may be assured, she should be able to walk as well. During the fall I usually walk from three to ten miles through the country two or three afternoons each week, but I seldom meet a woman walking along the roads.


Every farm woman should belong to some club or social organization that would give her frequent opportunities to meet with her friends. t would be a good thing if this could be a club to which both town and country women belong. The experience of the country women is too uniform for it to be really stimulating. In the city any group is made up of representatives from many different trades and professions. But in the country gatherings, as a rule, agriculture alone is represented.


There is among the women in the farming community in which I was brought up a club that is worthy of being copied, because it is successful ; and it seems likely that it would be successful elsewhere. t is the Fordham School Alumnae Association.

In an American community those who attended the same school as children are soon scattered into adjoining towns and counties, and some of them into distant states. The majority of them probably live within an area where it is possible for them to get together by train or carriage, but far enough apart so that they do not see each other often. There are no other memories that are quite so fondly remembered in adult life as the memories of childhood. This club appeals to real interests that are much more vital than those of the sewing circle. This club is known as the Fordham Club, from the Fordham School, which the members attended, for the most part about forty years ago, though some of the younger generation have been admitted also. They are now. scattered over the north and west of the country, though a majority of them are living within a radius of twenty miles. Not more than three or four are still residents of the school district. The meetings are held at the houses of the members and some-times require a trip by train of twenty or thirty miles. There are monthly sessions, which convene about eleven and adjourn at four. The numbers in attendance vary from ten to forty. The hostess serves dinner.

At the meetings the talk drifts largely to old times and reminiscences. The one event which is always scheduled is the reading of letters from absentees. The following will serve as a good example of letters of this kind and also of the talk. Such letters not infrequently come from Washing-ton, California, and other states of the far West.

I wonder how many of you girls remember the " sparking bench," as we used to call the back seat ; and how the older ones would pair off in couples and throw a shawl over their heads that they might be more retired. And how we would go to the woods after leeks ; and the teacher would be " so mad " — obliged to work among us and get the full benefit of the perfume. And do you remember how you, Nell, Cora, Carrie and myself, and occasionally some of the others, would go at noon to some one of the many pleasant orchards, spread out our dinners and have a picnic ? and how we all loved to get something that Cora's mother had made her cooking was always so good?

And then another treat was to go over to the old mill and eat some of old Mr. Mattison's sorghum molasses or apple jelly. One time I went to the Mattison home to an afternoon warm sugar social, soon after Gene and Deal were married; and she cried so because Gene played " snap-and-catch-'em" and kissed the girls. And what happy times we spent on the ice in the winter time !

There are many happy remembrances, too, of the Sunday School, and of Messrs. Parsons and Loba and dear old Mrs. Nettleton. One time she brought a double-buggy load of you girls to our house to spend the day. Mother got up a big dinner for us and we spent the afternoon under those great oak trees in the woods that were there in front of our place. We made a Christmas tree of a growing thorn bush. I cannot remember who was there, but doubtless some of you will recall the circumstance.

Well, I must not take up too much time and will hasten on. Most all of those dear old mothers have left us now, girls ; and we are growing old ourselves. Some of us are far away; some lives have run in pleasant, happy grooves, for the most part; and some of us have known bitter sorrow and unutterable suffering ; some have crossed the great divide and are waiting on the other side, where I hope we shall all be together again some day, an unbroken band of Fordhamětes.

I am glad you are having these meetings; and wishing you many happy returns of the day, I am glad to be one of you, though not present.

The proceedings of the club are written up in full in the local paper, from which this letter is taken. The editor says that a number of people have written from away and sub-scribed for the paper, because they wanted to get an account of the affairs of the club.

Once a year the families of the members are invited, and at some time during the summer the annual picnic and homecoming of all the old members of the school district is held. This past summer the meeting was in the grove of a lake near here. There were one hundred twenty-five in attendance, and every one voted that it was a most enjoyable occasion. The advantages of this school district are in no way peculiar. The members are as much scattered as is usually the case. The club is carried on without any special promotion or dues. The railroad connections are not good, as there is only one railroad that touches the township, and this has only a few local trains that stop. There is no interurban trolley line within twelve miles. Some of the women drive ten to twenty miles to attend. None of the members are rich or even well-to-do in the liberal sense of the word. t would seem that a club that can succeed under such circumstances could succeed almost anywhere. About all that is needed is for some one to take the initiative in its organization. If there was ever a strong friendship between the girls of the old school, the club will probably be self-perpetuating.


The Country-Life Movement, which is upon us, means essentially that life is more than profits and may not be sacrificed to an endless routine, which gives no time to live, or to a sordid ambition, which in an utter devotion to money-making forgets that money has value only in so far as it secures for us a large and satisfying life. But a wealth that has to be hoarded and watched and tended, so that there is no time or thought for the pleasures or aspirations of life, means ever a poverty of spirit. The farmer must be given position and influence in society and in the affairs of the nation. The country must be made attractive enough so that it can keep the boys and girls on the farm, so that the more capable and efficient rather than the less capable and efficient farmers will remain. If this movement for a larger life is to prevail, it must come largely through the development of the social life in the open country, and of the social life of the home. In this work the farm woman is the natural leader, and the times demand that she shall be emancipated so far as possible from the drudgery of the kitchen and the washtub, in order that she may give herself to her children, her family, and the community ; and they demand no less that the daughter that is coming on to take her place shall have instruction in the things that are vital to her welfare and the welfare of the community — in the care of the home and the organization of its social life, in the love of nature, and in the love and care of children.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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