Did Both Men and Women Garden a Hundred Years Ago?

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

Saturday, May 2, 1914: Ditto

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

Source: Vegetable Gardening (1914)

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

Grandma probably was still doing the spring housecleaning. May is also a busy time for gardening. Did the Muffly women take any breaks from the cleaning to plant a few seeds?

Here’s some advice from a book published in 1914 by Samuel B. Green called Vegetable Gardening:

If one were to figure the actual value of vegetables that may be raised on a half-acre plot of garden, it would amount to at least $100—ten or fifteen times what any common field crop on the farm will produce in the same area.

Besides, there is the satisfaction of having vegetables fresh, and of much better quality than can be bought in town or from a neighbor, unless it be a very near neighbor. Vegetables lose their freshness and character when much time elapses between their harvesting and use.

Caring for the garden is a bugbear of many farmers. If properly laid out and managed, the labor required will not be much more than for corn.

The garden should be near the house. It may be that much of the labor of planting and care will fall upon the housewife and children; although this ought not be unless they desire it.

The garden pays well enough to be given proper attend from the men of the house. However, the women will probably prefer to harvest the crop, and perhaps plan the apportionment of the garden space.

23 Responses

  1. There is nothing that can compare to taste of food grown in one’s own garden. It makes the stuff at grocery store seem tasteless.
    Diana xo

  2. What an interesting article, apportioning the work of the garden to women, children and men.

  3. I’m guessing the womenfolk DID plant and tend a garden! They did in my family!

  4. I’m so glad I don’t have to rely on the output of my vegetable garden for fresh produce. Thank goodness for Farmers’ Markets!! I have had one failure after another with mildew, insects, and rabbits. There is a real art to successful vegetable gardening, I guess, and I don’t have it!

    • It’s good to hear that I’m not the only person who often has gardening failures. Our yard has very poor soil that just doesn’t seem to lend itself to successful vegetable gardening. I periodically try to improve the soil by adding compost, etc., but I guess that I’m just not persistent enough.

  5. You can still buy newly manufactured versions of those old manual tools. I was surprised. http://www.earthway.com/category/garden-products.ashx
    They are used a lot in third world countries. I remember the cultivator my mom used. She had a huge garden to fee us 9 kids.

  6. My mother’s family were farmers in Oklahoma and they had a vegetable garden in back of the house that they worked exactly as Helena describes. The crops were corn and potatoes of course, but also beans, squash, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, and even some grapes. They canned the extra every year and put that in the cellar. I always marveled at how cool the cellar was, even in the hottest part of summer!

    I’ve always heard that crop rotation was necessary to keep from depleting the soil, but the family had that same garden in the same spot for at least 70 years. The preparation didn’t seem to be much except for spreading manure on it each year, and it always produced it’s bounty.

    • My family also used manure on the garden when I was a child. The old book I that I have contains detailed explanations of which types of manure are best to use in a garden; how to incorporate it, etc. As someone who grew up on a farm, I found the explanations really interesting–but somehow it didn’t appropriate to include in this post. :)

  7. Interesting gender distinctions

    • Some things have changed for the better over the past 100 years. :)

    • Relative to gender distinctions, I am old enough to remember visits to my maternal grandparents farm in the 1940’s when they had no running water or electricity. Light was by kerosene lamps and the privy was out back and up the hill. The house was unheated at night and warmth in bed was by multiple home-made quilts. The men, my grandfather and uncle, worked the crops and livestock, which included horses, cattle and pigs. The women, my two aunts, ran the house and garden. They pumped the water from the well, hoed the vegetable garden, picked and canned the vegetables, harvested (?) chicken eggs, churned butter, picked fruit from pear and apple trees, cleaned the house, carried in wood for the stoves (one in the living room, one in the kitchen), killed and plucked the chickens, and every Monday (or Tuesday, I can’t remember), sewed clothes, did the laundry which involved boiling in a huge kettle over a wood fire, wringing by hand and hanging out on clotheslines.

      My impression: everybody was proud of their work, and happy. What a different world that was.

    • Indeed, many things have changed for the better, even since I was involved in the 70s in establishing a Women’s Studies Minor at Southern Connecticut Slate University. I could provide a long list of changes. It gives me hope for the future in lots of ways, even though progress is not perfect.

  8. I always thought the garden was the place for the women and children.

    • It’s interesting how the book encouraged men to have some involvement in the garden (which probably was forward thinking for that era)–though the text clearly suggested the the garden was mainly a place for women and children.

  9. The urge to plant this time of year is universal – must be some genetic thing.

  10. “there is the satisfaction of having vegetables fresh, and of much better quality than can be bought in town or from a neighbor, unless it be a very near neighbor.”

    I wonder of the writer would be shocked if he knew from how far away most of us get our vegetables now, a hundred years into the future!

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