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                          Growing Seasons Traveling Exhibit Brochure Text

                                           © 2007 Carolyn Splear Pratt

Growing Seasons samples the American farm experience during the early years of the 1900s, as parents and children worked together to make a living from the land.

La vida en una granja alrededor del 1900 se definía por el cambio de cada una de las estaciones del año cuando los residentes de áreas rurales todavía representaban más de la mitad de la población de los Estados Unidos y cuando los caballos proveían la energía para trabajar la tierra.

A window to the past opens on a rural life that remained closely defined by the passage of each season.  Family members depended on the power of horses for work and transportation, yet also witnessed the remarkable events taking place in the new century.

The stories evolve through casein paintings and vintage farm items, as well as pen and ink sketches.  A farm family’s life was a partnership of work in the changing seasons, combined with traditions handed down from the past.

At a time when half of the population in the United States was still considered rural, a variety of improvements in everyday living began to reach these families, giving hope for a brighter and more prosperous future.  With regional variations, life on the land was a familiar pattern of existence.  The inventions of better farm equipment, and innovations to existing machinery, were eagerly sought to increase agricultural productivity.

Farming was accomplished with horse-drawn implements and by spending long days in the field, plowing, tilling, planting, cultivating and harvesting.  The typical farmhouse was without electricity, running water, central heating or indoor plumbing.

As in previous rural generations, families were involved with the production of crops for their animals, as well selling any surplus.  Gardens were grown and orchards tended for the family food supply.  The preservation and storage of vegetables and fruits for the winter months were important activities of spring, summer and fall.

At the time, it was believed that at least 400 quarts of home-canned vegetables were necessary for a family of two adults and four children, in preparation for winter. That estimate did not begin to include meats, fruits, soups, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, pickles and condiments requiring processing, along with the storage of potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots and apples.  Rows of canning jars, filled with the garden’s bounty, lined the cellar walls.

Farm families experienced an often-isolated way of life and relied on nearby relatives, neighbors, the fellowship of rural churches and the extended community of the local one-room country school.  The nearest railroad station and small town general store provided links to the latest news, as did weekly newspapers and farm magazines that came by mail.  Before rural delivery by a carrier with horse and wagon, families picked up their mail at the post office, or at the railroad station, whenever they got into town.

The Model T Ford, introduced in 1908, brought exciting changes to transportation, enabling people to travel greater distances in less time than had been possible by horses.  The automobile, with its internal combustion engine, gave the term horsepower a new meaning in the early Twentieth Century, as these mass-produced vehicles gradually became more than the expensive hobby of early car enthusiasts.  The cost of an automobile could easily be more than a farmer’s yearly income, so saving cash for one was a frequent practice of the time.

The quality and number of hard roads gained importance as local demands increased for better transportation of agricultural products, mail delivery and connections to the wider world.  A Sunday afternoon pleasure ride by automobile enlarged the possibilities of travel well beyond the traditional visiting of neighbors, or nearby relatives, by horse and buggy.

Farming, however, still depended on horses and rural families continued to face the uncertainties of natural weather phenomena.  Without the benefit of timely meteorological forecasts or warnings, farmers could only look to time-honored signs in nature for changes in the weather, to country wisdom and the yearly almanac for predictions.

Rural Free Delivery of mail, instituted by the U.S. Post Office, opened a much more convenient and efficient means of communication to country postal patrons.  Sending and collecting picture postcards became a popular nationwide hobby.

The availability of mail order catalogues and parcel post service enabled rural customers to have similar access to affordable, mass-produced goods as urban consumers, increasing their standard of living.  The mail order catalogue became the wish book of families throughout the United States.

Dinner at noon was the main meal of the farm day.  It was also an efficient use of time and resources for cooking and baking, as well as heating, at a time when the kitchen stove was fueled by corncobs, wood or coal.  Supper in the evening was a lighter meal.

Children brought their lunches to one-room country schools, or walked home to eat with their family at the noon hour.  Many of them used small, recycled syrup pails to carry their meal.  Even U. S. President William McKinley had used the phrase, “a full dinner pail”, as a campaign slogan in 1900, promising continued prosperity.

