Time for School!

School has already begun for most children. Shopping for school supplies is complete, new clothes have been purchased and an introductory visit to the school is now done. Students are getting to know their new teachers, and learning what their schedule will be each day. Many students have even learned how to find the right bus to get on when it’s time to go home.    schoolhouseIn the late 1800’s, when all ages of Iowa farm children went to one-room country schools, preparation for the school day would have looked a little different:

As you milk cows and feed the chickens before getting dressed for school, you wonder if you’ll still have the same school marm (an old word for school teacher). You really liked her, and so did your brother and sister. You each learned so much with her, but you know teachers don’t always stay in one school very long.

school marm

Your new shoes feel so good on your feet as you lace them up; you are very thankful for them. The mile walk to school will be much easier. You need to hurry to the kitchen to fix your lunch. Mom just finished using up the lard in the tin so you get a new lunch pail! lunch pail

You’ll bring one of the apples that was just picked yesterday. Ham from last night’s dinner and some leftover cornbread would be great, too. And, of course, some of Mom’s delicious pound cake. You just need to strap your McGuffey Reader and slate together, and you’re ready to go. You’re almost done with this reader, so you’ll be able to use the one your brother finished last term. Your brother, sister and you take off down your lane to the road. There, you meet your neighbors, who farm just a half mile from you. You play and tell stories all the way to school. You arrive at the same time as the other two families, and you soon discover you DO have the same school marm. This IS going to be a very good school term.

You meet around the flag pole, and sing about America. As you go into the schoolhouse, you greet your school marm with a little bow or curtsy, and put your new lunch pail on the correct side of the cloak room–boys on one side, girls on the other. Inside you share a desk, again boys on one side and girls on the other. classroom

There are only 10 students in class this term. Your sister says it’s because the older boys are helping to get the corn crop in while the weather is good.


Your lessons are on the board. You begin by practicing your penmanship. That means handwriting. You need to work on it until it’s perfect. You have a ways to go, but, “Practice makes perfect”. practice penmanship

Your sister is working out arithmetic problems on her slate. The teacher calls on her to recite her addition facts for the 9’s. 9+1 is 10, 9+2 is 11. As she continues, you realize you are learning some of them just by hearing her recite them! Soon it’s time for you to work on your arithmetic lesson. You must work hard, and be quiet all morning long, so when recess time comes, you are all ready to talk and play games. By the time it’s 4:00, everyone excitedly heads for home. Your animals will be very ready to see you. The cow needs to be milked again, and your chickens have been busy laying eggs that will need to be gathered.chores

School has gone from one room with all your friends and their brothers and sisters to many rooms in many buildings with students of mostly the same age. If you know some home-educated students, their schooling may be very similar to the way schools were run in the late 1800’s, but they are definitely using many new tools for learning. Instead of writing assignments on slates with slate pencils, do you use a white board and dry erase markers? Or do you use lots of paper and pencils, crayons or markers, and a computer? One thing has stayed the same. Students are still learning to read, write, and do their arithmetic because it is so very important for life. So study well, and learn all you can!


Fun at the Fair!

The Iowa State Fair started last week and people around town have been talking about when they are going to go to the fair and what things they like to see. The very first Iowa State Fair was held in a little town called Fairfield, all the way back in 1854. This year, 161 years after that first fair, over one million people will come to Des Moines to celebrate an event that is very well-known, not just in Iowa, but around the United States. People from around the world come to Iowa to visit our fair, and everyone has something they like to do there.

grandstand state fair

The Grandstand at the Iowa State Fair. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

Some people like to go to concerts and see the shows at the fair. There are talent shows and radio shows and big stars that play at the grandstand. There are pageants and art demonstrations, and animal shows, when 4-H students show their chickens and sheep and cows.

But that is the modern fair, and not how it was when it started. The people who started the fair way back in the 19th century wanted to have a place where people could learn about Agriculture – that is farming – and help consumers – those are people who buy food – to learn about where their food comes from.

Iowa state fair

Young cattle exhibitor. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

There were some of the same contests when it started. Farmers were judged on their crops and livestock they brought to show at the fair. In 2015, farmers still bring sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and even rabbits and goats to be judged. It gives them a chance to show off their products.

