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Minnie's Diary #22: Corsets, Planting Potatoes and Sleeping with Pie-face

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

No "Melting Pot" in Hermansville

Sunday, May 29 - Went to Mass. Went to Mr. Paquin with Del.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

As Father Glaser recited the Latin Rite, Minnie’s mother and father prayed the rosary silently in French. Minnie’s mind wandered to observe all the immigrant families in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.

The French Canadians had gathered together in their own section. Italians sat over there, then the Croatians, Germans, and Austrians. In the company-owned town, each immigrant community spoke its own language and observed its own customs.

In 1902, the Croatians had organized their own mutual benefit society, the Holy Cross Lodge 259. The French-Canadians had formed the Foresters — the Ordre des Forestiers Franco-Américain. Although they were in America, they still observed their old ways.

Minnie gazed over at the Italians. A few young men caught her attention, but to be courted by an Italian? She didn’t need the aggravation that would cause. The unmarried Italian men were boarding eight or nine to a house with an Italian family. In a year or two, they would either return home for good or go back to the “old country” to find a wife to bring to America.

“There was 165 Croatians in this town at one time, and 145 Italians. And they all were hard workers. They didn’t go out of town. They didn’t do nothing. They all worked six days a week and then on Sunday they would help one another to do whatever they had to do. … They were a sociable and helpful people. There wasn’t any trouble of any kind. Oh, they drank their wine, they played on their bocce court, played cards at night. They never got mixed up with other nationalities. They wanted to be alone with themselves.”

— Northern Michigan University, Central Upper Peninsula and NMU Archives, Italian-American Immigrant Oral History Catalog, Interview with Emil Tomasi, June 21, 1982

“Austrian there. Italian up here. French up there. German out that way. Italians, they are cosmopolitan, I guess that was a mixture. Swedish out near Cunard. It was really cliquey, and it took a long time to get a melting pot going, too, because they were sticking to their own nationalities. But finally, when the factory started running, girls were employed here. That broke the ice, because then you got acquainted and they intermarried.”

— Northern Michigan University, Center for Upper Peninsula Studies,

Interview with Rose Schultz, December 20, 1979

After Mass, Minnie went to Del’s house, where they played cards with Emily Gagnon and Del’s sister, Perm.

A Conversation with Emily

Monday, May 30 - Washed. Mrs. Caron and Emily call. Em stayed for supper. Went up the hill with her.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“Em, I can’t believe that you’re leaving us in just two weeks,” Minnie said to her schoolteacher friend.

Minnie had been dreading the month of June ever since Emily had decided to find a teaching job closer to her family in Marinette, Wisconsin. Although trains traveled the 50 miles from Hermansville to Marinette several times a day, Minnie knew she wouldn’t be able to see her very often, if ever again.

“We can still write to each other,” Emily said. “I’ll want to know all about your soap business.”

“And I’ll want to hear about your new school. Do you know where you’ll be going?”

“Yes, I’ll be teaching at the Fox School.”

“I bet you’ll miss teaching all these farm kids and future sawmill workers.”

“Just as much as I’ll miss being told by the school board that I’m having too much fun.”

Minnie laughed, remembering when Emily received a letter from the school board for laughing too loud while walking at night with the Paquin brothers.

The two young women walked arm in arm, slowly marching up the dirt road toward the Paquin farm, where Emily rented a room.

“It won’t be the same without you,” Minnie said. “It’s been so nice to have another girl my age who isn’t married and having babies. I just don’t fit in, but I don’t have enough schooling to work — except as a domestic.”

“Selling Larkin Soap will give you a purpose,” Emily said. “You just need to spread your wings a bit.”

“Some days, I’d like to spread my wings and fly away,” Minnie said.

Victor and Anna's Wedding

Tuesday, May 31 - Went and danced at Victor’s wedding. Had a fine time.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Minnie’s friend Anna Lavigne married Victor Raiche at St. Mary’s Church. Mr. Lavigne rented the town hall for the party, and it seemed as though every Frenchman was there looking for a girl to dance with. Minnie never had a chance to sit down, nor did she want to. Her feet made time to the old French tunes as she danced all night.

