German roots, and Frontier life

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German roots, and Frontier life

Waterstraat Frontier Life

Waterstradt WomenThe Life of a Waterstraat Farm Woman

Whether it was in old Germany, or on the early homesteads in Garfield County, Nebraska, everyday life was little changed for the early Waterstraat women at the turn of the century.

The women were farm workers whose jobs differed only slightly from those of the men. The women did heavy manual labor, working just as hard as the men. Their usual work day on the farm was 12 to 14 hours per day, and in the harvest season, often 17 to 18 hours per day.

Women did the turnip and potato planting and harvesting, chopping work, sheaf binding, and corn picking as well as other tasks. The women who had to work the hardest were the peasants who were day laborers or who lived on the small and middle sized farms. This also included the daughters,who remained at home in their parents' houses as hard working unpaid farm servants.

The farm servants, including female farm servants, did all kinds of work. They were responsible for cutting and reaping, shoveling up the dung and loading it, cleaning out the stables, milking, feeding and caring for the animals,and leading the team. The only stable job they didn't have was taking care of the horses. Any new technology, although little technology came to Mecklenburg on the small farms, usually benefited only the men.

The women did the work of the house and cared for the stables. They were also responsible for the care and education of the children, the care and planting of the garden, the feeding and care of the animals, the washing of the laundry and the preparation of the meals. They had to help in the fields, particularly during harvest. When the hard physical work of the day was done, the women still had to take care of the household items and clothes for their families. It was not surprising, therefore, that the women often fell asleep late at night while doing their mending. During the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century in Mecklenburg, women had no leisure time.

The Wash (Die Wäsche)

The oldest form of laundry washing used a barrel which sat upright on a three-legged stand. The laundry was placed in the barrel. A sheet was placed over the top of the barrel and two buckets full of sieved beech ash were poured onto the sheet. Then water was poured over the ash. First cold water, then warm water, and at last boiling water. After the laundry had set some time in the caustic solution to give it time to work, the solution was discharged from a hole near the bottom of the barrel. A wood stick with a bent end
was used as a paddle to prevent the laundry from clogging the hole as the solution ran off. The runoff was collected, heated again, and poured over the laundry another time. This continued until all the ash was leached out.

This process lasted 12 to 24 hours. The laundry was then rinsed as much as possible with flowing water, wrung out by hand, and laid in the sun to bleach or hung on a line to dry.

When other materials besides linen began to be be used for clothing, the washing methods changed. A wash boiler for cooking the laundry was set up in the kitchen. The laundry was placed in the upper part or tub of the boiler. The women then carried buckets of water from the well or the pump to fill the tub. Rain water, soft water, was also collected. A fire was built in the firebox under the tub and the laundry was cooked and stirred with a paddle. After the cooking, the women rubbed the laundry on a wash board with a hot soap solution. Next it was rinsed in a tub, wrung out by hand, and then put in the sun to bleach or hung on the line to dry.

After 1900 some farms got swing washers which saved the rubbing on the washboard and had a mechanism for wringing out the clothes. These mechanisms still had to be cranked by hand,however. Also around this time the pump was brought into the house so water did not have to be drawn from the well.

Because it was such a time consuming process, the laundry was only done once every 4 to 6 weeks.

Work in the Garden (Arbeit im Garten)

The garden played an important role as a food source for the family. Both marriage partners dug up the garden, but the planting and caring of the garden was the responsibility of the woman.

The garden had patches or plots in a geometric pattern. Both vegetables and fruit were planted. Some of the vegetables planted were beans, peas, turnips, and potatoes. Around 1900 cucumbers, carrots and lettuce were added. Cabbage was the most important and the most used vegetable, particularly head cabbage. Seasoning herbs planted included dill, parsley, thyme, mint and sage.

Around 1860 the farmers' wives began planting flowers as well. They cultivated flowers which were undemanding and did not require much work.

Fruit from the garden was served for fresh consumption and also dried and then stored to be used in future baking. Vegetables were served fresh and also dried and packed in salt for later use.