Pioneer Hall

Pioneer Hall. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

In 1886, the Iowa State Fair moved to Des Moines, to the place where everyone comes to visit today. Many of the older buildings that you walk past are from this time. If you want to see what kids who went to the fair around the turn of the century saw, take a walk through Pioneer Hall, it sits on top of the hill by the Sky Glider. The Livestock Pavilion, where they hold a lot of the animal shows, was built in 1902, but improved with air conditioning in 2011. It is a nice place to take a break during a hot day.

The rides at the Midway weren’t always at the fair. Early on, there wasn’t as much fun stuff to do. Ye Old Mill, which is the oldest ride at the fair, wasn’t complete until 1924! Still, there were fun things to see and do, and good foods to eat.

State fair

Caramel Apple on a stick. (Iowa State Fair Photo)

Do you have a favorite food at the fair? It might be fried, or on a stick. Sweet or savory, everyone usually has something that they really like to eat. The corn dog is a 20th century invention. It is delicious, sure, but people who went to the first fairs, or even the 21st fair were not eating corn dogs. They were more likely to eat fried chicken! There was no bucket of chocolate chip cookies, either. Families may have brought their own food to the first fairs, and picnicked with the pigs!

Iowa state fair

So enjoy the fair, if you get to go this year. Good luck if you are showing anything in the competitions. Come see the Living History Farms booth, just down from the butter cow in the Agriculture Building. And if you can’t make it this year, don’t worry. The fair will be around next August as well!state fair


Summer has officially begun and it has been hot outside! Have you been swimming to have fun and stay cool? Maybe you have a favorite swimsuit you like to wear. People who lived a long time ago also liked to swim, but their swimsuits looked very different from yours.

godeys suits

People started wearing swimsuits over 200 years ago. For a long time, swimsuits looked a lot like normal clothes. It wasn’t considered proper for very much of your skin to be showing, so swimsuits were very long and had long sleeves. In fact, swimming was the only time women were allowed to wear pants along with their dresses!

The problem with the swimsuits people wore was that when they got wet, they didn’t dry very fast. Instead of making swimsuits out of cotton, which is what your t-shirts are made out of, they started making swimsuits out of wool. Wool comes from sheep! Wool dries faster, but it is very heavy and warm. It would be like wearing a winter sweater at the pool! Do you know what fabric your swimsuit is made from? Usually, it says on the tag.sheep

As time went by, swimsuit designs started to change and look less like regular clothes. Instead of wearing pants, women wore tights with their swimsuits.

1910s swimwear

Do you think it seems silly to wear all those clothes to go swimming? It seems silly to us today, but one good thing about these swimsuits was that they stopped people from getting sunburns. Do you have to put on sunscreen before you go swimming outside? Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet in the 1800s! Having their legs and arms covered helped keep people safe.

If you visit Living History Farms, you will not see any swimming pools. In fact, you wouldn’t find very many swimming pools in the 1800s. Most people swam in the ocean, or in ponds, lakes or streams. Sometimes people would jump in a pond to take a bath. There were some indoor swimming pools in big cities, but they weren’t for fun; they were for exercise or for swimming lessons. Have you ever taken swimming lessons, or are you taking them now? Just like you, people in the 1800s learned how to swim so they would be safe in the water.

So what did kids do to have fun in the summer if they couldn’t go play at the pool? Many things! Kids spent time playing outside with their brothers and sisters. There were lots of games to play like baseball, croquet, and graces. Graces is a game kind of like catch, played with sticks and hoops.


Caregivers: Living History Farms is celebrating a Victorian Birthday with historic games and activities on August 8, 2015. If your kids want to try old-fashioned summer fun, come join us!

Houses and Homes

This summer at Living History Farms, we are celebrating houses and homes! The places people live in come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some houses are big. Some houses are small. Some people live in apartments. Some people live in farm houses. Some people live in mobile trailers. The people and things which share our living space and the things we do there together make the house into our home.