À ma main droite j'ai un rosier À ma main droite j'ai un rosier Il fleurira au mois de mai, Au mois de mai il fleurira. Entrez en danse charmant rosier Entrez en danse charmant rosier Et choisissez qui vous voulez Et choisissez qui vous voulez Embrassez celle que vous voulez Embrassez celle que vous voulez, La rose ou bien le rosier La rose ou bien le rosier.

In my right hand I have a rosebush In my right hand I have a rosebush It will bloom in the month of May In the month of May it will bloom. Enter the dance charming rosebush Enter the dance charming rosebush And choose who you want And choose who you want, Kiss the one you want Kiss the one you want The rose or the rosebush The rose or the rosebush.

— À ma main droite j'ai un rosier (Danse en cercle) or In My Right Hand I have a Rosebush (Circle dance) from

The young Franco-Americans held each other by the hand, dancing in a circle to the old childhood song. As they reached the second stanza, Victor led his sister, Mary, into the center of the circle, inviting her to embrace whoever she pleased.

Mary placed a kiss on the cheek of Levi Lecousier, who took her hand and led the circle dance for the next round.

Tourism in Champion?

Wednesday, June 1 - Went to Hville to bring back the horse. Had a letter from Arthur.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

The Percheron draft horse Pa had rented from the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company was going back to the stable in Hermansville today. Jack — or “Jacques” as Pa called him — had helped with the plowing and the cultivating, but he was no longer needed. Two horses provided enough horsepower on the farm for ordinary work.

Pa drove their cart with Jack walking behind, tethered by a rope.

Adieu, Jacques,” Minnie said, as they led him back to his old stable. Jack neighed softly when he saw the barn and his stablemates. “Keep getting your exercise this summer. You need to be ready for the lumber camp next winter.”

When she returned home, Minnie found a letter from her friend Arthur Frechette, who lived in Michigamme.

“You won’t believe it,” he wrote. “Now that the mine is shut down, Champion is suddenly a tourist town. There’s a new resort on Lake Michigamme, too. We're getting ready for a big Fourth of July party, bigger than ever before. The town is putting on a parade, a carnival, and fireworks over the lake at night.”

Minnie marveled at the idea of people vacationing in Champion or Michigamme. In her memory she only saw the streets filled with wagons heading to the sawmill. She remembered red-shirted lumberjacks spitting on the ground and drinking in the saloons, and stores bustling with hardscrabble miners and woodsmen. Not a place to take a family for a vacation. But with so many men gone to find work elsewhere, the boarding houses and hotels were empty. The town needed something else to stay alive.

“CHAMPION, MICH. — Rivers instead of lakes surround this little town and make its attractions slightly different from other neighboring points. Escanaba, Peschka, and Spence rivers all are good trout streams. If you pine for a lake you can take a tugboat and go one mile to Lake Michigamme. There are summer cottages for rent, together with boats and other paraphernalia for a wood expedition. Two small hotels charge $5 and $7 a week, and the railroad collects $10.35 for bringing you the 346 miles from Chicago.”

— “The Tribune’s Vacation Guide,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill., June 15, 1904

“Michigamme will celebrate the Glorious Fourth on a scale never before attempted in that town.”

— “Peninsula News,” The L’Anse Sentinel, L’Anse, Mich., July 2, 1904

“The citizens of Michigamme are very proud of a new resort on the west shore of the lake.”

— “Peninsula News,” The L’Anse Sentinel, L’Anse, Mich., August 6, 1904

“With most of the trees gone, companies are trying to sell farmland to settlers. Remember when they didn’t want families to own land?” Arthur wrote. “Now you can buy land for five or ten dollars an acre.”

