Progress, nostalgia and the Hoosier farm wife

Over the course of the 20th century, innovations in technology revolutionized the lives of rural dwellers throughout the United States. Many authors documented these changes and the effects they had on rural society. Among them were Hoosier authors Gene Stratton-Porter and Rachel Peden, who wrote about their own everyday lives and experiences. Writing in Adams County, Stratton-Porter documented the natural world in novels and non-fiction alike. Her work showed the effects of the demand for increased farm acreage as woods were felled and swamps drained to create new farmland. Peden, a Monroe County resident, wrote a long-running column for the Indianapolis Star as well as several books. Writing from the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, she captured the end of one era in rural life and the beginning of another.

Advance Rumely combine-harvester, ca. 1920; Advance Rumely trade catalog, Indiana Pamphlets Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

One of the greatest technological innovations of the twentieth century for farmers was the mechanization of farm equipment, which made field work faster and easier. With the increased productivity of the new farm equipment, farmers could work larger acreages, enabling them to realize larger harvests and thus larger incomes. They often reinvested their money in their farms, purchasing more and bigger farm equipment, adding electricity to their homes and barns and increasing the types of equipment and appliances they owned.[1] The new technology also changed the farm equipment industry, as improvements to the equipment kept the farmers coming back to buy the latest machines.

Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter

Despite the practicality of the farm machinery, some farm wives resented having to roll their extra income into the purchase of tractors and corn pickers while they had to do without modern appliances in their homes. Early machinery purchases accentuated the traditional gender roles, as the male head of the household often controlled the family expenditures. Stratton-Porter addressed this inequality in “Michael O’Halloran,” in which Michael explains to a farmer that:

“if there was money for a hay rake, and a manure spreader, and a wheel plow, and a disk, and a reaper, and a mower, and a corn planter, and a corn cutter, and a cider press, and a windmill, and a silo, and an automobile—you know Peter, there should have been enough for that window, and the pump inside, and a kitchen sink, and a bread-mixer, and a dish-washer; and if there wasn’t any other single thing, there ought to be some way you sell the wood, and use the money for the kind of summer stove that’s only hot under what you are cooking, and turns off the flame the minute you finish.[2]”

Although somewhat exaggerated for dramatic effect, Stratton-Porter’s statement illustrates the resentment women felt when their desires appeared to be of secondary importance within the family. Even women who understood the need for machinery thought that the emphasis farm experts placed on the need for the latest machinery was ridiculous. What farm women really wanted were electric appliances to make their housework more convenient and allow them a better standard of living. Through rural electrification projects, over 90 percent of farms in the United States had electricity by 1960, up from 10 percent in 1935.[3] Like farm women across the country, most Hoosier women got electricity during this time. For these women, finally getting what they had wanted and waited for so long was an “unbelievable dream.”[4]

Rachel Peden’s “The Hoosier Farm Wife Says” column documented rural life and entertained readers of the Indianapolis Star for nearly 30 years.

For farm wives, their new household tools brought one major advantage: less time spent on housework and more time spent on leisure. Prior to electrification, women spent much of their day preparing meals on a wood-fueled stove, doing laundry with a washboard or hand-cranked wringer washer and mending clothes by hand or with a treadle sewing machine. Their housework was labor-intensive and very hands-on. By purchasing appliances to aid them in their work, rural women bought more free time for themselves.  They could also multitask more effectively. For example, automatic washing machines allowed women to put their laundry in the machine and then go do other tasks while the clothes were washed.[5]

At first, modern conveniences were wonderful luxuries. As time progressed, however, women came to view their appliances as necessities.[6] They described their appliances as something they could not live without. Although some women felt that their appliances were making them lazy and causing them to complain about minor inconveniences, they also overlooked the fact that this process of the normalization of luxury occurred throughout the past. The wringer washer and wood stoves that twentieth century farm women abandoned were once considered great luxuries by their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, accustomed as they were to washboards and open hearths.[7]

As farming became more mechanized, specialized, and commercialized, the higher expenses required to keep up with the technology caused many farmers to give up farming and seek other employment.[8] For those who stayed, the technological changes led to less cooperation among members of rural communities as combines and store-bought food replaced shared tasks such as harvesting or butchering. As rural communities and rural work changed, rural dwellers reported a loss of the sense of community that they had shared in the past.[9]

