|The Julian Dobson Family in June, 1922: Shirley, Ina, Vance, Julian (Jack), Earle, Ethel, Pearl, Myrtle. The family is having a spot of fun with inept Aunt Bertha behind the camera. Except for Julian, that is.|
In 1932, my Grandma Ina began to write to my dad about the impact of the Depression and diminishing markets on farm life. Here and there she mentions the age issues affecting Julian's ability to continue the strenuous work of farming with horses. Questions, such as "How much longer can we hold old on?" and "What would we do if we had to leave the homeplace?" hang unspoken in every letter. Eventually those letters would come to rest in my correspondence file. However, I don't have any record of Grandma Ina's thoughts a decade earlier when readers of "The Farmer's Wife" were discussing whether or not their daughters should marry farmers.
Here's what I do know about Ina's life in 1922: Her dream house, built just five years earlier in 1917, had no wiring, no running water, no plumbing, no central heat – in short, no modern conveniences nor any hope of gaining those. They carried water from a spring, split wood for the cook stove and fireplace, lit kerosene lamps at dusk, and bathed once a week in a wash tub set in the kitchen. Jack and Ina never had an automobile and Jack farmed with horses until he died, the horses dying shortly after he did.
|Now with Jack "out of the picture," some are contrite.|
Of course, it wasn't that way for all farmers, but according to my research, it was true for the vast majority. In 1930, 90% of U.S. urban homes were electrified but only 10% of rural homes. This lack of electrical power prevented modernization of the farm without which conditions were none too healthy. So most farms were behind the times in modern improvements – plumbing, running water, refrigeration, and central heat. According to the statistics I read, 90% of farmers were still without electrical power in 1935. Privately-owned electric companies were little interested in rural electrification because of the expense and inability of farmers to pay. Some farmers formed co-ops in an effort to bring in electricity but without funding they couldn't meet the expense. Passage of the Rural Electrification Act (REA) in 1936 is said to be the most significant legislation to come out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Through the REA, co-ops were granted low-cost loans to bring electricity to the farm. By 1950, 90% of American farms had electricity. Ina's was one of the 10% that did not. The last utility pole was at the neighbor's a quarter mile distant. In 2000, Clearwater Power Company, a rural co-op, placed the three poles that carry electricity to Ina's house.
I'm sure that the farmer's wife didn't need conveniences to love her life and see its benefits, but when writers in 1922 make sweeping statements that farms everywhere are now modernized, it's just not true of the country in general.
Even with rural electrification, we were unable to save farming in our country and stem the tide of movement to the cities, but as we became an urbanized society, I'm not sure the government was interested in the small farm anyway. I always remember my mother's words: "I hate to see the small farm disappear," she said sadly. "It was a good way of life and a good place to raise a family." Then she added, "Our government spent years convincing people to move to the farm and then couldn't move them back to the city fast enough." KW