“The great saw mills and lumber camps that were such familiar features in the timber country of the north are becoming fewer and fewer. Great stretches of densely timbered lands have been practically denuded. The towering trees, the impenetrable forests have almost entirely disappeared. The reign of the lumber barons is now at an end. But if the forests are gone, the land still remains, and the lumberman who like a knight of old, seeing his vassals leaving him, is now prepared to float the flag of truce and to capitulate to his erstwhile hated foe — the settler. … These lands that were once so prolific in mammoth trees and heavy forests are equally good for the farmer and stock raiser. It is true, there are many stumps and some brush to be removed before they are ready for the plow. But pulling stumps nowadays is not what it used to be thirty or forty years ago. Today we place a stick of dynamite or a charge of giant power under the stump and, presto; lo and behold, it is there no longer.”

—“Farming in the North: Plenty of Good Agricultural Land May Be Bought

in Upper Michigan at Low Prices,” Chicago Live Stock World, Apr 7, 1904

-- Chicago Live Stock World, Apr 7, 1904

Planted Potatoes the Same Old Way

Thursday, June 2 - Planted potatoes all day. Mrs. Dubey call for a short while.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Since early May, Pa had been loosening the soil so their potatoes would have plenty of room to stretch and grow. After nearly ten years of working the soil, he could plow eight inches deep. Having the extra horse from the Company had certainly helped. With a three-horse team, Pa had plowed last year’s clover into the soil, where it would provide nutrients for the potatoes.

After plowing, he had pulverized the soil into fine, loose particles with a smoothing harrow, pulled again by a three-horse hitch. Right before planting, he rolled the soil flat with a roller pulled by a single horse.

Ma cut the seed potatoes into smaller pieces.

“Two or three eyes per piece,” Pa told her.

“I know, Pierre. I’ve been doing this all my life.”

Minnie’s brother Freddie had checked out a book from the Hermansville library, The A B C of Potato Culture by T. B. Berry. He recommended planting just one eye, and not two or three.

“Pa, remember that book I showed you?”

Oui, Freddie.”

“Mr. Berry says you should plant just one eye every foot, instead of three eyes every three feet.”

“And some say to plant the whole potato. I’ll keep doing it my way,” said Pa.

“He also you should drill a hole for each seed, and not plant them in hills.”

“That may work for Mr. Berry in Ohio, but not here,” Pa said.

“We get a rather better yield, all other conditions being equal, by dropping one eye every foot than by putting three eyes in every three feet, and the potatoes are of more uniform size. After many years’ experience in drill planting I feel perfectly sure on this point — perfectly sure that we get more dollars to the acre.”

-- Terry, Theodore Brainard, 1843-. The A B C of Potato Culture: How to Grow Them

In the Largest Quantity, And of the Finest Quality With the Least Expenditure

of Time And Labor : Carefully Considering All the Latest Improvements In This

Branch of Agriculture Up to the Present Date. 3rd ed. Medina, O.: A. I. Root, 1901,

via Hathi Trust Digital Library

“The average yield of potatoes could be doubled in the course of a few years if planters would pay more attention to the selection of seed. Seed should not be selected by taking simply the choicest in the pile, but while digging, and only from hills where all the tubers run uniform and choice. Plant one piece containing two or three eyes in hills 35 inches apart.”

— The Advocate, Sturgeon Bay, Wis., May 14, 1904 (From

“The almost universal practice of potato growers in this country is to cut seed potatoes down to two or three eyes, thus decreasing the cost of planting, which is always heavy in growing potatoes. … Potato growers in Europe who have made this a matter of special study all avoid this method. They plant what they call big seed, usually from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre.”

— “Should Seed Potatoes Be Cut?” The Readstown Herald,

Readstown, Wisconsin, June 9, 1904

“Pa, the Swedes are using the new potato planters,” Minnie said. “The planting goes much faster, and you only need two people. You and Freddie could do all the planting.”

Pas nécessaire,” Pa said. “Not necessary. I know how much you enjoy planting potatoes with our family.”

