Children's Occupations

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trade card showing bluebird hovering over haywagon image with full load of hay and three children on top

In the 1890s, much of the American population was rural.

It was not unusual for farm children to assist the family by working in the family farming business.

Skills learned might be milking, barn cleaning, horsemanship, equipment maintenance, accounting, planting, harvesting, animal husbandry and carpentry.

In Victorian times, public school attendance beyond the 8th grade was an unusual achievement, as I learned when my grandfather, Earl J. Arnold, celebrated my high school graduation.

Children were often excused from school to do farm chores.

"Bringing in the Hay" Lion Coffee trade card

two boys using grinding wheel to sharpen axe while girl looks on
Reverse of Lion Coffee card with much fancy print and drawing of loaded hay wagons heading home

Above, it appears a lesson in ax grinding is underway, perhaps supervised by Lizzie Borden (YouTube video below).

This would be one of the necessary rural skills learned by children of the Victorian era.

On the left is a sample of a Lion Card reverse showing another rural scene. As seen here, hay wagons loaded to the brim with loose hay head for nearby lofts. Hay wagons were summer staples in Victorian times, well before hay baling equipment was widely adopted by farmers.

Woolson Spice Company's (Toledo OH) Lion Coffee cards were some of the most colorful and largest of the Victorian Trade Cards. Measuring approximately 5X7", this one is typical of the type included in one-pound packages of Lion Coffee as an incentive for purchase.

Apple harvest was done by hand in Victorian times, with the whole family participating. It was hard work and probably not done in this fancy outfit!

girl in fancy orange outfit and white bonnet picking apples
Girl in light pink dress and flowing brown hair sitting on a bench teasing a kitten with cherries

Every so often harvest time was confused with playtime.

Who was confused here, the young lady or the kitty? Both, is my guess!

Fun for kids ... a tripping hazard for adults!

This playtime activity encouraged creativity & recycling in the early 20th century .

One of 6 "Spool Pets" designed by the Spool Cotton Company, promoters of J & P Coats and Clark's ONT Cotton thread.

Victorian women played a vital role in helping to heal the wounds of the American Civil War. Some tended wounded husbands and sons. Others raised fatherless families to adulthood by cooking, cleaning, taking in ironing, etc.

During the Victorian era, the field of study called "Home Economics" evolved to include more than mere household chores. Women had a firm grip on family finances, sometimes managing the accounts of the family farm or other business while men of the family raised crops or livestock or pursued other careers.

As here, children were raised to assume the roles their parents had played in society.

Meanwhile, it was "Dr. Price's" hope that the family cooks would always be sure to have a good supply of Dr. Price's Cream Baking Powder on hand.

In Victorian America, education was reserved for those who had time for it. My grandfather, after whom the Earl J. Arnold Advertising Collection & Galleries was named, made a success of himself despite having only an 8th grade education. Children left school as soon as possible to earn a living and support the family. They were also absent from class during harvest time and when siblings needed their attention.

Thanks to Myrtle for this look at a shoemaker's apprentice!