Farmers’ Wives’ Vacations: 1898

1918 advertisement for electric stove.

Farmers’ Wives’ Vacations

Of course, the business man in the city should have a vacation, if he can afford it, and so should the society ladies, and the office-holders, and the clerks, and the dudes, but the one that needs a vacation most of all is the farmer’s wife, who plans and prepares hot meals for a household throughout the year. She may not care to go to the seashore, or to go fishing with a supply of bait in a jug; but she should be lifted out of the everlasting grind of three hot meals over a hot cook-stove every day by some sort of relief from such work for a portion of the heated season. It may not be practicable for her to even leave home at all, but much can be done to make her work more bearable. There should be a cool kitchen—one that is shaded and has all the fresh air that is going. In that kitchen there should be a stove that can cook a meal without cooking the cook. This is a day of successful and cheap oil and gasoline stoves. They can be used to prepare all the breakfast and supper anyone needs, and are used by tens of thousands for preparing dinners that require the usual boiling and baking. There should be a good supply of fruit to take the place of dishes that must be prepared over a stove. There should be convenient water, and there should be a boy that will do all outside chores. Above all, there should be a household that is willing to dispense with hot suppers and the usual supply of greasy dishes during the red-hot weather of August. This does not apply to many farm homes, it is true, but there remains a considerable number in which the hardships of the housewife during July and August are greater than men would bear if places could be exchanged.

The Holt County Sentinel [Oregon MO] 14 October 1898: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The picture of a farmer’s wife “slaving all day over a hot stove” was a proverbial one, particularly in advertisements for electric or oil stoves. “Summer kitchens,” in the warmer districts helped to keep the heat out of the house, but were still unpleasantly hot and fly-filled.

Then again, some husbands were Brutes, refusing to grant their hard-working wives any modern conveniences.

 Hot summer days with a big family to feed, augmented by the additional hands, she perspires over a huge coal stove, fire in which must be started before daybreak to get the early breakfast, and which heats the kitchen to suffocation long after sundown. A fireless cooker and a blue-flame oil stove would give her many hours’ rest, and a cool place to work in, but her husband’s mother cooked on that stove years before modem invention lightened woman’s work, and the husband sees no reason why what was good enough for his mother is not good enough for his wife. It is fortunate for him that he keeps the mail order catalog in such constant use himself, selecting farm implements and the like, that she never gets a peep in them, for could she see the small expenditure that would bring her ease and comfort she might break out in open rebellion.  [Successful Farming 1916]

Still, occasionally something good might be said about the old-fashioned hot cook-stove:

How a Pennsylvania Widow Served a Sewing Machine Agent.

The usually quiet little village of Leesport on the line of the Philadelphia & Reading railroad, eight miles above Reading, has had a sensation, which has caused a good deal of amusement. A Reading sewing-machine agent induced the head of a family to take a machine and pay for it in monthly installments. Before the machine was paid for, the husband and father died. The widow was in destitute circumstances, with half a dozen children, and unable to pay the balance owing on the machine, when the agent came round to take the machine away. She determined that he should not remove the machine until he had handed back at least some of the money that had been paid on it by her husband. He was apparently just as determined to secure the machine without returning any of the filthy lucre, insulted the woman and endeavored to take by force what he said belonged to the company by reason of the payment of monthly installments having been stopped.

While the agent was inside the house she locked both the front and back doors, and put the keys in her dress pocket, and being a robust woman “went for” the agent. She took hold of him and a severe and prolonged struggle ensued, while the children were frightened and cried and screamed. The widow threw the agent over the hot kitchen stove, and finally succeeded in setting him down on top of it and held him there, when he begged piteously for mercy. “For God’s sake, let me go, and I’ll pay you back every cent your husband paid me.” Being satisfied that he was severely scorched, if not partly roasted around the thighs, she pulled him off the stove, but held on to him until he had paid back every cent of the installments and then she gave him two minutes time to take the machine and clear out with it. The name of the plucky woman and also that of the agent, are withheld by special request.

Atchison [KS] Daily Patriot 30 September 1875: p. 1


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



2 thoughts on “Farmers’ Wives’ Vacations: 1898

  1. floodmouse

    I stopped cooking sometime around the beginning of June, and found a cobweb in my skillet when it finally cooled down enough to scramble some eggs at the end of August. Anyone in my household unwilling to forego the hot greasy dishes to eat salad instead, would find themselves on a crash weight-loss program.

    P.S. – I’m not sure I can condone the assault on the door-to-door salesman, though I do agree that “rent-to-own” arrangements are extremely prejudicial to the struggling farm wife. On the other hand, seeing the farm wife beat up the installment-salesman while wearing a dress, and chastising him with a cookstove–all in defense of a sewing machine–provides a convincing argument that women were not truly the “weaker sex,” even before women’s lib.


    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      While Cook would chastise anyone who left a cobweb in HER skillets, Mrs Daffodil has a good deal of sympathy for cold collations in the summer months. She has less sympathy for salesmen who exploit the poor and is happy to condone just a teensy bit of violence. Mrs Daffodil knows of a writer who has a sign reading “No Solicitors” above her door-bell, yet is tormented by persons who believe that they are not really soliciting because they are “sharing” an opportunity or a cause. She becomes positively murderous when one of these idiots rings the bell, interrupting her work. It is a good thing that she does not have a cook-stove.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil

      Liked by 1 person


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