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Pioneer Farmers Wives

Farmers Wives – Conditions of Twenty Years Ago
(Published in the Waikato Independent in 1919)

‘Take the isolated existence of the average farmer and his family, who have been compelled to work long hours almost from their infancy, and consequently are only half educated. Think of the sameness of the food from year’s end to year’s end, and which probably costs less than two shillings per head each week. Then image the poor overworked farmer’s wife, toiling early and late, and whose sole recreation consists of driving to church on a Sunday morning, and in only too many cases she is debarred from even that small privilege.

‘There is nothing so harrowing as the pitiful existence of thousands of farmers’ wives in these colonies. Isolated from all friends, and seldom seeing a strange face to lighten the monotony of her life, she toils on from early morn till late at night in her ceaseless struggle to make her family’s lot less hard.

‘Let her city sisters pause in search after the latest finery, and think of the poor woman in the country, who, year after year, is compelled to wear the same old garment until it is quite an event to be able to purchase from the country store apparel which years before was rejected in the city as being out of fashion. When I have seen the toil-worn features of many a noble hearted farmer’s wife whom remunerative prices has doomed to a life of drudgery, I have thought that the much vaunted loaf has been obtained at the sacrifice of many a poor woman’s life.

‘Compare all this with the average mechanic or tradesman living in cities, who works his forty or forty-eight hours a week, and whose work is not nearly so exhausting as a great deal of farm labour. While the farmer finishes up at night ‘dog tired’ and fit for bed only, and he wonders whether he will ever get any return for his day’s toil, the mechanic and workman, on the other hand, are often almost as fresh when they go home at 5 o’clock, and richer by eight to twelve shillings, than when they started out at 8 o’clock in the morning.

‘Consider the isolation and sameness of the life of the farmer’s household, and compare it with the life of the variety enjoyed by the workman and tradesman’s families and the educational advantages in favour of the latter. I have no hesitation in saying, from personal knowledge, that not one person in 20 living in cities practice the rigid economy which the average farmer’s family is compelled to observe.’


Ref: Cambridge Museum Archives