Rural Midwest Farm Life in the Early 20th Century

In the early twentieth century, life on the farm was challenging but families were very self-sufficient. Farmers were able to grow their own food including fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat. Summer produce was canned in order to feed the family during the winter months. To round out their pantries, farm families purchased items they could not supply like flour, sugar and coffee. Modern conveniences and technology had not yet come to rural America. In the 1920s and '30s homes in a town might have had electricity but many of their counterparts on the farm would not. Kerosene lamps were used to light the home and out buildings at night. There was no air conditioning or central heat. Homes were heated with wood, or coal if the family could afford the expense. Many rural homes did not yet have indoor plumbing. Regardless of the weather, going to the bathroom meant a trip outside to an outhouse. Families had to hand-carry water to the house for cooking and bathing.


Herman Wolf: "I can remember back when people had a family on 40 acres. They probably had 20 acres of corn and had big gardens. When my mother went to school up here,  they lived on the 40 acres just around the corner there. They couldn't have had a cash flow of $200 a year, but they raised big families on 40 acres."

From today's perspective, times might seem to have been simpler then, but simple or not, nothing came easy. Days were filled with backbreaking, physical labor, and everyday chores were accomplished without the help of modern conveniences. It was a time when things moved more slowly, a time when roles were more clearly defined.  It was a time when families worked together and they played together.

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


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