When The Baby Comes 1921

Hello, again History Lovers,

In the early 1900s, over half of U.S. births took place at home with the assistance of a midwife. Some home births were attended by a doctor and/or nurse, and in some situations only the assistance of the women of the family was available. A mere ten percent of births took place in a hospital.

In an effort to better protect the health of both mother and infant, the U.S. Federal Children’s Bureau in Washington D.C. published guidelines for preparing a sanitary home environment for the birthing process. To further disperse the information The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women published the information in the May 1921 issue. Today’s post is a reprint of that article.

Preparations For A Home Birth

The importance of arranging for the best medical and nursing care available cannot be overemphasized. It is advisable to engage the doctor as early in pregnancy as possible so that he may have the case under observation and make the routine examinations of the urine and may deal at once with any negative symptoms that may arise.

It is becoming more and more common for women to go to a hospital to be confined. The hospital has many advantages over the private house at such a time, for it is cheaper, safer, and far more convenient.

If the confinement is to take place at home, however arrangements should be made for it well in advance in order to avoid haste and confusion at the last minute. It will be found that to engage a competent nurse for at least two weeks and preferably for four, is an economy in the long run.

Cooke Maternity Outfit Label circa 1920s

It is necessary to have plenty of sterile dressings ready for the doctor to use, as they are an essential precaution against the danger of infection. They should be prepared two or three weeks before the expected date of confinement. The following articles are likely to be needed:

  • Two to four pounds of absorbent cotton.
  • One large package of sterile gauze (25 yards).
  • Four rolls of cotton batting.
  • Two yards of stout muslin for abdominal binders.
  • Twelve old towels or diapers.
  • Two old sheets.
  • Two yards of bobbin, or very narrow tape, for tying the cord.
Cook’s Maternity Kit Produced by Johnson and Johnson 1920s

From these supplies, the necessary pads, bandages, and dressings are made and all are then sterilized in accordance with these exact directions which follow.

Sanitary pads. These are pads ten inches long and four inches wide which are used to absorb the discharges after the mother has been delivered. As absorbent cotton is comparatively expensive, it will be found more economical to make the greater part of each pad of cotton batting, facing one side with a layer of the absorbent kind. Cut the sterile gauze into pieces of the right size to fold around the cotton and expend two or three inches beyond it at each end. These pads should be about an inch thick, and at least five dozen will be needed. They are pinned front and back to the abdominal binder, which is simply a strip of cotton cloth twelve inches wide and long enough to be fastened comfortably around the abdomen.

Delivery pads. These pads should be a yard square and four inches thick. Cotton batting may form the principal part of the thickness but the top layer of absorbent cotton should be at least one inch thick. Make two of these pads. Cotton waste, if boiled in washing soda and dried thoroughly in the sun, makes a cheap and effective filling in place of batting but as the texture is very loose a thick layer must be used. For later use, they should be covered with old sheets which have been sterilized.

Gauze sponges. Two dozen of these will be needed. They are made by cutting sterile gauze into 18-inch lengths, the width of the gauze. Fold one raw edge down about three inches; double the strip by putting the selvage edges together, having the raw edges of the fold on the outside. Fold this into thirds both ways and turn the sponge inside out, so as to have all the raw edges inside.

Cotton pledgets. These are wads of absorbent cotton, the size of an egg, having the ends of the cotton twisted into the roll. Make several dozen and put them into a small pillowcase or cheesecloth bag.

Gauze squares. Cut fifty 4-inch squares of the gauze. These will be used to wash the baby’s eyes and for other purposes.

Bobbin. Cut ordinary cotton bobbin into six 9-inch lengths for tying the cord.

When these supplies are all made, they should be put into cheesecloth bags, for ease in handling, then sterilized.

