Cottage Industry–Educated By A Grindstone

Pedal Powered Grindstone

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s post is an introduction to a new series I will call Cottage Industry. Through my research, I have come to realize that farm women from a century ago and beyond needed ways to supplement their farm income. Frequently they raised a flock of chickens and sold the eggs or they would use the cream from their milk cows to make butter–both of which they would sell either to individuals or to local markets. Other women used their particular sewing, baking, canning, or gardening skills as a way of bringing in additional income. I am inspired by the industry and creativity of these rural farm women and will share their Cottage Industry stories as they come along.

Today’s story tells of a young widow who used an available grindstone to keep her kitchen knives sharp. Beginning by happenstance, her sharpening skills grew into a thriving business that enabled her to afford to put her sons through college. While growing up, her sons had helped her with the business venture and appreciated the educational opportunity it afforded them.

I would love to know where that grindstone is today. Enjoy!

Educated By A Grindstone

“I’ll be fifty-seven tomorrow,” smiled Mrs. Plaegar, rocking on the veranda of her white and green farmhouse, “and it seems as though it were only a few years ago when the boys were small.”

She sighed again.

“Those were the years when it was hard pulling. My husband died when the children were very young. The farm was heavily mortgaged and we had to stretch the pennies until they fairly squealed. My friends told me I ought to work in my spare time and besides, what could I have done? I could not sew. My fingers had become too clumsy with farm work to handle a needle delicately and work of other kinds would demand that I leave the farm which I could not do.

“Well, things went on for a while. I continued to do the manual work to which I was accustomed. I had always liked a man’s work better than a woman’s and I had quite a knack for handling tools.

“One tool I liked especially was an old grindstone in the barnyard on which I sharpened my knives. One day a neighbor, viewing with envy my shining and keen steel knives said, ‘I wonder if you would be willing to sharpen my knives? You do such splendid work and I would gladly pay you.’

“I consented and that was the beginning of a little business. Other women brought me their knives and scissors and I charged according to the size of the utensils. I used to send the boys to gather them in for me and sometimes they would bring home three or four dozen which they had labeled with the names of the owners. The next day they would return them, bright and sharp. And how farm women need keen tools!

“As my somewhat unique business increased, I bought a polishing machine and I soon received more orders than ever. One order which pleased me especially was from a hotel. They told me their employees were most deficient at polishing steel knives and if I did good work, they would be willing to give all their work to me. With housewives, too, this task is a dreaded one and my bank account began to increase accordingly. I followed up every opportunity and, of course, business brought more business.

“My business never forced me to neglect my farm duties. I always did the work on my own premises where I could oversee the work of the farmhands.

“The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family.” –I.R. Hegel

"The boys say they owe their college education to the old grindstone and that is perhaps the reason we never parted with it. To us, it shall always be a much loved and honored member of the family."
~FWM

Saving and Spending Minutes–Efficient Housekeeping 1923

Finding time is as good or better than finding a dollar. It is the busy people who generally acquire both.

Hello, again History Lovers,

In today’s world, Mrs. Elizabeth Wright might have posted her cleaning and organizing hacks on TikTok. However, in order to share household tips in her day, she wrote to The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women where her letter was published in the March 1923 issue–just as homemakers were beginning to think about spring cleaning. The personal reward for her hard work was to have more time to do the things she loved outdoors.

Enjoy!

“When I first began doing my own work, I realized that I must be saving minutes if I would have any time left from my manifold household duties for things outside. May I tell you of some of the time savers I then attached to myself?

One of them was learning to dust with two dust rags instead of one. It was a little awkward at first but I soon found that I could manipulate a dust rag in each hand. I would make my left and right slide from opposite directions along bookshelves, door casings, table legs, arms and backs of chairs, and presto! My dusting was done in half the time. After two years of practice, I am almost expert enough to dust the picture molding with one hand and polish the floor with the other! This specialty in the line of timesavers caused much amusement among my friends, some doubting Thomas’s requiring a demonstration, after which they adopted the method for their own daily schedule.

