I celebrated by 25th birthday with my family, boyfriend and Great Aunt Delena (Dee). Stepping through her front door is like traveling through history. Her house is a museum of historical antiques and a gallery of artwork through her talented sewing. Her kitchen is like a cafe in Paris, the perfect place to indulge in birthday cake. She does not hesitate to share her stories. I took the time to interview her about her experience as a you farm girl in Kentucky then as a women in Indiana. She is one of my roles models and I hope you will find her stories and talents just as pleasant as I do!
In the early 1900’s women specific farm jobs included milking dairy cows and canning vegetables. However these are just two of the jobs my Great Aunt Dee did her family farm as a young girl. She was born in Kentucky in 1932 and moved to their Ohio during the mid 1930’s. She remembers that as soon as she and her siblings were old enough to walk and carry a pale, they were helping on the family farm. Aunt Dee doesn’t remember any women specific jobs within her family, everyone helped where ever help was needed. “Back then there wasn’t any certain jobs for men, women did them too. I guess that’s why I can do a lot of certain things today. I can use the hammer and nails and saws,” she said. Aunt Dee remembers working in the wheat fields with her sister, milking the cows, canning vegetables from their garden, picking leaves off sage, picking blackberries and gooseberries, making cottage cheese, churning butter, pig processing and making sausage, butchering chickens and saving the feathers for her pillow and feather bed.
Her father raised tobacco and it was their only cash crop because hay and vegetables went to feed themselves and animals. However, everyone earned their own money and contributed to the household. Her grandpa had saw mill and ground corn mill when they got 10 cent per turn of corn. Aunt Dee used the corn sifter and fed chickens the corn mill. They also had a blacksmith shop where they put shoes on horses and welded. Aunt Dee went in shop and helped her dad make tools by taking hot metal with tongs to form it and sticking it in a bucket to cool. “There was no women jobs and men jobs back then. It was probably more the other way, because the men seldom did any cooking or house cleaning. Women were still doing everything, all of a sudden it was like day light to dark change (during WWII) and she was doing two different jobs and women still do today. It’s unequal, very much so,” said Aunt Dee.
At the beginning of WWII, Aunt Dee earned money by doing domestic jobs such as mopping floors, French braiding hair for 25 cents and carrying flour bags for her neighbor for 10 cents. She saved money to buy her own clothes and school supplies. “When I was little if you got a quarter you thought you died and went to heaven!” she said. Her Mom and Granny quilted for a lady in Cincinnati who sold them all over world. They earned $60 a quilt and each one took about three weeks to make. This was how her mother contributed to household; she did house work first thing in morning and had quilting bees with neighbor ladies. She would also help her mother pick beans in day and string at night or shuck beans that were hung to dry. Farm women held apple peelings with the neighbors that were also social gatherings. Farm women also cooked for men during barn raisings.
When Aunt Dee’s Dad went to war, her mother and the five children took over the farm. “She got $160 month- the oldest child got $30, the rest of kids got $20 and mom got $50,” remembers Aunt Dee, “Everyone in the house hold had to make up the slack for when dad was gone. I still had to carry the firewood in for the stove, carry the coal in and carry the water buckets from the well. We had no electricity, no furnace and used saw wood to cook with.” When Aunt Dee thinks about the challenges of life back then she realizes how easy it is for everyone today, “The generations today would never survive,” she says, “I thank God everyday that everything is so easy now. Easy, easy, easy everything is today.”
Aunt Dee remembers how the war influenced societal views on women’s work:
“I think it did change people’s lives a lot when women did get out and go to work because it made them realize they were worth more than just staying in the house and doing house work. Before it was almost a sin if you seen a woman out working somewhere. It was thought all she’s supposed to do is stay home, have babies, clean the house, work in the garden and can. It’s not really that way, there can’t be a creation of other people without the woman and the man and to me its equal, you know 50/50 no matter what and any decent men thought of it that way. I don’t remember anyone in our family thinking of it any other way except that way. Mom and Granny quilted to earn extra money for the house. Grandpa Ford’s mother was a midwife and may stay at someone’s house a week or two before the baby came…,” she said.
Aunt Dee knows she could never play a submissive role to man. Her husband always wanted her to be self sufficient. She has taught me to do the same and I treasure the stories, advice and unique creations she passes onto me.