Agricultural family and neighbor labor in nineteenth-century minnesota

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Abstract

Expanding production with limited resources challenged nineteenth-century farm families, particularly young couples with newly established farms. For many farms in this early life cycle stage, networks of neighbors and kin were critical to success. Using letters, farm diaries, and account books, the author explores the roles and relationships of family labor and neighbor labor on the farm over the life course. In particular, the author relies heavily on the diary of Andrew Peterson to provide a microhistorical view of farm labor. Andrew Peterson provides a valuable resource as he represents an average Minnesota farmer during this time period. Yet his unique place as a pomologist, an inspiration for Vilhelm Moberg’s “The Emigrants” series and his 43-year diary provide a large primary, secondary, and fictional literature to understand the context of the Peterson farm family. Social networks of neighbor labor, defined as labor or capital exchanged between neighbors in conjunction with monetary or commodity payment, were relied upon both as a function of maintaining community ties and as a resource during times of need and crisis. Finally, the diaries describe the labor of Andrew’s wife Elsa and their children, who according to the Census were not working. The diaries reflect Victorian gender norms, where Andrew did not record Elsa’s household work. When including household work, conservative estimates show the importance of Elsa’s labor on the farm. While we need to be cautious when extrapolating these findings to a larger population, neighbor labor for this particular farm family suggests the importance of community ties and invisible labor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-231
Number of pages21
JournalHistoricka Demografie
Volume43
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Diaries
  • Labor
  • Minnesota
  • Neighborhood exchange

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