I found this same two-handed principle worked in many things. In polishing silver, I use flannel mittens instead of rags and rub them with each hand. It also works magic in washing windows, scouring, and any other occupation in which one’s left hand has been accustomed to soldiering.

The next time saver I got hold of was avoiding the accumulation of mail, papers, and so forth. By forming a habit of looking over and disposing immediately of all not to be kept for reference or passing on, I eliminated the trouble of a second inspection, which would have been necessary if the things had been laid away and forgotten. Especially do I clean up empty envelopes, circulars, and other printed drift that the mail brings but no one needs.

Then I started the habit of keeping in the living room a work-basket, so as to have some pick-up sewing always handy. Putting in a few stitches now and then, when chatting with friends, will develop many embryo garments into finished ones. If the machine work is completed on undergarments, the hand-finishing goes quickly, done in this way. Then I always keep a magazine handy to read during moments snatched, here and there, while waiting for someone or something.

When setting or clearing a table I always use a large tray to carry the dishes. [A wheeled tray of course is ideal.] When the dishes are washed, I replace on the tray those that are to be used at the next meal; this saves putting them back and forth into the China closet. I scrape and stack the dishes before washing them, separating the glass and silver and by rinsing all of them in hot water the burden of drying is minimized. Polishing the glass and silver will be about all that is necessary. I fasten a small piece of rubber tubing to the bottom of each faucet and this lessens accidental chipping of dishes that might strike them.

White oilcloth on all my shelves and tables saves much labor. It is easily wiped and always looks fresh. When doing work that necessitates making any trash or stains, I protect my work table or the floor with old newspapers and gather up the debris in them. I keep all scraps of soap in a small tin can with a top well perforated. Boiling water poured over or run through this gives a nice suds and soap wastage is lessened.

It is a great convenience to have in the kitchen a bag for clean wrapping paper and string; also, a bill file, a pad of paper and pencil, a box containing some pins and needles, coarse thread for basting, a small pile of muslin and a pair of scissors. I keep fat drippings in a glass jar, also mayonnaise and cracker crumbs. I always have on a shelf in the kitchen a row of big and little jars and dishes for such uses.

I find it also of the greatest convenience to have a number of bags handy of different thicknesses of material. A canvas bag for crushing ice. Flannel for broom bags; small paper bags for parsley, mint, lettuce, or celery, into which they can be put when washed and then kept crisp on the ice. Also bags for straining things, for cottage cheese, and so forth. I keep a supply of these bags on hand made from scraps or sugar sacks as there is no limit to their usefulness. There is a large bag hanging in my pantry for soiled table and kitchen linen.

On a shelf in my linen closet there is also a row of clean (boiled) bottles and jars, culled from the periodical cleaning out of the medicine closet, and wonderfully convenient they are, when an empty jar or bottle is needed in a hurry.

I found out that in making beds one can save a lot of steps and time by finishing entirely the spreading of covers on one side of the bed, before going to the other side.

In the bathroom closet, I keep an extra broom, dustpan, and small ironing board. This has saved me many steps back and forth when they might be at different ends of the house when needed. If one has not a closet to hold them, keep them behind a curtain hung on a rod a foot or two from the wall, where a shelf can also be placed to hold bathroom conveniences and include in these a small jar to hold bits of soap, that can be made into liquid soap for shampooing or laundry work and bottles of disinfectant and cleaning powders.

There are so many more conveniences that I have discovered and ways of utilizing, what I call the discard, that I cannot tell it all at one time”. –Elizabeth M. Wright

~FWM

Are Your Children Healthy? Scarlet Fever

Hello, again History Lovers!

