Women and children, circa 1920
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The 1920s began with a spirit of optimism for Texas farm women and their families. The war had brought a huge demand for Texas cotton and other products, and for a time farmers enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. The replacement of mules with the tractor freed most women from having to participate in the most back-breaking aspects of production. Farm women still spent their days working hard at cooking, cleaning, sewing, canning, and gardening, but they enthusiastically looked forward to electrification and the labor-saving devices enjoyed by town women: sewing machines, washing machines, gas stoves and ovens, ice boxes and refrigerators, and small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, mixers, and electric fans. The isolation of farm life also promised to ease as more families obtained radios, telephones, and automobiles.
This optimism died early in the decade. Overproduction led to falling cotton prices. Most farmers were unable to understand the problem, and there was no means of effectively organizing to curtail production. Poverty spread across rural Texas well in advance of the Great Depression, and by 1935, only 2.3 percent of Texas farms had been electrified. Farm women still lived the same lives of hard physical labor as their frontier grandmothers.
In spite of continued poverty, political changes for women did come to rural Texas. Farm women no longer considered it improper to speak up outside the home. They made full use of their right to vote and were publicly active in their churches and in community groups such as the PTA, hospital auxiliaries, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Like their husbands, they also took advantage of education opportunities presented through agricultural extension programs. Rural families in the 1920s also benefited from the activism of the women's lobby in Austin, especially improvements to rural schools and programs to help expectant mothers and their infants.
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Richard Niles Graham Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1964/306-355.