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The American farmer thinks first of his own home; only recently has he commenced to appreciate that his and other homes form a community. In the "age of homespun" the pioneer subdued his new lands and built his home; the farm and the home were his and for them he lived. He bought but little and had but little to sell. Farms were largely self-supporting. Neighbors helped each other in numerous ways and as the country became more thickly settled neighborhood life grew apace. But there was little sense of relation to the larger community. Roads were bad and people were too widely scattered to come together except on special occasions. The family was the fundamental social unit and social life revolved around the family, or in the immediate neighborhood.

But "times have changed." The farm is no longer largely self-supporting. It is now but a primary unit in a world-wide economic system, conducted with money as the basis of exchange and dominated by the interests of capital. Farm products are sold for cash and their value is determined by distant or world markets with which the farmer has no personal contact and of which he often has but little knowledge. Most of the goods consumed on the farm must be purchased. The marketing of his products and the purchasing of goods have given the farmer increasing contacts with the village and town centers and a broader knowledge of the world at large.

During the past century modern ideas of transportation and the development of industries due to inventions and scientific discoveries have resulted in an enormous growth of city populations. The social life of the cities is increasingly dominated by the interests of the individual rather than those of the family, until the breaking down of urban family life has become a world-wide problem. The family is no longer the social unit of the city as it is in the country.

Now farm people are by no means as isolated from town and city as is often imagined. Their brothers and sisters, sons and daughters have gone to make up the increasing urban populations. Through correspondence and visiting back and forth, through frequent trips to town, through the daily city newspapers, and through the general reading of magazines, farm people are in more or less close contact with the life and manners of the cities. Inasmuch as slightly over half of our people now live in towns or cities and only one-third live on farms, it is not surprising that urban ideals and values and the urban point of view tend more and more to dominate those of the countryside. There has been a natural tendency, therefore, for the association of country people to center in the country town and village, in the community center.

Better transportation and the inability to maintain satisfactory institutions in the open country have made this process inevitable and it will do much to abolish the evils of rural isolation. The increasing difficulty of maintaining successful churches in the open country and the growth of the village church, the dissatisfaction with the one-room district school and the desire for consolidated schools and community high schools, are evidences of this tendency.

The smaller size of the farm family has made it less self-sufficient socially than formerly, and the fact that fewer near relations live nearby and farms change hands more often has resulted in fewer neighborhood gatherings. The different members of the family tend to get together more with groups of their own age and sex coming from all parts of the community, and definite effort is made for the organization of such groups according to their various interests.

Attention is directed to these tendencies because in our present emphasis on the relation of the farmer to his community and on community values, we must not lose sight of the fact that the family must ever be recognized as the primary social institution of rural life. Indeed, it may not be too much to claim that the largest value in the agricultural industry is in the possibility of the most satisfactory type of home life. The millionaire farmer is so rare as to be negligible, and although farmers as a class doubtless have as wholesome and satisfactory a living as they would in other pursuits, yet no one engages in farming as a means of easily acquiring large wealth. The highest rural values cannot be bought or sold.

The mere fact that farming is practically the only remaining industry conducted on a family basis--which seems likely to continue--and that all members of the family have more or less of a share in the conduct and success of the farm, creates a family bond which does not ordinarily exist where the business or employment of the father and of other members of the family is dissociated from the home. Although the burden of the farm business on the home is often decried and there is obvious need of lightening the mother's work for the farm as much as possible, yet under the best of conditions there is on the farm a constant and intimate contact between the father and mother and children which is rarely found under other conditions.

Primitive woman discovered the art of agriculture. At first, the men assisted the women in what time they could spare from hunting; but as game became scarce and the food supply grown from the soil was found to be more certain, agriculture became man's vocation. Permanent home life commenced with the development of agriculture. As he became a farmer, primitive man stayed at home with his wife and shared with her the nurture of the children. Before then the family had been _hers_, now it was _theirs_. The mere fact that the home and the business are both on the farm, that father is in the house several times a day and that the whole family are acquainted with his farm operations, will always give the farm home a superior solidarity, so long as the family lives on the farm. Though but few farm homes are ideal and some of them have but little that is attractive, yet nowhere are conditions so favorable for the enjoyment of all that is most precious in family life as in the better American farm homes.

If this be true, that the chief value in agriculture is in the possibility of the most satisfactory home life, then community development should be considered primarily from the standpoint of its effect on the farm home, for the social strength of the country will be more largely determined by its homes than by its other social institutions. We should endeavor, therefore, to build up that type of community life which makes for better homes and stronger families. While seeking to afford superior advantages to individuals, all effort toward community improvement should recognize that the strength of the community is in its home life.

