Cover image for Opening Windows onto Hidden Lives: Women, Country Life, and Early Rural Sociological Research By Julie N. Zimmerman and Olaf F. Larson

Opening Windows onto Hidden Lives

Women, Country Life, and Early Rural Sociological Research

Julie N. Zimmerman and Olaf F. Larson

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$67.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03728-8

$34.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03729-5

240 pages
6" × 9"
2010

Rural Studies

Opening Windows onto Hidden Lives

Women, Country Life, and Early Rural Sociological Research

Julie N. Zimmerman and Olaf F. Larson

Opening Windows onto Hidden Lives is essential reading for anyone interested in rural women's studies, and particularly rural women's history. Zimmerman and Larson have painstakingly excavated a treasure trove of materials vital to an informed understanding of American farm women in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the work in its entirety is impressive and very useful, the annotated bibliography alone makes the book worth reading.”

 

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Building on their analysis in Sociology in Government (Penn State, 2003), Julie Zimmerman and Olaf Larson again join forces across the generations to explore the unexpected inclusion of rural and farm women in the research conducted by the USDA’s Division of Farm Population and Rural Life. Existing from 1919 to 1953, the Division was the first, and for a time the only, unit of the federal government devoted to sociological research. The authors explore how these early rural sociologists found the conceptual space to include women in their analyses of farm living, rural community social organization, and the agricultural labor force.
Opening Windows onto Hidden Lives is essential reading for anyone interested in rural women's studies, and particularly rural women's history. Zimmerman and Larson have painstakingly excavated a treasure trove of materials vital to an informed understanding of American farm women in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the work in its entirety is impressive and very useful, the annotated bibliography alone makes the book worth reading.”
“In this, their third book on the subject, Julie Zimmerman and pioneering rural sociologist Olaf Larson once again shed light on the often forgotten scholarship of the Division of Farm Population and Rural Life, which conducted groundbreaking social science research. As in their previous collaborations, Zimmerman and Larson document the wide-ranging nature of Division scholarship, focusing this time on studies that discuss the activities of rural and farm women. Their diligence in locating the rich data on women in Division reports is particularly impressive because most of this information is embedded within larger studies of rural living standards, farm labor and wages, and rural social organization. The book’s thorough bibliographic section and its reproduction of significant primary documents, including a 1924 report that was the Division’s only exclusive study of farm women, make it an invaluable resource for rural sociologists and historians of rural America.”

Julie N. Zimmerman is Professor of Rural Sociology in the Department of Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky, and the Historian for the Rural Sociological Society.

Olaf F. Larson is Professor Emeritus of Rural Sociology in the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University.

Contents

Foreword by Jess Gilbert, Past President, Rural Sociological Society

Preface

Acknowledgments

Part 1: Hidden Windows, Hidden Lives

1. Opening Hidden Windows

2. “Agriculture Is Not the Whole of Country Life”

3. Women and Rural Society

4. Finding Women in the Division’s Research

5. The Test of Time

Part 2: Selected Bibliography

Citations from Sociology in Government: The Galpin-Taylor Years in the the Work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1919–1953

Part 3: Reprints of Selected Publications

1. Woman’s Work on the Farm (1917)

2. The Woman on the Farm (1914)

3. Recommendations of the Committee (1919)

4. Farm Life Studies and Their Relation to Home Economics Work (1920)

Charles J. Galpin

5. The Advantages of Farm Life: A Study by Correspondence and Interviews with Eight Thousand Farm Women: Digest of an Unpublished Report (1924)

Emily Hoag Sawtelle

References

Index

This book is an unanticipated consequence of a project initiated to document and analyze the work of the first unit established in the federal government specifically for sociological research, namely the Division of Farm Population and Rural Life in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This unit, started in 1919 and abolished in 1953, was charged with the study of rural life in America.

The project about the Division resulted in two books. The first, Sociology in Government: A Bibliography of the Work of the Division of Farm Population and Rural Life, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1919–1953 (Larson, Moe, and Zimmerman, 1992) documented the Division’s publications of all types. The second, Sociology in Government: The Galpin-Taylor Years in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1919–1953 (Larson and Zimmerman, 2003), was a systematic examination of the Division’s work—the need for it, the problems or issues addressed, the methods used, and the contributions made.

In the second book, a chapter was devoted to each of the Division’s major substantive areas of study, such as farm and rural population, levels and standards of family living, locality groups and other aspects of social organization of rural society, and farm labor. Other areas of research that did not merit separate chapters, but were too important to be overlooked, were treated in a chapter entitled “Some Other Areas of Research.” In this chapter, studies of rural women were given primary emphasis. Even so, the section on “The Division and Studies of Women” was less than four pages long.

The Division’s research pertaining to rural women was often in the category of “fugitive” literature and was largely “hidden” in research that had another primary focus—that is, the community studies. In retrospect, it seemed that because of the paucity of sociological research on rural women in the first half of the 1900s and because of the important role of women in rural life, scholars and students might welcome a volume that would make the “fugitive” literature more accessible and would create an awareness of the rich information hidden away in unsuspected places. Hence this book.

