ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | JUNE 17, 1920 | THE FARMER'S ADVOCATE
Have you ever thought what the result would be if all the farmer’s wives and housekeepers in this country were to form a sort of a labour-union and then go out on strike, for something under an eighteen hour day and a pay-envelope every Saturday night?
If we haven’t been thinking of anything of the kind we may as well give a few minutes to the subject right now, for the world is moving and its inhabitants are organizing in a way that the past has never seen. And the fact that the “female of the species” has always been more faithful to her home and family in the past than she has been to any “union” or organization, is no argument proving that she will always remain in that attitude, or frame of mind.
This “restlessness” that we are reading and hearing about all the time is not growing any less throughout the country, to put it mildly, and the lives that a good many of our farmer’s wives lead is a pretty good proof that some kind of a change, no matter what, could hardly be for the worse. A certain amount of work is alright, for woman as well as man. In fact if she doesn’t get it she is likely to go bad in some way or the other. If she don’t go crazy herself she’ll put her husband crazy. But I have been told lately, by a person that should know something of the conditions about which he is talking, that in some parts of our country the day on the farm for the women workers is about as follows.
Getting up anywhere between four and five o’clock in the morning the first thing she does is to light the fire in the kitchen range. She then goes to the well for a pail of water, or gets it out of a cistern that is likely to have no pump. Her city sister turns a faucet to get her water-supply, but things like that are few and far between on a farm, as of yet.
Getting the water for breakfast and so on, is only a small affair, of course, but on Monday mornings, when the family washing has to be done, the business is more complicated. She must get up a little earlier and carry considerably more water. And she doesn’t have an electrically run washing-machine. Not in more than about one case in a couple of hundred. Elsewhere we find the old-fashioned wash-tub or the hand-run washing-machine. Monday is kept sacred to the wash-tub, but its sequel, in the form of the ironing-board, follows it in all the spare minutes through-out the week.
But to return to the breakfast. As soon as it is ready the rest of the family are called and, after a more or less stormy period, if there happen to be children, this part of the day’s work is disposed of and the youngsters are started off to school, that greatest of institutions for the relief of tired housewives, and mothers in general, that has yet been invented.
Then, after our lady of the farm has the children and the men-folk out of her way, her day’s work may be said to begin. Chickens must be fed, pails and milkcans washed, as well as the breakfast dishes, and pots and pans past counting. Beds must be made and floors swept, to say nothing of the baking of the bread that has to be got into the oven and out again before its time to begin preparations for dinner, for dinner has to be ready on time whether the sun keeps on its way, or not.
If she is one of the “real smart kind” she will have a garden, and the “cool of the morning” is the time to work in that.
We came very near forgetting the cleaning of the lamps, which should be done”first thing”, as it’s a bad commentary on a woman’s ability as a housekeeper to have a row of uncleaned, unfilled lamps on the mantle-piece.
Then comes the dinner. One of the one thousand and ninety-five meals that have to be got ready every year. Getting dinner for a farmer and two or three hired men is a job that would constitute a day’s work, and more, for some of our town ladies, who spend a considerable part of their time advertising for a cook. But with the farm house-keeper it is only an incident in the day’s round. Her motto, if she has one, should be “Do the Next Thing”. It’s always there, looking her in the face.
Afternoon is the time set apart in the city for woman to do her calling on friends, or her “shopping”. But in the country it is the time set apart for, and devoted to, sewing, mending and making clothes for the children.
First thing she knows it’s supper time, and, after this has been disposed of, the milking has to be done and the “weary mortal round” of washing up has to be attended to all over again.
Altogether, according to the source of my information, the poor farmer’s wife has a pretty tough time of it. No time for holidays, no time for reading or recreation of any kind, no time for anything but just work. She gets from fourteen to eighteen hours a day of that. But nothing in the way of double pay for overtime. The trouble is,, it seems, that she doesn’t get paid at all. The “butter-money” and the “egg-money” are hers, in a way of speaking, but they all go for household expenses in the end. Even to buying the tobacco for the “old man.”
Yes, if all this is true the women of the farm ought to organize, and then go out on strike, if their demands are not listened to.
I’m not a professional strike-promoter, by any means, but I’ve always believed in what I have heard called a “healthy discontent,” and where people themselves get into a rut and are making no attempt to get out of it, they are none the worse of being stirred up to a realization of their position.
I don’t know that the case of the farmer’s wife is as black as it has been painted, but I have an idea that there may be room for improvements. Every woman on the farm is the best judge of her own conditions and circumstances. And if they’re not what they should be, and might be, it’s through herself that the cure has to come.
In justice to herself no woman should spend the whole of her waking hours in hard physical labour. There’s nothing in it. Not even thanks from those that benefit by it.They soon get to take it all as a matter of course.
The secret of a better way lies in knowing that life is a many-sided thing, and that each side is worth developing. And that can’t be done if the labour of the hands is allowed to crowd the mind and spirit of the individual off the stage of action, into the background.
Surely, we say, let the woman of the farm go out on strike. There are a whole lot of things in this world that are hers by rights, and she hasn’t been getting them.
By Allan McDiarmid