How to sterilize. Sterilizing is the process of subjecting anything to the action of heat for a sufficient length of time to free it from all the disease germs that may be present. It is possible to sterilize the dressing in the oven but as dry heat is less effective than moist heat and there is always a danger of scorching, it is better to use steam. The smaller things may be sterilized in a large kettle or saucepan and the larger ones in the wash boiler. For the first, invert a bowl several inches high in the bottom of a perfectly clean saucepan, lay a plate on the bowl, and on the plate place the dressings which have first been put into a cheesecloth bag to facilitate handling. Put enough water to cover the bowl, and then tightly cover the kettle or saucepan. The articles must remain for one hour after the water begins to boil. They are then taken out, dried, done up in sterilized cotton cloth, and put away. They must not be removed from the bags and handled as little as possible.

A convenient method of sterilizing in the boiler is as follows: Take a strip of stout muslin that is somewhat longer than the boiler and fasten it securely to the handles of the boiler by means of a stout drawstring run through each end and, for additional security, down each side as well; the strip should hang down to about one-third the depth of the boiler. This makes a sort of hammock in which the dressings are placed. The boiler is filled about one-quarter full of water and covered tightly, and the articles are left to steam for an hour after the water begins to boil. When they are removed, they should be dried thoroughly in the sun by pinning the bags to the clothesline. If this is not possible, they can be dried in the oven, with care being taken not to burn them. When the dressings are dried, they are immediately wrapped (still left in the cheesecloth bags) in a sterilized cotton cloth or a sheet, and put away in a closed drawer and not touched or handled in any way until they are taken out for the doctor’s use.

A single metal bed and a comfortable mattress are the best. The ordinary double bed is very inconvenient as it is too wide and too low. If a low bed must be used, it may easily be elevated by putting blocks, 6 or 8 inches high, under the four legs, first removing the casters so that there will be no danger of the bed slipping off. If the mattress sags in the middle a board or two may be placed across the bed to support it. The bed should be placed in such a position that both the doctor and the nurse can get at it at once and so that a good light falls upon it both in the daytime and at night.

In making the bed for the delivery, the under sheet which is put on over the mattress pad should be folded under at the four corners and pinned securely to the mattress with safety pins. A piece of rubber sheeting or oilcloth, which has first been wiped on both sides with a cloth wet in some antiseptic solution, should then be placed across the middle of the bed, and over this, a sheet folded once lengthwise. In taking care of the patient, it will be found far easier to change this drawsheet than to change the under-sheet that covers the whole mattress. If desired, a pad made of several thicknesses of newspaper done up in an old sheet that has been sterilized may be used instead of the oilcloth.

The things to be kept in mind in connection with all preparations for confinement are the necessity for the best medical and nursing care available and the prime importance of absolute cleanliness. Everything possible should be done to prevent any infection. What is commonly called childbed fever is a wholly preventable disease. Its causes and the measures necessary to prevent it are well known, and skilled medical and nursing care reduce to a minimum the possibility of its occurrence.


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, May 1921, Page 452; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Neighborhood Activities–Recreation for Single Women 1921

Hello, again History Lovers,

In a post titled What Is a Home Demonstration Agent? we learned about the important responsibilities home agents had in educating rural housewives about their domestic duties. In another post, Home Demonstration Agent Saves Lives we see that these hardworking agents extended their parameters by helping fill other needs within their area of jurisdiction. Today’s article demonstrates how one agent saw a need for appropriate recreation for a growing segment of the population–the young single professional woman.


Young Single Businesswomen

Switchboard Workers 1920s

To help solve the recreational problem in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, Miss Jane Hinote, Home Demonstration Agent, organized a businesswoman’s club. Miss Hinote had lived in the county for ten months and had found no form of amusement for the girls other than movies. Eighteen charter members of the club included teachers, nurses, secretaries, stenographers, saleswomen, doctors, and newspaper women. They met together one evening each week in the high school gymnasium. Each member is charged fifty cents annual dues and this provides funds for an athletic instructor and a musician. Athletics, games, and folk dances offer a variety of amusement.

Recreational Activities

Last summer the club members rented a house about a mile and a half out in the country. Some of the girls donated old furniture and others money and the clubhouse looked most inviting when it was finished and ready for occupancy. Sundays were the popular days at the clubhouse, The girls divided themselves into groups so that each Sunday one group acted as hostesses preparing and serving a good Sunday dinner. The afternoons were spent in general good times such as hikes, picnics, boating, and swimming parties.

