The brittle, brown-edged “First Report” from the first Commissioner of Agriculture to the President, Abraham Lincoln, was in a long untouched trunk in Alice Haley’s attic in the 1970s. The two-story brick farmhouse stood on the same site as the sod home in which her grandmother, Martha Wilson, had lived.
Alice’s grandfather, Thomas Wilson, likely read the book by candlelight when it first arrived, and he was struck by the section beginning on page 462, called the “Health of Farmers’ Families.”
An excerpt from an article by Gertrude Dieken in 100 Years of Farm Journal, published in 1975, tells more: “Thomas read that there was some concern over the large numbers of farm people in lunatic asylums: ‘The statistics of the insane in Massachusetts show that the largest number of cases were farmers’ wives.’ And, on turning the page, Thomas read: ‘This is the key…their subjects of thought are too few; their life is a ruinous routine…’
“’Let the farmer never forget that his wife is his best friend…and equal partner,’ he read. The United States Department of Agriculture reminded Thomas that Martha was not a machine – that ‘few things will bring a more certain and happy reward to a farmer than for him to remember his wife is a social being.’ And he read further that ‘a bunch of flowers or a shilling ribbon would be a good investment.’”
“I’m a lucky woman, Martha Wilson’s granddaughter exclaimed right out loud, on her way to answer the phone.”
It’s hard to imagine how difficult farm life was in those days.
“The farm home especially has something to give to tomorrow’s world,” Dieken wrote. “The farm home sends out into the world young people who can face it serenely, but vigorously. People who don’t panic easily and who have the independence and strength of free men (with more common sense than any single group in our population). We need them on our farms, in business, in schools, in government, in world affairs.” Those young people would be today’s Baby Boomers.
It serves us well to look back and early farm life and see how farm agriculture has come, but one thing hasn’t changed.
A bunch of flowers is still a good investment, especially when it’s least expected.