The larger project from which this volume emerged began in the 1980s when Edward O. Moe, then Principal Rural Sociologist with the USDA’s Cooperative State Research Service and a one-time Division staff member, discussed some of the Division’s accomplishments with David L. Brown, then Associate Director of the Agriculture and Rural Economy Division of the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Brown, in turn, happened to pass some of this information about the Division’s work on to William V. D’Antonio, who, at the time, was Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association. D’Antonio’s reaction was that the story of the Division was an important chapter in the history of American sociology and should be recorded. Brown followed by setting aside funds to get such a study started, with the idea that Moe, then retired and back in Utah, do the study. Brown and Moe approached me to see if I would be willing to be a consultant for the project.

I had been on the Division staff for eight years, 1938 to 1946, during the peak of its activity. I had served on the Washington, DC, staff and also as leader for the Division in two regional offices, first in Amarillo, Texas, and later in a new office in Portland, Oregon. Further, when at what is now Colorado State University, before joining the Division, I had a cooperative research project with it. And after leaving the Division to go to Cornell University, I continued to have close ties. In all, my involvement with the Division covered a span of about fifteen years.

As discussions continued with Brown and Moe about the proposed project, it became increasingly apparent that Cornell was the preferred location, in part because of the depth of its libraries’ collection of the Division’s publications. The result was a cooperative agreement between the USDA’s Economic Research Service and Cornell’s Department of Rural Sociology, with me as principal investigator and Moe in a supporting role. Thus, I had an unanticipated diversion from my ongoing research to take on a project that at the beginning we thought might be completed in a year or so.

In the early stages of the work to compile the bibliography, the graduate assistants engaged in this could not continue. They were replaced by Julie N. Zimmerman, who had been newly admitted to the Ph.D. program in Development Sociology. Julie’s contributions and commitment to the project soon earned her the status of coauthor for the project’s major publications. This led to a working relationship and friendship that has continued to the present.

Another unanticipated consequence of the original project has been that Julie’s participation in it as a graduate research assistant has led her into an interest in the history of rural sociology and its significance that has been a characteristic of her professional career. As a graduate assistant she had the sociological imagination to recognize that the Division’s research she was documenting included nuggets of information that could be mined about the lives of farm and other rural women in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Her intellectual curiosity led her to place the Division and its work on women in the context of the Progressive era and to relate it to the home economics movement. Her scholarly persistence over time has resulted in her discovery of little-known inquiries about farm and rural women that preceded the Division. And it has let her to relate the Division’s work on women to the growing literature in the area of women’s studies, which has included studies of rural women.

Olaf F. Larson

Professor of Rural Sociology Emeritus

Cornell University

There are moments when a separate preface from each author is called for. This is one of those moments. Born in 1910, Olaf F. Larson is the oldest living member of our national professional organization, the Rural Sociological Society. His professional life spans most of the years of rural sociology and embodies a living history of our field. As a graduate student, he was present at the meetings that led to the formation of the Rural Sociological Society and was acquainted with the first leaders, such as Charles J. Galpin. He went on to work at the Division of Farm Population and Rural Life and, to our knowledge, is one of only a very few persons remaining with this experience. In 1985, he was the recipient of the highest award given by our national society, Distinguished Rural Sociologist. With all of this in mind, it seemed appropriate that he have the opportunity to speak in his own distinct voice.

As Olaf said, the project to rescue, document, and assess the work of the Division of Farm Population and Rural Life has had unanticipated consequences. My own work on the project is no exception. When I began as Dr. Larson’s graduate research assistant more than twenty years ago, I could not have anticipated my continued involvement with the history of the Division, the blossoming of such a dear friendship, and having such an inspiring and inspirational mentor. Nor could I have anticipated that one day we would come to switch places, with myself being the principal investigator on research concerning the Division and Olaf playing the supporting role.

The idea for the current analysis first emerged as I was reading the Division’s research and developing keywords for the first phase of the project: the bibliography (Larson, Moe, and Zimmerman 1992c). I kept noticing many and consistent references to rural and farm women: descriptions of their lives, and data documenting their varied work—in the home, on the farm, and in the agricultural labor force. While women were never the main focus of the research, their consistent inclusion was unexpected and sparked my curiosity.

Sixteen years later and with our last book having been completed for several years, one day Olaf called and asked, “How would you like to get into ‘trouble’ together again?” That phone call was all it took. I arranged my sabbatical and set to work on developing this book. Pursuing my initial hunch those many years ago, I delved back into the Division’s research. The inclusion of women in their body of work, I thought, could not have been an accident. Even still, I was surprised at the depth, breadth, and degree to which women were interwoven into the unit’s research. This book gave me the chance to not only examine the inclusion of women, but put it into theoretical and historical perspective.

We tend to remember the history we lived. Now I not only have my own years, but I feel a part of these early years of rural sociology. And, because of working with Olaf, these years are not just pages in a book, but for me they come alive with people and personalities.

To work with Olaf Larson once in a career has been a treasure. To be able to continue that partnership these many years has been a privilege. When I first began work on this project as a graduate student, I had no idea about the history of rural sociology, what the Division was, what it had accomplished, or its role in the development of American sociology or the field of rural sociology. Little did I know then that I would become Historian for the Rural Sociological Society, continue to conduct research on the Division, and, in a way, carry on the torch for this nearly lost piece of our intellectual history.

Julie N. Zimmerman

Associate Professor, Rural Sociology

Department of Community and Leadership Development

University of Kentucky