Cooking and Baking (Kochen und Backen)

Preparing the meals was the work of the women, both with the farmers' wives and with the daily wage earners'wives. The meals were heavy, rich, and full of calories. This was appropriate food because of the hard physical labor that was required to maintain a farm.

In the 1800's the women began fixing a one-dish meal on working days. The preparation of these cooked together dishes took less time and that left more time for other household tasks. These one dish meals were usually made from cabbage with a bacon or ham bone or legumes with dried fruit and salted meat. Other popular dishes were baking pears and dumplings, sweet-sour dumplings, thick peas and pea soup, green cabbage with roasting potatoes and smoked pigs head, grits and blood sausage, potato pancakes, or cooked smoked pig ribs and vegetables.

In the 1900's other dishes added to the meals were dry potatoes with sauce and bacon or ham, cabbage in any form, in the summer bacon, in the winter salted meat, head cheese, barley and potatoes with salted meat, and apple and potato dumplings. On special occasions a pig roast was a favorite.

With many of the meals there was only a few small specks of meat in the soup or dish. It depended upon the economic status of the farmer. Until 1900 it was usual to eat from a common dish. Later everyone had his own plate.

It was the women's job to prepare the bread dough, watch it set, knead it, and form it. Heating up the furnace or bread oven was the man's job.

If a family, such as a day laborer's family, did not have their own bread oven, they had to bake their bread in a community baking oven. The schedule for the heating and the sequence for the use of this oven was determined by the property owner. The heating of the oven usually began at 3 o'clock in the morning so that by 6 o'clock the women could begin inserting their bread. In order to identify what bread belonged to which family, the women marked their loaves with letters or characters.

Until the end of the 1800's, they baked hard rye or black bread for normal consumption, fine rye bread for Sunday and holidays. They also made wheat bread and white bread for special occasions. These were brushed with milk and contained raisins or currants.

In the 1900's the rural households ate hard crusted rye bread in quantities. This was thought to provide strength and satisfied the hearty appetites. When they had wheat bread, they ate it in small quantities and in dainty bites. Around 1900 they began to have cake, but only on holidays. It was prepared with butter, eggs, raisins, sugar and cinnamon, and cooked on a dish or in a box form. Plate cakes and pot cakes were very similar. The baking was done at different intervals, depending upon the work load.

Meal Schedule on the Farm Around 1860

Morning Bread (breakfast) was served at 5 o'clock in the morning before work began. It was usually bacon with cooked potatoes. The women prepared it the evening before and then cooked it in the morning. In some areas they served milk soup. In southern Mecklenburg it was the custom to serve chicory coffee with buttered bread.

Small Lunch was served at 8 o'clock and consisted of bread and bacon. It was also customary to serve a brewed beer.

The Lunch was served at 12 o'clock. This was usually the largest meal. It consisted of a mixed dish (one dish) like those mentioned above. Family members often also got a piece of bacon or ham, but these were not served to the hired help.

Evening Bread was served at 4 o'clock. In the summer it was served in the fields. It consisted of bread and butter or bacon or ham. Night Food was served at 8 o'clock. A potato dish was the custom and it was
served without meat.

Educating the Children (Zur Kindererziehung)

Little consideration was given to the health of the women, even during pregnancy. The peasant women were at a disadvantage compared to the wives of wealthy farmers. The wealthy farmer's wife spent three months in the house before the birth, called quiet time, and at least 14 days after the birth recuperating before she came out in public and returned to her obligations. The peasant woman worked right up until the birth. Sometimes babies were even born in the fields. The woman returned to work 6 days after the birth of her child. This was because there was so much work to do, there was no one else to do the work, or because the wages were needed for the family.

As a result of the hard physical work of women during pregnancy as well as the lack of medical help and the lack of cleanliness, many women and newborn infants died during childbirth or shortly thereafter. When a child was born, particularly the first born, a boy was valued much more than a girl.