Dance Competition 1920

During the fall the girls held dancing parties and invited their friends. These were so successful that two benefit dances were planned at which they cleared $150. At Christmas time a Christmas tree was the gift of the club members to the poor children of the neighborhood, each member donating a toy and a warm garment—a cap, stockings, mittens, or sweater. Later these enterprising girls staged a play under professional direction which was repeated in three different localities in the county.

Received Into the National Professional Business Women’s Club

The club has recently been received into the National Professional and Business Women’s Club. The membership has grown to fifty-five and the girls have just opened a new clubhouse in town. A matron is employed to keep the house in running order and act as hostess. One Sunday each month is an open house for the townspeople. The clubhouse has become a center where the girls are learning to know and enjoy each other and their neighbors.

The girls in Jackson, Mo., have recently organized a similar club with a membership of thirty. Both clubs are becoming interested in activities of an educational nature and Miss Hinote says that “if they take hold of the educational work as they have of the recreational, they will be a power in the community.”


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, May 1921, Page 446; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Two Pictures I Would Like Best To Own Series–Part 8

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s post includes two paintings that were so popular in the 1920s that they have already been featured in previous posts in this series. However, the story of the acquisition of the first painting, Morning by Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot by farm wife Mrs. C.H.B from Iowa demonstrates her love and appreciation for this piece of art. Sadly the available images of this prolific French artist’s paintings are of such poor quality that it is difficult to see the true beauty of his work. We will have to trust in Mrs. B’s lovely critique.

The second painting is by one of the immortal Italian High Renaissance artists, Raphael. I have also included two high-quality photos showing some of the minute detail in the painting Madonna and Child. I particularly appreciate the intricacy of Madonna’s hair. Although Mrs. B only owned a postcard size copy of this painting at the time of her writing, she reports that it engenders in her the spiritual inspiration to “carry on”. I hope that at some point in her life she was able to acquire a sizeable copy to hang on her wall.


An Inspiration To Carry On

Morning by French Landscape Painter, Camille Corot ca. 1860

The picture which has the place of honor in my farm home is a reproduction of Corot’s landscape often called Morning. It is full of the calm tranquility found in all the artist’s pictures, a lovely scene most attractive for the delicacy of foliage and the transparency of air and water. The figures who I suppose to be a mother and child intent upon gathering blossoms and leaves seem to have a unity of purpose, to be in perfect harmony with each other, and certainly, are in harmony with the rest of the picture. Although I have lived seven years with this picture over my mantel, I have never grown the least tired of it as I have several others I own and I always find new satisfaction and pleasure in looking upon it. I hope that old age will be kind enough to allow me a seat in my own inglenook with his picture still hanging above the fireplace.

Incidentally, I prize my particular copy of Morning all the more because I carried it home from London in my hands through a stormy, perilous voyage in September 1914. Because I loved the picture so much, I wanted to make sure to have a good reproduction of it. So, I brought it home wrapped carefully in a steamer-rug and shawl strap and would entrust it to no one else’s keeping but my own.

La Belle Jardiniere (aka Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist) 1507 by Italian High Renaissance artist Raphael

The other picture of my choice I own only a postcard form but should be most happy to have on my walls for I know that my children could not help but love it—Raphael’s La Belle Jardiniere. Who can resist the darling babies of this picture? And what mother but would wish to be a better mother after a study of the gentle features of Mary, the mother of the Christ Child, who looks up at her in perfect confidence? It seems to be a lesson in divine love and patience—something which a good many farm mothers with several babies and much to do, sadly need. (This is not meant for a sermon—I was merely referring to myself!) I love the naturalness of this little group—the Madonna looking fondly down on the Beloved Child and little Saint John regarding him adoringly. To me, the pictures offer an inspiration that I should like to share with my family and with all who come into my home.

La Belle Jardiniere by Raphael detail
La Belle Jardiniere by Raphael detail

These pictures give me something which a busy, workaday life does not always afford, a restful satisfaction and spiritual inspiration to “carry on” to the best of one’s ability. Such I should think is the chief mission of pictures on our walls—to give us something we should be loath to miss and to remind us of wonders that we might otherwise forget. –Mrs. C.H.B., Iowa


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.