Hoosier communities were not immune to this trend. Before mechanization, the men of the community would get together and harvest each farmer’s crops, each man bringing his own wagons, horses and hand tools, while the women gathered to prepare meals for the workers.[10] Despite having more social opportunities in the latter part of the twentieth century due to improved cars and roads and more leisure time to join clubs and other social groups, farm women still regretted the loss of the annual harvest time. Harvest lingered in women’s minds as something good that they had lost because working together built community in a way that a social club never could. When the members of a rural community engaged in a difficult, yet essential, task that no one family could accomplish by itself, the members of the community learned to rely on one another in a way developed only through hard work toward a common goal. This spirit of interdependence created community between often-isolated rural dwellers and created a web of social support and goodwill as farm families knew they could turn to their neighbors in times of trouble or hardship.

By the end of the twentieth century, many rural dwellers expressed fond feelings toward the “good old days,” particularly in reference to what they saw as a simpler rural life before machines, off-farm jobs and commercial farmers. Much of this nostalgia stemmed from their memories of the past and things they missed from their old lifestyles. Although no one missed the harder work of the past, many farm women saw the complications and losses of the modern world and wanted to return to the simpler times of their youth.[11]

This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, genealogy librarian. For more information, contact the Genealogy Division at (317) 232-3689 or send us a question through Ask-a-Librarian.

[1] Rachel Peden, “Tractor Makes Possible Luxury of Riding Horse,” Indianapolis Star, January 15, 1964, page 12.
[2] Gene Stratton-Porter, Michael O’Halloran (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1915), 356.
[3] David B. Danbom, Born in the Country: A History of Rural America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 222.  United States Department of Agriculture, “Rural Electrification,” United States Yearbook of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1940.
[4] Rachel Peden, “Summer Lightning Jumps out of the Cold Storage,” Indianapolis Star, February 12, 1965, page 14.
[5] Rachel Peden, “Now Home Making Has Become a Luxury Work,” Indianapolis Star, May 13, 1953, page 14.
[6] Katherine Jellison, Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).  The entire book documents the shift in perspective from luxury to necessity.
[7] Rachel Peden, “Man’s History Written in Tools of Yesteryear,” Indianapolis Star, January 6, 1964, page 14.
[8] Rachel Peden, “Progress Arrives as Farmers Depart,” Indianapolis Star, February 22, 1961, page 14.
[9] Mary Neth, Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 181.
[10] Rachel Peden, “Silo Filling Day is Red Letter Occasion,” Indianapolis Star, September 30, 1947, page 14.
[11] Rachel Peden, “Too Much Efficiency is Mighty Depressing,” Indianapolis Star, August 18, 1958, page 12.

Hoosier Women at Work Conference recap

April 1, 2017 marked another successful Hoosier Women’s History Conference at the Indiana State Library. This year’s theme was “Hoosier Women in Science, Technology and Medicine.” The attendees heard talks about Indiana native Melba Phillips, who pioneered physics theories, studied under the famous J. Robert Oppenheimer and advocated for women’s place in science research. We listened to talks about Gene Stratton Porter, author and naturalist, and learned how Hoosier women continued to be at the forefront in one of the first public ecology movements, removing phosphates from laundry detergent.

Jill Weiss of the Indiana Historical Bureau speaks about Melba Phillips

In a fascinating lunch time presentation about the ways women’s bodies are ignored by science and industry in making products designed solely for women’s use, Dr. Sharra Vostral presented “Toxic Shock Syndrome, Tampon Technology, and Absorbency Standards.”

Keynote speaker, Sharra Vostral

There were sessions on women pioneers Dr. Edna Gertrude Henry, founding director of the Indiana University (IU) School of Social Work, and Dr. Emma Culbertson, surgeon and physician. The presentations covered how they overcame gender discrimination to practice and teach in the field of medicine. Speakers also told us about the many women who broke barriers at IU that had long blocked them from pursuing careers in medicine and public health. Dr. Vivian Deno, Purdue University, talked about Dr. Kenosha Sessions, the long-serving head of the Indiana Girl’s School and her mission to use scientific methods to retrain young women and Dr. Elizabeth Nelson, from the Indiana Medical History Museum, discussed how using technology in making a patient newspaper provided a forum for self-expression and promoted patient literacy and self-confidence.

