Shopping Saturday: Ella V. Daniel- A Farm Wife

"The Square," Newton, Iowa, 1915. Postcard.
“The Square,” Newton, Iowa, 1915. Postcard.

Roberts Family, Daniel Family

Farmer’s wives had a hard life, as did their husbands. When Ella V. Daniel (1866-1922) married George A. Roberts (1861-1939), she was just 18, George 23. They lived on their farm in Mound Prairie Township, Jasper County, Iowa, with three of the four children born to them, as their first child had died in infancy. George Anthony Roberts, Jr., worked hard on the farm his whole life, and his sister Ethel Gay Roberts worked hard as well (although she apparently was more fond of reading than chores). Their baby, Edith Roberts (McMurray) (Luck), who was mentioned as a wonderful gardener earlier this week, wrote stories for her grandchildren about her years growing up on the farm. She detailed the personalities and events of family, and these are such precious stories to have today, and to tell our own children. (We have our own family version of Little House on the Prairie!)

Shopping was a big thing when one lived on a farm, way out in the rural parts of the county. Usually the whole family traveled together in the horse-drawn buggy for the big outing to town. Edith wrote about a shopping incident that happened probably around 1901-2:

My first recollection of mother was very early. She carried me into the store called Carriers and set me on the counter while she did her shopping. We called it trading. As she went out she evidently heard a clerk say, “They will never raise that baby.”

For farm wives, shopping days were not only picking out new calico for a dress, or staples they could not raise on the farm themselves, but they were truly trading days. Ella would bring in items she raised, gathered, or made, in trade for the items the family needed. Edith continues the story:

In the winter we sold butter and in the summer cream.

Mother was a very good butter maker. The secret was getting all the whey out and later the salt water. We came to Newton each Saturday and they say Mr. Hough had regular customers for mother’s butter and if it was to bad for us to get in the folks would rather scrimp along on what they had until mother came in. It was all shaped in rectangular pieces and she would put designs on top and wrap them in snow-white sugar sacks that she had bleached during the summer.

Ella also baked cakes and pies, skills she taught her youngest daughter well. Edith’s pies, cakes, and cookies were always the first to sell at church bake sales, and Ella’s bakery items were esteemed as well. Ella did sell to other grocers in town, including one named Will McMurray. Will and his wife Lynette Payne McMurray had two sons who probably helped out in the store. One of them, Edward A. McMurray, would eventually become Edith’s husband. Shopping was, obviously, a good way to meet and chat with family, friends, and neighbors- and even future sweethearts.

Edith’s story about her father included:

He dabbled in county politics. The time we spent sitting on the bench at Houghs grocery store waiting for Dad. He would be out on the street talking to some one about the county and township politics.

No doubt this was a frustration to Ella too. As a farmer’s wife, she knew there were lots of chores awaiting their return to the farm. But the wait for George who was deep in political discourse would have been a regular part of their shopping day, so the family learned to be patient.

More about those chores awaiting their return to the farm in our next post.



Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Family treasure chest of stories by Edith Roberts Luck.

2) Workday Wednesday: Tilling the Soil, Part 1-

3) Workday Wednesday Continued on Thursday: Tilling the Soil, Part 2-


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