One-Hundred-Year-Old Marble Cake

Hello, again History Lovers,

In the post Cooking For Cash, we met Mrs. Alta Dunn, a farm woman from the 1920s who did catering to supplement her family’s farm income. She even included the “rule” or recipe she uses for baking cakes. Curious about her recipe I decided to give it a try.

For a two-layer cake, frosted, I charge $1.25; the same cake baked in a loaf and frosted brings $1. The rule for these cakes if white or marble cake is desired, is: 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 cups flour, flavoring, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 4 egg whites stiffly beaten. If baked in layers, I scant the flour a trifle. For marble cake, I take one-third of the batter for the white part; and add coloring to another third, and chocolate or mixed spices to the remainder. If chocolate or gold cake is desired, I use the same rule, substituting 2 whole eggs or 4 yolks for the beaten whites. This makes a delicious, tender cake if carefully mixed and baked.

I use a cream and powdered sugar frosting either white, pink, maple, or chocolate. Any fruit juice may be substituted for cream, beating until frosting is the right consistency to spread.

–Mrs. Alta Dunn, The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women

I mixed the ingredients as listed above, colored, and flavored the batter as described for Marble Cake. I referenced cake recipes from Ida Bailey Allen’s cookbook Cooking Menus Service 1924 for the time and temperature for baking a similar cake–350 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes. It turned out perfectly as the photos below will show. From the same cookbook, I found a recipe for icing made with fruit juice as Mrs. Dunn describes. I replaced the grape juice with maraschino cherry juice. The result was a bit sweet but I used it in between the two layers of cake.

To frost the sides and top of the cake, I used a modern, decadent Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting recipe that I found on the internet. It worked well to tie together the flavors, colors, and layers. I think the bitterness of the chocolate kept the cake from being too sweet. Everyone that I served the cake to enjoyed it including myself.

All in all, it was a fun experiment that helps me better appreciate our hard-working foremothers as it took about three hours to create a $1.25 cake. Below is a slideshow demonstrating the recipe for a one-hundred-year-old Marble Cake.

Enjoy!

~FWM

Cottage Industry Series–Cooking For Cash

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s article is another example of the hard work and ingenuity farm women demonstrated while supplementing their family farm income. Mrs. Alta Dunn uses her cooking and baking skills to establish a catering business in a small western town. Quality products and fair pricing are of supreme importance to her. Mrs. Dunn only planned to continue her enterprise during the tough economic times of the early 1920s, I hope at some point their farm became profitable.

Enjoy!

Cooking For Cash

In common with other farm wives, I have needed money for household and personal use, and needed it badly, since the slump in crop prices. What could I do best? The answer came promptly—cook. Then, in a flash, the inspiration came. A businesswoman friend in my hometown had seemed to enjoy my occasional offerings of homemade cookery very much. Why not ask if she would not like to be supplied regularly with some of it. I did. She would, gladly.

First, I made out a list of the foods I wished to prepare for her, figured what each would cost as nearly as possible, and then tried to find out what such articles sold for at the local bakery and at the bake sales of homemade delicacies held frequently by the women of the different churches. Though I considered my product as good as the best, for I used the best materials and never offer for sale anything that is not strictly up to standard, my idea was to strike a compromise between these two in price. Bake sale prices seemed to me to be too high to be just.

I took this list to my friend and we went over it together, item by item, I explained to her just what the quantity and quality of each would be, and that it was my intention to fix a price that she could afford to pay and which would also allow me a fair wage for the time and labor involved. I knew that if the arrangement were to be satisfactory to both and to continue, we must have a thoroughly businesslike understanding from the first. She agreed with me on this. When I bought goods from her store, I bought a certain quantity or weight at a fixed price. I felt that I should be equally exact in selling to her. Despite my need for money, I had no mind to wreck an old and valuable friendship through the unbusinesslike methods which women all too often employ when dealing with each other informally, that is, not over the counter.

When our arrangement was first made, my customer had a standing order for two loaves of bread, a cake or cookies and a dressed chicken to be delivered every Saturday. However, it later proved more satisfactory to both of us to have this an elastic order, modified from week to week, as she can call me by phone at any time. Thus, if she goes out of town for the weekend or I have an unusual press of work, as in haying or threshing time, by mutual consent no order is to be delivered.