Minnie stayed silent.

Ma continued cutting the potatoes into pieces, two or three eyes each. Pa drove the horse, while Minnie and Freddie followed behind, dropping potato pieces into the furrow and piling the soil into small hills every three feet. Every time she bent over to work in the soil, Minnie struggled to breathe in her tightly laced, homemade corset. It wasn’t as stiff as the store-bought corsets that city women wore, with their steel or whale bone ribs, but she found it difficult to bend over to do farm work and breathe at the same time.

At the end of the day, Minnie’s stomach hurt, her back was aching, and she couldn’t get her fingernails clean, no matter how hard she scrubbed.

When Aldia Dubey stopped for a brief visit, Minnie tried to keep her eyes open.

“You’ll never guess what Louis brought home,” Aldia said. “One of those new potato planters!”

Minnie almost wept.

Potato Planter Advertisement, Hanna Benson Family Collection.

Friday, June 3 - Planted potatoes, but it rained. Had to stop.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“You will notice all through, that we try to avoid unnecessary packing of potato land when plowing, when harrowing, and when planting. … Work when dry, plant when dry, as far as you can. Weeks of heavy rain, as we had last season, do injury that mortal man can not correct, by packing the soil so solidly.”

-- Terry, The ABC of Potato Culture

Too Wet to Plant

Saturday, June 4 - Scrubbed and read all afternoon.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

With the ground still wet, Minnie stayed inside and helped Ma clean the house in the morning. Pa was itching to get back in the fields, but Minnie enjoyed a rare Saturday afternoon to rest and read Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.

In the pages of the novel, Rose Campbell's Uncle Alec was arguing with his wife over her desire to put Rose in a corset.

" 'Nature knows how to mold a woman better than any corset-maker, and I won't have her interfered with. My dear Clara, have you lost your senses that you can for a moment dream of putting a growing girl into an instrument of torture like this?' and with a sudden gesture he plucked forth the offending corsets from under the sofa cushion, and held them out with the expression one would wear on beholding the thumbscrews or the rack of ancient times."

-- Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott, 1875

Pie-face Slept with Me

Sunday, June 5 - All alone in afternoon. Emily & Hildia called in evening. Pie-face slept with me.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Minnie relaxed on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Ma and Pa were off visiting neighbors and her brothers had gone into town. A knock at the door woke her from a nap.

“All alone on a Sunday afternoon?” Pie-face asked. “Perhaps you’d like some company.”

“Of course, come in,” Minnie said, her heart pounding a bit faster.

“I saw your brothers in town and they told me you were home,” he said, giving her a kiss on both cheeks that lingered a little longer than usual.

“Did you tell them you were coming here to visit?”

“Oh non, I would never let out our little secret. When do you expect them to return?”

“Not until supper time.”

Pie-face reached out for Minnie’s hand, then kissed her fingertips gently. Minnie’s breath caught in her throat, and he bent over to place his lips at the base of her neck. She could smell a hint of cigar smoke in his hair.

He reached around her waist, pulling her close. Minnie’s hands traced up his arms and around his broad shoulders as their lips met, softly at first and then harder, as though they couldn’t get enough of each other.

He reached down behind her, picked her up and carried her upstairs to her bedroom. Minnie laughed softly.

“Something you find funny?” he asked.

Non,” she said, smiling into his dark brown eyes. "Just enjoying your company.”

Pie-face smiled back. “And I, yours. Now, what are you wearing under this dress?”

He lifted the long skirt of her blue cotton house dress to reveal her petticoat. As he lifted the dress above her head, he found she wore no corset, only a chemise and her corset cover.

“I thought something was missing,” he said.

“It’s more comfortable at home without the corset,” Minnie told him. “I’ve been working in the fields all week and it about killed me.”

“I like you without it,” he said, tracing his fingers over her nipples.

