Farming Roles in the Early 1900s

Written by melissa sabo
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Farming Roles in the Early 1900s
Farmers in the 1900s faced many transitions. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

"A farmer is someone who likes to work and enjoys seeing stuff grow," says Bill Hammer, Jr. owner and farmer on the Wessels Living History Farm. Many difficulties have faced farmers over the 20th century including legislation, drought, and changes in the industry from man-powered to machine-driven. However, for those farmers who survived the onslaught of changes, the opportunity to provide food to millions of Americans is what motivates them to continue their trade in the 20th century and beyond.

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Tasks and Chores of a Diary Farmer

Rising early to retrieve the milk from the cows, the dairy farmer's life revolved around the needs of the cattle on their farm. Cows were milked by hand through the first half of the 20th century, transitioning into automatic suctioning machines at the end of the century. Although this invention reduced the physical time and effort required to milk the cows, the farmer and hired hands still had to be heavily involved, wrangling the cows and applying the machines to the cows' udders. The milk had to be processed and pasteurised, with many farms increasing their self sufficiency by completing these tasks on site as the century progressed. Additionally, dairy farmers often grew their own feed and had to tend to their agriculture to help turn a profit.

Responsibilities of an Agricultural Farmer

The changing of seasons heralded a change in tasks for the agricultural farmer. Although there were some variations throughout the country, based upon weather zones, typically planting occurred in spring, with the large harvest season in the fall. Winter was often much less busy, with little outdoor work able to be completed. In the start of the 1900s, many farmers worked solely on their farms, deriving their livelihood and many daily needs such as food, milk and meat directly from the farm. By the end of the century, with political and labour changes, farmers struggled to make a profit, with many employed outside the farms and continuing to farm as part of their family legacy, rather than for their livelihood.

Life for the Farmer's Wife

Committed to long days of laborious work, the farmer's wife in the early 1900s had a similar day to her husband. She often rose around 4 a.m. to get ready, start a fire and pick produce from her kitchen garden. After preparing breakfast and a lunch box for her husband, she helped complete work on the farm, often required to perform heavy labour similar to her husband. Once dinner was prepared, she cleaned the home, took care of the children and retired to bed around 9 p.m. As modernisation affected farm life over the century, the continual demand for heavy physical labour from the farmer's wife declined and she often had to work outside of the home to supplement the declining income from the farm.

Family Life on the Farm

Farming is definitely a family affair, requiring the assistance of all able-bodied members of the family. Most farms are eventually passed down from father to children and the skills are apprenticed to the children from a young age. Because all of life revolved around farming at the start of the 20 century, children were often removed from school during the vital planting and harvesting seasons. As the progression from manpower to machine power continued and the relatively full-time assistance from children declined during the first half of the century, the last 50 years of the 20th century saw an increase in the importance of school and even secondary education. Having the schooling in a business background became more necessary, as the farm output increased and prices per unit declined with the modernisation of farming.

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