Elizabeth Nelson of the Indiana Medical History Museum

Jessica Jenkins, from Minnetrista in Muncie, Ind., gave an interesting talk on the Ball family women and their fight for improvements in improving sanitation, hygiene and medical access, while Rachel Fulk told about the discrimination that African-American women faced in 1940s Indianapolis in obtaining medical information about birth control. Nancy Brown reminded us of Jeanne White’s fight to educate others about AIDS so her son Ryan could attend school while a group of women in Kokomo were also searching for scientific information about the disease to keep their own children safe. There were talks about the 19th and 20th century and “Scientific Motherhood,” using scientific and medical advice to raise children healthfully.

Kelsey Emmons of the Indiana State University Glenn Black Laboratory

Sessions also highlighted the fight of many to enter the fields of scientific study at Purdue University and the many unrecognized women in in the field of archaeology. Dr. Alan Kaiser, University of Evansville, gave an engrossing talk on how a noted archaeologist “stole” the work of Mary Ross Ellingson and published it as his own.

Alan Kaiser, University of Evansville

To cap the day off The Indiana Women’s History Association President Jill Chambers, presented IUPUI student Annette Scherber with a $500 prize for the best student paper presented at the conference, “Clean Clothes Vs Clean Water, Hoosier Women and the Rise of Ecological Consumption.”

Women’s History Association President Jill Chambers presents Annette Scherber with a $500 prize for the best student paper

Look for the third annual Hoosier Women at Work, Women’s History Conference next spring. The topic will be Hoosier Women in the Arts!

This blog post is by Reference and Government Services Division. For more information, contact us at (317) 232-3678 or send us a question through Ask-a-Librarian.

Do you want books from all of the libraries? A PLAC card might be for you

Have you ever wished you could pop into a local library to check out a book to read while lounging on the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park, even though your Indiana home library is hundreds of miles away? Perhaps you live in southern Indiana and you have to go all the way up to Allen County for a business trip. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to check out a DVD from the library near your hotel? If these situations strike a chord with you, a Public Library Access Card (PLAC) is the perfect solution.

PLAC is the statewide library card program enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in 1993 (Indiana Code 4-23-7.1-5.1). The PLAC program allows individuals to purchase a card which allows them to borrow materials directly from any public library in Indiana.

Any individual who holds a valid Indiana public library card may purchase a PLAC card which is valid for 12 months from the date of issue. The cost of the card is reviewed and adjusted annually by the Indiana Library & Historical Board (ILHB). The fee for 2017 is $65.00. The Indiana State Library collects the revenue from the sale of these cards distributes it back to libraries on the basis of net loans.

What a deal!

Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the PLAC card program:

Q: Are public libraries required to participate in the statewide PLAC program?
A: Yes. According to Indiana Code 36-12-3-2 and Indiana Code 36-12-7-2, all public libraries “shall comply with and participate in the statewide library card program.”

Q: What types of materials are eligible for loan in the PLAC program?
A: Books and select non-book materials. Each public library will annually determine what types of materials will be loaned to PLAC cardholders, but at least books that normally circulate must be available for loan.

Q: Does the PLAC include access to eBooks, databases and other online resources?
A: No. eBooks, databases and other online resources are licensed locally for the home users of that library and are not available to PLAC holders.

Q: If I later decide that I don’t need my PLAC, can I get a refund?
A: No. PLAC fees are not refundable.

Q: Who is eligible for a PLAC?
A: Anyone who holds a valid library card issued by a public library in the state may purchase a PLAC. In order to receive a PLAC card individuals must have a valid “resident” or a non-resident library card.

Q: How is the PLAC used?
A: Individuals need to present the PLAC on their initial visit to the library and go through the registration process for that particular library.

Q: When does my PLAC expire?
A: The PLAC expires one year from the date of application for the card. At that time, the PLAC cardholder would need to reapply and pay for a new PLAC card.

Q: Must materials borrowed on a PLAC be returned to the lending library?
A: Yes. PLAC cardholders should be informed that they are expected to return materials borrowed using a PLAC to the lending library.

Q: May anyone in my family use the PLAC?
A: No. According to IC 4-23-7.1-5.1 the PLAC is always issued to an individual.

For even more questions and answers about the PLAC program click here. If you have other questions, please contact StatewideServices@library.in.gov.

