Winter – Holidays
During the long winter months, most farm families looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas when family and
neighbors would gather for a festive meal and a chance to visit. The holidays brought special performances at school, music and singing, a Christmas tree decorated with real, burning candles, and sledding and ice skating. Harvey Pickrel remembers skating on a pond near his school. “…Our skates, you’d just clamp to your shoes, the old farm shoes, and they’d come off every once in a while, quite often. So they didn’t work too good…we had fun doing it anyway.”
Albert Friesen remembers a special treat at Christmastime — peanuts. “Candy or bananas was a big treat in those days. Peanuts, well peanuts…we only had them at Christmas time.”
The Orphan Train
Norma Ehlers remembers that illness and accidents often claimed the lives of children or parents. Relatives or neighbors often took in orphaned children after the death of parents. Her grandparents raised the child of an acquaintance whose parents had died.
“[They] took him into their home and raised him as their own. And I think you saw a lot of that in those days. In fact, I have an aunt and uncle that had done the same thing with the other child of the family. My parents had done the same thing with a cousin’s child from Illinois that needed a home. It was just, you know, heritage of a lot of love and compassion for people.” —
Norma Ehlers (Quicktime required)
From New York to York County: Orphans from much farther away found homes in Nebraska. From the late 1800s through the 1920s, the westbound train brought thousands of orphaned children from New York City to plains states and Nebraska’s rural communities. Older boys were strong enough to work in the fields, and girls could help farm women with the endless chores of cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, and other duties. When the “Orphan Train,” as it was known, stopped in the town of York, and other communities across Nebraska, farm families came to the station and looked over the children on the train. Perhaps a childless couple wanted a very young child. Or maybe a family that had lost a child to illness or accident and was searching for a foster child. The long train trip was frightening for these neglected children from the East Coast, but many children found a new family and a new life in Nebraska. People who came to Nebraska on the Orphan Train now go to Orphan Train reunions to tell their stories.
See What You’ve Learned!
Try this trivia quiz to see what you’ve learned about living on a farm in the 1920s.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt.