Cordelia – 1927 – she was 17 years old, 5’3″ tall, and never weighed more than 125 lbs. in her entire life.  Sister Viola was sick so “I did the chores,” which meant that on any given day she shoveled out a ton/2,000 lbs of manure, fed hay, silage and ground feed to thirty cattle, bedded them with fresh straw, and helped with the milking.  This was normal.  And, much, much more…

contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl


The objective of this post is to provide a focus on the range of work women/girls were responsible for and capable of.  It was remarkable.  Portions are redundant with material previously posted.  

This post draws heavily from Cordelia’s 1927 diary/journal when she was 17.  Something compelled her to assiduously record all events, all visitors, all work done, all peddlers, etc. that involved the farm.   She began keeping this record when she was 14 in 1924 and continued it until she married in 1930 and departed.  She continued to keep a diary for the rest of her long life but the farm part of it was history.  It never included personal reflections, observations or meditation which makes sense considering that she had six siblings who were not inclined to respect the privacy of her journals.  Kids snoop.

Her diaries from 1924 – 1927 are an extraordinary document of the cultural history of German-American farming in the early 20th Century.  Numerous pages from 1927 are provided after the end of this post for those who might have interest.

The post also relies on material from Viola’s memories written many decades later recalling details of her youth on the farm.

Upon reading Cordelia’s 1927 entries, the two most remarkable features of their lives were 1) the range of work the women did, and 2) the amazing social lives of the family. Getting together with cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends was not an occasion, but the norm.  Large and small gatherings were common – at least once per week and sometimes two or three times per week and often late into the night, especially during the winter.  In the absence of electronic entertainment that we now have people needed very little excuse to get together for companionship, and a good party.  Three pages from March 1927 illustrate both the work and the fun they had.  (click to enlarge  beginning at the upper left)

Women did all of the work that their strength enabled them to undertake.  Nothing was exempted excepting heavy and/or dangerous labor, e.g., guiding a hand plow, or handling the bull in the barn.  Men did all of the work with the tractor.  That may well have been due to the brute force required to crank the beast and the danger of a backfiring engine breaking an arm while cranking (the backfire turns the crank violently in the reverse direction).  Men also did almost all of the work with the horses.

Note – not shown in these excerpts above, the older children, teens, frequently went to the cinema and enjoyed the silent films.

Communist Cell?

Nobody was paid any wage of any sort.  The work was collectively done for the common family interest.  If the farm made money, then expenses were covered for all needs for both parents and children.  The farm economy was emphatically “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs.”  

Viola: “… There was only enough money to buy the necessary things for the family. Extra money was always put back into the farm.… The good prosperous years on our farm were from 1923 to 1930.”

* * * * * *

The tasks that the women engaged in are listed with illustrations where possible.  Some of the images have been seen in the blog previously but are included again to illuminate the point being made.

After the list numerous pages from Cordelia’s diary are reproduced for the reader to browse if so desired.

 Some cryptic extracts from January: “Butchered small Buch {from another farmer} heifer. Uncle Otto helped.” “Butchered four Chester White hogs. Arnold Nieman and Uncle Otto helped. In afternoon cleaned casings {cleaned and sterilized hog intestines for use to make sausage}.”  “In evening Elda scrubbed and Viola and I did chores.”  “Sawed up meat today.  Viola and I took out manure.” “Made blood, liver, and potato sausage today.” “Cut meat in morning.  Ed & Ma & Elda made summer sausage all day.  In evening Elda scrubbed. Viola and I did chores.”  “In evening Dr. Wastrack {veterinarian} was here and looked at four of our cows {checking for bovine tuberculosis}.  Put ring in bull’s nose.”  “Ed was to stockholders meeting of Cedarburg Supply Company.”  





Women had very little to do with plowing, tilling the field and making it ready for planting.  That is covered more fully in the post:plowing planting and harvesting

Stone Picking

However, the women were called on to help out for one arduous, onerous annual multi-day chore, helping to pick up stones in the field. The region had been buried under glaciers during the Ice Age.  This resulted in an immense amount of stone rubble strewn throughout the fields in considerable depth. No matter how many years the soil was worked stones would emerge through the topsoil with the spring thaw.  If the larger ones were not removed they would act as a danger to the equipment that was used for cultivating crops and harvesting.  For example, if the cutting bar (sickle) on a mowing machine hit a rock it could wreck a cutting blade which meant expense and considerable time delay.

