Friday, August 11, 2017

Sheila Jones Reflects on the North Carolina Farm Woman's Life in the 1950s, '60s, '70s

By Sheila C. Jones

In 1950 women in the neighborhood met at the home of Elizabeth Davenport to form a Home Demonstration club with county agent Rita Preston. The agent would come to the meetings and demonstrate or talk about whatever was on the agenda each month. Wives and mothers were eager and came to learn.

For years the women knew they could call the agent for answers to many homemaking questions.  If she didn’t know the answer she would go to work to try to find answers.

Many wives got up in the mornings before or when their husbands did:  3, 4, or 5 a.m.  They cooked breakfast and helped where needed on the farm:  Working in the field, working at the barn, feeding chickens, picking up eggs, feeding the cows, milking the cows, making butter;  feeding the hogs, helping on hog killing days (cooking chitlins, making crackling biscuits, measuring the lard, cooking souse).  Their work was endless:  they chopped the garden, did the canning, freezing and pickling, cut hedges in the yard, took food to neighborhood funerals, washed clothes in a ringer washing machine and rinsed them in a tin wash tub (all by hand), hung the clothes out (with wooden clothes pins) on a clothes line that went from one pole to another or one tree to another.  In the middle of the clothesline there would be a long thin pole made from a small tree or limb from the woods (leaves stripped off). 

With this pole they would push the line up high so nothing would touch the clothes and they would be up where the wind could blow them dry.  They darned socks, polished furniture, cleaned windows, scrubbed floors, made clothes for their families, quilted quilts to keep them all warm, made homemade ice cream in ice tray’s in the refrigerator-freezer, cooked birthday cakes from “scratch”, made homemade cookies from “scratch”, cooked candy on the stove top, fixed beds, cleaned out cabinets and refrigerators. Some crochet, knitted, did smocking, painted furniture, upholstered furniture, painted rooms in the house, starched and ironed almost EVERYTHING.  Televisions and telephones and indoor plumbing was not yet in all county homes.  Even electricity was a wonderful new thing in the country in the 40’s and 50’s.

Many nights mothers were up long hours rocking a baby that couldn’t sleep or with a sick child or sewing or ironing or finishing something for the family or lending an ear over the phone or by the side of a friend or family member to console them for whatever sorrow they may have been burdened with.

They did not seem to be afraid to do or try whatever had to be done and STILL cooked three meals a day from scratch. They could kill a chicken, pluck the feathers, singe the hair off, cut it, wash it and fix all the fixings to go with it. Then they washed and dried the dishes all by hand.

 While things like all this was going on mother’s still found time for their children:  They went to their children’s school functions, helped them with homework, special projects, went to recitals and school plays, PTA meetings, cooked candies and cakes for grade-mother duties, told bedtime stories and while  swinging with them sing songs to the children or with the children.  They made sure elbows, knees and behind ears were clean, teeth and hair brushed.  On Sunday, day of rest, they made sure the children and clothes were clean, shoes polished and parents went with their children (maybe took neighbors with them) to worship at the neighborhood church.  We were taught to pray before meals and to kneel by our beds to pray before sleep at night, sometimes by example as well as being told.

The county agents that I remember in the 1960s were Virginia Credle and Carolyn Alligood.  They were extremely helpful for the Beaufort county women.

Before the 1960s were over, housewives began taking jobs outside the home and it became difficult to go to meetings (can you imagine why?!)  Clubs began to fold.  Only a few held on.

In 1976 Ernestine Woolard began a new club, the 76er’s. Some had looked forward to joining when they retired and some looked forward to returning when they retired and did so. These women, now in the ‘80s and ‘90s, are to be commended for all they have done. They went through the depression and WW2 and took care to make their family life special for their husband and children, their church, friends, neighbors. They worked many hours, day and night.  Women that wanted to learn and wasn’t afraid to work or try whatever needed to be done, they made part of this past 100 years a wonderful and innocent era for their children to grow up in. 

This is 2013, one hundred years after a much needed help system first began. This was a time like no other.  A system that helped many that wanted to learn what to do to give their family the best they could, in their time. 
Beaufort  County now has been blessed with a much needed, wonderfully sweet Liaison (County Agent): Louise Hinsley.

Home Demonstration is now ECA (EXTENTION and COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION).  May the tradition of helping continue!

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