This photo shows Elizabeth (Lizzie) Sweeney Wells, c. 1924, with her flock of chickens. Lizzie was the grandmother of Joberta Wells, who submitted this photograph. Joberta lives on her grandmother's farm, just outside of Yosemite, and in recent years recreated the classic three-gabled farmhouse from the foundation up.
Farm women were often photographed with their chickens and it is one of the most common scenes depicted in old farm photographs. Women tended the flocks on small amounts of land around the farmhouse or yard and gathered the eggs. Their 'egg money' was a valuable asset to farm income and their flock would have been a source of personal pride. Tending chickens was also an area where younger children could assist, including feeding and egg-gathering.
In an excellent paper on The Contemporary Farm Woman: 1860 to the Present, published by the Central New York Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. [Isn't the Internet amazing?] Stephanie Fisher writes:
"Women could exercise complete control over the production and income of their chickens. However, women often chose to spend the money to assist the farm or farm home. During hard economic times, the egg money, known as ‘pin-money,’ often saved the farm when their husband’s commodities failed to provide income...Women’s participation in chicken farming and the production of eggs continued until around the 1940s."
[World War II changed society and farming practices, after which factory-farming became more prevalent. However, in many rural areas, such as Casey County and throughout much of Kentucky, sustenance farming continued, much as it does today with household gardens, chickens and other livestock to support the family.]Do you have a farm story or photographs to share in our 'Farm Attic'? We'd love to see them here and if you'd like to write something about Casey County farm history, stories or traditions, we are happy to publish it.
NOTE: For two excellent first-hand period accounts of life with chickens, read Betty MacDonald's classic The Egg and I, written in 1945 and made into a movie (that launched the popular Ma and Pa Kettle films) or Mildred Armstrong's recent best-selling account of Midwestern farm life in the 1930s, Little Heathens–Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
Thanks to Joberta Wells for her contribution to this entry.