Friday, I devote myself to baking. The bread for my customer is a part of my weekly baking for family use, so it makes but little extra work. For a large double loaf weighing two and one-fourth pounds—and dough for bread to sell is always weighed before baking on small spring scales so that there is no guesswork about weight—I received twenty-five cents. This is at the rate charged by the local bakery. Though my bread is superior to bakery goods both in nutriment and palatability, I considered it best to meet their price, as people of moderate income do not usually care to pay fancy prices for such staples.

For a two-layer cake, frosted, I charge $1.25; the same cake baked in a loaf and frosted brings $1. The rule for these cakes if white or marble cake is desired, is: 1 cup sugar, ½ cup butter, 1 cup sweet milk, 2 cups flour, flavoring, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 4 egg whites stiffly beaten. If baked in layers, I scant the flour a trifle. For marble cake, I take one-third of the batter for the white part; and add coloring to another third, and chocolate or mixed spices to the remainder. If chocolate or gold cake is desired, I use the same rule, substituting 2 whole eggs or 4 yolks for the beaten whites. This makes a delicious, tender cake if carefully mixed and baked.

I use a cream and powdered sugar frosting either white, pink, maple, or chocolate. Any fruit juice may be substituted for cream, beating until frosting is the right consistency to spread.

Large angel food cakes, fruit cakes, plum puddings, and fancy cakes for special occasions are priced according to materials used and labor of making. Birthday cakes, much ornamented, sometimes bring as high as $3, but there is no more profit in them than in the above simple cakes, as they cost so much more both in time and ingredients.

These prices are given merely as a suggestion. They may not be high enough for some localities—or too high for others. I live in the West where long freight hauls from distributing centers make pastry flour, baking powder, extracts, and various other materials considerably higher than in the Middle West.

Since I have been catering for this businesswoman, orders from others have come and the list of goodies has expanded to include salad dressings, boiled ham, salads, cheese, and other delicatessen dishes. I have never yet had a complaint of any kind about my products and I could dispose of more of this cookery if I had time to prepare it without neglecting my other home duties.

If work of this kind is to be profitable it must be carefully managed. In my own case, most of the extra cookery is worked in along with that for home use. My own family is small and that of my chief customer also. This makes it possible for me to divide a large rule for chili con carne, spaghetti and cheese or with tomatoes or in various combinations, baked beans or other “made dishes,” and so provide sufficiently for a meal for both households.

These dishes which form the basis for a one-dish meal are cooked in brown earthenware casseroles and also delivered in these. My first customer has an electric range, so it is a simple matter to reheat food of this sort, as it is ready to slip into the oven when delivered. The made dishes are as a rule prepared on Saturday morning. This provides a substantial noon meal for my own family and insures having my customer’s dish fresh for her evening dinner. Chickens are dressed Friday and kept on ice.

It is surprising how many cakes and cookies and doughnuts may be made by one pair of deft hands in one day by early rising and good management of time and fire. To save time in delivery we “route” the list so as to avoid doubling back if possible. My husband drives the car and either my son or I run inside with the orders. Later I go back to collect. As our town is very small and orders are delivered to places of business, this is more expeditious than collecting as we go along. Where delivery is made to residences, this plan would of course not be practicable.

Though this is merely a sideline with me which I do not expect to continue after “times get better,” such a modest venture as is here outlined might very readily be developed into a profitable little catering business. –Alta B. Dunn

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1922, Page 786; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Club Work–Alum Creek Is No Longer Lonely

Hello, again History Lovers,

When the church burned to the ground, the social life of rural farm women in West Virginia came to an abrupt end until an enterprising woman of the Alum Creek community began a farm woman’s club. It wasn’t long before one club branched out into three clubs. After four years with no sign of the church being rebuilt, the farm woman’s club took the initiative to begin fundraising for a new place of worship. Through their hard work and dedication, the building project was finally brought to fruition.

Enjoy!

The Women Got Together, Ate Together And Then They Built A Church

When the Baptist church at Alum Creek, West Virginia burned, the social life of the women in this locality—and a remote one it is—appeared to be swept away by the flames. The women had always depended upon seeing each other at meetings, ice cream festivals, and singing school, all held in the church house. A year slipped away, during which time the women had become lonely and lonelier in their little homes in the hills and there was no sign of the church being rebuilt.

At the end of the year, Mrs. Emma Gillispie, one of the well-known women of Alum Creek, began to consider seriously a suggestion for a farm women’s club. She took into her confidence a close friend and after debating the subject for two months, they started a campaign.

