Making the Farm Pay

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

Monday, September 29, 1913:  

9/29 – 30: These days have come and gone. They ground me working on my job.

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

Grandma must have been too tired to write anything a hundred years ago today (and tomorrow).  She was spending long days out in the field harvesting corn—but past entries have indicated that she was pleased to be making some money:

I’m on duty now out in the corn field. The beginning took place this afternoon. Somehow or other I imaged I would accomplish more than what I did. This is an opportunity to earn some money of which I always seem in need.

September 25, 1913

I assume that Grandma was working for her father—and that he was paying her.  She was happy about the money; but was her father happy or worried about the profitability of the farm?

Did he worry about rainy weather that might prevent completion of the harvest before the snow flew? . . . or low market prices that would prevent him from recouping the cost of growing the crop?

Maybe he read a 1913 book called Making the Farm Pay by C.C. Bowsfield.  Here’s an abridged version of what the first page said:

The average land owner has a great deal of practical knowledge, and yet is deficient in some of the most salient requirements. He may know how to produce a good crop and not know how to sell it to the best advantage.

Worse than this, he may follow a method which turns agricultural work into drudgery, and his sons and daughters forsake the farm home as soon as they are old enough to assert a little independence.  The farmers are deprived on the earnest, intelligent help which naturally belongs to them, rural society loses one of its best elements, the cities are overcrowded and all parties at interest are losers.

You may also enjoy reading (or rereading) a previous post that I did on the Country Life Commission. A hundred years ago the federal government sought to make farming more profitable, and to make farm life more appealing for young people, by appointing the Country Life Commission.


Rural Leadership

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

Sunday, February 11, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon. A lawyer from Sunbury was there. He was an excellent speaker. Ruth had some unusual news to impart after she arrived. Carrie was over a little while this afternoon. Gave her one of my pictures. Also gave my Sunday School teacher one.

Recent photo of McEwensville

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

Sunbury is the county seat of Northumberland County. It is about 20 miles from McEwensville.

The lawyer may have spoken about the leadership.

As I mentioned last week, in 1912 the Country Life Movement was actively working to revitalize rural communities since many youth were leaving for jobs in the cities.

We’ll never know what the lawyer said, but I can tell you what was written in a magazine published in 1912 about the leadership skills needed to revitalize rural communities.

A well-organized personality reflects its efficiency in the organization in which it dominates, and vice versa.

Such are the qualifications of leadership and the organizing capacity which may be described as the ability to build and operate human machinery. It has its roots in tact and skill in dealing with men, in tenacity and in a certain instinct for construction.

One who possesses it sees a new person as social material and is likely to know what can be made of him better than he knows himself.

This type of ability was never in any such demand as it now is, particularly in the rapid rise of the Country Life Movement.

Rural Manhood  (January 1912) (A Magazine Published by the YMCA)


Carrie Stout was a friend of Grandma’s. Grandma had her photo taken by a professional photographer in January.

Role of Churches in Rural Revitalization

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

Sunday, March 12, 1911:  Tweet slept with me last night. I was rather restless. Don’t know whether she was the cause or not. This afternoon I went to Sunday school and church, staid for catechize. Besse and Curt were out this afternoon. I guess they just happened to come because we had some ice cream left from dinner.  

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

Grandma faithfully attends Sunday school in the diary. I’m still trying to figure out why the Baptist Church in McEwensville which Grandma apparently attended closed and vanished from the scene a few years later (See February 5 entry).

The Baptist church building was demolished years ago, but it was located somewhere in this section of Main Street.

There were many different denominations and ethnically-based churches scattered across rural America a hundred years ago. And memories were still strong of the ancestors who had migrated to the United States for religious reasons.  Those who traced their ancestry to Germany often attended a Lutheran or Baptist church. The Scot-Irish generally were Presbyterian and so on.

There were a number of church closures early in the 20th century and the McEwensville Baptist probably was caught up in those closures. As the older generation  passed on–and the differences across the various protestant denominations seemed less clear to younger people–many tiny, struggling rural churches closed.