The women fed the child themselves by breast feeding often up to one year of age. The care of the baby was integrated with the routine daily work. If a woman went back to work in the fields, she left the baby with an older child or the grandmother. Frequently the mother had to take the child with her to the field if there was no other person to watch out for it.

The children learned to eat the food of the adults at a very early age. This included the drinking of alcoholic beverages. There was no time for special food and special attention for small children. The child's care could not interfere with the work of the women or that work would get behind.

The education and care of the children was the responsibility of the woman. At about 3 years of age, that education began. Generally the children were educated in modesty, manners, and reverence for older people and parents. The woman made sure the children showed proper respect for their parents, but did not get too close to them. The children had to learn to fend for themselves.

The children attended school from ages 6 to 14. They missed school during the summer half of the year in order to help parents in the fields and at home. The children were trained in farm work at an early age. The boys began around age 8 to tend the geese. As they got older they were trained to guard the sheep and cows. The girls first learned to care for the poultry. As they got older, they learned to feed and milk the cows. The girls were also expected to watch the younger children and often had to stay home from school in order to do that. By the time the boys and girls were 15 years of age, they were expected to do the work of an adult. They either worked with their parents on the farm or were hired out as maids or farm workers for wages.

Body cleanliness left much to be desired, particularly in the small rural household. Cleanliness was more or less limited to a daily washing of the face and hands. Soap was rarely used. Teeth cleaning was not usual in most families. During the warmer months an infrequent dip in the river or creek or an occasional bath in a tub sufficed. This was true for both children and adults.

Helping With The Harvest (Mithilfe bei der Ernte)

All of the members of the family and the hired help participated in the harvest. Beginning in the 1850's, even in the manor house, all of the inside work was stopped and the domestic help worked in the fields during peak times. Women took over much of the seasonal work.

Digging up and collecting the potatoes was the work of the women and children. The women also were responsible for making the potato mounds and planting the plants. Women were involved in the turnip fields from spring to fall as they both planted the turnips and harvested them.

Another job of the women was the binding of the grain. For this work they wore a white linen apron and either linen or cotton clothes with long sleeves to protect their arms from the hard stems. A binder walked behind each mower. Often a married couple worked together.

The women also helped with the sheaving or bundling of the grain. The special job of some women was loading the harvest carts. They also loaded the hay carts during the hay harvest.

The women participated in the winter threshing also, flailing the stocks to separate the grain from the chaff. When the threshing machine took over that job, it made the work easier, but they still had to rake the chaff out from under the machine. All of this had to be done even in unfavorable weather. It was regarded as arduous and unpleasant work.

Butchering the Pigs (Schweineschlachtung)

Slaughtering time meant several days of increased work, but everyone looked forward to it as a kind of celebration since it replenished the food supply and there was plenty of fresh meat for the coming meals. Slaughtering was done in the winter, usually before Christmas and again in February. Normally a butcher was hired, but sometimes a skillful day laborer or craftsman from the village did the slaughtering and the butchering. The job of the women during the slaughter was mostly to keep the blood stirred and fresh,
since the blood was needed for sausage.

After the slaughtering, the pig was covered with boiling water, scraped clean, and divided into two long halves. These halves were then hung up to cool in the winter air before the butcher divided them further. After the butcher cut up the pig, it was divided into meat for bacon, ham and sausage. Some of the parts, such as the feet, were put into pickling brine to make supplies for the year.

The men chopped the meat for sausage with a cleaver and pounded it or later put it through a meat grinder when this was introduced as an innovation. The women then took over. They ground the meat to a finer consistency, seasoned it to taste, and kneaded all
the ingredients together. Then various parts of the pig were added depending upon the types of sausage being made. Cooking of any ingredients was done as needed.

The types of sausage prepared for smoking and storage for the year were Mettwurst (bologna sausage), blood sausage, liver sausage and lung sausage. After the sausage was made, they stuffed the meat into casings made from the intestines. The men helped with the stuffing. For fresh consumption, they saved out some blood sausage.