They made love slowly and quietly. Minnie couldn’t help listening for the sound of her family returning home. The young lovers spent nearly an hour enjoying each other’s caresses and whispering in each other’s ears, until it was time to get dressed and return downstairs.

They drank some tea and made plans to see each other again. Pie-face left before her family returned home, leaving her with a long kiss.

Au revoir, ma belle,” he said.

When Emily and Hilda Froberg came to visit after supper, Minnie’s thoughts still lingered on the afternoon she spent with Pie-face.

“What is it?” Emily asked. “Is something wrong?”

“Oh non,” Minnie replied. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all. Say, what do you ladies think about corsets?”

“I despise them,” Hilda said.

“Me too,” said Emily. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m about to stop wearing them when I’m working on the farm. I can’t breathe. I don’t know how Pa expects me to work alongside Freddie when I have that damn corset on.”

“So what would you wear?”

“I don’t know,” Minnie said. “Someone needs to invent something for working women that doesn’t kill them.”

“I hear there’s a new corset that’s more comfortable,” Hilda said.

“If only that were true,” Minnie said.

“I'm not kidding you,” Hilda said. “I believe some of the women in town have ordered them. You should ask at the store.”

“The new corset increases the size of the waist line, thereby giving room for play of the lungs and diaphragm. There is no difficulty in deep breathing with the woman who wears a well made corset of the present style. That is, if she puts it on properly. To do this she must loosen the laces. Gone are — or should be — the days when a woman kept her corsets laced for days and weeks at a time. Now the woman loosens the laces at night and tightens them in the morning. … Never must she make them too tight for comfort. As soon as she does this she injures her figure as well as her feelings.”

— “Concerning the Figure,” By Christine Terhune Herrick,

The Watertown News, Watertown, Wis., Feb. 10, 1904, via

A Solution to Corset Pain

Monday, June 6 - Emily went to school. I planted potatoes.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

Minnie decided to wrap her chest and stomach with long strips of cloth instead of wearing a corset. After a day working in the field, she felt much better.

“I need to see if I can order one of those new corsets,” she thought to herself.

Tuesday, June 7 - Finished planted our potatoes. Went Hville in P.M.

-- Minnie Gamache Diary, 1904, Hermansville, Michigan

“In the middle and northern latitudes, where too little vegetable food is used, the potato is second only to grain in value. But it has had hard usage in America — never yet a chance to prove its full value as a crop. A neglected corner of the grain-field—a strip around the corn-lot, upon which the horses might trample and wagons roll, has been planted to potatoes. A newly turned sod is cleft with a spade or ax; and a small potato, hurled in by a careless boy, is tramped down and left to its fate with the contemptuous malediction, ‘Grow, darn ye!’”

-- Terry, The A B C of Potato Culture

Although her back and legs were tired, Minnie’s step felt lighter when they’d finally finished planting the field of potatoes.

“I’m going to Hermansville this afternoon,” she told her mother. “Can I have a dollar or two for shopping?”

At the department store, Minnie asked to see the catalogue, checking to see if they carried the new style of corset. The latest fashions were very slow to arrive in Hermansville, or anywhere in the Upper Peninsula. But this need couldn’t wait. The store could order a W.B. Erect Form Corset for $1 or the Le Stelle model for $2.50, made with genuine whalebone, batiste and velvet.

F.A. Plummer Co. Ad, The Oshkosh Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wis.) Dec 5, 1904, via

“I had better order the W.B. corset, Mae,” she told the store clerk. “I don’t have two dollars and fifty cents to spare."

Miss Mae Hinman wrote up Minnie’s order and promised it would arrive within a few weeks.

“I’ll send word when it arrives,” she said. "You can come try it on and make sure it fits before you pay."

Mae, who was originally from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, had found work in Hermansville through her family’s connections with C.J.L. Meyer, the town and company founder. Mae’s father had been wounded during the Civil War at the Battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia. He spent the rest of the war in the Veteran Reserve Corps, created for wounded soldiers who could still do light duty assignments. When he returned to Fond du Lac, he became a successful real estate man.

