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Extreme cold weather has frozen this mill’s waterwheel in place.

York County farm families in the 1920s faced Nebraska’s harsh winter weather without a furnace or an indoor bathroom. Winter meant short hours of daylight, long winter nights, and illnesses for people and animals. Despite the weather, most children walked or rode horseback to school, where a wood burning stove heated the schoolroom. Cold and snow were not excuses to stay home from school. In the winter chores were more difficult. Animals had to be fed and watered every day, even when the snow was deep and water froze in the troughs. In the evening, families used kerosene lamps and a lucky few gathered around a battery-powered radio to listen to comedy programs. Sometimes they would get together with neighbors to share a meal and enjoy some music or games. Family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas were welcome breaks before the coldest winter months of January and February.

When children became ill, the doctor was often far away. People often died from the flu, pneumonia, diphtheria, or other diseases.

norma ehlers“If someone had pneumonia or a cold, you put a poultice on them. It would be like a mustard plaster or something that would radiate heat… on their chest or steam in their head… No antibiotics…a lot of people died. My brother had diphtheria when he was a tiny child… I remember the high fevers. And we just would keep wringing out cloths and putting cook cloths on him to try to bring his fever down …A lot of towns had their own doctors…who would…come out to the places…for childbirth or for broken legs, but they just didn’t have the technology or the medicines.” — Norma Ehlers 

Written by Claudia Reinhardt.

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