The bacon, ham, and pig's head were placed in brine. Later they were smoked along with the sausages. Smoking took two to three weeks. This work was all done by the women. When finished, the hams, bacon and sausage were hung from the ceiling in a storage area (often the rafters of the barn) to be used as needed.

Feeding and Caring for Animals

The care and feeding of the poultry was always women's work. On larger farms sometimes one particular domestic servant was in charge of the chickens. On smaller farms the women took care of the chickens as part of their work. In the summer the chickens could scratch and find most of their food for themselves. In the winter they had to be fed with grain and potatoes. The chicken house was usually attached to the farmhouse and they nested there. The sitting nests were put near the warm wall of the house during the winter and put in a cooler area during the summer. There was a superstition that if the woman threw the chicken's first egg on the roof, the hen would lay many eggs from then on. Geese had special meaning to Waterstraats. They received special care. A herd of geese was usually driven from after Easter to the end of July on a fallow field and after that over the grain stubble. A boy or girl was assigned to guard the geese. The young geese were given dandelion greens with bran, pellets, or torn up bread to eat. The killing and plucking of geese was the woman's work. She had to pick out the feathers that were the best for bed fillings and prepare them to be used. Other feathers were used for quilts and pillows. The breasts of the geese were smoked and eaten and the livers were used as well.

Most families did not like to keep ducks because they were hard to feed. They ate too much. In the farm economy, they were more intended for sales to those living in the city and were not kept for the farmer's own consumption.

The feeding and care of the pigs was always the work of the women. The women used cooked potatoes or potato peelings as a base for the food. Over this was poured all the kitchen food wastes and then water or skimmed milk. This mixed bucket of slop was fed to the pigs twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. Some women fed their pigs three times a day to fatten them up.

The women did all the milking of the cows on the small farm. They were in charge of feeding the cows as well. When a new calf was born, some women left the calf with the mother for 4 to 6 weeks. Most removed the calf very soon to a separate stall, however, and fed it for the first 6 months with sweet or sour milk. According to superstition, the newborn calf was covered with a mixture of dill and salt to protect it against diseases.

Other Tasks

There are many other tasks that were part of the women's work that are not even mentioned here. Some of the ones I thought of were making candles, making soap, sewing clothes, cleaning the house. I'm sure you will be able to think of others.


Isle of Rugan

Isle of RuganFor centuries, after the Waterstraats had their land taken away from them by the lords, they had to live as wondering day laborers and field hands, they slowly migrated northeast to Rugen Island.

The north is characterized by vast expanses of water, a sweeping landscape and a broad horizon. The North Sea coast is dotted with the North Frisian Islands. The Halligen, little islands in the shallow "Wattenmeer" are also found here. The Baltic
Sea coast is fringed with inlets, called "Forde", "Hafr' or "Bodden" that reach like fingers into the land.

358 sq mi (927 sq km), Mecklenburg–West Pomerania, NE Germany, in the Baltic Sea, separated from the mainland by the Strelasund. The chief towns are Bergen and Sassnitz, the largest port and the terminus of a train ferry to Trelleborg,
Sweden. The island is also connected by a 1.5-mile road and rail bridge to the German mainland.
Agriculture and herring fishing are the main occupations on Rügen. There are many popular seaside
resorts; tourism has become a popular industry. The famous chalk cliffs rise on the eastern shore.
Rügen was conquered by Denmark in 1168, passed to Pomerania in 1325, and shared the history of Swedish Pomerania from 1648 to 1815, when the island was taken by Prussia. It is the largest island of Germany.

A wonder of nature are the chalk cliffs on Rugen, Germany's largest island (926 sq km). Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)featured them in his paintings. This romantic from Greifswald inimitably captured the mystery of seascapes on canvas. The writer Fritz Reuter (1810-1874) vividly described the area and its people and in so doing made low German a language of literature. The sculptor and writer Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) spent his productive period in Gustrow. And Uwe Johnson
(1934-1984) erected with his novels a literary monument to his native region and its people.