“Thank you, Mae,” Minnie said. “I can’t wait to put it on.”

Notes & Further Reading

Note to Readers: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in this Upper Peninsula lumber town in 1904. I welcome corrections and comments from readers. Don't forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to make sure you see every installment of Minnie's Diary. I'll send you an email each time I publish a new post, about once per week. I will never sell or share your contact information with other individuals or companies.

Characters: New characters in Minnie’s Diary this week include Victor Raiche, Hilda Froberg and Mae Hinman. I also mention C.J.L. Meyer, the founder of Hermansville.

Victor Raiche, 21, and Anna Lavigne, 19, were married on May 31, 1904, by Fr. Glaser in Hermansville. In the marriage record, Victor is listed as a farmer. He later became a department store clerk in Hermansville. Readers may remember Anna Lavigne from earlier this year when Minnie slept overnight at the Lavigne home in Hermansville. I believe she and Victor had six children: Geneva “Goldie” (1905), Viola (1906), Phoebe (1907), Willard (1910), Howard (1912), Jeannette (1915), and Antoinette (1916). Victor died in November 1924 of a heart ailment. He was only 41. Census records show Anna spent her later years living with their oldest daughter, Goldie.

1904 Marriage Record, showing marriage of Victor Raiche and Anna Lavigne of Hermansville on second row.

In the last blog post, we met Hilda Marchaterre, but I believe there are two Hildas in Minnie’s diary. Since Hilda Marchaterre was 13 years old, I think Minnie and Emily were socializing with 22-year-old Swedish immigrant Hilda Froberg. (This, of course, would contradict the theory that immigrants didn't socialize with others outside their nationality.) Hilda Froberg was born March 1882 in Sweden to John E. and Elizabeth Froberg. The Frobergs immigrated to the United States in 1893, when their oldest son, Ole, was about 13 and Hilda was about 11. John worked as a section hand for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and also owned a farm near the Gamache farm. Hilda married Oscar Peterson in 1910 in Escanaba, Michigan. They lived the rest of their lives on a farm near Hermansville. They had four children: Astrid, Roy, Hazel and Harold Peterson. Oscar died in 1951 and Hilda passed away in 1959.

Here's a map showing some of the locations mentioned in this week's diary.

Our groom, Victor Raiche, was the son of Frank and Christina Raiche. Hilda Froberg grew up on the farm of J.E. and Elizabeth Froberg. In 1910, Hilda married Oscar Peterson, and they lived on the farm is shown in pink on this 1912 plat book map. Minnie also mentions Mrs. Louis Dubey (the former Aldia Paquin) and Aldia and Del's father, Mr. (Edward) Paquin. (Her friend Emily rented a room from the Paquins while teaching at the one-room schoolhouse.)

Mae Hinman wasn’t mentioned in Minnie’s Diary specifically. I added her to a scene in the department store. In 1900, Mae Hinman was a lodger living in a boarding house in Hermansville and working as a cashier at the store. By 1905, she was again living with her parents in Fond du Lac. I don’t know if she still lived in Hermansville in 1904, but I imagine she might have worked her way up from cashier to the lingerie or women’s wear department at the store. Aletha Mae Hinman was born in Wisconsin in 1874, the daughter of Charles E. Hinman and Minnie R. Wilson. She married Edward B. Fuller in 1911 in Minnesota. I found Civil War records for Charles Hinman in the 36th Wisconsin Infantry unit, thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Here’s information on the Battle of Cold Harbor, where he was injured.

I also briefly mentioned C.J.L. Meyer, the founder of Hermansville. Known as “Alphabet” Meyer for his three initials, he was the first president of the Chicago & Northwestern railroad, former mayor of Fond du Lac and at one time worth a million dollars. Due to the business failings of his son, Julius, and shady dealings by assistant manager William M. Craig, he lost everything in 1889 — the Fond du Lac Furniture Company, Fond du Lac Sash and Door Company, and a Chicago-based factory and retail house. Only the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. in Hermansville survived, but it was headed by Meyer’s son-in-law, Dr. George Earle, who put his own money at risk to rescue it from creditors.

