Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Marietta Sherman Neumann

Marietta Sherman Neuman grew up on her family's farm near Silver Lake and Winsted, in southern Minnesota, during the Great Depression. Like her 6 siblings, Marietta had her own daily chores to do, including feeding the chickens, milking the cows, and carrying firewood for the stove. She recounted her memories of work on the farm in an oral history conducted by Linda Cameron and Rose Sherman in November 2006.


Marietta Sherman Neumann Oral History Interview


LC: Let's go back to the chores on the farm. What were your responsibilities when you were a kid, and at what age did you start doing chores? Do you remember?

MN: I don't know. Well, helping with feeding the chickens, and that to say an actual age...I suppose….nine, ten, for gathering the eggs and that and helping to feed chickens.

LC: How many chickens did you have?

Mom had about 300. And that, and helping to carry in wood. And…

LC: Did you have a wood-burning stove then?

MN: Yes. Of course! [Laughter] Of course at that time, a wood range, and…the big wood range, and to have to help polish the chrome and…and…with newspaper. And I know…if it was…if it was from the ashes…if I…now I'm thinking back, I think…with the ashes and on the newspaper and for polishing that chrome, because that had to shine. You'd better believe that had to shine. And if it wasn't shining, you did it over. [Laughter] So the…and to carry in the wood, and of course, doing dishes, and…

LC: Did you help with the baking and cooking and…?

MN: I started with the…I suppose it would have been, I suppose about fourteen, about thirteen.

LC: Were there other chores on the farm that you did as a kid?

MN: Um…No I had older brothers and sisters that a…I mean, the older brothers that took care of working down the barn, and that kind of thing. Yeah, everybody had their responsibilities. Well, by that time…by that time, my oldest sister was gone, and you know she was out working and so forth, and…so she…and that…and Florence was the one that would be…that we did that my sister Florence and I, you know, doing the dishes, and that kind of thing while Mom and Dad did the chores, and the brothers…the brothers that…until afterwards, and…Then I helped with milking and that.

LC: Did you have automated milking, or did you do it by hand?

MN: By hand. By hand, and the folks had had…well, of course, we didn't have electricity. We didn’t have electricity until the 1942-43.

LC: Did you help with wash day?

MN: Would have to…yeah. And of course, there again, in the summertime, well in the shed that had…in the pump house there where the engine was, in the summertime Mom would have the washing machine out there so you carried the water out there, and you…and…well, of course, you could dump the water in the ground then when you were through. But you had to carry the hot water out to it. In wintertime, well, then they'd move the washing machine into the pantry, and then roll it out into the kitchen to…ah…then with the laundry tubs and…

LC: And what kind of washing machine was it? Can you describe it?

MN: A Maytag, of course! [Laughter]

LC: But it wasn't electrified, right? Or was it?

MN: No. Once I can remember it was in the house. I can't remember if Mom probably…washed clothes outside. Anyway, there it could be hooked up to the gasoline engine, and…with a belt, and that, that ran an engine on the washing machine, and that. And…she must have done all the washing outside in the winter.

LC: Did she always wash on Monday?

MN: Of course! [Laughter] Of course you washed on Monday, and…

LC: Did you help with the ironing?

MN: Oh, yes. And one of the table boards that was on the table where you had lunch today, would be put across the top of two chairs, and that was the ironing board that I learned to iron on.

LC: Did you still use flatirons, or did you have an elec – oh, you wouldn’t have had an electric iron 'til later.

MN: We had a flatiron to start out, when I first started, then we had electric irons, [cuckoo clock sounds] and that, because we got that…I would have been in eighth grade.

LC: When you got electricity?

MN: When we got electricity.