Growing up in Iowa Circa 1900

To recreate what life was like at this time in Iowa I searched for narratives written by people of that time.

My family was from this part of Iowa and my cousin Pearl who is 105 years old was 14 at the time Bessie visited to meet my Great Uncle's family. She had written a journal from that time. My cousin Roberta also wrote of her recollections of growing up at Riverside Farm.

Pauline McNeish sent a narrative from the Knoxville historical society archives and I also picked up some from libraries while I was doing research in Iowa.

Here is a bit from one of the CD's on Iowa history from the Oscaloosa Library.

Farmers butchered hogs for home use in January. Cold weather was also the time to repair fences, cut firewood, and cut and store ice. In March and April, farmers prepared fields for spring planitng. In June they sheared the sheep. They cut hay and harvested winter wheat and oats. In September, hogs were brought in from the field to be fattened for sale in November and December. In late November, farmers began to harvest corn, many spread out the work of corn picking and harvesting over several months.

In similar fashion, farm women's work changed little before the turn of the century. The four seasons clearly determined women's responsibilities. In the cold weather months, women sewed and mended; each family member's clothing was made at home. Butchering was a task for the whole family, and it was regarded as hard work. Each part of the hog was used-brains, liver, head, heart, feet and backbones, as well as the more choice parts of the animal. If the winter weathered permitted, farm families spent more time visiting relatives and socializing.

Springtime activities often began with soap making. Kerosene had replaced candles by this time and purchased yard goods had replaced hand weaving, but soap making was still done at home. Spring also marked the time to clean and set hens in preparaation for hatching chicks. Eggs were important to the family, both as food, and as a source of income. In most cases, the sale of eggs and regular source of money for the farm family. This cash income was used to purchase manufactured items and groceries.

In spring, women and children planted vegetable gardens. Many families also maintained fruit trees. Farm wives also followed the traditional practice of spring housecleaning. Summer and fall brought another round of responsibilities for farm women. First came endless hours of weeding the garden and canning fruits and vegetables. Women also faced the considerable undertaking of preparing for the threshers. Many farmers belonged to the "Threshing Rings" in which five or six families went together to purchase a threshing machine, and then worked together to thresh each family's grain. Threshing crews stayed at each farm for several days. Women were required to prepare a large noon meal as well as a mid-afternoon snack.

Fall was the time for making molasses and for bringing in the last of the garden produce. Much can be learned about what life was like in the fall on a farm, from the diary of a teenage girl in 1885.

"Saturday lots of work to do for mother and I. We churned butter, made bread, dressed a chicken, made sweet pickles, made a pail of apples into apple sauce, cleaned my bird cage, then the room and did the work upstairs and it was nearly milking time."

The diet of most Iowans was made up of whatever could be grown locally. Many farm families made large amounts of sauerkraut. apples and potatoes were stored for the winter. After the first frost, several varieties of nuts were gathered from nearby timber areas.

Farm families were nearly self-sufficient in regard to food needs.


The account of pickling and threshing were from my cousin Roberta's memories of growing up on Riverside Farm (my graet-grandfathers farm near Sigourney, IA. in the early part of the century.




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