A farm wife’s diary

Farm Forum

Pioneer life was hard, but those who lived it were happy.

That’s the sense one gets while reading the remarkable diary kept by Brookings County pioneer wife and mother Mary Booth Ladd.

Elijah and Mary Ann farmed north of Brookings. They had eight children.

Here’s some of Mrs. Ladd’s account of life in early-day South Dakota:

• Jan. 18, 1906 – Read and did some mending. Baked two kinds of bread, Mary and I dressed six ducks and four chickens. Churned. Am tired.

• Feb. 15, 1906 – I scrubbed the kitchen and churned. I washed the dishes and cream separator. Ate an apple tonight for the first night in a long time.

• March 3, 1906 – Did not get up this morning until 8 a.m. Worked fourteen pounds of butter, helped pick over beans, got dinner and supper, mended a pair of mittens for Len, put beef to cook, fed the chickens, drew water, etc.

• March 7, 1906 – Mary and I cleaned the stovepipes this morning and I pickled two veal hearts and tongues, baked bread and cake, scrubbed and ironed some and studied some.

• April 3, 1906 – Fried sausage and Pa cut out the heart of the beef for me to pickle.

• April 14, 1906 – Dressed three ducks and baked white bread and cake and put the second coat of frosting on the fruitcake. Baked white and gold layer cake to fill with caramel icing. Also made deviled eggs and cooked whole wheat cereal.

• April 21, 1906 – I baked three pies before Pa, Lem and I went to Farmers Institute (in White) and heard a good talk on growing corn that Prof. Cole of the college gave. We dined with Mrs. Scadden and had supper with the Presbyterian Ladies Aid Social in White.

• Sept. 15, 1906 – The girls washed, had 22 machines full besides this we baked white and brown bread. Lem churned, J. hauled manure until it rained.

• Sept. 25, 1906 – Did my first buying at an auction today. Went to George Norders sale. I bought a washstand and colander for fifteen cents. The boys got a chicken coop for me.

• Nov. 23, 1906 – Baked white and brown bread and had breakfast and dinner without butter, something very unusual for us. It is so hard to get the cream ripe this cold weather. We baked bread and picked five chickens. Ironed and patched.

• Oct. 9, 1907 – Pa and Mr. and Mrs. G. and I went to Brookings. The men took us to the hotel and set us down while they went down town. Bye and bye they came back and took us to dinner. After dinner we all looked around the stores at dishes, etc.

• Dec. 4, 1908 – Pa and boys took four loads of hogs to White (S.D), making seven loads altogether, 63 hogs averaging over 200 pounds apiece.

• April, 1909 – Pa and the boys went fishing with a net and with one haul got so many they couldn’t carry them home so had to come and get a team to haul them home.

Not once in her diary did Mrs. Ladd ever hint of surrender to the elements or complain of the constant challenges of farming in those days. Her only written concern was that from time to time she mentioned how tired she was in the evening, or that she had been “grouchy” to someone during the day, which she regretted.

But her diary jottings the next day were always positive, invigorating and complimentary to her family members, her friends and her neighbors.

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