This self-appointed committee invited all the womenfolk within a radius of four to six miles to spend an entire day at the home of Mrs. Gillispie. Such a thing had never been heard of before on Alum Creek except for quilting bees and apple peelings and then the husbands were always included for mealtime on such occasions. Nearly all accepted the invitation.

During the noon dinner, the subject of recipes came up for discussion, prompted by two entirely new dishes which Mrs. Gillispie had prepared–with some fear and trembling. It takes courage sometimes, to introduce new recipes after all the women in a certain locality have cooked the way their great grandmothers did all their lives.  But the fifteen guests were interested in the new dishes and every one of them sought all the minute details as to their preparation. If anything, the hill-folk of West Virginia are hospitable. The stranger and friend alike are always welcome at the board, be there little or much upon it. But the women never before had thought of extending their hospitality just this way. All of them at this particular party, however, enjoyed the day so thoroughly that when it was time to return to their homes, they each extended an invitation to all of the others for an all-day’s visit again soon and date and place for the next get-together were settled then and there.

A few days before the next party, Mrs. Gillispie asked the prospective hostess for the privilege of preparing the cakes. Her request was granted with the result that in these two beautifully baked prizes, there were two more sought for and found recipes. This plan continued from month to month until one day Mrs. Gillispie mentioned in a casual way something about government-approved recipes and standard methods of cooking. This aroused much interest and demand for standard recipes.

The club, although it was not yet called a club, was growing slowly, with one or two members a month. Also, the fame of the good times and excellent cookery were beginning to permeate other remote sections, for by this time there had developed a keen though healthy rivalry in cookery. Another competition was going on brought about by the suggestion of Mrs. Gillispie’s teammate, in the promotion of quilt patterns. Following the noon dinners now at the monthly meetings, the women would engage in piecing their quilts and as always happens when women sew together, patterns, and ideas were exchanged.

It was just about this stage of affairs that a woman’s magazine made its appearance at the home of one of the members. It was a sample copy and none of the club women could recall ever having seen one before. This magazine discussed constructively such things as plain dressmaking, gardening, and other matters of interest to women and provided food for much valuable discussion at one of the meetings.

Nearby communities, two of them, caught the club contagion and in little more than a year following that first memorable get-together, two other organizations were started. By the close of the second year, the three clubs were competing and within another six months, they all three came together for a picnic and simple exhibit.

No longer were the women of Alum Creek and her neighboring sisters lonely. No longer did they have to wait for their special club days to get together if they wished—however, the club day was always observed. Occasionally, the entire families were brought together for picnic affairs and upon such occasions, the men were ofttimes appalled at what the women had learned (from magazine reading).

Naturally, there came times of slump in interest but the organization was kept intact. And it was at one of these family events on Alum Creek four years later that the women said: “Why can’t we have a church?” The men looked stumped and also failed to answer the question. Each wife then began to “hammer home” the question to her husband in private. The club agreed to hold a fair and sell food and quilts to start the building fund. They realized $50 from that sale. They kept on working. The new Alum Creek church is just completed and the women now have both spiritual and social. After all, women usually get what they want. –Nora B. Ragsdale

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1923, Page 407; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Progressive House Cleaning vs. New England Style Spring Cleaning

Hello, again History Lovers,

Every once in a while an article comes along that fairly jumps off the page with enthusiasm and character. So it is with this article submitted by Martha Elizabeth (sadly no last name nor where she was from was given) to The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women in 1922. With great flair, she turns what she calls the New England style of Spring Cleaning on its head by recommending that housewives work away at housecleaning projects throughout the year as opposed to a marathon rework-the-whole-house project in the spring just when its time to start planting the garden. Her advice is very logical. Martha Elizabeth says that the purpose of her article was to help other women “so we might feel more lovingly about our [housework].”

Enjoy!

Progressive House Cleaning

That Is To Say, Progession Through Fifty-Two Weeks

Women who have been reading The Farmer’s Wife for, well, let us say seven years, will perhaps turn up their noses at “another article on house cleaning—as if we do not know how to clean house!”

Of course, we know how to clean house, we women who have had houses for years, but every season along comes a crop of newlyweds and among these girls who were either at school during housecleaning time in their mothers’ home or who, not having direct responsibility, did what they were asked or told or expected to do, “theirs not to question why, theirs but to do or die,”—and let it go at that. Now cobwebs have invaded as they always invade and the young things are waking up to realize that here is a job indeed and they’d better be up and at it. But first, they will dive into the pages of the ever-reliable Farmer’s Wife to see if it has any help for them.