In 1923 The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women began a series regarding the healthcare of rural babies and children written by Dr. Walter R. Ramsey a leading pediatrician of his time. The Editors encouraged mothers to read the articles, cut them out and paste them in a scrapbook, and to tell their neighbors about the information. Keep in mind this was well before the availability of penicillin when childhood illnesses could be debilitating or fatal. Our two-year stint with Covid-19 has been an immersive experience in the anxiousness and vulnerability that mothers of yesteryear had to have felt during outbreaks of serious childhood illnesses.

Today I’m feeling particularly grateful for the availability of antibiotics while raising my children.

Scarlet Fever–Scarlatina

Regard Every Case, However Mild, As Most Serious

“Scarlet Fever is perhaps the most treacherous of all the diseased which affect children. You never know just what it is going to do next. I may be so severe from the onset as to end fatally within a few days, or it may be so mild that it is almost impossible to say that it is scarlet fever at all. Even in the mild cases of so-called Scarlatina, serious complications may arise.

It is, therefore, imperative that all cases of scarlet fever of whatever degree of severity be regarded as serious.

The time from exposure until the child comes down with the disease, varies from two days to a week. The onset is usually sudden with vomiting, sore throat, and rapidly rising fever. The throat is inflamed and frequently covered with a grayish-white membrane, not unlike that found in diphtheria.

The two diseases may be present at the same time, and it is only by a culture from the throat and a microscopic examination that the proper diagnosis can be made.

After twenty-four or forty-eight hours the tongue usually presents the strawberry appearance. The rash begins usually on the neck and chest and rapidly spreads over the body; is not blotchy like measles but rather of a mustard plaster character and in typical cases is scarlet in color.

The glands in the neck frequently become swollen and very tender and later may form an abscess and have to be opened by the physician.

Abscess of the middle ear is common and requires skilled attention, as frequently the drum must be opened to evacuate the pus. By early opening through the canal, mastoid involvement i.e., infection of bone cells behind the ear, may be prevented.

Another frequent and serious complication is inflammation of the kidneys. This often occurs in mild cases, even after they are thought to be well and are permitted to run about and have the usual things to eat. In these cases, it will be noticed that the face is puffy, especially under the eyes, and the ankles and feet are swollen, so that the ridges of the stockings and shoes can be readily seen in the skin. The urine is scant in quantity and often highly colored.

Another serious complication of scarlet fever is heart involvement. It may produce serious symptoms from the beginning or be found later in life. Many of the boys rejected from the army in the late war, were suffering from some heart affection, many instances of which have their origin in scarlet fever during childhood.

Inflammation of the joints is also common in scarlet fever and may result in serious and permanent disability.

From what I have already said it will be apparent that scarlet fever is a disease that should be under the supervision of a skilled physician from the very onset.

All cases of scarlet fever should be kept in bed for a much longer period than is usually thought necessary.

The disease is usually contracted from some other person who has it. The infection comes from the discharges from the throat or nose and not from the scalings, as is generally supposed.

A very common carrier is the milk that may readily be infected from someone, such as a milker who has the disease in a mild form, but who does not know it. One of the worst local epidemics I have ever seen of scarlet fever and malignant sore throat resulted from the infection of the milk supply by the milker.

If all milk for children were properly pasteurized or boiled for two minutes, many of them would miss such diseases as scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid, and tuberculosis from which many of them now suffer.”

~FWM

Home Demonstration Work–Blog Shout Out

Hello, again History Lovers!

My post for today is a shoutout to a blog that I recently began following: ruralnchistory.blogspot.com linked HERE

The author posts daily articles from various North Carolina newspapers from a hundred years ago. Her blog takes a broad look at the happenings of the 1920s including arrests made during prohibition, accidents involving new automobiles and drivers, as well as prison breaks, deaths, marriages, and births. It is my morning “read” (much more enjoyable than the current events in our world).

Sunday’s post was of particular interest to me:

Home Demonstration Agent Ola Wells Helping Guilford Residents Raising Chickens, February 20, 1922, linked HERE

Home Demonstration Agents not only helped housewives but also promoted activities and learning for rural school-age children. In the article linked above, Mrs. Wells is encouraging teachers who want to form a Poultry Club in their school to do so. (I guess this would be akin to the after-school programs of today). Children who are interested are invited to contact Mrs. Wells directly.