The Rising Popularity of Roadside Markets

From Strawberry Preserves to Maple Sugar

Hello, again History Lovers,

After falling head over heels in love with the automobile, Americans began road-tripping. And it wasn’t long before rural entrepreneurs found a way to market farm products to passersby. Farmers built stands and started selling homegrown produce from roadside markets, very much like farmer’s markets of today. Some were small with just a few products for sale and others were cooperatives supplied by a number of local farmers offering many different farm products, and of course, all were seasonal.

Mrs. Bess M. Rowe, a journalist for The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women contributed an article in February 1922 on the thriving roadside market industry in Massachusetts. Orchards in the Mt. Nobscot area supplied peaches, apples, and pears for local markets. Area farmers produced strawberries, vegetables, eggs, honey, and dairy products. Some handmade home goods were also available.

Farmer’s market season in my area begins in June and goes through September. After reading this article I will better appreciate the “living history” aspect of today’s farmer’s markets.


Massachusetts has ideal conditions for the development of roadside markets. Its numerous towns and cities are connected by splendid state roads which make transportation of products easy and also summon a steady stream of automobiles over these roads.

An astonishing variety of products is disposed of by the owners of these roadside markets, anything and everything from strawberry preserves to roastin’ ears, from maple sugar to braided rugs; passing directly from producer to consumer.

Massachusetts road markets are, naturally, concentrated in a few districts where the conditions are especially favorable. One group is located on the historic road from Concord to Lexington, where a constant procession of automobiles follows the route taken by Paul Revere on his famous ride; another group extends along the coast, south of Quincy.

Good Location and Great Produce

In planning to open a roadside market, certain points in location must be considered if the enterprise is to be a success. As the main dependence is on automobile trade, the market must be located on a road where automobile traffic is heavy and at a point where automobiles can easily park.

Another important point is such arrangement of products and signs or placards to attract the favorable attention of passersby. The most successful stands in Massachusetts have done this by means of attractive signs placed far enough away from the purchasing place so that cars can slow down before reaching the stand. These are often supplemented by signs at the stand itself. Many of these signs are most ingenious and attractive. What honey lover could resist an appeal like this:

Direct selling of farm produce in Massachusetts has been a great success, in many cases, and the plans followed by these marketers can be adapted with equal success in thousands of other places. The main requirements are: to find the right location and furnish what the people want, with due regard for honesty of purpose and for the other fellow’s rights as well as one’s own.

Roadside markets differ as widely as individual stores. Some offer only early or fancy stock. Some maintain an average standard and sell at an average price. As a matter of fact, each one must be adapted to its own locality, giving its own “public” what its own public demands. If the woman of the farm offering goods for sale has the time, she is the best one to deal with women buyers. Her woman’s imagination will stand her in good stead as to ways to make her wares attractive and ways to reach her customers’ minds. There are no set rules to be laid down. Given the good location and sufficient good produce, wits, and industry, tact and patience must do the rest.

Nobscot Mountain Orchard and Roadside Market

This summer the writer had the pleasure of visiting one of the most interesting, as well as one of the most successful roadside markets in Massachusetts, the one connected with the famous Nobscot Mountain Orchards, twenty-three miles from Boston. This fruit farm of eighty acres has 3,000 peach trees, 4,000 apple trees, 1,200 pear trees, and 2,500 quince trees. In 1915, 1916, and 1917, the market specialized in peaches and in these three years took in respectively $1,700, $1,300, and $ 3,400. In 1918 apples, preserves and jellies were added to the list and now in addition to all these, a charming tearoom caters to the comfort of guests the year around.

Current photo of the William Hagar House built circa 1730, home of the Mt. Nobscot Tearoom in the 1920s.