Pomerania and Mecklenburg,


Polish POMORZE, German POMMERN (from Slavic po, "along"; morze, "sea"), historic region of northeastern Europe lying along the Baltic coastal plain between the Oder and the Vistula rivers. Politically, the name also came to include the area west of the Oder as far as Stralsund, including the island of Rügen (Rugia). Most of Pomerania is now part of Poland, but its westernmost section is in eastern Germany, as reflected in the name of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania Land (state). The region is generally flat, and there are numerous small rivers and, along the east coast, many lakes.

Pomerania was inhabited successively by Celts, Germanic tribes, and, by the 5th century AD, the Slavic Pomeranians (Pomorzanie) and Polabs. Mieszko I, prince of Poland (d. 992), mastered it, and in 1000 his successor, Boleslaw I the Brave, organized a diocese in Pomerania with its seat at Kolobrzeg. A local dynasty then ruled Pomerania and also the region to the west, later called Mecklenburg. On the death of Duke Swiatobor in 1107, his three sons each inherited a district:
Boguslaw I received the eastern area, later called Hinterpommern (Pomerania Ulterior, or Eastern Pomerania), including Gdansk (Danzig); Warcislaw I
received the western area, Vorpommern ( West Pomerania) including Wologoszcz (Wolgast); and Ratibor obtained the central area including Szczecin
(Stettin). German immigration into the western and central regions of Pomerania began in the late 12th century. This resulted in the Germanization of the towns and later of the nobility and the countryside.

Until the 17th century, Polish dukes ruled western and central Pomerania (the duchies of Wolgast and Stettin) under the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire. The elector of Brandenburg acquired these duchies in 1637, when the last Polish duke, Boguslaw XIV, who had united them, died without issue. Sweden received Western Pomerania by the Peace of Westphalia (1648); part of it was returned
to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1720, and the remainder (Stralsund and Rügen) was recovered by Prussia in 1815. Prussia united western and central Pomerania
into one province called Pommern.

Eastern Pomerania was held by the Teutonic Knights from 1308 to 1454, when it was reconquered by Poland. In 1772 it was annexed by Prussia and made into the province of West Prussia. Part of it was restored to Poland after World War I; and the remainder, together with central Pomerania, became Polish in 1945. The German population of eastern and central Pomerania was expelled westward and replaced by Poles. Western Pomerania was incorporated into the German Democratic Republic.

West Pomerania (Vorpommern)

German MECKLENBURG-VORPOMMERN, Land (state), northeastern Germany. It extends about 100 miles (160 km) along the Baltic Sea coastal plain,
from the Bight of Lübeck on the west to the Darss Peninsula on the east, with a hinterland that stretches southward to the lower Elbe River in the west and beyond the sources of the Havel River in the east. Mecklenburg-West Pomerania Land is coterminous with the historic region of Mecklenburg (q.v.). The Land was re-created just before the unification of East and West Germany in 1990
from the East German Bezirke (districts) of Rostock and most of Schwerin and Neubrandenburg. It covers the northernmost one-fifth of what was formerly East
Germany. The capital is Schwerin.

Most of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania drains into the Baltic. The central part of the Land is traversed from west to east by a plateau of hilly country covered by fertile soil and beech forests and having more than 600 lakes, the largest being Lake Müritz in the south. The southwest, between the plateau and the Elbe, has poor sandy soils, pine forests, and marshy valleys. In the north the plateau has good clay soils. Along the coast, steep cliffs alternate with beaches and dunes. The Land lies wholly within the North European Plain.

Agriculture is the most important economic activity in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. The chief crops are rye, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, and hay.
Smaller areas are devoted to corn (maize), peas, rape, hemp, and flax. The region's pastures support herds of sheep, cattle, and horses, and fishing is carried on in the inland lakes. Mecklenburg is relatively sparsely populated, and its only
significant urban centres are Rostock, Schwerin, and Neubrandenburg. Area 9,202 square miles (23,835 square km). Pop. (1991 est.) 1,924,000.


historic region of northeastern Germany, located along the Baltic Sea coastal plain, from the Bight of Lübeck about 100 miles (160 km) eastward. It is now included in the German Land (state) of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (q.v.).

