New book "Women Behind the Plow" illustrates farm wives pivotal role

Published: May. 7, 2017 at 5:43 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

A hundred years ago, women's work included hitching up a team of horses and muscling a two-or four-bottom plow across a field.

The pivotal role farm wives played in agriculture at the turn of the century is illustrated in a new booked entitled "Women Behind the Plow."

The book explains how pioneer mothers and daughters got their hands dirty and calloused during planting and harvest seasons.

It took team work to put a crop in the ground when animals were used to drag plows back and forth untold times, to seed hundreds of acres of wheat, barley or oats.

"It wasn't easy but it worked," said Violet Diegel, Wishek.

Violet Diegel remembers her sisters didn't enjoy taking turns holding the reigns when it came to using horsepower.

When Frieda Ketterling was ten years old, she was assigned the task of getting teams of horses ready to do a day's work.

"Take the harness and put the collar on first and put the harness on their backs, close all the belts and hitch them to the wagon, Oh yeah, we always did that," said Frieda Ketterling, Wishek.

Alice Kramer says horses, were used every day for a lot more than just plowing.

"They cut hay with horses, we used to rake with horses, we hauled all the hay home with horses," said Alice Kramer, Linton.

Alice, Frieda and Violet are three of the 20 farm wives featured in a "Women Behind the Plow."

"These women contributed so much to the growth of the state in the early homestead days, yet you never really heard anything about them, they don't brag about what they do, they don't even think their contributions were worthwhile, so we decide to give them the credit they deserve," said Sue Balcom, Author.

In addition to lending a helping hand during planting and harvest seasons, women were responsible for many other daily chores like cooking and raising children.

"I remember I had a child and I'd have to run back and forth to the house to check on her, she was in her crib, and I was out in the barn milking cows," said Diegel.

"Women Behind the Plow" took three years to write and features more than 400 vintage photographs that illustrate what life was like before electricity and tractors reduced the work load for families living on a farm.

The North Dakota Heritage Center debuted a temporary photo exhibit in conjunction with the publication of "Women Behind the Plow."

The book is available at the Heritage Center Gift Shop in Bismarck or you can order on line at