Enjoy!

Pandora’s Party Box–The Father of Our Country

Hello, again History Lovers!

In honor of President’s Day, I am posting a trivia quiz about George Washington that was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women February 1922. The answers can be found at the end of the post.

Enjoy!

The Father of Our Country

An enjoyable memory about the great man whose birthday we celebrate this month will be found in the following questions:

  1. In what state was George Washington born?
  2. In what year?
  3. What was the maiden name of his mother?
  4. What was his father’s profession?
  5. Did George attend any college?
  6. What nobleman was his early patron?
  7. Who sent him on his famous journey through the wilderness?
  8. What position did he hold under Braddock”?
  9. Whom did he marry?
  10. How did he act when first complimented on his military services?
  11. What year was he made Continental Commander-In-Chief?
  12. Where did he spend the winter of 1777?
  13. When was he elected president?
  14. How long did he hold the presidency?
  15. Did he leave any children at his death?
  16. Where did he die?
  17. Did he hold slaves?
  18. Did he approve of slavery?
  19. What became of his slaves after their master’s death?
  20. By whom was he called “First in war, first in peace, etc?

Decorations

Flags can be made of heavy paper for this game with the questions written on the back. A suitable prize would be some standard (flag or banner) of the Life of Washington, with a chocolate hatchet for a booby prize.

Answer Key

  1. Virginia
  2. 1732
  3. Mary Ball
  4. Planter
  5. No
  6. Lord Fairfax
  7. Gov. Dinwiddie
  8. Aide-de-camp
  9. Mrs. Martha Curtis
  10. Blushed, stammered, and could not speak
  11. 1775
  12. Valley Forge
  13. 1789
  14. For two terms of four years each
  15. No
  16. At Mount Vernon
  17. Yes
  18. No
  19. They were set free
  20. By the House of Representatives

~FWM

The Twelve Greatest Things Series–Struggle

Twelve Greatest Things In Life

First in his list of The Twelve Greatest Things In Human Life, Doctor Holland named Love. This month comes sturdy Struggle. Some of our friends are memorizing the short chapters; others are pasting them up in scrapbooks.

Hello, again History Lovers!

The new year brought with it a new series to The Farmer’s Wife Magazine–the Twelve Greatest Things In Life–written by Reverend John W. Holland. The series was originally published in monthly installments by THE FARMER’S WIFE–A MAGAZINE FOR FARM WOMEN. Each month’s article featured a topic regarding the human condition, therefore the topics are as pertinent today as they were in 1926. Installments of this series will be posted on the first Sunday of every month throughout 2022.

My sincerest apologies for posting a week late. Blogging was trumped by a ski weekend with my children and grandchildren. 😉

Struggle

“I AM almost as ancient as Love. Although called by many names and often cursed by foolish men, I remain unchanged.

I am the guardian of all good, for I test everything. In my furnace fires, all minerals have been burned so that only the best were left.

When Life appeared on the earth, I pounced upon it and beset its pathway with so-many difficulties that only the strong remained.

As the trees sprang from the fertile earth, I whipped them with many storms so that they which endured might have fiber strong enough to stand.

When Man came in innocence from the Creative Hand and fell into wrongdoing, I stood by him and helped him to win strong virtues in the place of his lost innocence.

Men sometimes rebel at me but they can have no great destiny without me. I am rough on the exterior but my hands are lined with velvet. I am the unwelcome trainer of all things that would grow.

I cradled a boy in poverty. I took away his mother and drove him out among rough men to win his lonely way. I denied him the schooling of the cultured and compelled him to labor in sorrow in a wilderness. I broke his heart by stealing from him the sweetheart of his youth. I battered at his brain till he was almost frenzied. I fed him the bread of poverty but through it all, I watched over him, enlarged his sympathies, quickened his brain, till at last, Lincoln, arose like a colossus among the saviors of the race.