1900 farm house

Was this true a long time ago? Let’s take a walk through the past to see where people were living in Iowa a long time ago. As we look at each of these houses, think about how they compare to your house. Let’s start at the 1700 Ioway Farm. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa during the 1700s. They had 3 types of houses that they lived in during the year. Each house had just one room, a bedroom. Everyone in the family slept in this one room together. The summer house would be built up on the top of a hill where flooding was not an issue and where a breeze could be found. The frame of the house was made out of trees and then covered with bark taken off of elm trees. The bark would reflect the sun, making it cooler inside the house.Bark house

The winter house would be built down in the woods where it was protected from the winter winds by the trees. The frame of the house was made out of willow trees and was covered by 4 layers of cattail leaves that were sewn together into mats. The cattail mats would keep the wind out of the house and a small fire in the center of the home would heat it up to 50 degrees. (How warm is your house in the winter time?) The house would have an animal skin for the door.

mat house

The Ioway people used a traveling house for a month at a time, in the summer and winter, when they would go on a buffalo hunt. The frame was made from pine trees and the cover was made from buffalo hides sewn together. The house was lightweight enough to carry and was fast to put up and take down.tipi

What about houses for pioneer settlers? People from America and Europe started moving to Iowa in the 1840s. They had to build their homes by hand. Many of them used the trees around them to build houses. log house

Many settlers built a house with just one room that would be used as a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and storage room. There would be 2 doors on the house to go outside. If they had time for extra building, the trees might be squared off for a nicer house. There might be a loft upstairs used as a bedroom by all the children and used for storage. The house would have a fireplace on one end to heat it and to use for cooking. During cold winter months, the fireplace might have looked warm, but it could only keep the house around 40 degrees inside during the day.

Pioneer fireplace

As more and more settlers moved to Iowa, small towns like Walnut Hill were built. Life in a town was a little different from life on a farm. If your family owned one of the businesses in town, you might have a really comfortable home with many rooms.Tangen house

The Tangen House is home to the Implement Dealer’s family in our town of Walnut Hill. The house has 7 rooms on the main floor. Each room had a use. The parlor was for guests to sit in when visiting. There are 7 different doors on the main floor that go to the outside. The bedrooms would be upstairs. This house would have 5 bedrooms upstairs for the family.

If your family was one of the upper class families you might have a really fancy house, like the Flynn Mansion. The Flynn Mansion was built using bricks.Flynn mansion

This house has 7 rooms on the main floor of the house, 8 bedrooms and another room on the second floor, an attic, and a cupola on the very top of the house. The house was built with a furnace to heat it and with gas lights to light each room. There are 2 big doors on the front of the house and 5 other doors in the house that go to the outside.

A farm family in 1900 might build their house in a square shape, a T-shape, or another shape. The house on the 1900 Farm at Living History Farms is a T-shape home. It has 2 rooms on the main floor and 2 bedrooms for children on the second floor in the front of the house. 1900 farm house

The back of the house has 3 rooms on the main floor. The house was heated by a stove in the center room that was also used to cook on. The house has 3 different doors that go to the outside.

Are any of these houses like your house? How many rooms does your house have? How are the rooms in your house used? Would you want to live in one of these homes or are you happy with the one that you have? What do you think made each of these houses special to the people who would have lived there? What made it home–more than just a place to live?

Caregivers: Starting on June 15th, there will be a special traveling exhibit about what makes a house a home in the Wallace Exhibit Center at Living History Farms. The exhibit is free with paid admission to the museum. House & Home, an exhibit organized by NEH on the Road, encourages visitors to explore how our ideal of the perfect house and our experience of what it means to “be at home” have changed over time. The exhibition includes domestic furnishings and home construction materials, photographs, “please touch” interactive components, and films. Together, the objects and images illustrate how transformations in technology, government policy, and consumer culture have impacted American domestic life.

Drawn from the flagship installation at the National Building Museum, House & Home embarks on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, to explore the varied history, and many cultural meanings of the American home. This exhibition has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and is being toured by Mid-American Arts Alliance. House & Home was organized by the National Building Museum, Washington D.C., and curated by Sarah Leavitt. Additional support was provided by the Home Depot Foundation.


Fur Coats and Covers

lodge interiorHave you ever wondered where people in the past got the things they needed for everyday life? Where did their clothes come from? or their blankets? How about their tools and their toys? When we need something we just go to the store or get on the computer and buy it. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa a very long time ago. In the year 1700, these people did not have stores to go to when they needed something; they had to make the things they needed. They used the things they found around them to make their own tools and toys and even their clothes and blankets!  What kinds of things are found outside in Iowa? How about rocks? or plants and trees?

