Farm Children in the Early Days
The life of a Wayne County farmer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was anything but easy. Farmers woke up before the sun to work their land. Because many families relied on the crops they grew and their livestock, not only to make a living but to feed themselves and their families, they tackled a diverse array of daily tasks.1 Who better to help with the numerous jobs of farmers and workers than their children? Growing up on a farm in Wayne County meant helping out with farm work, and this looked different from family to family and child to child.2 Some children were trusted to certain areas of the farm, like gardening tomatoes or feeding hens and collecting eggs in the henhouse. Older children, usually later into their teens, were expected to wake up at sunrise and do fieldwork with their older family members.
In the late nineteenth century, industrial growth brought with it changed for farm life in general as well as vast changes for youth in rural agricultural districts. Farming communities of the late nineteenth century began to see gaps in the rural education system. Rural schools were often oriented toward preparing children for urban environments, but still failed to provide children with the resources available to children growing up in cities.3 A.B. Graham, the superintendent of schools in Springfield, OH, saw the increasing flow of young people to cities as directly related to the lack of education about farming.4 Graham had grown up on a farm himself and had taught in rural schools for years before becoming Springfield's superintendent.5 He used his teaching experience and expertise in agriculture to ponder a solution to farmer's new educational dilemma.
1 Gabriel N. Rosenberg, The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt173zm92.
2 Oral Histories, 2010-2011 - Ariel Veroske and Whitney Siders, Oral history interview with Kurt Mairs, a Wayne County farmer, 2010, Oral History 4, Farmer Oral History Collection, http://openworks.wooster.edu/farmer_oral_history/4.
3 Sir Horace Plunkett, The Rural Life Problem of the United States (NewYork: Macmillion, 1910), 132; David B. Danbom, “Rural Education Reform and the Country Life Movement, 1900-1920,” Agricultural History 53, no. 2 (1979): 462–74.
4 Franklin M. Reck, The 4-H Story; a History of 4-H Club Work (Chicago: National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, 1951), 6, 9.
5 Ibid., 11-12.