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"Children Sitting with Chickens," 1925. Courtesy of the Hobson Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

Rural Children: Life Outdoors

To many adults in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, rural and farm communities were the ideal setting for a happy and healthy childhood. Progressives in particular held the view that fresh air, natural settings, and open spaces for play and adventure fostered physical and intellectual development.

Children raised on farms spent most of their time outdoors and enjoyed leisure activities in nature: trapping, hunting, fishing, swimming, and sledding. Progressives were concerned, however, that between field work and chores, farm children had little time for play. Reformers felt that their isolation from other children created an “emptiness of life,” according to a report from the 1930 White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. As Progressives increasingly embraced the idea of organized and supervised play, no one, they felt, was more in need of this than the farm child.