What about animals? Animals can be used in many ways; but what kinds of animals would Ioway hunters be able to find 300 years ago in Iowa?

bison Bison, or buffalo, still lived on the prairies in the 1700s. Deer and elk, and even bear were found in Iowa. Small animals like squirrels and rabbits lived in Iowa, too. Beavers and otters lived along Iowa’s rivers.beaver

How could people like the Ioway Indians make things out of these kinds of animals?

Many of these animals could be used for food. The animals’ meat would be eaten, and then the rest of the animal could be used for other things. Their bones were turned into tools, and their fur and skins were used for coverings. Different animals were better for different jobs. The skins of the bison (buffalo) that were hunted in the summer months were used to make covers for traveling houses, called tipis. The bison hair could be scraped away to make smooth and strong leather out of the skin underneath.tipi

During the winter, bison grow thick fur to stay warm. The Ioway hunted these furry winter bison to make nice warm blankets that the family would sleep on, cover up with, and wear like a coat. The man in the picture below is wearing a bison robe. Can you find anything else made from animals in the picture?buffalo robe

Animal skins with the fur still on were used for cold weather clothing. For summer clothes, the Ioway used skins without the heavy fur to stay cooler. Do you wear different clothes in the summer and the winter?Ioway clothes

Some animal furs were used to make hats. The man in the picture below is wearing an otter fur hat. Do you wear warm hats in the winter?otter hat

Think about all of the things in your house that are used to cover you up. What are your sheets, blankets, clothes, shoes, and coats made out of? Would you want to have to make all of those things yourself?

Winter Wonderlands

machine shedIt’s February in Iowa. We still have snow on the ground. It’s been very cold here this week, too. Do you like snow and cold? Lots of kids love to play in the snow or go sledding. Many parents hate to shovel snow and don’t like driving on snowy roads. At the museum, cold weather makes us wonder about what it might be like to have been in an Ioway lodge during a snowstorm or in a log house on the prairie. What would it be like to do farm chores on a snowy day in 1900 or walk to school through the snow in 1875?

cattail lodgeIn the year 1700, the Ioway people made their winter houses by sewing together the long green leaves of cattail plants. In the winter, the cattail leaves would swell up and stick together. The leaves would shed water and keep out the cold air.  Buffalo skins with all the fur were used as blankets to keep warm. It may not sound very warm, but a cattail lodge kept the Ioway much warmer than pioneers would have been living in a log house around the year 1850.

Pioneer hearthMost log houses were heated by an open fireplace. The heat from the fire escapes up the chimney. A pioneer family was happy if they could warm their log house up to 45 or 50 degrees in the winter! It would take a lot of wood to keep the fire going in a hearth to cook and keep warm all winter.

706119-R1-051-24_026 (2)   Tangen

By the 1870s and in 1900, most houses were heated by wood or coal-burning stoves. The stoves gave off a lot of heat into the room, but there might still have been a cold draft around the outside of the room, next to the walls. Our houses in 2015 have thick foam or fluffy fiberglass in between the walls to keep the wind out. In the 1800s, most houses did not have any insulation to keep out the wind. Here at the museum, the snow this month has made everything very sloppy.

1900During the last snow storm at the 1900 era Farm, we were grateful for the big pine trees on the west side of the house. The trees kept the snow from drifting in too deep. You can see the line of pine trees in the snow in this photograph taken out of the pantry window.out the pantry window

The snow made it harder to carry water and food to our animals. The cows didn’t seem to mind the snow much though!


The orchard and the windmill were pretty in the snow and ice.

windmill  trees

Many people in the 1870s and 1900s looked forward to snow. Kids and adults loved to go sleigh riding and sledding in the winter. It was a fun way to meet your friends and a fast way to travel. Sleighs pulled by horses could skim over the snow much easier than pulling a wagon along muddy roads. Sleds in 1900

Farm kids might make their own sleds in the year 1900, or they could buy them from a mail-order catalog. The Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had simple sleds to sell for 50 cents! A really lucky kid might be able to buy a fancy sled for $2.00.