The teacher of a country school would often board with a farm family during the term, if the distance and bad weather made it impossible to go back and forth to town on a daily basis.  Teaching all eight grades in a single classroom focused on reading, writing and arithmetic.

Rural children might walk several miles each day, to and from school.  The classroom stove burned wood, coal or corncobs.   Tall schoolhouse windows provided natural light.  Water was pumped from a schoolyard well and restrooms were outhouses.

Achieving a “legible hand” was an important goal in writing for students, whether using pencil and paper, chalk on slate, or a metal-point pen and a bottle of ink.  Penmanship drills were a regular part of classroom activities.

In addition to its educational function, the local one-room schoolhouse served as a center of activity for the rural community with student programs, meetings, ice cream socials and as a polling place for voting.

Work on the early 1900s farm remained labor-intensive, both in the fields and inside the house.  Doing wash by hand could take an entire day.  Ironing and mending clothes often filled the following ones, along with the regular necessities of cooking, cleaning, baking, churning butter, carrying water from the well, filling the kerosene lamps and trimming their wicks.

Much of the family’s clothing continued to be sewn at home, both by hand and with a treadle sewing machine.  Cotton and wool were the primary fabrics and cloth was purchased by the yard.  Sturdy cotton material, from flour sacks and feed sacks, were recycled and fashioned into towels, underwear and other clothing.  Soap for washing clothes and bathing was homemade, as was flour-based starch.

Most of the hay, straw, oats and corn produced on the farm were used there.  Adequate pasture and forage crops were necessary for the horsepower that ran the farm, as well as for cattle and other livestock.

Ears of corn were stored and dried naturally in corncribs until they were shelled and used for feed.  Any surplus was sold at the local grain elevator.  Farm families raised chickens and gathered eggs to sell or trade in town. They also produced homemade cream and butter for their own use and for sale.

The Fourth of July was an important summer occasion for a community celebration and a festive respite from the daily routine of farm life.  A parade, speakers, community brass bands, hot-air balloon ascensions, horse races, games, fireworks and homemade ice cream might all be in the day of festivities.  The local county fair was the social event of the summer.

News of historic airplane flights and record-breaking transcontinental trips by automobile and motorcycle were enthusiastically followed in the newspapers.  New farm machinery, small gasoline engines and aircraft exhibitions became staples of local fairs.

Neighbors often worked together to thresh oats and wheat during the summer, helping each other when these crops were harvested and the grain was separated from the straw.  Local farmers shared the use of a steam engine and grain separator, as well as their own labor, with teams of horses and hayracks, to get the job done.

Large stacks of hay and straw dotted the landscape.  A threshing day dinner at each farm was a much-anticipated event, as well as a time of rest from the mid-day sun.  The steam engine’s piercing whistle, or a clanging farm bell, signaled noontime and an hour of rest for the threshermen and their horses.

Harvesting fields of corn was done by hand, walking alongside a horse-drawn wagon.  Farm families worked together husking the ears of corn, while saving the best portion of the crop for the next year’s seed.

If early snows or rains were heavy, the weakened cornstalks often fell on the ground and the harvest became even more difficult.  Livestock was turned out into the harvested fields to eat whatever corn remained.

The early years of the new century brought statehood to Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, creating 48 stars in the U.S. flag.  Hope for a brighter future came to rural areas with new technological innovations and improvements in seed, enabling additional acreage to be used and achieving more bushels per acre.

Some vintage sentinels of early 1900s life continue in today’s changing landscape in the forms of farmhouses, wooden barns, abandoned corncribs and solitary windmills.   Old buildings have been torn down or converted to other uses, both on farms and in towns.  A small number of one-room country schoolhouses have been saved and restored by communities as part of their local heritage.  Many railroads continue to follow their original routes, carrying the freight of a new century.

In an ever-changing world, the stories remain and give witness to the memories of the land.

Smith Kramer Travelling Exhibitions
1622 Westport Road
Kansas City , MO 64111
Phone: (816) 756-3777
Toll Free: (800) 222-7522
Fax: (816) 756-3779