It has. But the help can only be very general for what is to be done in an old-fashioned, three-story-and-basement house built along in the 1860s does not need to and cannot be done in the two-room shack of the pioneer or the rambling ranch house or the compact little bungalow built in 1921. Still, dirt is dirt—a perfectly all right thing in its place which is not anywhere within reach of a broom or brush, or vacuum cleaner.

I have called this little spiel Progressive House Cleaning because I used to follow this system and it worked so well that I gave up forever and a day the old-fashioned general upheavals [of Spring Cleaning] that drove the menfolk to despair and put the women in bed for a week o’ Sundays. Please do not think me untruthful or a snob when I say that I used to clean house all year and when spring came, except for renewal of walls or floors, there was really nothing to do but take off storm doors and windows and “let a little sunshine in.”

This that I have just said, would shock a New England housewife of even as late as 1900 but I wonder if New England and old England and all the rest of English-speaking humanity have not progressed in the matter of house cleaning as well as in other matters.

Really, the woman who KEEPS her house sweet and clean does not need upheavals. She does certain things at certain times and each comes along in its own place and order as certainly as do horseradish and marbles in the spring and oysters in the R-months.

I found this good list of things that one faces in a general-upheaval house cleaning: floors, rugs, hangings, furniture, beds, bathroom, kitchen sink, icebox, pantry, cellar, attic, porches, windows, stairs, fireplace, furnace. This leaves out the walls and closets—I wonder why.

In my Progressive House Cleaning, I kept furniture in good condition by always repairing immediately when accidents happened and by the steady use of a good cleansing polish; beds were never permitted to be in anything but a sweet, speckless condition; for example, when a mattress needs renovation, it needs it, and housecleaning time is not a good time for such extra specific jobs as this; porches need painting when they need it—I never chose garden planting time to have that done; the attic, when I owned that inconvenient convenience, I never permitted it to get into a musty-fusty condition for it was fun on rainy days to “get into” boxes and bags and set things to rights as I discovered wrongs; windows I took care of as they needed it which was with more or less regularity all the year round; I always had the window screens mended and given new coats of paint when they were taken out, not just before they had to be put in, so my work with storm windows became spring work.

You see what I mean. It is easier to keep the house in good condition than to let it slump and then have to have a volcano to pry things loose in the spring. I believe most of us follow this first good way.

If I had a house to clean from top to bottom, having had to let it go because my little family had kept my hands full or because someone had been sick or for some other reason, I should begin my campaign on paper. I would make a plan and schedule because this would help me to marshal all my forces, be systematic, do things in a logical order, not double on my own tracks, and manage so as to keep part of the house always perfectly comfortable for the family at mealtimes and rest times. It is a fact that some women delight in having an orgy of disorder at housecleaning time. It seems to be a good time to indulge in something which the well-ordered days did not permit to come to the surface, so they reduce the house to one glorious mess and then enjoy the misery of restoring it to its usual good condition. No wonder the menfolk take to the woods!

To return to the suggested plan and schedule. I should first make a simple little list of the rooms and then, without stirring out of my chair, visualize each room and write down just what I thought needed doing to that particular room. When the whole list was made out, I should study it and would discover that there were certainly similar things that had to be done for several or all of the rooms: painting or papering or rug-cleaning or curtain-washing or shade-mending. Discovering this would help me to plan just when was the best way to have these little—or big—separate jobs taken care of.

Then I should, still sitting with my paper and pencil, make a list of what I should need to work with. “Would you put down so common a thing as soap?” I most certainly should for I might thereby discover or remember that the last order of soap was just about out and it was high time to place another order. Here is a good list of cleaning agents:

Soap, kerosene, washing soda, borax, lye, ammonia, whiting, rottenstone, bath brick, steel wool.

Then we shall need brooms, brushes, carpet-sweeper, vacuum cleaner, and rags and cloths of many sorts and kinds. It is AWFUL to be on a stepladder cleaning a window only to discover that the cloth is too wet and there is not another dry piece unless someone finds the rag bag and digs one up. One evening spent assembling all the rags needed for the whole campaign would be time well spent.

One part of housecleaning time is EATING. One reason why so many women practically collapse during some of the long, difficult jobs that housekeeping may involve, is because they think it part of their devotion and perhaps somewhat religious not to “bother about eating.” If they treated their prize chicks like that–! Part of the real fun of housecleaning should be to see how easily and jollily one can pull it through. Lay in picnic eats. Huge crocks of cookies and doughnuts; a big pan of gingerbread; several dozen rolls that can be heated in the steamer or oven; an especially fine ham; an extraordinarily good meatloaf; some of the very best of the canned goods and preserves: these things to have at housecleaning time and they can be ready beforehand.