Cowards and weaklings are afraid of me but I know the only things that will make real men of them. Women who are foolish enough to try to shield themselves from me sink into nothingness.

I temper the heart and sinew of the athlete by making him fight and work for his laurels.

I gave to virtue its divine quality by compelling it to fight to the death its sinful enemies.

I make bread sweet in man’s mouth by his very labor for it.

When earth needs prophets, I prepare scorpion whips for the hands of those who scourge the backs of the good.

I make the noblest music of the world from the anguish of suffering.

Would you be well? Then fight the enemies of health. Do you desire to become wise? Dig for the gold of wisdom. Would you be noble? Master every lurking secret weakness within you. Would you be a saint? Annihilate sinning.

Men desire easy paths to glory. I refuse them utterly, for my noblest crown is a Crown of Thorns, and life’s sweetest bliss is the memory of a conquered sorrow.

The angel that you desire to carve I have hidden for you in the hard block of marble.

My name is Struggle!”

FWM

The above article was published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1926; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Pandora’s Party Box

Pandora, the romantic sprite that she is has a soft spot in her heart for old Saint Valentine, and she sends us the following suggestion. It holds with which to help celebrate his day.

Hello, again History Lovers!

Rural folks in the 1920s often made their own holiday fun and entertainment, and The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women was a great resource for homemade party suggestions. Suitable for single young men and women, the column Pandora’s Party Box featured themed holiday ideas each month.

The post below features a craft activity published in February 1922 where young women would gather together to create a large valentine requiring a plethora of magazine cutouts that would “divine” what each girl’s matrimonial fortune would hold. 1922 magazine cutouts would have looked very different from what could be found in today’s Cosmo, Vogue, or Martha Stewart Living. I even imagined myself hosting a similar party and cutting pictures from Western Horseman, Field and Stream, and Outdoor Life. Each party would definitely have produced lots of conversation and giggles as well as unique valentine’s keepsakes.

A Valentine Party

Suppose you are entertaining some girlfriends. Supply each of them with some paste and a large heart of red cardboard (think poster size) on each of which you have written at the top MY VALENTINE, and below this, the following headings, five on each side of the heart, Keeping to the left as far as possible:

  1. His initials
  2. How we will met
  3. His picture
  4. His first gift
  5. Our best friend
  6. Who will try to keep us apart
  7. When we will be married
  8. The best man
  9. Our home
  10. His worst fault

Have ready beforehand, ten boxes to correspond with the heading on the hearts. In each of these, place the required number of suitable pictures which you have cut from the advertising section of magazines. For instance, Box No. 1 should contain at least twenty letters, each girl drawing two. Box No. 2 will contain pictures of a couple playing tennis, at the opera, on a train, anything to indicate the circumstances under which two people might meet. Box No. 3 will contain the heads of various types of men—some old, others young, some bald, some handsome, and so forth. Box No. 4 offers a variety in the way of candy, books, a phonograph, electrical gifts, and so on. Box No. 5 may contain a dog, postman, little brother, old lady. Box No. 6, a pretty girl, old gentlemen. Box No. 7, the name of some month or flowers to indicate spring, snow for winter. Box No. 8 can contain pictures of men engaged in different professions, such as carpenter, plumber, lawyer, doctor. Box No. 9 will have in it attractive little houses, big ugly ones, and so forth. While Box No. 10 will show “him” smoking, reading, playing cards, joyriding, and so on.

Innumerable ideas will be obtained for this while going through magazines. Each girl, blindfolded, draws from each box and pastes her fortune on her heart as she goes along. Great fun will ensue in comparing the fortunes. The hearts themselves make interesting souvenirs to carry home.

If there are to be boys at the party as well as girls, separate boxes should be provided for them, and the headings on the hearts made to apply to girls, as for instance, “Her initials,” “Her picture,” “Her worst fault.”

My Improved Kitchen

Hello, again History Lovers!