Picking stones was laborious. Members of the family would walk down a field spread out in a row slowly moving toward the end of the field. A bucket was filled with stones and carried over to the stone wagon. When the wagon was full it was driven to one of the stone fences that bordered the fields. The contents were dumped on the stone fence and the wagon headed out into the field to continue the process.

field stones 005.jpg

Source – Chendrashaker’s world

Unloading stones onto the stone fence.  The above photo from the web is little changed from the 1920s except for the motive power, the relatively modern tractor.  At Lueder’s all of the children helped.

Planting Potatoes

Viola: “In May it was time to get the seed potatoes ready for planting. Potatoes were caught up in pieces and we had to be sure that each piece had an “eye” {sprout}. We all had to help with this as soon as we could handle a knife.… The potatoes dug up in fall were used for planting.”

“Seed” potatoes are  potatoes cut with an eye  or two within the cut piece.


The piece is planted into a shallow hole or ditch and then covered with earth.  This was all hand work that the girls participated in.


Potatoes provide actual seed but planting them will not result in a plant that is the same as the plant giving the seed.  The cut potatoes with the “eyes” result in a genetically identical plant.  


Corn was cultivated (stirring up the soil between the rows to destroy weeds) with horses.


Source – w2.kenyon.edu

After the horse drawn cultivator had worked the soil between the rows the girls spent many hours hoeing the soil between the corn plants.


Source – agrariannation.blogspot.com

Potatoes were plagued with the “potato bug.”

potato beetle.jpg

Source – Maine organic farmers and gardeners assn.

The bug was a voracious insect that in sufficient numbers would gobble up the leaves on the potato plant.  The method of control was simple:  provide each child with a coffee can, put a couple of inches of kerosene in the bottom of the can, and send the child along the rows of plants, inspecting them for the potato bugs.  When found, they were knocked into the can and terminated with extreme prejudice by the kerosene.  This kept the kids constructively occupied for many hours.

HARVESTING – (some of these photos have been seen in a previous post but are included to illustrate the tasks)

Making hay                 man_pitching_hay


Source – family photo

Harold Lueder mowing hay in the 1930s.

Once the hay was cut, the girls walked through the field with pitchforks and turned the hay over after a few hours of exposure to the sun to help it dry/cure.  Then a horse drawn hay rake gathered the hay into rows.

hay rake.jpg

Source – historyplace.com

The hay loader was pulled along the rows and conveyed the hay to the top of the wagon where it had to be distributed to even out the load.  The girls would help with that task on the hay wagon.


Source – viewsofthepast.com

Unloading the hay and getting it into the barn was largely men’s work.

Harvesting Grain

For a more detailed discussion and photos of the harvesting and threshing process for grain see the post:  plowing planting and harvesting

For our purposes with respect to women’s work, the photos below, seen previously, are germane:


Source – family photo

Elda Lueder is on the grain wagon, distributing the load being pitched up by her brothers Edgar on the left and Gerald on the right.


Source – family photo

The threshing process required the preparation of an uncommonly large amount of food for a large number of men.  A mid-afternoon meal was prepared and carried to threshers to keep the men fueled for their labors.

Harvesting Corn

Again, for chopping corn to make silage, see the post:  plowing planting and harvesting

The girls helped with the corn bundles that had been standing in shocks in field.  It was heavy labor.  See the back load with the team of horses in the photo below.  I believe that the two women are sisters Elda (holding the reins of the team on the right) and Cordelia.


Source – family photo

In addition to silage, corn was left standing in the fields, uncut, for the cobs to fully mature and harden.  The corn was then husked, i.e., ears were broken off the stalks, the husk was stripped and the cob thrown into a wagon.  Very laborious work.  The link below is to a YouTube video of corn husking by hand in Nebraska:

Digging Potatoes


Source – community food gardens network

Viola: “… potatoes were plowed up with a V-shaped plow blade. Then the persons got down on their hands and knees and crawled along the open furrow, digging around the ground with their hands and sorting out the potatoes.… It was a long and tedious piece of work… the potatoes were picked up in pails by the women. The men used half bushel baskets, put the potatoes in the bags and then into the cellar. In 1930 Pa bought a potato digger. This made potato digging much easier, for now one could go along the row and pick up potatoes, no more scratching around in the ground.”


