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Dakota Datebook

Pioneer Wife, Part 1

In 1907, The Dakota Farmer magazine asked for letters explaining how women managed farm homes without hired girls. The first prize went to Helen Smith of Wimbledon, North Dakota, and was published in the magazine that December. Today we begin a three-part series quoting from Helen Smith’s submission, read by Meghan Vettleson.

“To begin with, we live on a farm of about 500 acres and keep from 1 to 5 hired men. I also have 6 children under 10 years old. … Our work seems to divide itself into two areas, summer work and winter work. In summer, we begin the day at five o’clock and have breakfast at six. I don’t call the children down for the early breakfast with the men. Perhaps it is a bad habit. Only the other day I heard a mother brag that her children always went to bed early and were up for breakfast.

“Well, so do mine go to bed early. Eight o’clock sees them all tucked in, but … it only makes them cross and irritable the whole day through to drag them out of bed...

“Mary … 10 years old, dresses the little folks upstairs while I give baby his bath, warm his milk, and put him into his buggy, where he spends a good deal of his time.

“Then comes a general scramble from above, and after an all-round wash, the little folks sit down to their oatmeal, bread, butter and milk. When breakfast is over, my two little boys, aged six and eight, run out and bring in a supply of wood and coal. My well pump is in the kitchen sink so we don’t have to carry water.
“While this is being done, Mary combs her hair and puts on a clean apron; then I wash, brush, and tidy up the little boys, and off to school they all three go...

“Next to do is to comb and make neat the last two little ones and send them out to play, with the caution that Ruth, aged five, is to mind Ray, aged three, and see that he doesn’t get hurt. Then to my work. I wash the dishes, put the meat over for dinner, sweep and tidy up the rooms downstairs, which takes ‘til about 10 o’clock; then to the dinner."

Stay tuned tomorrow for the second installment of a day in the life of Helen Smith in 1907.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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