Had to do the Milking Alone

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, June 12, 1912:  I’m mad at that Ruth tonight. She goes away and leaves me with the milking.

Photo in the May 15, 1912 issue of Kimball’s Dairy Farmer magazine. It’s interesting how the women in the photo wore light-colored clothes while working with cows. I would have thought that dark-colored outfits that wouldn’t show dirt would have been preferred.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I wonder if Ruth ever did the milking for Grandma when Grandma went somewhere.  Grandma complained several times in the diary that she had to do the milking for her sister Ruth —but she never wrote that Ruth did the milking for her.

My guess is that both of the Muffly sisters benefited from trading chores—but that Grandma didn’t think  that it was important enough to mention when she was the one who got to go somewhere and miss the milking

When I was a child growing up on a dairy farm, my brother and I often informally traded barn chores so that one of us could do something else. I’d do his chores one day—and he might do mine a few days later.  We never kept track of whether one of us did the chores less often than the other—but my sense was that it balanced out pretty well over time.

21 Responses

  1. I laughed when I read this as my mother-in-law used to regularly complain how her younger sister used to get out of bringing in the cows because of netball or choir practice….a “grudge” that was carried for decades. sounds like Helena also got the wrong end of the stick…did Ruth swap or just evade the chores I wonder?

    • I hope that Helena and Ruth swapped chores–but maybe Ruth somehow managed to evade the chores.

      It’s interesting the grudges that people remember across the years. I guess evading chores really can be a big deal.

  2. Perhaps they were wearing white in the summer because it reflects sunlight away from the body and was cooler to wear than dark colors that absorb the sunlight.

    You’re lucky your brother was so cooperative. My sister and I fought like crazy, accusing each other of taking an extra turn. Our mother finally banned us from trading chores!

    • Thank goodness that my brother and I weren’t banned from trading chores–we never would have been able to participate in off-farm activities if we hadn’t been able to trade. I also feel thankful to my father. I can remember that he would often pitch in and help me do my brother’s chores on days when my brother wasn’t home.

  3. Maybe I missed this earlier, but who watched, milked, and moved the cows when Helena was in school?

    • Grandma (and her sister) got up early enough so that they could milk the cows before school. For example, on December 18, 1911 she wrote: “Got up about five o’clock this morning. I milked this morning in entire darkness, but I guess I’ll wait until it gets lighter after this. . . ”

      They also milked them in the evening after they got home.

      During the winter months the cows would have stayed in the barn all of the time. Her mother or father must have watched the cows in the spring and fall when school was in session.

  4. Ruth certainly gets a lot of stick in these diary entries. Cannot help wondering how they really got on with each other :)

  5. My guess is that with white you could tell if something was dirty and you’d want to keep things as clean as possible. That way you were not tempted to let a little dirt slip by.

    • It was so hard to do laundry a hundred years ago. It’s interesting to think that they might have wanted to know when their clothes were dirty–I tend to wear darker clothes when doing things that might result in them getting dirty so that no one can see the dirt.

      • Hi, Sheryl, But in those days milk was not pasturized and it was essential to keep the milking as clean as possible … it’s only my guess. I guess they might wear dark clothes when cleaning out the barn! Love your posts…. Makes us think about what life was, is and could be.

  6. Maybe they dressed up to have their photographs taken for the magazine.

    • Yes, that might be a possibility. The women in the photo may have been really excited that their farm was being featured in the magazine and wanted to look their best.

  7. I tend to think snowbirdpress is right on this, because it was so important that everything by the milking was very clean.

  8. Well my three sister were all married by the time I was seven, so I had no one to trade chores with! I just helped mum out with jobs while we chatted away together, so there wasn’t a sibling to argue with. I love the way Helena calls her sister “that Ruth”!

  9. I have to laugh every time I hear Helena complain about the cows! I hope that when she grew up and married she dinna have to deal with cows — but then maybe that;s what kids are for.

  10. I’ve loved history ever since one of my high school history teachers got me so interested in it. I think yours is my favorite history site right now. I love how you’ve set it up to compare the now to the past.

  11. [...] mention times when Ruth got home late –and Grandma got stuck with the milking. For example, on June 12, 1912, she wrote. I’m mad at that Ruth tonight. She goes away and leaves me with the [...]

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