Mama Learned Us To Work 
Farm Women in the New South

Mama Learned Us to Work
Farm Women in the New South
by Lu Ann Jones
University of North Carolina Press, 2002

Long neglected by social historians, America's farm women are finally getting some credit for their economic and cultural contributions to local communities and the nation as a whole.

Through oral histories with early 20th century Southern farm women and research on the home demonstration agents that inspired the home economics movement, this book tells the history of the rural South through the voices and memories of its overlooked female residents.

Historian Lu Ann Jones includes her own mother's stories in the narrative. They have been the inspiration for a career-long study of farm women and southern agriculture supported by the Smithsonian Institution.

The first half of this work focuses on the farm women and their stories of how they negotiated with peddlers, kept their families solvent with sales of butter and eggs, and applied themselves to the business of raising chickens. "With a modest amount of capital, some women like Vanona Patterson 'went into the chicken business' and proved that poultry could be profitable," Jones writes. "In the process, women's operations attracted the attention of men who once might have greeted their poultry efforts with disdain."

The last three chapters of the book are mostly about the government home agents -- energetic young women with a missionary-like zeal to make rural women better housekeepers -- who organized clubs of farm women and urged them to adopt business-like principles in their work.

"In counties with no black agents, white home demonstration agents sometimes crossed the color line to work with black relief clients. The experience was often transformative for white agents, who witnessed poverty more grinding than they could have magined, unfair practices to welfare officers, and the lengths to which black women went to help themselves," Jones observes.

Mama Learned Us To Work encourages appreciation for and an understanding of southern farm women as housekeepers, consumers and as agents and victims of social change.

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Mama Learned Us To Work

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