Mt. Nobscot Tea Room

The Mt. Nobscot Tea Room itself is worthy of a whole story. It is in the Hagar House, a historic residence built about 1730. The atmosphere of “the good, old days” has been wonderfully preserved in the old house. The tired motorist who has been attracted by the well-arranged market stand on one side of the road is now tempted to cross over to the tearoom and enjoy tea and a salad, or one of the more substantial dishes which are fast gaining fame for this happily located business.

The front door opens directly into the tearoom, a large colonial room with an enormous four-sided fireplace set diagonally so that each grate faces a corner. On one side there is a Dutch oven. The mantels and cupboards above the grates proclaim their many years of usage.

The back of the house itself is an old porch with a brick floor. Vines grow over it and here the tearoom guest who prefers a garden setting rather than in the house is served.

For the last two years, Mrs. Smerage has had charge of the tearoom. She cans and preserves a portion of the products that are shown in the roadside market stand across the way. During the War, Mrs. Smerage had charge of a community canning kitchen in Topsfield Massachusetts. The exceptionally high standard maintained in this particular kitchen, where they had less than 1% spoilage, won fame for her and after the war work closed, she started work for herself. Two years ago, she had to choose between putting her capital into her business or using it for her son’s education. She chose the latter and came to the Mt. Nobscot fruit farm to take charge of the canning work there and act as manager of the tearoom.

Mrs. Smerage says that the success that has come to her in all her work is due to the high quality she insists on maintaining. At the Mt. Nobscot Orchards, they do not try to sell the first-class fruit and then make quality canned and preserved products from culls. They reverse this order and make all of their canned and preserved stock from first-class products, and this method enables them to sell the products for a fancy price. They know that people will pay a high price for food products if they feel that they are getting their money’s worth. In 1920, Mrs. Smerage supervised the canning and preserving of $1,050 worth of strawberries alone. In 1921, in spite of a bad season, the amount of their strawberry products went up to about $1,400.

Strawberries for sale at a Roadside Stand

The tearoom enables the proprietors to keep business going the year around. The market stand, of course, is open only during the summer months. Although their farm produces only fruit for the market, they show a good variety of vegetables and other products at the stand. These are secured from the neighboring farmers, thus offering them a market for their products and at the same time giving a greater variety and better appearance to the stand. Altogether there is on this farm a well-rounded business that last year sold products amounting to over $12,500. — Bess M. Rowe


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1922, Page 709; 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.


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!”


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.

Basketball in the Blue Grass Community House 1922

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today’s post gives us a glimpse of just how popular the game of basketball had become by the 1920s. The game was the brainchild of James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. Needing a game that could be played indoors during fierce New England winters, Dr. Naismith researched other sports that were popular at the time and configured a game that could be played in a relatively small indoor space. With safety in mind, Naismith wanted a game with less physical contact than football yet active enough to help athletes get in shape for the spring track season. The prototype equipment for the game were peach baskets and a soccer ball. Originally the game had only thirteen rules. By the 1910s gymnasiums were being built to accommodate high school and college games. In more rural areas that could not afford to build a new facility, community teams used whatever venue was available.


Playing Basketball in the Blue Grass Community House 1922

A signboard with the words Blue Grass Community House, greet approaching visitors, and sitting back in its surrounding of trees is the house which invites community activities from five townships in Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Most interesting perhaps of all the attractions are the basketball games. Blue Grass Community has ten teams that meet in competitive games or bring in other teams from outside.

The Community Center

The building is a substantial frame structure. The basement is given into a large assembly hall with a cement floor. This is used for serving suppers, large gatherings, and for community fairs. The first floor is the auditorium with a stage and settings, two dressing rooms, and camp chairs to seat two hundred people. This auditorium also acts as a gymnasium and is the scene of many heated contests. A fireplace room on the second floor is both a library and committee room and for small meetings saves the labor and expense of firing the furnace, as well as making an ideal meeting place.


The women look for leadership from Mrs. John S. Riggs, who lives just across the field within calling distance of the building. Dr. C.A. Shake, Rector of the community church, is the leading spirit in all activities and is especially popular with the young folks who keep him busy indeed.

