Farm Women and Tractors

By Staff
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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

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

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

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

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

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