Home Demonstration Work–Hardworking Montana Women

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today we celebrate the accomplishments of hardworking farmwives from Valley County, Montana in 1920. Members of the local farm bureau focused on four areas of development for the year– sewing, gardening and canning, cheese-making, and establishing clubs in which the boys and girls learned gardening and poultry raising. The amount of meat, chicken, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and cheese preserved by these busy women was phenomenal. They even produced over 1,500 pounds of homemade soap; all while keeping up with daily meals, dishes, laundry, and housework.

Enjoy!

Hardworking Montana Farm Women

Long distances, a dry season, and the fact that they must share their Home Demonstration Agent “fifty-fifty” with another county have not discouraged the Farm Bureau women in Valley County, Montana, nor kept them from accomplishing splendid results through organized effort.

In 1920 the women of this county started four definite lines of work: Clothing, gardening and canning, cheese-making, and boys’ and girls’ club work. There are 250 women members in the 25 communities of the County Farm Bureau and the work of the year has been carried on through county and community project leaders, with the help of Miss Gertrude Erickson, Home Demonstration Agent.

The gardening-canning work did not assume such large proportions as was expected because the extremely dry season made it difficult to raise good gardens but even so, the work done, was most worthwhile. In one group of twelve homes in the county, the families are having a more varied and healthful diet because of the 1,278 quarts of vegetables canned by the farm bureau women who entered the county garden contest.

Four clothing schools and one millinery school were held during the year. One woman was so ambitious and so eager for the work that she drove miles to attend the millinery school in one community and then later in the week drove 15 miles to attend a dress form demonstration being held in another community.

Six poultry culling demonstrations were held. In one community the members of the boys’ and girls’ poultry flocks club went out in relays and culled the poultry flocks throughout the neighborhood. So successful were they, that the women in that community report that they have not killed a single laying hen since the flocks were culled.

Altogether the Farm Bureau women in the county report:

  • 6,702 quarts of vegetables canned
  • 4,488 quarts wild and other fruit canned
  • 884 quarts of chicken canned
  • 1,488 quarts of other meat canned
  • 632 pounds of cheese made
  • 10,092 pounds of meat cured
  • 39 dress forms made
  • 1,075 dozen eggs preserved
  • 1,608 pounds of homemade soap
  • 24 schools serving hot lunches

This remarkable group of women, with the help of a Home Demonstration Agent for halftime, reported organized work amounting to $15,171. This is, of course, a minor part of the total value, for the big result of such work is in community service, better health, getting acquainted with each other—all those things that go to make the best homes and the best communities.

~FWM

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

Plan Your Garden For Year Round Produce

Hello, again History Lovers,

Planning a kitchen garden to grow enough for a family’s immediate needs as well as plenty to be preserved against the scarcity of winter and early spring is the advice offered by The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women in February 1922. Self-reliance was essential for farm families in order to feed themselves throughout the year. Every ounce of the garden produce was eaten fresh, stored in a root cellar, canned, dried, or pickled. Any scraps were fed to the chickens. Nothing was wasted.

One hundred years later my husband and I have tried to live a self-reliant lifestyle. He is an avid gardener and I am an avid canner. We made a good team especially when our children were growing up. What he didn’t grow, we bought from local orchards and farmers to can, freeze (an option that was only available during the winter months a century ago), and dehydrate. Since it is just the two of us now, we are trying to cut back on what we produce and preserve. My husband has a smallish garden spot tilled and is anxious to start planting. Too bad it snowed again last night.

Enjoy!

A Cook’s Lament

“I can’t find anything to cook!” “I don’t know what to plan for meals at this time of year!” These are mutual complaints during this season wherever two or three farm housewives are gathered together. Now, while there is still time to plan for a kitchen garden is time to prevent this food famine from recurring next year.

Lay Out Your Garden

Vintage Seed Packets 1920

After the long winter months, we all crave crisp green food and these are the first seeds we sow—lettuce, radishes, onions. Then we plant for summer days. But all too often we do not, in laying out gardens, think in terms of the late winter and early spring weeks that inevitably come when “it is so hard to find anything to cook.”

Can, Dry and Brine Vegetables

In forecasting our gardens, we must keep three very definite things in mind: (1) we must plant for the summer season when we can practically live from the garden; (2) for the early winter when it is possible to have a pleasing variety from the root vegetables that have been stored in the cellar; (3) lastly, for the late winter months when stored vegetables have lost their crispness and flavor and it is still too early to have the fresh things. The easiest way to meet this third provision is to plant a surplus of summer vegetables which are to be canned or dried or brined for winter use. The women whose shelves are thus stocked are not among those who lift their voices in the wail, “I can’t find anything to cook!”

~FWM

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.

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.

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

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.