Activities and Programs

Four committees represent Agriculture, Social and Literary Work, Educational Programs, and Recreation, with a chairman for each. Everyone works together and all activities are carried to the Community House: Parent-Teachers Association, Health Talks, Sewing Clubs for girls, all day dress form demonstrations, all day millinery schools, township fairs, fall, and spring club round-up, musicals, home talent plays, the most popular program proving to be the one in which the greatest number of the people themselves take part.


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1920, Page 716; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Two Pictures I Would Like Best To Own Series–Part 7

Christianity and Patriotism

Hello, again History Lovers,

Today we continue our series of favorite works of art submitted to The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women by subscribers in 1923. Wishing you a happy Sunday.


Christianity and Patriotism

Pictures have practical value. When our son was but a boy his father would show him the pictures and talk about them instilling in him a love for the beautiful that has grown with the years.

The Boy Christ 1881 by German Painter, Heinrich Hofmann

One Valentine’s Day, when our son was in his teens, we framed and presented him with a 20X24” picture of Hofmann’s The Boy Christ. Many times, when questions of conduct arose, his eyes would turn to the picture and its silent influence helped him win on the right side. When he went to college, he asked to take the picture with him and it graced the walls of his room for four years. One day a fellow student in the same house said, “I wish you’d cover that picture up. It seems to penetrate my very soul.” A heart-talk followed which revealed the fact that the young man was not living true to the promise he had made to his mother.

During my teaching career, I placed this picture in the assembly room of a high school. Some weeks later, I said to a young man. “I am pleased with the progress you are making in your studies but more with your better conduct.” Hesitating a moment, he said,

“How can I act as I did when the eyes of that picture are ever following me?”

Abraham Lincoln 1865 by American Painter W.F.K. Travers

Another picture I choose is The Ideal American, Abraham Lincoln. Patriotism is taught first in the home. The story of Lincoln, boy, and man, should challenge our boys and girls. “We become like those with whom we associate.”

These two pictures will influence the home circle, guests, and strangers along the lines of Christianity and Patriotism, fundamentals in social life. –Mrs. C.W.C., Iowa

The Boy Christ Disputing With the Temple Elders 1881 by German Artist Heinrich Hofmann

FYI: The painting referred to as “The Boy Christ” (at the beginning of this post) is a detail taken from Heinrich Hofmann’s painting “The Boy Christ Disputing with the Temple Elders” (above). This painting is referred to by a number of nicknames such as “Jesus In the Temple.” The detail artwork is often referred to as “The Boy Jesus” as well as several other nicknames and has enjoyed a life of its own.


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.

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.



Twelve Greatest Things Series–Toil

Twelve Greatest Things In Life

The Greatest Twelve concerning which Doctor Holland writes from month to month, although numbered, are not meant to be presented in any order suggesting the importance of one over another. Each lead in its own place—Love, Struggle, Money, Play, Toil, and the seven yet to come.

–The Editors of The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women

Hello, again History Lovers,

I would like to dedicate today’s post on Toil to one of the hardest working women in my life, my maternal grandmother. She not only instilled in me the desire to work hard but also to do the very best job possible.



Man once believed that I came into the world as a curse upon him for their sin; now he knows that the Garden was given to him for his home, his task was to dress and care for it.

Though called by many names, Toil is the one I prefer. Did not an earth’s great poet sing of me,

“Toil makes the soul of man to shine
And makes rest fragrant and benign.”

I am the fulfiller of every noble ambition and hold in my hands the key to every palace that men would enter. I point the way to every path where Hope beckons. If youths will only follow me, I will give to them every excellence and teach them to conquer everywhere.

The earth is full of foolish people, foolish enough to think that they may succeed without toil. All such die no better than they were born. Their last cry is more worthless than their first.

I will put a crown of honor upon the brow of everyone who works, for God has put no distinctions between tasks. The blacksmith and the senator are equally my favorites the artist and the artisan I equally love. I give no man who does not toil any chance of being a real man or of blessing the race. My beatitude is, “Blessed is he who loves his work.”

I am one of the chief solacers of those who have sorrows to forget. The broken-hearted turn ever to me for relief. When bereft mothers wring their hands, I fill them with tasks and make their slumber sweet. Millions of tears I have prevented by putting new burdens upon tired backs. This is a secret of help I have from the Creator.