In contrast to my previous post regarding a farm family who wired their home and farm buildings for electricity, today’s post is a letter from a Maryland farm woman who writes to The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women to share how beneficial the small improvements made to her kitchen were. Her husband moved the hand water pump and sink indoors so she would no longer have to pump water in the cold and carry bucketsful into the kitchen for cooking and cleaning. He also built a worktable, moved the cookstove to a better angle, and framed in the back porch all of which created better working conditions for her.

When we bought our home, the kitchen was just a plain room about 15 ½ ft. x 15 ½ ft. with the chimney in the center back of the room. The only convenience it possessed was a large case or cupboard built on one side of the chimney. Our water supply was at the back porch, about 12 steps away from where it was needed.

The first thing we did was to build a worktable from the cupboard out toward the door that opened on the back porch. Then we moved in the pump and sink from the porch, and put them at the end of the worktable. A small case was built up over the sink between the window and the door which holds articles such as toothbrushes, paste, shaving equipment, and so forth. The sink has a drainpipe to a cesspool which carries away all the wastewater without walking a step. This is one of the best things about having a sink in the kitchen.

We were able to save a few more steps by turning the range around so that the oven door opens toward the worktable. This makes my work in that corner of the room in a space about 6 x 8 ft. and I have very few steps to make to cook a meal.

A stool that can be pushed out of the way under the worktable adds also to the general convenience. A wire dish drainer (cost 20 cents) that fits the sink saves good time in dishwashing. A rack with hooks on the wall between the cupboard and the window over the sink, hold all the little cooking utensils used daily such as eggbeater, can opener, grater.

We have recently enclosed the porch and built some shelves in same and it now makes a very useful store room and laundry.

Of course, my kitchen does not compare with one equipped with running water but for the cost, it has been worth an untold amount. I do not have any water to carry. Of course, I have it to pump, but it is much easier to do in a warm kitchen than out in the cold, and it does not seem so hard when I do not have to carry it several steps and lift it up to the table.

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1922, Page 745; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Electricity On Our Farm

Hello History Lovers!

Since many rural families didn’t get electricity until well into the 1930s, folks who had electricity on their farms in the early twenties were very modern. In January 1922, speaking on behalf of his wife as well as himself, Mr. Harper Christensen submitted an article to The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women extolling the many advantages of having electricity. They found that electric lighting was beneficial inside the house, outside in the yard, and in the barns and garage. Modern electrical appliances helped in all facets of their life–in dairying and pig raising, with housework, and providing the lighting for family fun in the evening once the work was done.

Enjoy!

Electricity On Our Farm

“Electric lights were installed on our farm nearly a year ago. Now we often wonder how we managed to get along without them, not alone for time and labor-saving but for pleasure, convenience, and cleanliness.

Last fall, a year ago, they erected a high line from Albert Lea to Alden, Minnesota, and the farmers received the privilege of connecting. There are thirty-three farms between Albert Lea and Alden electrically equipped.

Electric lights were installed on our farm nearly a year ago. Now we often wonder how we managed to get along without them, not alone for time and labor-saving but for pleasure,convenience, and cleanliness.
Electric Cream Separator (on right) 1920s

Electricity on the Dairy

Probably the greatest asset with an electrically equipped farm is on the labor-saving side. We milk with electricity, separate the milk with it, wash and iron with it, and in the near future expect to clean the house with electricity. Running the milking machine with a motor is surely much quicker and handier than a gasoline engine. Sometimes I have cranked the gas engine until I was blue in the face only to have to milk by hand, and the same applies to the cream separator with the motor attached—it runs much more smoothly and more even.

Electricity for Washing and Ironing

Washing clothes by hand is anything but pleasure but my wife says with an electric washer it is fun and says also that she never worries about washday anymore. The ironing is also easy as it takes but two minutes to heat the iron. You have to be careful and not get it too hot for it sure does get hot quickly and electricity is the hottest thing there is.