Stocking the Linen Closet 1922

Hello History Lovers!

The tradition of January White Sales was the inspiration of a Philadelphia department store mogul John Wanamaker in 1878. As a way of stimulating sales during a slow time of year, the White Sale offered customers excess bedding at discounted prices. Of course sheets at that time came in only one color–white–hence the name. Eventually, other household linens were offered at sale prices as well. The White Sale ads included in this post also show reduced prices for fabrics necessary for sewing household linens. The frugal homemaker would buy yardages of fabric in order to sew her own items including underwear for her family thus gaining further savings.

An article in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, January 1922, offers advice on how to recognize a bargain, as well as, tips on how to sew and care for linens as economically as possible.

Enjoy!

Harmony News, Cresco, Iowa–January White Sales Ad–January 11, 1923

January White Sales

Practically every store in the country has one week in January devoted to the sale of all types of white goods from yardage materials to table linen, bedding, towels, and so forth. It may be stock that has been on hand and has been reduced for the occasion but more frequently it is apt to be merchandise especially purchased for the sale and both at a price that enables the merchant to sell at a lower than usual figure.

To get the most and best out of these January white goods sales we should know the normal prices of standard goods and have a list of articles needed carefully thought out. The buyer is then prepared to recognize bargains when they occur and may take advantage of them.

Summer Underwear

It is common practice with many householders to buy nainsook, cambric, or long cloth at the January sales by the ten or twelve-yard bolt and commence work upon the summer underwear for the family. If there is a considerable amount of underwear to be made, much may be saved by cutting from the large piece. If all the patterns are gathered together at the beginning of the cutting and various pieces of each pattern are marked with some distinguishing color or emblem so that they can be easily sorted after the cutting, it will be found that pieces of different patterns will often fit in so that only a fraction of an inch is wasted. If only one garment is cut, the larger pieces are of such curves and angles as to prevent such close-fitting or dovetailing.

It is a great back-saver to raise the table about eight inches for the cutting-out operation. Lay all the patterns in place and pin before starting to cut. When certain that they are placed to the best advantage, cut and sort before removing the pattern.

The Sauk Centre Herald, Minnesota–January White Sales Ad–January 11, 1923

Sheets and Pillowcases

Now is the time to replenish sheets and pillowcases, but whether it is better economy to make them or purchase them ready-made must be determined by each housewife for herself. If the time spent in the making is considered, there is little advantage from a money standpoint in making them, as the cost of ready-mades compares very favorably with that of the homemade; but there is an advantage in making them if one does not desire the standard sizes in which the ready-mades can only be procured.

Some states have laws regulating the size of sheets for beds in hotels and rooming houses so that the lodger may be protected against contact with the blankets which are less frequently laundered. In the home, we should be equally careful that the sheet is long enough to protect the sleeper. The feet are entitled to the same protection from cold as the rest of the body and so the sheet must be long enough to ensure secureness at the foot of the bed, and there should be from twelve to eighteen inches at the side according to whether one or two occupy the bed. Therefore, the sheet should be from twenty-four to thirty-six inches longer and wider than the mattress. Too large a sheet is hard to handle and launder and is therefore as much to be shunned as the too-small sheet. They should always be torn to be straight or they will never be satisfactory. Ready-made ones that have been torn will be so stamped.

Making the hems of sheets of the same width ensures more even wear as either end will be used at head or foot, and should be made long enough to properly tuck in at the foot.

If beds are of several sizes, the size of the sheets should be plainly marked so that they may be easily sorted in putting away the linen and also that they may be readily found if needed in the absence or illness of the housewife.

Pillow tubing is more desirable than seamed muslin as the ironing usually causes the greatest wear at the seam. Rip the bottom seam of the tube’s case after it begins to show signs of wear and turn the tube so that the former edges are in the center and sew a new seam at the bottom. This gives the case more even usage.

Towels

January is a good time to stock up on towels for both the kitchen and personal use. Linen is preferable to cotton. Crash and huckaback, are more serviceable than damask although the latter is more beautiful. Here again, the question arises as to the advisability of making or buying ready-made. Usually, a savings is made in making the crash towels but with the others, it is merely a preference of handwork to machine work for if one counts the value of time no money can be saved by making.

Linen Closet Design

In planning a new linen closet, it will be found a great convenience to make the shelves slide, with a slight ledge on the front and sides and a higher back. These can be drawn out similar to drawers but are less expensive to build and are less cumbersome to handle. They work similarly to the wire racks supplied in the cupboard sections of some of the kitchen cabinets.

A Hope Chest

A good New Year’s gift that Brother can make for Sister, is a Hope Chest and there she can accumulate linens and loveliness’s “against” the happy day!

–Georgia Belle Elwell

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.