I am set as one of the joy makers of the heart. I sweeten the bread in the mouth of the toiler. I hide gold in the mountains and pearls in the depths of the sea and make men happy while they toil for their treasures.

The idles, the lazy, the gourmands, the sensualist seek me not. With folded hands and withered dreams, they pass in nothingness to the grave.

Blessed are all who toil: the lover for his beloved; the lady for her liege; parents for their little ones; the artist for his dreams; the scholar for his knowledge, the sinner for his goodness; the farmer for his grain; the shepherd for his flock.

The stars in their courses work on the side of those who are alive with work.


The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, May 1926, Page 275; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

Cooking With Ida–Cake Baking

Hello, again History Lovers,

A post from two weeks ago featured the cottage industry of Mrs. Alta Dunn, Cooking For Cash. Mrs. Dunn’s catering business supplied a friend and businesswoman with a weekly order of home-baked bread, desserts, one-dish meals, and dressed meats. She also filled orders from other folks from time to time. The article spoke quite a bit about her baking and even included one of her cake recipes. Curious about how Mrs. Dunn’s recipe compared to other recipes of that time, I did some research in Ida Bailey Allen’s Cooking Menus Service cookbook of 1924. Below I have posted Ms. Allen’s technical advice for cake baking. The ingredients are not so different from today’s however all the mixing and whipping would have been done by hand. Mrs. Dunn was from a rural area in the west and she likely did her baking in a wood and/or coal oven.


COOKING MENUS SERVICE–Cakes by Ida Bailey Allen

Cooking Menus Service 1924 by Ida Bailey Allen

“It is not the materials alone, nor is it the manipulation alone which makes good cake, but a careful combination of the two. Every cookbook gives many cake recipes, but if these are analyzed it will be seen that the cakes themselves are closely related and belong to one of two families—(a) the sponge-cake family, (b) the butter-cake family. If one can make a good sponge cake and a good butter cake the entire field of cake making lies ahead, for the difference between one cake and another is more that of a slight change in consistency, flavoring, or filling and frosting than any basic variation in the actual cake batter itself.”

Making a Cake

“The proper order of procedure in making any cake is as follows:

  1. Read the recipe carefully.
  2. Prepare the pans.
  3. Assemble the ingredients.
  4. Assemble the utensils.
  5. Prepare the oven.
  6. Measure the ingredients and make the cake.

It is quite essential that these steps be followed in the order given, each being relatively important to the next. Reading the recipe gives the worker an intelligent grasp of what is to be done and how, and as some cakes might be spoiled if kept waiting before baking, it is obvious that the next point in order is the preparation of the cake pan: the reasons for the remaining steps are self-explanatory.”

Mixing a Butter-Cake Batter

“The mixing should be done sitting down. Measure the shortening; if it is very hard, the mixing bowl should first have been warmed with hot water, but the fat itself should not be melted. The shortening should then be creamed or beaten until soft, preferably with a flat wooden spoon; the sugar is then worked into it, flavoring added, and then the egg yolks or the whole egg, well beaten, according to the recipe.

Sift the flour, measure, and put back in the sifter with the salt and baking powder. Measure the liquid in the cup used for the fat. Put a little of the flour into the cake mixture, stir in some of the liquid, and proceed in this way until all are in. The direction in which you stir makes no difference. Then fold in the egg whites, whipped until stiff, with an over-and-over motion, if they are to be added last. They should be beaten until the mixture will remain in the bowl inverted.

The cake should then be put in the pan, the mixture being made higher at the edges and corners to ensure even rising. It is then ready to be baked.”

Mixing a Sponge-Cake Batter

“In sponge cakes in which no shortening is employed an entirely different method of manipulation is required. For some sponge cakes the egg yolks and sugar are beaten together until light, the flavoring added, the flour and salt well sifted, gently folded in and the whites of the eggs, which have been beaten until stiff and dry, folded carefully into the cake batter last of all. Or in some instances, the whole eggs, yolk and whites together, are beaten with the sugar. The first method gives a cake that is lighter than that made by the second but the cake will dry out more quickly.

