Remembering Rosie, a memoir of life as a child on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the mid 20th Century

Looking back on farm life of children in the last century
oil painting: 2020 nblock Remembering Rosie

My granddaughter, CaroleAnne, interviewed me for a college class assignment. All involved the past, historical events and culture that affected my life.

What was the biggest change in my lifetime and how did it affect me?

I grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm that was homesteaded three generations earlier by my German great grandparents. I had four siblings and attended a one-room rural school. Our family didn’t have electricity until I was four years old. I remember looking up at the kitchen ceiling when the lightbulb lit up for the first time. I was so scared that it would never come back on if someone turned off the switch. The great depression (1929-1939) affected the lives of almost everyone in a country and many people stood in bread lines to get food for their families. Almost everything we ate was grown on our farm. In 1937, my father said he spent $57 at the grocery store. We were a self-sufficient family. The depression did not affect us much.

How we worked, how we played, the kinds of medicine we had available, our education, technology, communication…everything that describes how people lived was different. I would like to concentrate on changes to women’s lives since that time. It was a very conservative time. Men and women had strict expectations for their roles in families and work. As a child on a dairy farm, girls worked as hard as boys. We were a family business. Boys were expected to grow up and inherit the farm and girls were expected to marry well. My father pointed out the richest farm boy and said I should get to know him. My mother said I should be a secretary in Milwaukee. There was some talk of boys going to college, but I was discouraged by teachers and parents. “Marry well,” was my instruction. Neighbors said if I went to the University of Wisconsin, I would become a communist. My grandparents said it was OK for boys to go to college, but money shouldn’t be wasted on girls. You were supposed to get married and stay married, regardless of how miserable you were. Many marriages began as “shotgun” marriages forced by inopportune pregnancies. There were laws against abortion, and the Catholic church to which we belonged did not allow contraception and held marriage to be a lifetime contract. I followed my heart and did go to college. There girls were expected to be teachers or nurses so they could adapt better to family life where they would have the main responsibility for taking care of children.

Today, girls can expect to have roles both as wives and as workers that are more expansive. Going to college is expected, in most families, to be available to girls and boys. Girls can have dreams beyond being a teacher or a nurse. Husbands and wives both contribute to the financial support of a family as well as the raising of children. Sometimes spouses are of the same sex, a completely ridiculous and dangerous idea in my childhood where homosexuality was viewed as a deviance, or minimally as a complex social problem, that was not discussed with children. While my childhood was conservative and comfortable, the lives of women have greatly improved and provide more options. My granddaughters expect to go to college and have broader expectations of what their life can be afterwards. I believe all people should have the opportunity to become whatever they are capable of being. It is a more complicated life (there are more options to consider) but it is more freeing for women, and I would agree it is also more freeing for men.

Remembering Rosie is a memoir I have been working on for a few years. I originally started writing it for my grandchildren. It is a story of my childhood on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the mid-20th century.
I expect it to be out in early 2021.