This blog post was written by John Wekluk, communications director, Indiana State Library. For more information, email the communications director at communications@library.in.gov.

What’s in a name? Government Publishing Office officially recognizes Hoosiers as Hoosiers

In this state we take our names seriously! We are Hoosiers; not Indianians; not even Indianans. We are Hoosiers and, finally, the Government Publishing Office (GPO) agrees with us! The newest edition of the GPO Style Manual will no longer refer to citizens of Indiana by the name Indianians, but now as Hoosiers. The Style Manual (similar to style manuals you find in English class for help with citations) is a standardization template designed to create uniformity of a word or phrase. One such example is the designation of native residents of states. GPO, by act of Congress, has published a style manual since 1894, and states that its rules are based on principles of good usage and custom in the printing trade.

They explain,”Writing is hard enough without having to make gut-wrenching decisions about punctuation and spelling every few seconds and the Style Manual is designed to make all government writing consistent. The manual is the authority on questions of language and spelling that are not black and white, but grey. Unfortunately, GPO long ago decided in designating the names of a Hoosier that they should be referred to as an Indianian.”

To the rescue

Senator Joe Donnelly and former Senator Dan Coats entreated GPO to make the change. They argued Indiana residents have proudly called themselves Hoosiers for more than 180 years and writing in a letter last year stated, “we find it a little jarring to be referred to (Indianian) in this way.”

Their timing was perfect, as GPO was working on the 31st edition of the Style Manual. The federal government relented and on page 95 of the updated U.S. Government Publishing Office’s Style Manual we Hoosiers are finally, officially Hoosiers.

This blog post is by Reference and Government Services Division. For more information, contact us at (317) 232-3678 or send us a question through Ask-a-Librarian.

Indiana cookbooks and gastronomical morsels

Over the years, the Indiana State Library’s Indiana Collection has come to include many unique cookbooks, usually with some sort of Hoosier connection. While browsing the closed stacks, the titles of three cookbooks caught my interest. It is useful to mention that the word “receipts” is old terminology for what we now call recipes. So if you are ever searching library catalogs, digitized newspapers or online materials for old recipes, you might want to try “receipts” as a keyword instead.

Published in 1876, “The Household Friend; A Practical Domestic Guide for Home Comfort” by Mrs. S. C. Jennings, includes cooking receipts, medical remedies and housekeeping hints. Mrs. Jennings of Lafayette, Ind. wrote that the receipts (recipes) included had been thoroughly tested by both herself and her friends. The pie crust and custard pie recipes were from Mrs. Jennings’ personal collection.

Sadly, the publisher included an obituary notice stating that the author died shortly after completing the book. Mrs. Jennings’ memorial and a photo of her tombstone appears on Find-A-Grave.

The next cookbook even uses the term “receipts” in its title. “Brides’ Favorite Receipts: Indianapolis” was published around 1909 by the Glisco Company and a complimentary copy was presented to each new bride in Marion County by Leonard Quill the County Clerk. The introduction explains that the merchants of Indianapolis took out paid advertisements in the book, with some even including coupons in the back. The state library’s copy came as a donation, and consequently, some of the coupons were used. After the recipes, other household cleaning hints are included, such as how to make ostrich plumes fluffy.

The title alone of the last book was intriguing. “The Stag Cook Book, Written for Men by Men” was compiled by Carroll Mac Sheridan in 1922. It includes favorite recipes from notable American men including Indiana author, politician and diplomat Meredith Nicholson. I wanted to find out a bit more about the book and consequently discovered The New York Herald’s Books and Magazine section on Nov. 5, 1922 carried a review of “The Stag Cook Book” entitled “Justifiable Homicide.” While the title of the review refers more to the introductory pages than to the recipes, the reader is left to question if the book is meant for humor or for serious cookery. The entire book was digitized from the New York Public Library’s copy and can be viewed on Google Books. I’ll let you decide if it’s a real cookbook or not.

While these cookbooks are much different than the slick photo-laden volumes that celebrity chefs publish today, the three are certainly noteworthy for their historical context. Anyone can virtually search and browse the Indiana Collection through the state library’s online catalog.

This blog post was written by Indiana Division Librarian Andrea Glenn. For more information, contact the Indiana Division at (317) 232-3670 or “Ask-A-Librarian” at http://www.in.gov/library/ask.htm.