An egg-beater of the whisk type is preferable to one of rotary or Dover style due to the fact that with the whisk more air is incorporated into the mixture, making it lighter and fluffier in texture. A large bowl should be used in the making of the sponge cake to allow plenty of room for long sweeping strokes of the beater. A very delicious and firm smooth sponge cake is sometimes made by cooking the sugar with a little water until it threads—230 degrees F.—then pouring this over the thoroughly beaten yolks and eggs, adding the flour and the whites of eggs beaten until stiff.”

Preparing the Cake Pans

“Ordinary layer-cake pans should be oiled, a brush being used for this purpose, every crevice and corner receiving its share of the oil. If this is thoroughly done there should be no difficulty in removing the cake after baking. A smooth surface texture is secured by dusting the pan thickly with flour after oiling, then tapping it sharply on the table to remove any loose particles of flour, or fine granulated sugar may be used instead of the flour, the loose particles being removed in the same manner.

Cakes containing a large amount of sugar or molasses will burn more readily than the less sweet varieties. To avoid this, line the pan with waxed or oiled paper.”

Filling the Pans

“Have the cake pans less than two-thirds filled with batter. For layer and loaf cakes spread evenly over the surface of the pan, pressing it well into the corners, and have the batter a little thicker around the sides of the pan than in the center. As the tendency of cake batter is to rise more in the center than at the sides this procedure will ensure a smooth, even surface after baking.”

Baking a Cake

“The first rule to be remembered in cake baking, as indeed in all other baking, is that infinitely more food is spoiled by the use of too much heat than by too little. Large cakes require a slower oven than small ones. Gentle slow baking results in lighter cake, a delicately browned surface, and smooth fine grain. Always place cakes in the lower part of the oven at first so that the under-heat may help them to rise to their fullest height before browning. If put on the upper shelf the heat thrown down forms a crust that prevents proper rising.

The time of baking may be divided into three periods of equal length. During the first the oven should be only moderately hot to allow the cake to rise, during the second the heat may be increased to form a crust and brown the surface and during the third and last it should again be reduced to thoroughly cook the cake to the center.

To find out whether a cake is done, insert a metal or straw tester gently in the center of the cake, leave it a second, then withdraw. If it comes away perfectly clean the cake is sufficiently baked, but if it is at all sticky continue the baking for a few minutes longer.

When done, the cake shrinks from the sides of the pan and springs back if lightly touched. It gives forth no steaming or crackling sound.”

Cake Baking Hints

  1. “Cake should never be moved in the oven until it has reached its fullest height.
  2. If cake appears to be browning too rapidly reduce the heat and cover the cake with a sheet of paper.
  3. If cake habitually bakes too quickly on the bottom, set the pan containing it in another pan, which may, if desired, be partly filled with sand, the being a non-conductor of heat.
  4. The oven may be cooled quickly, if necessary, by putting a pan of cold water into it.
  5. The cake which cracks open during the baking indicates either that too much flour has been used in it or that it has been baked in too quick an oven and is therefore browned before it rises to its fullest height.
  6. A coarse-textured cake denotes the use of too much baking powder or of insufficient beating.
  7. A cake which falls after baking indicates too little flour, too much shortening, or that it was removed from the oven before being thoroughly cooked.
  8. A wire cooling rack or tray will be found very useful for cooling cakes, cookies, and biscuits, and indeed all baked products. Being slightly raised on wire feet it allows a current of air to pass all around whatever is placed on it, so that there is no soggy under-surface caused by collected moisture. A very good substitute is a wire oven shelf rested on four cups or muffin pans.”

Cake Frosting

“The terms “icing” and “frosting” are practically synonymous and may be used interchangeably. Frostings or icings may be either cooked or uncooked, made with water, milk, or fruit juice as the liquid, but always have either sugar, syrup, or honey as the main sweet ingredient.”


The above article was originally published in Cooking Menus Service 1924 by Ida Bailey Allen, Doubleday, Duran & Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.