Women should learn the secret of the rest-lunch. When we are under a prolonged strain of work, we should eat little and often. A tin container filled with some tasty sandwiches which can be easily fished out and eaten while one perches on the upturned mattress for a five-minute rest is a magic-worker. It is foolishness to think one can go and go and tug and tug and not pay the piper. When I have to do a long stint of hard work, I eat a little every two hours and gain great help thereby. I call it stoking the inner fire.

This is not a practical article, you see. It is just a neighborly chat. Your home demonstration agent is on the wire—call her up and have her tell you how to make that old bureau new, how to convert great-grandmother’s four-poster into a garden seat, how to finish the kitchen floor so it will be at once sanitary, easy to clean and lovely to look at, how to change the color scheme of the gloomy room, how to upholster with the lovely cretonnes (heavy cotton upholstery fabric) of the day. All I have tried to do is to give you a little hunch or two which will take the Ouch! out of housecleaning. The psychologists account for everything these days by calling this, that, and the other, “a state of mind.” If this be so, and there may be something in it, then let you and me rejoice that Mother Nature out-of-doors is having her spring cleaning: the springs are carrying winter’s accumulations out to the ocean: the big winds are blowing the flu and doldrums and the dumps away to the poles; the rains are cleansing the trees and bushes and grass as lovingly as ever a mother washed her babe; old things are passing young things are being born…Oh, come! Let’s tie a towel around our heads or put on our prettiest dust cap and go to it!

A neighbor read this before I sent it to The Farmer’s Wife and remarked that I certainly had not burdened my readers with information. I never meant to! I just wanted to talk the Big Job over with Us and Company so we might feel more lovingly about it. And we do, don’t we? –Martha Elizabeth

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, April 1922, Page 828; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

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

Two Pictures I Would Like Best To Own Series–Part 3

Hello, again History Lovers,

A farm woman from Illinois responds to the request put out by The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women in March of 1923 for letters regarding the Two Pictures I Would Like Best To Own. Her first choice depicts the Bible story of young Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. For her second picture, Mrs. W.G.F. chose a painting that was featured previously in this series–Dance of the Nymphs by Jean-Baptist Camille Corot.

What would you hang above your mantle?

Silent Influence on Children

Christ in the Temple 1881, Heinrich Hofmann–German Painter

“The subject of appropriate pictures for our home has been of importance to me for some time and the selection of the two named here are the result of much thought and study. Christ in the Temple by Heinrich Hofmann, like most of the pictures by that famous painter, is an illustration of a familiar passage in the Bible.

One notes the simple robe and the exceptionally beautiful hands of the child but attention centers on the face, a face that is noble, true, just, kind, and firm, a face that inspires, that emanates purity, that gives strength, and confidence. His large eyes are filled with wonder at what he is learning and with the knowledge that he is imparting. Around him are grouped the learned men, one face expressing grace, attentive interest; another showing eagerness to protest; another is full of marvel at the young boy’s learning; and fourth has a stern look, while the last bears an expression of curiosity and perhaps contempt. My hope is that such a picture on our wall will have a tremendous, silent influence in molding the lives of our children—and not theirs alone for it is a picture with a wonderful spirit we all can catch.

The Dance of the Nymphs 1850, Camille Corot–French Painter, Romanticism Style

Dance of the Nymphs by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot is the second picture I chose. What cheer and how full of joyous spirit of a beautiful morning in the spring is the Dance of the Nymphs.

One can almost hear the birds sing and the leaves rustle, can almost see the sparkling dewdrops, the trees so exquisitely beautiful in their foliage, and the flowers blooming by the wayside. The nymphs, gayly dancing, seem to be ushering the beautiful dawn. To me, The Dance of the Nymphs is a gloriously beautiful morning in the country—nothing more, nothing less. It is a picture that is a “good friend to live with.” It is cheerful, wholesome, and human.” –Mrs. W.G.F., Illinois

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 359; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Two Pictures I Would Like Best to Own Series–1923

Hello, again History Lovers!

In 1923 The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women invited farm women to write in regarding what pictures they admire and why. Hundreds of women responded describing some of the most famous works of art in the world. Ten of the best letters were published. Over the course of the next several months, my Sunday posts will be some of these letters along with images of the artwork they describe so that we too might be enriched. 