Also, in 1911 national leaders in the United States believed that there was a “rural problem” because so many rural youth were migrating into the cities. The Country Life Commission published a plan for revitalizing the countryside a hundred years ago. The Commission believed that little rural churches with few social activities and members who bickered with members of neighboring churches were part of the problem with rural life—but that churches had a role in revitalizing rural America. (I’ve heard elderly people say that in the old days you knew people didn’t get along if there were more churches in a town than bars.)

The present system of little struggling churches involves great financial and moral waste, divides rural people instead of uniting them. . . Still, federation and cooperation embody the dominant spirit of the age we are now entering . . .

If the church is to play any important part in rural reorganization, it must evolve a program for social betterment and make its ministrations such as will enable it to render effective social service. Only a giving church is a growing church. There are many real needs of rural people which today call for ministration, and the church should set itself the task of finding these and trying to serve them.

Rural Life and Education: A Study of the Rural-School Problem as a Phase of the Rural-Life Problem (1914) by Ellwood Cubberley

That said, in 1911 the McEwensville Baptist Church seems to be meeting Grandma’s needs. She mentions attending church or Sunday school every week in her diary.

The Country Life Commission

 January 9, 1911: Missing entry (Diary resumes on January 12)

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

In 1911 the nation was focused on rural deterioration, and the perceived breakdown of rural institutions. Rural youth were flooding into the nation’s cities, and they were often unprepared for urban life.

Recent view of barn on farm where Grandma grew up.

President Theodore Roosevelt had appointed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to figure out ways to improve rural life. The idea was that rural youth would stay on the farm if the young men learned how to use scientific agricultural principals, and the young women learned how to make rural homes comfortable and attractive.

The Country Life Commission Report (as well as several other related reports) were published in 1911.

The repair of country life will come in those forms which give value to the things in the open country. The community must move and breathe in joy and enthusiasm of the country. The celebrations must be of country matters, not those of the city.

W. H. Wilson (1911)

George Wesner in his 1976 History of McEwensville described two-day long Farmers’ Institutes that were regularly held at the McEwensville Community Hall in the early part of the twentieth century. He wrote that “usually some outstanding farmers or professors from Penn State were speakers.”

In the years following the release of the Country Life Report home economists demonstrated the latest cooking and food preservation techniques at meetings attended by rural women and girls, They also taught the principles of interior design.

The Country Life Movement encouraged the support of local fairs. The fairs provided opportunities for people to socialize. Produce and livestock competitions provided opportunities for farmers to demonstrate to others the benefits of using scientific agricultural methods.

The Country Life Movement also encouraged the revitalization of rural churches.

 The church must provide directly some modern equivalent for the husking, apple bee, quilting and singing schools of the old days.

W. H. Wilson (1911)

The Country Life Movement also believed that a rural fraternal organization called the Grange had great potential to improve rural living.

At its best the Grange has a unifying power in the country community  . . . Especially in the community in which religious people cannot come to agreement in religious matters, the Grange infuses a spirit of unions among them through the discussion of every day interests and the social pleasures which it furnishes.

W.H. Wilson (1911)

The Country Life Commission asserted that education was needed to prepare students for life in their community and that it was important to provide an education that would be meaningful in a rural context. The Commission encouraged development of vocational agriculture programs, including school farms, that could provide the context for learning.

Today some people believe that there is a need for a new Country Life Movement to once again revitalize rural America. However, others argue that the Country Life Movement was an attempt by elite outsiders to control rural areas—and that the Country Life Commission created a consumer culture in rural locales when rural residents were encouraged to decorate their homes with the latest styles and use processed foods in recipes.

Grandma lived her entire life in within a 5 mile radius of McEwensville. Did the Country Life Movement help encourage her—and Raymond Swartz, her classmate and future spouse—to stay in rural central Pennsylvania? Who knows?—Though it can be said with near certainty that the implementation of policies recommended by the Country Life Commission affected Grandma’s life.