"Modernity" and U.S. farm women's poultry operations. Jane Adams,Southern Illinois University


(1) Regarding Appalachia, see Batteau The Invention of Appalachia, Becker, Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk 1930-1940, and on the early Republic, the philosophical and historiographical lit. on agrarianism including Paul B. Thompson and William Lockeretz, ed. Visions of American Agriculture, Ames, IA: 1997, ISU Press, as well as the debate and scholarship on the "transition to capitalism". On pastoral themes in literature, see Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden, among others.

(2) See, e.g., Joan Jensen, Loosening the Bonds, as well as the large primary literature of farmers,

(3) For a recent collection of ethnographic works that both argues and demonstrates this position, see Inda and Rosaldo, The Anthropology of Globalization, Blackwell, 2002.

(4) Sally McMurray (1988:61) notes that in the early 19th century the term "domestic economy," as used in agricultural journals,included many, and sometimes virtually all, aspects of the "rural economy."

(5) See Vincent on conacre in Ireland, Inda and Rosaldo, eds. -- anthropological studies of modernization (and in contrast to apocalyptic views of modernization, in which a radical "before" and "after", "tradition" "modernity", "urban" "rural").

(6) But note that McMurry (1988:58-9) found that eastern farm women first turned to selling garden produce and butter, not poultry products. On p. 61 she observes that farm families differed in the amount of control women retained over their earnings. Osterud (1991), writing about farm families in which dairy production was jointly shared by husband and wife, discerns "strategies of mutuality" in the disposition of the proceeds. Further, the degree to which poultry production increased in scale and, presumably, fell increasingly under the control of men, varied by region. The 1940 Census of Agriculture wrote:
Fewer than 4 percent of the classified farms in the United States reported poultry as their major source of income; yet 47 percent of the output of poultry and eggs was produced on these 217,570 farms. Almost three-fourths of the total value of products on these farms came from poultry and poultry products.
Farms with poultry as the major source of income were ordinarily small units; 56 percent had less than $1,000 value of products in 1939. Poultry can be handled by people of advanced age, by children, and by men and women not strong enough for much other farm work. By careful selection and arrangement of equipment, the necessary work for a small flock can be done after working hours by men working at other occupations.
Large specialized poultry farms were most frequently found in the New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Pacific States. This was particularly true in New England where more than 6 percent of the total value of products reported by poultry as major-source group came from 10 farms with products valued at $100,000 and over per farm.
US Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture, 1940. Analysis of Specified Farm Characteristics for Farms Classified by Total Value of Products. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1943.

(7) Fink (1986:49) quotes a 1929 Iowa State Extension flyer, which stated, "Practically all the eggs produced in Iowa came from farm flocks. The farm flock is cared for and managed by farm women. The poultry industry of Iowa is a farm woman's enterprise… [ISES 1929 A Project of Marketing and Nutrition Relating to Eggs. Ames: Iowa State college.]

(8) It appears that men may have taken a more dominant role in California, particularly the Santa Cruz area. The specific regional and ethnic configuration of poultry and egg production needs further study.

(9) We do not have good data concerning the control of these earnings across all ethnic groups, but it appears that in some communities husbands controlled virtually all family earnings.

(10) I speak of it in these religious terms because I believe it appeared as such: It emerged out of a series of religious awakenings, largely in England and in the U.S. Northeast (the "burned over district"), but also in the sweep of Methodism and the various splinter sects across the American frontier in the 1840s and subsequently. The specific ideological construction of modernity in the late 19th century, and particularly its gendered dimensions, occurred in the context of these religious revivals, through which people revised their notions of what enabled a person to discharge their obligations to their community and their God and to be considered worthy of inclusion and respect within a godly community. Women were important agents in creating new notions of family order and the relationship of family to the larger community. See Mary P. Ryan, The Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865. (Cambridge University Press, 1981). See also E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class regarding the importance of Methodism in the formation of working class consciousness.

(11) See also Judy Hilkey, Character is Capital: Success Manuals and Manhood in Guilded Age America, University of North Carolina Press, 1997, for an analysis of a construction of masculinity between 1870 and 1910.

(12) Note that Habermas ("What is Enlightenment?" inRabinow and Sullivan) argues that the Enlightenment split knowledge into three domains: the utilitarian known through science, the moral known through theology, and the aesthetic, known through art. In this division, science became predominant.

(13) See Harzig 1996, Peasant Maids to City Women

(14) Because of the legacy of slavery and white supremacy, the South must be analyzed separately from the North, although southern farmers, black and white, experienced many of the same effects of increasing commercialization of agriculture as their northern counterparts.