What would you hang above your mantle?

 

Their Beautiful Influence

Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1 (aka Whistler’s Mother) 1871 James McNeill Whistler, American Painter

“Whistler’s wonder Portrait of Artist’s Mother hangs over my living room mantel and is my daily companion. To me, she typifies the highest ideals of womanhood and the sacred privilege of being a mother. Her character is exalted but she remains to me a very human, very lovable, very understanding woman.

When my body is weary from the many tasks which a farmer’s wife always finds to do; when my babies are more than usual fretful and noisy; when my spirit suffers from the overwhelming disappointments of life, then I look at this “Mother” for help and she never fails me. I see the old hands tired and worn with the round of domestic duties which she cheerfully performed, the arms that folded baby heads to her breast, and the sweet old wrinkled face which looked out upon the world with a smile of contentment and a song of joy. As I look at her, I gain new courage to attack the problems of my little world and new faith in the One who gave me these tender baby bodies to care for. I am ashamed of my selfish, discontented attitude and I am comforted for she seems to say to me: “Have courage, child. I have been over the path before you. Yours is the greatest privilege in the world—to be a homemaker and a mother. Remember that each homely duty, no matter how trivial, may be glorified if done with a heart full of love. And it is all a part of the Master’s great plan for your life.”

Dance of the Nymphs 1850, Camille Corot, French Painter

“Corot’s great Dance of the Nymphs is another favorite. I love to imagine them dancing playfully in and out among the trees. They call my spirit away from work and open up new vistas of a fairy country and fairy folk where there is rest for the weary body and recreation for the weary mind. The slender trees, the lovely foliage, the soft grass all beckon me, saying: “We will show you a land of beauty and sunshine, where hopes are realized and dreams come true.” So, I close my eyes and seem to be lifted bodily and carried across mountain and plain and sea to distant lands filled with wonderful sights!

I am prone to forget the spiritual values of life, so engrossed am I with the work-a-day world. Why let the activities of a busy day shut out the higher, better things? These two pictures have exerted a beautiful influence over my life and for that reason, I love them dearly and would not give them up.” –Mrs. J.J.Q., South Carolina

~FWM

The above article was published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 359; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Clubs and Organizations–A Woman’s Rest Room 1923

Hello, again History Lovers!

Public restrooms for women were virtually nonexistent in the 1920s. Even office buildings had only men’s rooms making it thereby “impossible” to hire women. Recognizing a need, organizations in some cities would create a much-needed women’s oasis for travelers, shoppers, and businesswomen. Sadly though in most towns women had to get along without any public facilities at all. To add to the injustice, it was illegal for women to use a men’s room.

Farm Bureau Rest Room

“More than 11,391 farm women and children took advantage of the restroom in the Farm Bureau office, Davies County, Kentucky, in one year.

The large, airy room is located at the rear of the Farm Bureau office. It has been comfortably furnished by the Woman’s Club, the Farm Bureau, and by individual donations. It is provided with a rug, dainty scrim curtains, easy chairs, couch, library table, phonograph, baby beds, and lavatory. The library table holds all the late magazines and a few books by good authors.

Molly Wells, an old southern “Mammy,” croons lullabies to the curly-haired babies left in her charge. She says, “I jes’ naturally love babies and I find it no trouble at all to care fo’ ‘em [sic].” Molly often has eight or ten children from tiny babies to those of school age to look after while the mothers go shopping or attend a meeting or gathering in town.

Besides caring for the children and keeping the room in apple-pie order, Molly posts on the Farm Bureau bulletin board all the “for-sale” and want advertisements which are in the morning paper so those farm women who have brought from the farm fresh eggs, butter, cream, poultry and so forth, for sale, may look up desirable buyers while they rest. They can check their parcels and packages at the restroom. Many of the patrons drive forty to fifty miles for a day’s shopping and appreciate the restroom accordingly.

The room also is patronized by business girls of Owensboro, who come in at noon to eat their lunch, rest or read.

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, March 1923, Page 364; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

What is a Home Demonstration Agent?

Hello History Lovers!

During the 1920s The Farmer’s Wife—A Magazine For Farm Women published articles about Home Demonstration Agents and their services. By reading the articles I was able to glean some of the purposes of Home Demonstration Work but I was not really clear about the “agents” affiliation or the extent of their influence. Fortunately, I ran across a charming pamphlet (U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication Number 178) published in 1933 providing the answers to my questions. Below are excerpts and photos from this pamphlet.