The need of this point of view with regard to rural community organization has been very forcibly indicated by Mr. John R. Boardman, one of our keenest observers and interpreters of country life in his "Community Leadership." He says:

      "At the heart of the rural situation is the rural family. The social problems involved in home life in the rural village and on the farm are of two kinds,--developmental and protective. The social unit in the city is the individual. Urban conditions have rapidly disintegrated the family as a social unit. Grave dangers have resulted from this interference with the unity of domestic life. The rural family is in danger of meeting the same fate. It is now the social unit in the rural social structure. Every effort must be put forth to make this situation permanent. The major problem is one of home conservation. Protection of the rural family against social exploitation will demand increasing attention. The development of social organization along lines which interfere with the unity and solidarity of rural family life must be approached with extreme caution and tolerated only as they may be absolutely necessary. So far as possible social organization must be built around the rural family and give it every possible opportunity to act as a family in the scheme of organization and activity. The home as a social center must receive increased attention. There is great danger, in the new interest which is being aroused in rural social life, that the matter of social organization be greatly overdone. The rural family will be the one to suffer first and most severely as a result of this craze for social organization."

In support of this point of view it is interesting to note that the strongest rural institutions, the church, the grange, and the recently organized Farm Bureaus, are all organizations which have an interest for the whole family or for most of its members. With an increasing sense of social needs and responsibilities on the part of rural people, new organizations will be formed and various community activities must be undertaken, but if country people will remain true to their traditions and, with clear view of changing conditions, will seek to organize their community life as an association of farm and village _families_, they will create the most satisfying and enduring type of society. The community buildings now becoming so popular in rural communities are a good example of a family institution organized to furnish better recreation and social facilities for the whole family.

Inasmuch as the home is its primary social institution, the rural community must give its first consideration to its relations to the home and how the home life may be strengthened, if the rural family is to withstand the influence of the disintegrating home life of the city. For the farm home is in a process of readjustment to modern conditions and the recognition of ideals and objectives of home-life by the community will be a powerful factor in their maintenance.

The mother has ever occupied the central position in the home. Under modern conditions, as a result of her education and broader knowledge of life, through her more frequent contacts with town and city and through her wider reading, many a farm mother is coming to feel that her position is an anomalous one. In some cases she may be able to solve her own problems, but only a general change in public opinion concerning their position will bring a more acceptable status to farm women as a class.

Some of the farm woman's problems arise from the increasing division of labor between her husband and herself and from the marketing of the farm products; these are the problems of her economic status. The peasant woman of medieval Europe or the wife of the American pioneer never worried that she did not receive a monthly allowance or a certain share of the farm income. She worked with her husband and family in raising the farm products and she shared in their consumption, for but relatively little was sold off the place. To-day, the wife of the farm owner does little work on the farm; its products are sold and much of the food and practically all of the clothing is purchased. She and her children contribute a considerable amount of the labor of the farm enterprise, and do all of the housework; but the husband does the selling and most of the buying, she often has but little share in the management of the family's finances, and rarely knows what she may count on for household expenses. She comes to feel that she is no longer a real partner, but a sort of housekeeper, though without salary or assured income. In over nine thousand farm homes studied in the northern and western states,[5] one-fourth of the women helped with the livestock, and one-fourth worked in the field an equivalent of 6.7 weeks a year, over half of them cared for the home gardens, and one-third of them kept the farm accounts. Over a third of them helped to milk, two-thirds washed the separators, and 88 percent washed the milk pails, 60 percent made the butter and one-third sold the butter, but only 11 percent had the spending of the money from its sale. Likewise 81 percent cared for the poultry, but only 22 percent had the poultry money for their own use and but 16 percent had the egg money. These figures do not give us a complete analysis of the household finances in relation to the amount contributed by farm women, but they are indicative of the general situation.

It is because of these facts that farm women feel that a larger portion of the farm income should be spent in giving them better household conveniences, somewhat commensurate with the amount that is spent for improved farm machinery and barn conveniences. Only one-third of these farm homes had running water; and but one-fifth had a bath-tub with water and sewer connections; 85 percent had outdoor toilets. Improvement is in evidence, however, for two-thirds had water in the kitchen, 60 percent had sink and drain, 57 percent had washing machines, and 95 percent had sewing machines. It is not that she is merely seeking less work so that she may attend her club or go to the movies, that the farm mother desires better conveniences and shorter hours--her average working day is now 11.3 hours--but because she has new ideals of the nurture which she wishes to give her family and of what she might do for them had she the time and physical strength.

As a result of the coöperative survey of 10,000 representative farm homes in 241 counties in the 33 northern and western states made by home demonstration agents and farm women, Miss Ward[6] gives some interesting "side-lights," which are as illuminating as the statistics:

      "Women realize that no amount of scientific arrangement or labor-saving appliances will of themselves make a home. It is the woman's personal presence, influence, and care that make the home. Housekeeping is a business as practical as farming and with no romance in it; home making is a sacred trust. A woman wants time salvaged from housekeeping to create the right home atmosphere for her children and to so enrich their home surroundings that they may gain their ideals of beauty and their tastes for books and music not from the shop windows, the movies, the billboards, or the jazz band, but from the home environment.

