"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

August 1, 2011

Farmwife Monday: Mammy and her Chickens

This photo shows Elizabeth (Lizzie) Sweeney Wells, c. 1924, with her flock of chickens. Lizzie was the grandmother of Joberta Wells, who submitted this photograph. Joberta lives on her grandmother's farm, just outside of Yosemite, in nearby Casey County, and in recent years recreated the classic three-gabled farmhouse from the foundation up. [Joberta is a friend and also a columnist at The Casey County News.]

Farm women were often photographed with their chickens and it is one of the most common scenes depicted in old farm photographs. Women tended the flocks on small amounts of land around the farmhouse or yard and gathered the eggs. Their 'egg money' was a valuable asset to farm income and their flock would have been a source of personal pride. Tending chickens was also an area where younger children could assist, including feeding and egg-gathering.

In an excellent paper on The Contemporary Farm Woman: 1860 to the Present, published by the Central New York Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. [Isn't the Internet amazing?] Stephanie Fisher writes:
"Women could exercise complete control over the production and income of their chickens. However, women often chose to spend the money to assist the farm or farm home. During hard economic times, the egg money, known as ‘pin-money,’ often saved the farm when their husband’s commodities failed to provide income...Women’s participation in chicken farming and the production of eggs continued until around the 1940s."
[World War II changed society and farming practices, after which factory-farming became more prevalent. However, in many rural areas, such as Casey County and throughout much of Kentucky, sustenance farming continued, much as it does today with household gardens, chickens and other livestock to support the family.]
Do you have a photo of a farmwife in your family to share on this blog? If you do we are happy to publish it or post a link to your blog.

NOTE: For two excellent first-hand period accounts of life with chickens, read Betty MacDonald's classic The Egg and I, written in 1945 and made into a movie (that launched the popular Ma and Pa Kettle films) or Mildred Armstrong's recent best-selling account of Midwestern farm life in the 1930s, Little Heathens–Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

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Thanks to Joberta Wells for her contribution to this entry.

This blog post also appeared recently in the 'Farm Attic' section of GROW Casey County, a blog about local produce and agricultural happenings––as well as our local Old Order Mennonite community––in Casey County, Kentucky. Here's a 'Part Two' to the blog: Farm Attic: Part 2 on Chicken Farming.

You come back when you're ready!


1 comment:

  1. That was a slice of life.
    Growing up my Gran kept the chickens and my Mom kept the geese. The money did indeed help out in tough times.


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