The Purpose

“There are over 6,000,000 farm homes in the United States. The women and girls who so largely influence the family life in these homes are endeavoring to develop efficiency in their home-making duties and to find satisfaction for themselves and their families in rural life.”

The Connection

“To aid them in this effort, home demonstration work, a nationwide system of home-making education, is carried on by the United States Department of Agriculture and the State colleges of agriculture. The local representative of this system is the home demonstration agent. She is a college graduate trained in home economics, who works with the women and girls of a given county. The home demonstration agent keeps informed regarding all matters that affect the home and brings the latest scientific information to rural homemakers in such form that they can readily apply it in practical daily life.”

The counterpart to the female Home Demonstration Agent and her responsibilities is the male County Extension Agent whose responsibility it was to educate and demonstrate new and proper farming practices. Just as home demonstrations took place in the homes of county housewives, agricultural demonstrations took place in a farmer’s field. Interestingly these offices and services are still available today with a large focus on the 4-H youth program. Instead of the title Home Demonstration Agent, a woman in this position is now referred to as the County Home Economist.

The History

 “The first home demonstration work was with rural girls. In 1910 a tomato club of 47 girls was formed in Aiken County, S.C. The work with women began in 1913 and was rapidly established in 15 Southern States. In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act authorizing cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics was passed, making Federal funds available for home demonstration work throughout the United States. Federal, state, and county governments cooperate in maintaining the home demonstration agents.

The work has consistently expanded in volume and in scope, and at present home demonstration work is conducted in every state including Hawaii, and in Alaska.”

University Home Economics students training to become Home Demonstration Agents 1925

Meet a Home Demonstration Agent

The October issue of The Farmer’s Wife —A Magazine For Farm Women 1921 introduces its readers to a prominent Home Demonstration Agent. This article points out the level of expertise these agents held.

“Miss Ola Powell is assistant in charge of Home Demonstration and Girls’ Club work for the Office of Extension Work in the South. Miss Powell was born in Texas but spent the greater part of her early life in or near Philadelphia. Having always been greatly interested in gardening and homemaking, she took a course in home economics and graduated from Drexel Institute. Later she had charge of school garden work in Cleveland, Ohio, and in connection with that carried on canning to demonstrate the principles of proper utilization of garden crops.

Miss Powell’s interest in canning lead her to make a very careful study of it in its advanced phases. She also made a study of commercial canning and preserving in some of the foremost commercial packing establishments. As a result of her experience in both gardening and canning, she was appointed as assistant state home demonstration agent in Louisiana, from which position she was soon promoted to that of state agent. After serving only a few months as the leader of that state she was called to Washington by the Office of Extension Work South to serve as an assistant in directing the work with women and girls.

Miss Powell’s appreciation of the value of high quality inspired the workers in the South to a determination to maintain high standards in all club products put up and marketed under the 4-H brand label. Her fine influence and inspiration along with all other phases of home demonstration work besides canning have been recognized.

Due to her broad understanding of this work, as well as to her fine personal qualities and the ability for organization, she was called to France this spring to assist the French Ministry of Agriculture and their representative, Madam Devouge, in the teaching of home canning to the women of France”.

As Home Demonstration Work in the early twentieth century was so much a part of rural farm women’s lives, I will be frequently posting examples of their club work in the future.

The above article was originally published by the US Department of Agriculture 1933 and The Farmer’s Wife Magazine—A Magazine For Farm Women, October 1921, Page 568; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cooking With Ida–The Range

Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen cooking in her home kitchen 1917
Cast Iron Wood Cookstove 1800s

Hello History Lovers!

One hundred years ago, Mrs. Ida Bailey Allen, a prolific cookbook author, and home economics educator published a cookbook titled the Woman’s World Calendar Cook Book 1922. Each month featured menu suggestions, recipes, and an article on a topic of importance to an early twentieth-century homemaker. December’s article is titled The Range and Its Operation. By reading the article I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about the development of cookstoves. My perception was that homemakers cooked on behemoth wood-burning stoves (see image above) up until electric stoves magically appeared in kitchens across America sometime in the early twentieth century. As it turns out there were many improvements that took place along the way.

In the 1700s cooking took place in an open hearth. Late in that century the fire was taken from the hearth and placed in a cast-iron box with a flat cooking surface giving birth to the woodburning cookstove. During the 1800s these stoves became more and more user-friendly, less bulky, and highly decorative. By the 1900s experimentation with different types of fuel (coal, manufactured oil/gas, and kerosene) led to the development of cookstoves that could not only burn a different type of fuel (Kerosene) but some models could burn several different fuels (wood, coal, oil/gas) with little adjustment to the stove.