(15) A road that crosses southern Illinois is called the "Chicken Trail" (alternatively the "Feather Trail"), linking the interior with the Ohio River at Olmstead, Illinois. Oral accounts collected in the early 1980s reported that peddlers would trade for chickens, putting the birds in cages underneath their wagons. The feathers carpeted the road. I have not learned the final destination for the chickens, nor was I told when this practice ceased.

(16) Blanke carefully argues that Montgomery Ward's marketing strategy built on and supported a notion of consumption for use--a sober, practical, thrifty use of money that eschewed the growing national symbolic currencies of conspicuous consumption. Sears, Roebuck & Co., in contrast, through hyperbolic claims and products sold, anticipated and promoted the developing mass "consumer culture" that, Ownby argues, was part of a democratic vision in which all people, not simply elites, had access to the goods that signalled status and success.

(17) In 1830 only about 10 percent of Americans lived in urban places; by 1890, 40 percent did so, and the population had grown dramatically. Rubczynski (1995, City Life, p. 115) writes, "In 1850 there were seven American cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants: New York, Baltimore,… Philadelphia, boston, New Orleans, …, and ever-growing Cincinnati. [St. Louis was also a rapidly growing city.] Over the next fifty years, immigration swelled the total population of the United States from 23 million to 76 million. By 1900, in addition to the three great metropolises--New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia--three other cities had grwon to about half a million inhabitants: Boston, Baltimore, and the booming Saint Louis, the fourth-largest city in the nation." Chicago grew from 20,000 in 1850 to 300,000 in 1871 (year of the great fire).

(18) At this point I don't have any good studies of poultry distribution systems. Accounts I have collected indicate that, in the early 20th century, local stores purchased eggs and live chickens from farmers; these local bulkers then shipped them to brokers with whom they had durable relationships. Some women developed various kinds of direct marketing. Some sold to regular town customers, delivering on a regular basis -- Betty Cerny. Some sold directly to large consumers, like hotels and other institutions -- Ruby Weaver, the Kimber's aunt.

(19) Hunziker (120:18) writes, "Up to the middle of the 19th century the factory sstem of buttermaking was practically unknown and both, in this country and abroad, buttermaking was confined to the farm dairy. From that tme on, however, the manner of making buter underwent marked changes, gradually at first, and more rapidly as the advantages of co-operative and community menthods of operation became more and more apreciated and the invention of new devices and improved processes were introduced." He also notes the importance of the cenrifugal cream searator that we invented in 1872 and first introduced to the U.S. between 1885 and 1890. Smaller centrifuges were developed for farm use and became widely adopted around the turn of the century. See census statistics for the sale of butter made on farms, which begins in 1850 and ceases to be asked for in 1940. Figures on butterfat produced begins in 1910 and continues at least through 1950. Cheese produced on the farm was requested from at least 1850 and ceased in 1920.

(20) The reason for the seeming intractability of farming to fully capitalist industrial rationalization was the subject of a debate, carried out largely in the pages of the Journal of Peasant Studies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For a sustained theoretical analysis, see Susan Archer Mann 1990 Agrarian Capitalism in Theory and Practice University of North Carolina Press.

(21) Shulman (2003) argues that the Federal Land Banks were initially developed and promoted by bankers and that farm organizations neither initiated nor enthusiastically supported these proposals for increased agricultural credit.

(22) The conservative Anabaptist groups (Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites, some Brethren) explicitly rejected many aspects of these comforts and conveniences, seeing them as threats to their covenented communities. Other groups and individuals were slow to adopt them, for culturally and individually specific reasons.

"Modernity" and U.S. farm women's poultry operations: farm women nourish the industrializing cities 1880-1940. Paper presented at the international conference, The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Cultural, and Industrial History: From Neolithic Middens to McNuggets. May 17-19, 2002, Yale University, Program in Agrarian Studies. © Jane Adams 2002

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Barred Plymouth Rock. Developed in America in the middle of the 19th century and was first exhibited as a breed in 1869. The first Plymouth Rock was barred and other varieties developed later. The Breed became popular very rapidly, and in fact, until World War II, no breed was ever kept and bred as extensively as the Barred Plymouth Rock. Its popularity came from its qualities as an outstanding farm chicken: hardiness, docility, broodiness, and excellent production of both eggs and meat. Most of the other varieties were developed from crosses containing some of the same ancestral background as the barred variety. The Barred Plymouth Rock was one of the foundation breeds for the broiler industry in the 1920's, and the White Rock continues to be used as the female side of the commercial broiler cross.

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