By the 7th century AD the Slavic Obodrites and the Lutycy (Lyutichi) in the west and east, respectively, had replaced the area's earlier Germanic inhabitants. In 1160, under Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, Christianity and German domination
were introduced. Przybyslaw (Pribislav), son of the vanquished Obodrite ruler Niklot, became Henry's vassal and founded the Mecklenburg dynasty. In a series of partitions, four separate lines were established by Przybyslaw's great-grandsons in the 13th century: Mecklenburg (named from the family castle, Mikilinborg, south of Wismar), Rostock, Güstrow (or Werle), and Parchim. In 1436 the Mecklenburg line reabsorbed the whole inheritance. Meanwhile, it had acquired the lordship of Stargard in 1292 and the countship of Schwerin in 1358.
The German king Charles IV in 1348 made the Mecklenburgs dukes and princes of the empire.

Mecklenburg became Lutheran during the Protestant Reformation, and in the 16th and early 17th centuries the region was recurrently divided into two duchies, Mecklenburg-Schwerin (the west) and Mecklenburg-Güstrow (the east). During the Thirty Years' War, Albrecht von Wallenstein in 1627-31 ousted the dukes who had sided with Christian IV of Denmark, but the dukes were restored by the Swedes. By the Peace of Westphalia (1648) Sweden acquired Wismar and its environs, which it held until 1803.

With the extinction of the Güstrow line in 1695, Mecklenburg was again reunited but then was permanently divided by the Treaty of Hamburg (1701). Most of the territory went to Mecklenburg-Schwerin, while Mecklenburg-Strelitz comprised the principality of Ratzeburg in the northwest and the lordship of Stargard in the southeast. In 1808 both duchies joined the Confederation of the Rhine set up by Napoleon I; the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15 recognized them as grand duchies and members of the German Confederation. They sided with Prussia in the Seven Weeks' War (1866) and joined the North German Confederation in 1867 and the German Reich in 1871. After World War I, under the Weimar Constitution, the grand ducal regimes were abolished in favour of elected governments. The Nazi government in 1934 merged the two states into one Land (state) of Mecklenburg, which, after World War II, with some territorial adjustments, was briefly (1949-52) a Land of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) before it was dissolved into the Bezirke (districts) of Rostock, Schwerin, and Neubrandenburg. Before the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, the former Land was reconstituted from these districts as Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

If you look at a map of present-day Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern appears as a state in northeastern Germany,
bounded on the north by the Baltic Sea (Ostsee), on the west by Schleswig-Holstein, on the southwest by Lower
Saxony, on the south by Brandenburg, and on the east by Poland. The state lies in a fertile plain containing many forests
and lakes and is crossed by the Elde, Warnow, and several other rivers. Prior to 1934, Mecklenburg borders were not
the same as they are today. Territories which were once the Grand Duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and
Mecklenburg-Strelitz were united into one State of Mecklenburg in 1934. Then, in 1945, Pomerania, another Prussian
province, was split into two sections. The part west of the Oder River was added to Mecklenburg, making what is,
today, the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Political Divisions
Throughout the 1800's, Mecklenburg was divided into the two grand duchies, Mecklenburg-Schwerin and
Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Mecklenburg-Strelitz was further divided into two parts, one on either side of
Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The government was a limited monarchy, ruled by grand dukes. Each duchy was a separate
state, but both bodies met annually to make common laws and impose common taxes for the whole of Mecklenburg.
Both duchies used the same flag and coat of arms.

Mecklenburg-Schwerin consisted of: The Duchy of Schwerin, The Principality of Schwerin, The Wenden District of the
Duchy of Güstrow, The Lordship of Wismar (Wismar and the surrounding area were under the rule of Sweden from
1648 to 1803), Rostock District, and The Domain of Scattered Convents.

Mecklenburg-Strelitz consisted of: Stargard District of the Duchy of Güstrow on the eastern side of
Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and The Principality of Ratzeburg on the western side of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

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