The Role of Women on the Farm in the Early 20th Century

While men generally handled a majority of the fieldwork women traditionally kept the household going. Women raised the chickens and grew the gardens. They canned produce, baked bread, did the laundry and cared for the family and home.


Back then the farm family was really a mini food processing industry. Every member helped out when livestock was butchered, processing the meat and rendering lard for baking and frying foods. Women and children usually raised the chickens: gathering the eggs, nurturing baby chicks, and dressing the fryers.

Patty Doak: "I do remember the chicken butchering. We would butcher probably 100 chickens a year. Mother would do 25 at a time. My father would -- it was a family type thing. My dad would take care of the butchering, and mother and us girls would help cut up. That wasn't a very fun job."

Inez Hult: "I was supposed to go out and get the eggs, but I didn't like that because some of them were sitting hens and they would peck at me. So I'd come in and say, "I can't get those eggs under that hen."

Most of the time young girls helped their mothers with housework: cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. However, if a farm family had only girls, then they would be expected to spend a lot of time helping their fathers with chores and with fieldwork.

Verana Grant Johnson: "I always said I look like my mother but I'm daddy's girl. And I did follow him. I drove tractor for him. Where my sister had to help milk, I had to help with the fieldwork and driving tractor. I went with him for years on the threshing crew. We had about 10, 12 places we had to thresh and it was fun."

Pete's camera caught Patty Doak playing in a wagonload of her father's soybeans. She was always tagging along when he worked outside.

Patty Doak: "I would take cookies or cake, whatever mother had baked that morning. Then I would take a couple of rounds while he was either planting or cultivating, and we would share the coffee and treats together. I really thought I was doing something special for my dad."

Excerpt from "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos," Iowa PBS, 2003


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