Ollie 3 ring bndr img086 crp1.jpg

Source – family photo

Everyone helped with picking apples – especially the girls. They picked thousands of bushels of apples during their youth on the farm.  They enjoyed that work in October’s “bright blue weather.”  The apple picking container on the ladder was filled, then emptied into a bushel basket.  A wagon came into the orchard to pick up the filled baskets and take them back to the farm for shelter and for grading.  The girls, especially Elda, did much of the grading.

Viola: “… There were such apples as Duchess, Ben Davis, banana, wealthy, made blush to mention some. The apple crop was always the last one to be harvested. We had apples all winter long.”

Many decades later Cordelia and sister Viola still looked forward to each October when apple picking season came to the ten acre orchard. They only stopped when age limited them.


Romantic Myth


Reality – A Ton of Cow Poop and Much More

Barn chores largely consisted of all of the animal husbandry tasks.  For the cattle, this included:

  • Unloading silage (pickled corn stalks & cobs) from the silo,
  • Carting numerous loads of silage to the manger for the cattle and feeding them,
  • Hauling ground feed to the mangers,
  • Getting hay from the haymow overhead and feeding them.  
  • Hauling straw in from the straw-stack for bedding.
  • Shoveling out the gutters

Farm manager in barn - 107 700x394.jpg

Cattle consume a prodigious amount of fodder and the resulting processed food emitted from the cows back end must be removed each day.  The consequence of such voluminous consumption for 25-30 cows is roughly a ton of cow-poop and urine per day.  For a properly designed barn and assuming a cow with any sense of decency aiming properly, this stuff winds up in the “gutter.”


Source – Yesterday’s tractors forum

From there it was shoveled into a “carrier” hanging from a rail and when that hanging bucket was filled, it was dragged (easily) along the rail to the cow-yard and dumped onto a pile or into a “manure spreader.”


Source – Wisconsin Historical Society


Source – Farm collector

The manure spreader was pulled out to the fields almost daily and the manure was forked onto the field with systematic covering of a whole field as days passed.  It was valuable fertilizer, crucial to keeping the soil productive.


Source – wikimedia commons


Source – Wisconsin Historical Society

Before long, resourceful agricultural engineers devised a “manure spreader” that mechanically distributed the stuff, much to the relief of the farmers.

Cordelia and Viola helped almost daily with all of the chores and assisted in hand milking of the cows as well.  On one occasion Cordelia notes without comment that Viola was sick and “I did the chores.”  She was 5’3″ tall, never weighed more than 125 lbs. her entire life, and “I did the chores,” meant that she cleaned out 2000 lbs of manure, fed (hay, silage, ground feed) and bedded (fresh straw) all the cattle, and helped with the milking.


Cordelia – from notes made late in life: “As we grew older we had to help milk cows, morning and evening – (no milking machine) – just strip, strip, strip!  It was not such a bad chore except when the cows would kick or swish their dirty tails in our faces.

When we came into the house after the morning milking, breakfast would be ready, and occasionally Mama would make french toast if there was old bread on hand.  She would stand by the old kitchen range filling the big platter with delicious browned toast, her face red from the heat of the kitchen stove, trying to keep up with the hungry gang!  I often wonder if she ever had a piece left for herself!”


Men handled the slaughtering and the heavy lifting.  Women cut the meat, ground the meat and did much of the work in making sausage. Men helped on this. See the previous post: Part 5 – Early 20th Century – Making a Living – Herding, Milking, Butchering, Shearing, Picking…Work, Work, and More Work

Below – the tools for grinding meat and stuffing sausage – Sears Catalogue, the Amazon of its day.  The implements shown below were practical and efficient for occasional use by one farm family.  It is likely that Lueders used the equipment shown or something almost exactly the same.


Source – 1902 Sears Catalogue – Bounty Books

The slaughtering was the ugly part and handling the large animals required men’s strength.  The Lueder children didn’t like that part of it, but once it was done, processing the meat into sausage, hams, beef, etc. was just another chore.

