The old expression 'A woman's work is never done' was never more true than in the case of farm women. It is hard to believe that were enough hours in the day for her to finish what she had to do. In the morning, she would rise early to prepare breakfast, which might include baking bread, gathering eggs, and cooking porridge. After she had the children off to school, things did not slow down at all. She had to look after pressing household needs-- anything from mending clothes to making soap-- and was also responsible for a full share of farmyard chores. Especially during harvest times, housework had to be taken care of after putting in a full day in the fields. In the evening, she would prepare a big evening meal, help her children with their lessons, and then go to bed for well-deserved rest. That is, until she had to get up the next morning and start all over again.
Farm women were expert dairy maids, responsible for the refrigeration of the milk produced on the farm. Before the arrival of electricity, keeping the milk cool during the summer months was a real challenge. Each farm usually had what was called a dairy, a small outbuilding with a stone-lined cellar. Women would carry large quantities of fresh milk to this enclosed space to be cooled. After twelve hours, the cream would be fully separated and they would then churn it into butter.
The job of raising the poultry often fell to the farm wife as well. But the income from egg sales was hers to manage, and provided her with a good 'nest egg' to look after household and family expenses. One local yarn tells the story of a farm wife who tried to increase her egg output by throwing the chickens oats from the back window of the granary, hoping her husband would not notice. But he soon realized what was happening. After a week, he would no more than set foot in the granary-- and suddenly every chicken on the farm was clustered at the back window.
Farm women were also responsible for making many of the family's clothes, particularly the winter supply of sweaters, mittens, and scarves. But there was more than just knitting involved in this process, as many women first had to prepare the wool themselves. Women would wash, card, and spin the newly-sheared sheep wool. The yarn was then dyed with natural substances-- such as beets-- that lent the desired hue. Sometimes, there was more knitting to be done than one woman could manage herself, and she would organize a 'knitting frolic,' where neighboring women would gather and lend a helping hand. No one hesitated to offer her time, because the knitting bee was also a valued social event, an opportunity to exchange local news and even maybe a tidbit of gossip.
Another important role of the farm woman was caring for the health of her family, learning how to diagnose sicknesses and prepare tonics. Along with patent medicines, there were countless home remedies to treat just about any ailment, from runny noses to rheumatoid arthritis. To ease the croup, a mother would rub goose grease and turpentine on her child's chest and then wrap it in flannel. Poultices were applied to fight infections, and tonics of sulfur and molasses were administered every spring to ward off colds during planting season. With the warm sweaters she knit and hot meals she put on the table, the farm woman did her best to keep the entire family hale and hearty.