      "The farm woman knows that there is no one who can take her place as teacher and companion of her children during their early impressionable years and she craves more time for their care. She feels the need of making the farm home an inviting place for the young people of the family and their friends and of promoting the recreational and educational advantages of the neighborhood in order to cope with the various forms of city allurements. She realizes that modern conditions call for an even deeper realization and closer contact between mother and child. The familiar term, 'God could not be everywhere so He made mothers' has its modern scientific application, as no amount of education and care given to children in school or elsewhere outside the home can take the place of mothering in the home. 'The home exists for the child, hence the child's development should have first consideration.'

      "Farm women want to broaden their outlook and keep with the advancement of their children 'not by courses of study but by bringing progressive ideas, methods, and facilities into the every day work and recreation of the home environment.'"

"True enough," you say, "but these are problems of the individual home. What have they to do with the community?" Just this: The status of the farm woman is a matter determined more by custom than by individual achievement. It is difficult for any one woman, no matter how able or strong-minded, to maintain a status much in advance of that of her neighbors; but let the women of a community get together and discuss their problems and ideals and the group spirit strengthens each of them in the pursuit of the common ideals. It is such a desire for mutual support--even though they are not conscious of it--which has drawn farm women together into clubs and which has given such an impetus to the Home Bureaus, or women's departments of the county Farm Bureaus. Not only in women's organizations, but finally in community organizations of men and women, such as the Grange and the church, the social standards of the community receive the sanction of public opinion, than which there is no more powerful means of influencing family usages. The community as such, must give recognition to a new and better status of its farm women.

If the rural home remains the primary social institution, it will be due to its intelligent effort at self-defense, and not to any inherent right which it has to such a position. Originally the family was but a biological group. Until modern times the agricultural family was chiefly an economic unit. Only with the isolation of the American farm, did the individual family assume the primary social position known to our fathers and grandfathers. Physical isolation and large families made the farm home the only possible social center. Isolation is largely passing, families are smaller, and organizations of all sorts and commercial amusements compete with the family. It is the use of leisure time which reveals the true loyalty of the family group. If there be nothing to attract them to the fireside, they will inevitably go elsewhere whenever possible. Hence, if it would have its foundations strong, the community must encourage the enrichment of home life, particularly, in the hours of leisure when life is most real. The family games after supper, the group around the piano singing old and modern songs, the reading aloud by one member of the circle, the cracking of nuts and the popping of corn, the picnic supper on the lawn, the tennis court or croquet ground, the home parties, the guests ever-welcome at meals, these are but items in a possible scorecard of the sociability of the home. We are giving much thought to all sorts of group activities, but how much attention have we given to systematically encouraging the social unit which has the largest possibilities, the family? Last summer my friend, Professor E. C. Lindeman, of the North Carolina College for Women, spent several weeks in becoming acquainted with rural Denmark under peculiarly favorable conditions. A statement in a letter from him regarding Danish home life is apropos in this connection:

      "I observed that the country people find a great deal of social expression within their own homes. The home life is organized on a much higher plane than is common in America. In addition, there is a larger content of cultural and educational material within the family circle."

In the same way the economic position, health, education, and all other phases of life of the family are the most potent influences both in the life of its members and of the community.

The question arises, therefore, what is the community doing to strengthen the home? In recent years the new discipline of Home Economics has vigorously attacked the problems of diet, clothing, and household management, and has accomplished much. It is now concerning itself with health, child welfare, and even with child psychology and the family as an institution. Yet the home economics point of view is necessarily restricted to that of the institution which it serves, i.e., the home; it has the same limitations, when pursued solely from the home standpoint, that farm management has as an interpretation of farming if not related to agricultural and general economics. We need a consideration of the problems of the home from the standpoint of other social institutions and with regard to its function in social organization. We need a clearer concept of the relation of the home to the community and to community associations and activities.

