Field and Farm

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"Milking Time," 1925. Courtesy of the Hobson Community Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, many families lived in rural communities and farmed for their livelihood. Living off of the land required a tremendous amount of labor, especially in the raw frontier environments of the American West. Families needed every member to contribute. The demands of farm work competed with children’s availability for school and even leisure activities. By 1900, the average child was spending more time working in the fields than attending school.

Decades later, work was still a major part of life for farmers' children, for advancements in agricultural technology did not release children from their day-to-day chores. Like their parents and grandparents, children in the 1920s and 1930s were expected to help work the fields, tend to the animals, clear land, plant crops, weed, and harvest.

Children were also expected to perform domestic labor such as washing clothes, fetching water, and cooking meals. Often, there lacked a traditional division between boys’ and girls’ roles, with boys performing some domestic duties and, even more frequently, girls doing the traditional field and farm work of men.