Farm Women and Tractors

Agricultural Work

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WOMEN have always taken their part in agricultural work, for many farmers' wives, in addition to doing the multitudinous household duties, have done their 'shift' in field operations during times of labor shortage. In European countries the use of women for field work has been carried to a far greater extent than in the United States, for in many countries the majority of this work is performed by women.

In the past few years a great many economic changes have taken place in our industrial life, and women have gone into many industries and have competed with men in lines of endeavor that was not thought possible a decade ago. Women have taken up mechanical trades and have become proficient in a number of supposedly masculine lines of effort. They have entered machine shops and performed the various jobs of manufacturing and assembling machines, including tractors and other farm implements, and a number of alert, healthy young women have become successful tractor demonstrators and operators. A few years ago a woman tractor operator at a demonstration would be looked upon as merely an advertising novelty, and actual performance would not be expected of her, but today practically every tractor manufacturer in the country has regular women operators who can handle their machines as successfully as the men.

During the war, England purchased a large number of American-made tractors to speed up food production, and practically all of these machines were run by women, trained in schools held at different parts of the country for the purpose. The English woman proved as capable of running a tractor as she did in making munitions.

In California., where the eight track-laying type of tractor is largely used in orchard work, a number of machines are regularly operated by the younger members of the family, including the daughters, and so proficient have these young girls become that they often take complete charge of a given piece of field work while their dads are off attending to some other business. In the prune districts of the Santa Clara Valley are a number of families owning tractors, and it is as common to see a girl in overalls running the machine as boys. In some instances where women are not able to start the tractor motor, they can operate it successfully for several hours so as to release the man for urgent work, without suspending field operations entirely.

In the manufacturing plants of the Yuba and the Holt in California can be found a number of women employed in the various departments, and these concerns employ several expert women tractor operators and demonstrators, who will undertake a job of plowing or other field operation in competition with men at any time and place.

The trend of tractor manufacturers is toward greater simplicity of construction and ease of operation, and as these accomplishments are attained it makes it easier for women to use tractors to greater advantage. With self-starting engines, easily manipulated clutches and a responsive steering wheel, the average farm woman can take charge of a tractor outfit and perform as much work as a man. The average tractor of today is a bit too heavy to start and manage without some assistance from the stronger sex, but such rapid strides are being made in simplifying tractor operation that it is only a matter of a short time before they will be as, easy to operate as the automobile, and it is safe to say that as many autos are run by women as men on our farms today.

In a survey made of the power farming territory comprised in the states of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, the fanner discovered that one of the strongest reasons given by non-owners of tractors for their not buying machines was that their wives were opposed to them. In Montana over sixty-two per cent of the farmers who did not own tractors, and who answered the questionnaire, reported that the influence of their wives was the deciding reason for not buying. In North and South Dakota over half of the reporting farmers gave the same reason, and in Minnesota, the percentage was forty-five.

Among the owners of tractors in the same territory, considerably over half the men reported that their wives were in favor of the machine for various reasons. The women liked tractors because it meant the employment of less hired help, with a resulting diminution in their own work. Other reasons advanced for them included the saving of horse labor, the keeping of boys on the farm, keeping field work up and enabling a given piece of work to be done quickly.

In Montana, eighty-two per cent of the wives of tractor owners reported that their work had been made easier by the machine, as it made less cooking for hired hands, and it enabled the family to get away from the farm more during the winter or slack seasons. Similar opinions were held by the farm women of the other states investigated, though not in so large a proportion.

No farm woman likes to see either her family or the work stock toil for long hours in the broiling sun or when climatic conditions are not favorable. But work must be done at the right time if a successful crop is to be obtained, and the tractor enables this work to be done when and as needed, without requiring the expenditure, on the part of the man, of nearly as much labor as performed with work stock. Hard work, worry and utter fatigue are not conducive to high spirits or good nature, and many a good farm woman has had to suffer because her husband took out his bad humor on her, when things went wrong. By insuring the performance of his work as required, and by giving him more opportunity for planning and supervision, with a reduction in the amount of physical effort he must expend himself, the power farmer is able to keep in better health and humor and his home life is bound to be happier for all concerned.

There is a time in the lives of all farm families when the mother heart beats anxiously and the mother's eyes search keenly for signs of her boy's dissatisfaction with rural conditions, and an indication of the stretching of young wings for distant flights to alluring cities. The old folks expect to stay on the farm and they want their boys to do likewise, but a large number of country boys drift to the cities every year. It has been one of the established facts of power farming, however, that fewer boys leave farms where tractors are used than from farms where only animal power is available. There are several reasons to account for this fact, the most strong being that nearly every normal boy delights in handling machinery, and work which would be drudgery if performed by horses becomes a pleasure when the tractor is used. And this interest in power farming does not wear away, as might be expected, for the chug of the machine seems to be as companionable to a growing boy as his favorite dog when hunting. Another reason why tractors act as a magnet for keeping boys on the farm is that with it a particular job is quickly done, and not strung along for tiresome days, as with horses. Field operations, accordingly, are always interesting and with the various ways for utilizing tractor power for belt work, the young fellow finds every job he has to perform full of zest and interest.


This article, reprinted intact with pictures from Tractor and Gas Engine Review of April 1920,shows that long before the days of women's lib , women were operating tractors, and also exerted definite influence on family decisions to buy or not to buy tractors.

note also that tractors were credited with helping keep the boys on the farm. We think it is a very thoughtfully written article.