Circle Dance: Here's a children's choir singing the circle dance song from Victor's wedding. It's an old French folk song and may not have been performed at a wedding, but I thought it would be fun to have Victor's sister Mary choose to kiss her future husband, Levi Lecousier.

Farms and Tourism: As the lumbering era was coming to a close, landowners began trying to sell Upper Peninsula land for farming and promoting it as a vacation destination. Menominee County became one of the more successful farming areas in the U.P. Other communities have a tourist economy. Here are some interesting articles I found on this transition during 1904:

-- The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Ill., May 29, 1904, via

-- The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Ill., June 19, 1904, via

-- Chicago Live Stock World, Apr 7, 1904 (Don't believe everything you read.)

Potato Farming: A farmer looking for advice on potato planting in 1904 certainly would have received differing opinions. At that time, potato planting had just begun to be mechanized. Since my great-great-grandfather Peter Gamache didn't read, he likely followed the same practices he always had, or perhaps what he learned from talking to other farmers. In 1907, Ira Carley of Ingalls, Dr. Earle of Hermansville, F. J. Trudell and John Henes of Menominee formed a board to establish an agricultural school in Menominee County. The school opened in January 1908 and received $8,000 in the state budget in 1909. By 1911, the Upper Peninsula Development Bureau asked the school to prepare a course in agriculture for rural schools.

J.F. Wojta, the ag school's superintendent, formed and was elected the first president of the National Agricultural Teachers' Association, according to a Detroit Free Press article on January 2, 1910.

Here are some interesting reads on potato planting from those days:

Hints for Farmers: Should Seed Potatoes Be Cut? (The Readstown Heartland, Readstown, Wisconsin, June 9, 1904

For an exhaustive study of potato growing at the turn of the century, see T.B. Terry's The A B C of Potato Culture: How to Grow Them In the Largest Quantity, And of the Finest Quality With the Least Expenditure of Time And Labor : Carefully Considering All the Latest Improvements In This Branch of Agriculture Up to the Present Date. 3rd ed. Medina, O.: A. I. Root, 1901, via Hathi Trust Digital Library

Corsets: Women worked just as hard as men on the farm in 1904, and they did it wearing a chemise, corset, long skirt, hosiery and garters. Women probably protected their clothing with an apron, as well. I wondered whether working class women and farmers’ wives wore corsets, and it appears they did. Their corsets were likely homemade or made of less expensive materials than the society women’s silk and whale bone corsets. You only have to look at Minnie's unusually small waist in this family photograph to know she was wearing some kind of corset. She probably wore it 24 hours a day.

This Wikipedia entry provides a very nice summary of the “corset controversy” that began in the mid-1800s and wasn’t resolved until the 1920s. Even today, women wear "Spanx" and other clothing to disguise their natural body shapes. I wonder, have we learned anything?

Below are a couple of interesting corset articles from the early 1900s that I used in my research. The first, from South Carolina in 1902, argues that women should never work while wearing a corset.

-- "For the Housewife," Edgefield Advertiser, Edgefield, S.C., Jan 1, 1902

The next article has a different point of view.

-- "Concerning the Figure," Watertown Republican, Watertown, Wis.,

Feb. 10, 1904, p. 16, via

-- Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Mich., May 1, 1904, via

Thank you for reading to the end of this long post. Happy St. Jean Baptiste Day to all my French-Canadian readers.

369 views2 comments

2 comentários

26 de jun. de 2021

Loved the story. We used the potato planter with a team and one person to load the potatoes. The horses were well trained!

26 de jun. de 2021
Respondendo a

It's nice to think of a "machine" on the farm that had the ability to think for itself, with instructions, of course. My uncle kept two draft horses in his later years just for the fun of it.

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