The big hill in the town of Walnut Hill would make for some great sledding! town

Can you imagine walking to school in snow like this? Farm kids in the 1800s might walk a mile or more to their one-room school houses–even on a snowy day! school house

Going shopping in a little town could be a snowy adventure in 1875! Storekeepers would have to shovel their doorways and walks by hand. No snow-blowing machines back then! The shops in Walnut Hill were covered in snow last week. It’s a good thing the General Store would sell fur mittens and strong shovels! We hope you are enjoying the snow this month! We’re looking forward to spring . . .

General Store  Drug Store  Millinery

Christmas is Coming!

Flynn Mansion Christmas tree  Church of the Land

Christmas is coming! For some people, that means it is time to decorate the house and to cook special foods. In our last post, we talked about traditions or past-times. A tradition is doing something every year the way our parents and grand-parents did. Some families have decorations that they only put up in December every year. Is there a stocking or a wreath at your house every year? Do you have a party at your house or go to a party at school or church?

Christmas tree

In the year 1875, kids had holiday past-times, too. Even though it was over 140 years ago! Many Iowa families went to parties at Christmas time. The party could be at their town’s school or their church. The townspeople would decorate a Christmas tree at the school or church instead of in their own home. They might even call the party a “Christmas Tree” party. Gifts for all the school’s children would be on the tree or around it. Decorations for a school or church tree would be made by students and parents. People would thread a needle and string pieces of popcorn, wooden beads, and maybe even cranberries into garland. They could also make paper chains to decorate the tree.

string of popcorn and cranberries

Paper scraps were glued into pretty ornaments and cones to hold candy and presents. At the school party, kids would read poems and sing songs for their family. Do you know any Christmas poems to read? Do you know the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas?” I bet you do! It starts, “’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…” This poem was written a very long time ago in 1823! How about, “Dashing through the snow in a One Horse Open Sleigh”? That song was written in 1857! You might call it “Jingle Bells”.

Flynn Mansion

Wealthy families, like the Flynn family, might invite people to a “Christmas Tree” party at their own house. The house would be decorated with ribbons and evergreens. The family Christmas tree would go in the parlor. In 1875, it was a new idea to have a Christmas tree at your own home. This was a way for the Flynns to show off to their friends. Their tree would be decorated the day of the party or maybe the night before Christmas. Even the Flynns would make some of their decorations for the tree from popcorn and paper. The Flynns also had enough money to buy fancy glass ornaments shaped like fruit and balls. These ornaments were usually made in Germany and were very expensive. They even had a funny name—kugels!

Christmas tree  glass ornaments

Because there were no electric lights in 1875, Christmas trees had candles on them. The candles were only lit for a few minutes. Everyone stood and admired how pretty the tree looked and the candles were blown out. It was too easy to start a fire if the candles stayed lit for the entire party.

candleFlynn decorations
piano music in the parlor

A Christmas party at the Flynn Mansion could include music at the piano, fun games and stories in the parlor, and fancy food in the dining room. A favorite parlor game at Christmas was Blind Man’s Bluff. Everyone stood in a circle in the center of the room. Whoever was chosen to be “it” was blindfolded and placed in the middle of the circle. The other players danced and played tag around this person. The “Blind Man” had to try and catch another player and to guess who the person was without looking.

For kids and adults, a Christmas party was a great place to tell ghost stories! We think of scary stories for Halloween, but a long time ago, people told scary stories at the end of the year at Christmas! Think of stories like “A Christmas Carol” written by Charles Dickens. This story was meant to be a scary ghost story for Christmas!A Christmas Carol

If you’d like to learn more about how Christmas was celebrated 140 years ago, join us this Saturday, December 6 for our Family Christmas Event!

Horse-drawn wagon rides

Caregivers: Living History Farms will be open on December 6, from 4-8 pm for a Family Christmas! Guests can visit the Flynn Mansion, the Church of the Land, and the Visitor Center. At the Flynn Mansion, you can help trim the tree and make a Christmas card to celebrate the season!

Family ChristmasChildren's craftsChristmas trees

In the Church of the Land, everyone will enjoy dancing and music by the Barn Owl Band, and kids can decorate cookies in the church basement. Children will also enjoy crafts and taffy pulling in the Visitor Center. If weather permits, there will be horse-drawn wagon rides between the buildings.

You can get advanced tickets at www.LHF.org/Christmas

Advance tickets: $5.50/person, $4.00/LHF member
At the Door: $6.00/person; $4.75/LHF member