Ella V. Daniel Roberts- A Day in the Life of a Farm Wife, Part 3

George Anthony Roberts with his wife Ella V. Daniel Roberts and their three children: Ethel Gay Roberts standing in back on left, George Anthony Roberts, Jr. standing on right, and little Edith Mae Roberts between her beloved parents, circa 1904.
George Anthony Roberts with his wife Ella V. Daniel Roberts and their three children: Ethel Gay Roberts standing in back on left, George Anthony Roberts, Jr. standing on right, and little Edith Mae Roberts between her beloved parents, circa 1904.

Daniel Family, Roberts Family (Click for Family Tree)

Very few of the clothes of the female members of the family were store bought in the late 1800s-early 1900s, although the men’s clothes may have been purchased, especially work pants. Ella V. Daniel Roberts probably made her own dress in the above picture, and that of her daughters, and may have made the men’s shirts. She probably did not make their suits, especially since by the date of this picture, they were prosperous farmers and could afford store-bought suits for George Sr. and Jr. Otherwise, Ellie Roberts did all the family sewing, which probably included quite a lot of mending. Her sewing tasks would also have included bed coverings such as quilts, curtains, tablecloths, towels, etc. Much of the sewing would have been done by hand, though she did use a treadle sewing machine that was later was used by her daughter Edith for many years, making dresses and doll clothes for her own grandchildren. (Heart-wrenchingly, the sewing machine was put on the front lawn and auctioned off, along with other family treasures, something Edith never wanted to happen after her death.)

Edith described the clothing worn in a story written for her grandchildren:

Mother dressed like all farm women of that day. Calico dress. That is print now. Long skirt gathered to a waist, usually a collar and mid arm length sleeves. A long apron gathered to a band ending in strings tied at her waist. Sometimes there was a bib. Pinned on both sides to the dress. All I can remember about under wear was the corset. The kind that laced at the back. It was in two pieces. Guess that is why they called them corsets. A heavy hook fastening at front that really flattened your tummy and pushed up the bust. To control that you wore a corset waist. That really flattened the bust. It was buttoned up the front and pinned to the corset at the waist.

Her hair was curly and auburn. I can see her sitting down after the dinner work was done combing her hair, she used hairpins that were rubber and a comb in back. Maybe one on either side too.

That is the way she got her rest I suppose in these little daily tasks that let her sit down. She did all the sewing. Now I wouldn’t say all as her very best dress was made by a dressmaker in Prairie City. I wonder what happened to the beautiful black dress that she had on in the picture hanging on the wall in my bedroom. It was heavy satin. Almost heavy [enough] to stand alone. White ruching around the collar and braid a foot up from the hem and a hair braid underneath the hem to keep it from wearing. She was beautiful in it. 

Sadly, we only have the above picture of Ellie Roberts that is close enough to see what she looked like. We do not know what happened to the picture Edith mentioned above, nor to the items listed below. There are also two pictures of the house and extended family that include Ellie, but it is very hard to see many details in either. We have no pictures of her early life, nor George’s- if you, dear reader, do have pictures of this family, please contact us!

One thing I remember was the plumed hat mother wore. Black with huge plumes and long black hat pins, to hold it on. Sometimes a veil over her face. Can’t remember gloves but always a purse, and high shoes, laced and polished. I can’t remember a coat. I wonder what happened to all her things. In the front room bedroom off the parlor was a built in closet in which she kept the good clothes. I would get into that closet once in a while and rummage. There was a tin box with old rings and memory books etc. Also Christmas gifts. How did I know that, well I rummaged and found them. I do have her tatting shuttle and some of her hair combings after she was grey. Wish I had some of her lovely auburn hair, she rolled high on top of her head. Little scolding locks would always be around her face when she was hot.

When the clothes were just took ragged to mend, they became rugs:

These winter afternoons were quiet and comfortable as I think back on them. This afternoon I had been playing with a big ball of sewed carpet rags. Mother in the evenings would tear up all the old worn clothes and then sew them together to make rugs. She would take a big basket of balls to Prairie City to a lady that had a loom.

There were a couple of utility quilts that were passed down in the family, but they were in pretty rough condition, with some of the fabric rotted or worn away. There are also some dish towels that Edith embroidered as a young girl- handwork was definitely not a skill she loved. It is likely that Ellie Roberts was the same, as there just was no time for fancy needlework, as utility sewing and other chores took up so much of the life of a farm wife.

Roberts Family Farm- barns in 2012.
Roberts Family Farm- barns in 2012.

Hard physical work, long days from sunup to sundown and beyond, the emotional toll of bad weather and subsequent crop or livestock loss, the illnesses and death that occurred at much younger ages than currently with modern medicine- all these made farm life hard around the turn of the 20th century. All the more reason for love and laughter to have a part in the life of Ellie Roberts and family:

Well one evening we were trying to think of a womans name. All were deep in thot and all at once mother said “What was Mrs. Haffertys name” That was the name they were trying to think of. Every body laughed and what a dear relaxed time it was.

Georgie [George Anthony Roberts, Jr.] was such a tease. He never went out to work that he didn’t tie mother to the chair with her apron strings. She knew what he was doing but would not let on so he could have his fun. How she loved that boy. 

And how we love these stories of times past. Thank you, dear Grandma Edie, for making the past come alive through your letters and stories. And they help us to know that we “come from good pioneer stock, and can do anything we set our minds to do.”


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Excerpts in green are from letters and stories written by Edith Roberts Luck. They are protected under copyright law since she wrote them in the 1970s and 80s, so may not be published or posted elsewhere. Family members may request permission to republish for non-profit use; please use our contact form.

2) Family photo.

3) Grandma Edie would tell us the above about being from good pioneer stock when we faced adversity in our lives, and helped us to know that we will survive, and be successful.


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