The community institutions, the school, the church, and various organizations, have had too much of a tendency to compete with the home rather than to support and strengthen it. Thus the tendency of the school has been to demand a larger and larger portion of the child's time and to assume that because certain phases of education can be more economically given in the school, that, therefore, it should take over as much of the educational function of the home as is possible; a conclusion which is by no means valid. In the home project a new educational principle has been discovered, which has far-reaching significance: for in it the school and the home coöperate, the school outlining, standardizing, and interpreting, while the home furnishes supervision, advice, and encouragement. Thus, the home is stimulated to perform those educational functions in which it is superior, through a definite effort upon the part of the school to strengthen them. The same principle is being applied to education in hygiene. Why should not the church and Sunday school adopt similar methods and undertake a definite system of encouraging the home to give moral and religious education in an adequate fashion, rather than attempt to give homeopathic doses to children _en masse_? Why should not the church, or the school, or both, give parents instruction and inspiration as to how to educate their children in matters of sex, about which they are in the best position to gain their confidence? Should not our clubs and social organizations, for men and women, boys and girls, face the question, as to whether their aggregate activities are unduly competing with the home, and should they not give definite thought as to how they may assist and strengthen the basic institution of our social organization? If the home is the essential primary social institution, then its well-being should command the consideration of every institution of the community; for the function and objectives of the home cannot be determined solely by either its own ideals and purposes, or by the values established by the various special interest groups. The home and the community institutions are constantly in a process of adapting themselves to each other, and to the extent that each recognizes the function of the other and is willing to coöperate rather than to compete, is the highest success of each made possible.

This problem of the relation of the home to the community is a relatively new one, and is largely the result of better means of communication which have enlarged the horizon of every farm home. When the life of the child was almost wholly within the home and the neighborhood, the parents gave themselves little concern about the influence or conditions of the larger community. But when her children go to a consolidated school and their school associates are unknown to her, when they attend the movies in the village, and when they read the local weekly or the city daily newspaper and the monthly magazines, so that they know what is going on throughout the world, then, if she be wise, a mother commences to realize that the community is having a growing influence in shaping their character and that however ideal the home may be, it is but a part of their lives. She commences to appreciate that she must have an understanding of the life and forces of the community so that she may use her influence toward making their social environment what it should be and so that she may be able to make the home so attractive that it will hold their primary interest and loyalty. Thus community problems of health, of education, of recreation and social life, and of religion become inter-related with those of the home. The successful homemaker can no longer concern herself solely with home-management, but must assume her share of responsibility in community-management, or "community housekeeping."

With the new responsibilities of suffrage rural women are following the example of their city sisters in taking a larger interest in civic affairs and social legislation, and with a most wholesome influence on community life. There is, however, some danger that while the men are engaged with their business problems, these social problems will be too largely left to the women;[7] for without the sympathetic understanding and hearty coöperation of their husbands, rural women will find that their new social ideals will materialize but slowly. Here again, such family organizations as the Grange, the Church, and Farm and Home Bureau, in which community activities engage both men and women are peculiarly serviceable.

An interesting example of how the family may function in community life is found in a small town in southern Michigan (Centerville) where the people have established a coöperative motion picture theater, to which the families buy season tickets, and where one may find whole families together enjoying the best pictures to the accompaniment of a community orchestra. This is also being accomplished in many community buildings.

On the other hand the home need not abdicate all of its old-time functions as a social center. A few years ago in attending a rural community conference at the University of Illinois I was interested to hear a farm woman, a graduate of that university, tell how she and her neighbors had held amateur dramatic entertainments on their front verandas during the summer. The young people took the parts and the audience sat on the lawn, and thus many families were brought under the influence of the better homes who would not have thought of visiting them. When winter came on, these entertainments were continued in a slightly different manner, so that neighboring families were brought into contact without any tendency toward undue intimacy between families which would not associate otherwise. Family parties for young and old, should by no means be abandoned in favor of community parties, however satisfactory and attractive the latter may be.

The social responsibility of the rural home must receive new recognition, for the day when we can live to ourselves in the enjoyment of a select group of personal friends is rapidly passing, if we are to have satisfactory social conditions. It is one of the bad effects of the increasing amount of tenancy in our best farming sections, and of the frequent changing of farm ownership, that the shifting of residence makes it difficult for the family to secure a satisfactory social position in the community life.

In the last analysis, however, the largest contribution of the home to the community and the best means of solving the problem of its relation to community life, is in the development of the best social attitudes among its members toward each other and toward the life of the community; for all sound social organization is but an application of the relations of the family to the affairs of larger social groups, and unless attitudes of mutual aid, common responsibility, and voluntary loyalty, are maintained in the home, so that its relations form a norm for all other human groups, rural society will have lost the chief dynamic of social progress.


[5] From "The Farm Woman's Problems," Florence E. Ward. U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Circular 148 (1920).

[6] _Ibid._, pp. 14, 15.

[7] Benjamin Kidd claims that this superior interest of women in race welfare is due to woman's cultural inheritance and that from the very nature of the division of labor between man and woman, man is less capable than woman of devoting himself to human welfare. "But the fact of the age which goes deeper than any other is that the male mind of the race as the result of the conditions out of which it has come, is by itself incapable of rendering this service to civilization. It is in the mind of woman that the winning peoples of the world will find the psychic center of Power in the future."--"The Science of Power," p. 241.