Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Our board members represented, and naturally for that reason understood, the New England and Eastern states, the sandy shores, the Pennsylvania settlements, the sunny South, the mountain regions, the near West, the river states, the Northern plains, the prairie stretches, the Rockies and the Pacific shores. Only a fraction of the answers returned could we utilize to assort and digest; we believe it is beyond the power of any but a commission to recommend, and such commission might well give its entire time to the work. We have, however, as I said in our reports, made further inquiries, have come into closer personal relation, have assisted wherever possible, and have certainly recognized the needs of many outlying, lonely homes. You will allow me to give from the experiences of these letters through our members some few generalizations: Iowa and Nebraska happened to be grouped together. The eastem and Southeastern part of Nebraska are geographically one with Iowa in soil, surface and products, and the two states are allied as to their inhabitants. Except in isolated colonies, the farmers of Iowa and Nebraska came from the Eastern and Central states. The foreign-born settlers come almost exclusively from Ireland, the north European countries and Bohemia. The northwest portion of Nebraska, embracing the "big Sixth" congressional district with the far western part, is grouped geographically with eastern Colorado and Wyoming, and the problems of the farmer there differ materially from those of the farmer in the fertile and populous eastern division of this section.

THE DRAW BACK TO RURAL LIFE.

Everywhere the isolated and primitive character has been the great“t drawback to rural life. To those who have depended always upon °ompanionship and society for their interests and enjoyment, this loneli* is intolerable. Physical conditions are changing this, the telephone, the rural mail delivery, the automobiles and the interurban are bringing the comforts and companionship of the town to the farm. There are ormers' families who planned ten years ago to move to the town as *On as a competence had been accumulated, but who now, with more than the hoped for income, are content to remain on the farm, the active "anagement having been turned over to a tenant or a son, and to enjoy the comforts of the country.

In the older settled portions of these states the farms are being divided. The high price of land is driving the farmer to more intensive cultivation and this will continue to eliminate the more disagreeable features of rural life.

Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were grouped and the interesting items were as varied as they might be in more widely separated regions.

There is no “hard luck” tale to tell of poverty and squalor in this region, although the conditions differ widely from very poor to very good. Everyone is already familiar with the stories of the poor wives who have not been away from the farm for five or ten years. There are too many such in the Northern plains; these pitiful tales are all too true, but they are not the whole truth. To get at that it is necessary to know not only the worst, but the best conditions. The best are especially worthy of mention because they indicate possibilities, and are an example and inspiration to those not already arrived at prosperity.

While there are still to be found one-room sod houses sheltering whole families, there are others with all the modern conveniences of steam heat, good plumbing, electricity for light and power, telephones, and the rural postal delivery bringing each day from the outside world papers, books and magazines. And these are the fruit of industry and frugality; and between these two extremes are many homes of moderate means where conveniences and luxuries are not yet possible, but where there is wholesome, normal living.

The great factor in improving rural conditions is education in scientific farming, and in these states there are excellent educational advantages offered to the young men and women who wish to make this a business. Each state has its agricultural college, which is usually a department of the state university, a school where agriculture and its kindred subjects rank with the technical or professional courses; the tendency is to dignify the business of farming, to make it attractive from both the pleasurable and the practical standpoint. There are traveling libraries equipped not only with books for entertainment, but books in various languages for instruction on subjects of rural interest, and these libraries go to the very remotest corners of the state.

The women who have answered the questions in the rural conditions inquiry are agreed that the farm presents great possibilities for happiness, if they could only have a little more help with the farm work, and more frequent chances for change and recreation. They rarely complain that their work is too hard, but only of its dreary monotony.

Fraternal societies afford the greatest opportunities for social intercourse for our country people. Clubs—as we know them—are infrequent. The varied nationalities represented in new states present no common ground on which people of widely differing habits of mind and modes of speech can meet, and this condition and the lack of help enhance the difficulties of social gatherings.

It is very evident that each section of this great country must present its own problems. In the part of the country included in “The Rockies” we find four types of rural life—the small town. the farm, the ranch, and the mining camp. Answers came from all of these. While the last is not, strictly speaking, a rural community, it must be so considered in any effort to brighten the lives of the women who are removed from the advantages of city life.

THE BUILDERS OF THE WEST.