The Cost of Electricity

As a money-saving proposition, it is a benefit also because with gas and kerosene at the present prices, you could not begin to do what we are doing with electricity for the same money. We pay ten cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 500 kilowatt-hours and for what we use over that is seven cents per kilowatt-hour. We probably will use about 750 kilowatt-hours per year costing us about $67.50.

The Benefit of Electric Lighting

As for convenience and pleasure, it has no equal: there are no lamps to fill, no lanterns to clean. All you have to do is to press a button or turn a switch and you have a real light, not half a light. You save your eyes too as you do not have to strain them to see. We have a yard light situated right in the center of all the buildings with a hundred-watt lamp in it and it is light as day when it is turned on. We now can play horseshoes till eleven o’clock—all on account of the lights!

Also, we have the garage lighted up with a cord about 20 feet long attached to the switch so the light can be placed anywhere on the automobiles. The light in the hog house has probably saved us the most money—when the sows are farrowing, we have the lights on and we believe have thereby saved quite a few little pigs from being killed.

Electrical Safety

Above all, if anyone is figuring on installing electric lights, he should have the wiring done by experts so as to avert possible accidents.”

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1922, Page 677; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Home Demonstration Agent Saves Life

The human face of the 1918 Spanish Influenza

Hello History Lovers!

Today’s article was published January 1921 in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women featuring the extraordinary work of a young Home Demonstration Agent during the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. Miss McElhinney was able to help save the life of a seriously ill boy by means of artificial respiration (I’m not sure what AR looked like a century ago but evidently it worked). Her service blessed the lives of many people in her community.

Enjoy!

A Home Demonstration Agent Serves Her People

“Miss Flora E. McElhinney, Home Demonstration Agent Houghton County, Michigan, is known throughout her own state and other states for the wonderful work she did for the people of her county during the influenza epidemic of the past two winters. Disregarding the protests of friends, Miss McElhinney went right out into the community that was suffering most from the disease and nursed back to health more than two hundred patients who had to be without the attention of a physician. This brave woman surmounted the greatest difficulties. When the snow was so deep that a horse could not go through, her driver, Mr. George Renti, tramped the snow down to make a path and they went through. When no other means was possible, Miss McElhinney tramped in snow, waist-deep, to get to her patients. When trains were not running, she and her helper braved the storm on a speeder (a small gasoline-powered cart) down the railroad track”.

Makeshift hospital for 1918 Spanish Influenza patients

“The first year of the epidemic, Miss McElhinney established a hospital in the town hall of the community. Patients were moved to the hospital on their own mattress and with their own bedding. The mattress was placed on four camp chairs and this served as a bed. Each bed was screened off and as many as eighty-seven patients were cared for at one time with the assistance of two nurses. More than two hundred and eighty patients were cared for in this way”.

Woman suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Last year, Miss McElhinney felt that her work would be more lasting if she could go right into the homes, take care of the patients and teach the members of the family how to give the medicine and necessary attention themselves. As many as ten in one family were stricken”.

Bedridden children suffering from the Spanish Influenza 1918

“Sixteen days and nights with an average of one hour’s rest was her extraordinary record during the ravages of the disease. Two hundred and eighty-five patients were nursed back to health, one hundred of whom had pneumonia, as they did not send for help in time. One boy’s life was saved by working all night over him producing artificial respiration.

One of the young men of the community, Mr. George Renti, gave up his work and accompanied Miss McElhinney in her visits to act as interpreter for many of the people who could not speak English, to lead the faithful old horse through the snowdrifts, to drive the car or run the spade, and to him, Miss McElhinney says, much of the credit is due.

To have given aid in a time of need was a wonderful work, but that has not been the end. The lessons in home nursing learned in the community at that time will be lasting. The need for fresh air and hygienic living were lessons that are still put into practice, and the love and devotion of a grateful people have been gained. The community would do anything in the world for Miss McElhinney, and it is thus that one Home Demonstration Agent has reached her people”.

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1921, Page 290; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.