Shearing Sheep

B.B.N. 5 or 6 in Sheep Hand Shear Lg.jpg

Tom_Roberts_-_Shearing_the_rams_-_Google_Art_Project B.jpg

Source – By Tom Roberts – lQEDjT-_MXaMJQ at Google Cultural Institute

Sheep provided wool for a variety of uses.  Some of the wool sheared 90 years ago used for quilts/comforters is still in use with new covers and remains delightfully comfortable. Most of the shearing was done by Pa (William) and Edgar using hand shears with the girls helping to hold the animal.  

The sheep also provided mutton – see butchering above.

Caring for the sheep was Cordelia’s responsibility.


Source – family photo

Cordelia with a runt lamb and pet that she bottle fed, “Snookums.”

Household Work & Misc

Viola: “Ma {Augusta} put up sauces from cherry, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries. She did not can vegetable other than sweet-and-sour yellow beans, and sweet-and-sour red beets, dill pickles, and sauerkraut. Of course she had lots of jams and jellies.”

“The meals were prepared by Ma. As we girls grew older we had to help, like setting the table, peeling potatoes, and running errands. After we were confirmed we had to do more work.  {note – confirmation ceremony affirming commitment to the Lutheran faith occurred when children were  12 – 14 years of age, usually coincident in the child’s age with graduation from 8th grade} Cordelia and I had to always do the dishes.… This job was assigned to us and no questions asked. We used homemade soap that Ma made.… For washing face, hands, and back we used bought soap.”

“There was a reservoir on the kitchen stove that was always filled with rainwater; we used it for washing face and hands in such.”

Renata was more of a “house” person than her three younger sisters.  Elda, Viola, and Cordelia were outdoors kids, helping out with all of the chores.  Cordelia notes that Elda scrubbed floors but there are few entries in her diaries indicating that she, herself, did much of that.


Viola: “We grew up in a home that had no plumbing. Rainwater was pumped up from the cistern in the basement by a cistern pump. This pump was in the backhaul. In winter it would always freeze shut. Drinking water is carried in from the well in the milk house.”

Viola:“the cellar had a cistern in which rainwater was stored. Rainwater was used for all washing.… The water for washing clothes was heated in a copper wash kettle.”



Source – 1902 Sears Catalog – Bounty Books

Viola:Ma was a good housekeeper, even though she was quite crippled with arthritis and having nine children. The wash machine she used was hand powered. Ma made her own soap which got the closes white is any detergent does now.”

“The wringer type wash machine was hand powered.  Back and forth, back and forth we would pull and push the handle, one hundred times for each load.  Then the wash was wrung through the wringer which we children turned with the hand crank.”

“Clothes were always soaked overnite in a wash tub.  In the morning the badly soiled clothes were scrubbed on a wash board in the tub.”


Source – Pinterest

Viola: “The white clothes were always boiled first in a copper wash boiler, which was set on the stove…Then both the boiling water and the clothes were put into the washing machine and washed…{when done} the was then run through the wringer into a tub of rinsing water and then into the second tub, where wash bluing had been put.  The clothes came out a sparkling white.”

“…when we were little Ma never had enough wash line or clothespins to hang up all the wash so the overalls and heavy wash were hung over the garden fence to dry.”

“In the milk house there was a gasoline engine used to pump water. One summer Pa arranged it so that the wash machine was outside near the milk house and the engine was used to run machine.”

“Ironing was done with flatirons heated on the kitchen stove.”

Sherman School


Source – family photo

Scrubbing the school floor and cleaning it was an occasional task that the family helped with.

maxresdefault crp.jpg



Many pages have been scanned and are included below.  They are likely to be of little interest to most readers, but perhaps of considerable interest to anyone who wonders what daily life on a German-American Dairy farm was like nearly a century ago, and especially the tasks the women performed.


Note – the entries are in chronological order.  To read them, click on the upper left hand entry, and to move on simply click on the image that is up for viewing. 















  1. Wonderful! Unbelievable the amount of work your mother and her sisters and the whole family did, and there was probably very little complaining about it. Work was part of life.


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