These people, who are in large measure the builders of the West, have come from the more thickly settled states, to try their fortunes under greatly changed conditions; and one of the great hardships that face them is the fact that their means will not permit their first experiments at farming—either dry farming or irrigated farming—ranching, or mining to be a failure. And in the very nature of things, a failure is too often made the first year. If the family finances permit the partial loss of the first year's work, and if the family adopts the methods proved to be successful, the after years are brighter and not shadowed by poverty. Poverty in the West is a removable cause. Loneliness is a second problem which is being rapidly met in these states by the organization of women's clubs and the foundation of local libraries in the towns, and traveling libraries for those outside. Colorado has done especially good work with her traveling library boxes. For the most part the people are hopeful and happy. They came into this mountain region expecting difficulties and they have no complaints to make that their problems are not all solved. They had the grit to come into a new and unsettled country, and they desire to stay. Every letter from the “farm women” of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming was a happy letter. Such rural problems are hopeful. The North Pacific shores offer a diversity of agricultural and commercial interests, and the farmer here differs somewhat from the Eastern farmer in that he is more of a specialist. He is either a wheat, cattle, fruit or dairy farmer. He specializes on one thing, and does his work with the most improved machinery, or under the latest and most modern methods; he seldom attempts to derive revenue from the hundred and one little things that, in many districts, are made by the farmer's wife and hauled to the corner store to exchange for groceries. In other words, his farming is more of a business than the old idea of making it a semi-domestic arrangement. This relieves the wife of much of the drudgery of the farm and puts her on the same business footing in the home, as the professional man's wife. With rare exceptions, the farmers have rural mail delivery, farmers' telephones, and very often electricity for light and other purposes. The roads, as a rule, are good, and the automobile is fast displacing the farm horse. The schools of higher education are filled with the children from the rural districts, and many farmers move into town in the winter, that their children may have better educational advantages. In the smaller towns many farmers' wives join the women's clubs. While this is commendable, it is not necessary to the life or happiness of the women, for in these states the grange is a great educational factor. It is perhaps the only secret organization in existence where men and women meet on an exact equality. In it some of the best legislation originates, and the probe sinks deep into every proposed measure that

affects the farmer; here the conservation of every resource is discussed, and, knowing that they must enter into these deliberations, the farmers' wives read and keep abreast of the times. The grange meetings are all-day sessions, with a goodly proportion of the day given over to social pleasures; the young people enjoy all sorts of healthful sports, while their elders discuss the prospect of parcel post delivery, the threatened increase of postage on magazines, or the postal savings bank and many other things that bring comfort or enlightenment to the rural home.

The suggestions that came in the letters from New England will be very helpful whenever needed, and have already come into some recent government policies.

The advantages and disadvantages of farm life, in the many letters from the Pennsylvania settlements, would give thought to the most logical mind. They have been culled, however, from a more than usually large number of replies, and due somewhat to the fact that 180 sessions of farmers' institutes were held for women in one year throughout Pennsylvania.

I think I need not enter further into the details of all parts of the country, or even give recommendations, which a special committee might better bring to a future meeting; but there are certainly two policies which are closely allied—conservation and rural life. When public opinion is thoroughly aroused, it is but a question of time for the will to find a way. There must be a voluntary effort, and such volition must be aroused by education.

One of the most vital items to those who are specially interested in the educational progress of a country is the awakened public opinion in the Middle West shown by the development of the agricultural courses in all of our great universities and colleges. Even public schools in some parts of this region are giving practi. cal instruction to old and young. Meetings are being held upon the farms; lectures, experiments and demonstrations are being introduced. The church has quickly realized that there must be a combination of emotion and sanity; the practical and ideal have come into closer relationship; clubs of young men and of women, sometimes of the two together, are taking up all subjects pertaining to the farm life; and wherever these subjects are alive, and the social element is not forgotten, we find distance makes no barrier. At once means of communication are increased. The telephone is in every home; the trolley line goes by the farm—even the automobile becomes a necessity, and good roads are at once established. Distance is therefore annihilated, and the lonely life is a matter of the past. How short a time it is since insanity was a large concomitant of the farm life for women' Recently, at a session of the Charity Conference in Boston, there seemed to be very little reference to the need for prevention of insanity among isolated farm women. I found it to be largely a sorrow of the past; but I do not agree entirely with such statements, when I recall the letters, from the immense prairie farms. Woods Hutchinson, in speaking of the change that had come into the homes of all women—the removal of much of the old-time work from the home to the factory—says that it is a convincing proof of the stability of woman's mental powers that generations of that semi-solitary confinement at hard labor known as “home life” have not made her a candidate for the insane asylum. “Man would have gone raving crazy long ago.”

IDEAL CLUBS.

A community club, as we would call a club, must be composed of men and women, for they must, under ordinary circumstances, go together to their meetings. The Farmers' Institute is more in the line of this particular thought, but the community center or grange covers the ground fully. The institute comes but once or twice a year, while the club might be regularly intermittent. This must mean a central meeting point with the very best and appropriate reading matter pertaining to equipment of both home and farm; the solution of the help question (shall we ever reach this millennium?), certainly demonstrates in cooking and pure food, discussions as to education of children, and the way to obtain better lighting and heating, and good roads should be a part of these meetings. Where shall this center be—the school or the church 2 The women's clubs of the nearby towns have attempted in an entirely friendly spirit to maintain rest rooms for farmers' wives when on shopping bent, with a possible creche for the babies and a caretaker and amusements for young children. This is excellent, but will never take the place of the community center. A change in the attitude of public opinion towards the old question of town and country means some practical outcome to all this discussion. The interdependence of the two is real, each having its influence on the other, the main consideration being human rather than material. The town representative can talk out his grievances, political and economic; the farmer has a full stock of grievances, but rarely gives formal expression to them; and the farmer's wife acknowledges that her social life is barren. The two need to bring their problems to each other; and a community spirit will surely lead to forms of organization for mutual economic and social advantage. There must be in the rural community such social life as shall withstand the attractions of the city, if we wish the farms to remain in the control of their owners, instead of in the hands of renters. What can be done to give the farmer's wife a little leisure in which to enjoy the advantages that might be hers? The answer to this is the answer to the question which confronts every one who is striving to improve social conditions anywhere. It is the great problem of work and the “out of works,” which city and

« AnteriorContinuar »