Dakota Datebook

Pioneer Wife, Part Two

Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Yesterday, we began a 3-part series on an article written by Helen Smith of Wimbledon for the Dakota Farmer in 1907. Here is part two, picking up after 3 of her 6 children have left for school in the morning:

I first make ready for the oven the dessert, pie, or pudding as the case may be. If there is bread to make, that goes in the oven just after the dessert. Next I get the vegetables ready, and while they are cooking, I run upstairs, make the beds and tidy up the rooms. Then I come down, set the table, take up the dinner, and make the gravy, and by this time the men are in to dinner, and the little ones have to be washed and put into their high chairs. During the time all this has been doing, I have likely stopped two or three times to fix baby’s milk.

John dishes up for the little folks in high chairs, and I wait on the table and eat my dinner; then I take baby up, tend him and play with him about half an hour while my dinner settles.

Then I wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen, and am ready by two o’clock for sewing or whatever else may be on hand.

First of all, I comb, wash, and put on a fresh apron, and make myself neat. I wear dark calico dresses and big aprons for every day. The children also wear plain dark clothes, easily made, washed and ironed. The little boys’ pants, suits, overalls, and little overcoats and cloaks, I buy ready made, but not other things, as I think poorly sewed ready-made things only rip out, and add to the mending all that they take off from the sewing, besides they never look neat or well made, and I had sooner have plain things well made.

I churn twice a week, and that has to be done in the afternoon as there is never time in the forenoon, and that takes about one hour out of Wednesday and Friday afternoons. I churn in the cellar, wash and salt the butter and leave it in the cellar till morning. I then work it over and put it in the crocks, and it comes out gilt-edged. Then the rest of the afternoon is free for mending, sewing or whatever else needs to be done. Quite often at this time of day, John drives up and loads us in, to take a little drive with him to a neighbor’s or around the field where he has something about the farm work to look after, and we always go, if possible.

Then the children come home from school, and mama has help. They mind the baby, hunt the eggs, bring up the cows, and if I haven’t put a cake into the oven for supper before I washed the dinner dishes, which I often do, then Mary bakes one; and let me say right here that my little girl of 10 can bake cake, set table, wash dishes, and sweep with any housekeeper in the country, and when mama is working with her, and making a companion of her, she thinks ‘tis all play, and she is laying by a store of knowledge and ideas of management, that will be of use, too, some time in future years.

I do all my own sewing, too, but I try to do most of that during vacation or in winter. We have supper in summer at seven, then Mary and I wash the dishes, the little boys bring in the kindling and night wood, and after a general foot washing, the little folks go up to bed and I undress baby and put him to bed and the day is done, with a few minutes of twilight to spend before the early bed time.

Helen Smith was from Wimbledon, North Dakota. Tune in again tomorrow for the third and final installment of her award-winning story on how she managed without a hired girl.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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