The other day, I posted a comment on our Facebook page, published by Andrew Jackson Downing. Mr. Downing was a landscape designer, horticulturalist, and writer. During the years 1846 through 1852, he was the editor of The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Art. In 1869, he stated the following:
“We have often repeated the assertion that, if a woman has only a chance, it would be a pleasure to cultivate fruits or flowers for a livelihood, sooner than be held in irredeemable bondage to the needle.”
Hmm…wow…"irredeemable bondage to the needle." His words are supportive, but sound somewhat patronizing in today’s context.
My discovery of Downing’s comment got me thinking about the transformation of the female role on the farm. It seems to have become a really big issue in the early 1900’s, when two historic events came together: the women’s suffrage movement, and World War I (then known as the Great War). Sure, the suffrage movement was focused on obtaining the female vote, but it was founded on ability.
And step forward, they did. Consider Mrs. Jean Kane Foulke, who is mentioned in the April 1918 issue of The Farm Journal as being “the successful manager of three farms.” Her opinion on the matter is quoted:
"I can see no reason why a woman who is physically and mentally mature should not with perfect propriety help in any of the affairs connected with farming. But the women undertaking it should go to it seriously minded, and with a dignity of purpose that will protect both themselves and the men with whom they are working under all circumstances. It is not work for young girls, who are not sufficiently developed to do heavy work anywhere or mature enough to realize their responsibility.”
“It is beyond me to understand how women who are proud and willing to send our men 'over there' to face what all of them must, should hesitate as to the fitness of women to do hard work or rough work, or any work there is to be done that women can do which may help the men to victory.”
“There are thousands of women who, like myself, have faced death to become the mothers of men, and who feel as I do that unless the women of the country are willing to do the farm work which must be done, famine is knocking at our door.”
Oh, boy. She played the childbirth card. That pretty much trumps everything. It’ll get any male editor to choose his words carefully when stating an opinion on the matter. In the same issue of the Farm Journal, the Editor responds accordingly:
“Our own humble opinion … is that mature, healthy, strong women can without harm to themselves do many kinds of farm work - by using judgment and not overdoing. One thing is sure: We must all - men and women - work or deny ourselves as we never did before, or Freedom's bell will soon cease to ring in America.”
Oh boy. “Freedom’s bell will soon cease to ring.” Another trump card.