Below are advertisements from the 1920s illustrating cutting-edge ranges of the day. I have also included excerpts from Ida’s book most of which focus on economizing on the use of cooking fuels.

Enjoy!

Advertisement for a Combination Wood and Coal Range 1924

The Coal Range

To get the best results from a coal range it is necessary to understand thoroughly its drafts and mechanism. A little practice will soon show you how to adjust these so as to economize on fuel.

In no part of one’s housekeeping is proper planning of greater value than in connection with the range, whether it be gas or coal. On ironing day, when a hot fire is needed to heat the irons, plan an oven meal of the kind which needs little actual attention—Baked Potatoes, Poor Man’s Rice Pudding, or some Casserole dish. Then, on your regular baking day, plan for further baked dishes which can be held over for a subsequent day’s meals, because the same heat which will bake your pie will also bake potatoes, or will cook the cereal.

As far as the care of the coal range is concerned, there are only two things which must be given serious consideration:

  1. Keep a clear fire by shaking down the greater part of the burned-out ashes which collect in the lower part of the grate, that the air may circulate freely, making the coals glow and give off their stored-up power.
  2. Keep the flues clean and clear of soot and dust, for if these are not kept clean you cannot have proper heat in the oven.
Advertisement for a Combination Coal and Gas Range 1924

Gas/Oil Ranges

This type of fuel was particularly interesting to me. Sometimes called gas and sometimes called oil it refers to a manufactured fuel made from coal, petroleum, waste fats, oils, or gasoline.

A little thought and care will result in materially reducing the cost of cooking by gas/oil. For instance, a steam cooker that operates over one burner makes it possible to cook two or three things at one time, and even without a steam cooker, one can still do this by the use of double and triple saucepans, all of which are placed over one burner.

The newest style of gas/oil range has a solid top like that of a coal range (as opposed to individual burners), the heat from each burner radiating so that a large surface of the stovetop around it is heated, and this materially reduces the gas/oil bill because two or three things can be cooking by this radiated heat.

There are three sizes of burners on almost all gas/oil ranges:

  1. The simmerer
  2. The regular-sized burner
  3. The giant burner

The simmerer is actually used less than any other burner, whereas it should be the hardest worked, for its heat is quite enough to carry on cooking operations after the boiling point has been reached. The giant burner should be employed only when very large cooking utensils are being used.

Be sure that the mixer is properly regulated so that enough air is burned with the gas to give a blue flame and not a red one. The latter wastes gas/oil, soils the pans and gives off less heat than the blue flame.

Advertisement for a Kerosene Stove 1920s

The Kerosene Stove

As ranges moved away from being the cookstove as well as the main heat source in a home, the kerosene stove was touted as an appliance that would help keep the kitchen and the cook cool. However, kerosene stoves never became wildly popular as they were perceived by consumers as a real fire hazard.

A kerosene stove is invaluable, especially for summer use, where gas or electricity are not available. It is sometimes stated that oil is a dangerous form of fuel to use. All fire is dangerous unless intelligently handled, and there is no more reason for banishing an oil stove than any other stove.

A three-burner oil stove with a portable oven will do the necessary cooking for a small family. Give it the same care that you would give to oil lamps. See that the oil tank is properly filled, that the wicks are trimmed, that they are long enough to reach properly into the oil, and be careful that the saucepans placed on the oil stove are not over-filled so that there is no danger of boiling over.

Baking can be done just as thoroughly with oil as with any other fuel. In baking, use the upper shelf of the oven as much as possible, especially in the baking of pies with a bottom crust, because if baked too close to the flame the under crust may become overdone before the top and filling are cooked.

Oven Temperatures

In baking with any form of fuel—electricity, gas, coal, or oil—remember that more food is spoiled by too much heat than by too little.

Accustom yourself to the use of an oven thermometer. It is inexpensive, and it does give a feeling of assurance.

  • A very slow oven, 250 to 300 degrees F.
  • A moderate oven, 325 to 350 degrees F.
  • A hot oven, 350 to 375 degrees F.
  • A very hot oven, 375 to 450 degrees F.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the use of natural gas and electricity was in its infancy in urban areas. In very rural areas it would be decades before either was available.

Articles may be edited for length and clarity.