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Exhibit Lesson/Activity Ideas: Pioneer Life

Lesson Plans and Activities that support the Pioneer History Exhibit

Overview of Colonial Life

This activity is from the American Textile Museum in Massachusetts. Because most of the first settlers to Marietta were from New England, it describes life for the pioneers well. 

Pioneer Clothing

Pioneer Clothing

For pioneers, the production of clothing was a basic necessity. With limited access to trading posts or stores, pioneer families produced much of their everyday clothing. Even in larger cities, ready to wear, or “store bought” clothing did not exist until the early 20th century. All clothing was made to order by a tailor, seamstress, or the women of the family. If a frontier family had access to fabric at a trading post, the women still had to cut out and hand sew it into wearable garments. On average, a man’s shirt required 3 yards of cloth, while a woman’s simple dress needed at least 4 yards of cloth.

Many families had access to the tools necessary to take their own clothing from raw material to thread to fabric to finished product. The vast majority of their clothing was made from linen, wool, or a combination of both, called linsey-woolsey.

“For more than twenty years, nearly all the cloth worn in the families of farmers, and many in town, for every day dresses, was made in the houses of the wearers, by their wives and daughters. Necessity, as well as economy, led to this domestic manufacture. Foreign cloth was too dear for common use, and only worn for nice dresses.”- Samuel Hildreth, “Pioneer History”

Painting by George Henry Boughton

Cotton was still extremely expensive (and thus uncommon) for several reasons. It was not widely grown in America until the 1820s, so the vast majority of cotton was imported from India- the term “calico” comes from Calcutta, the largest city in India. Also, the cotton gin (the machine that removed seeds from the cotton boll) was not invented until 1792, so the processing of cotton was labor intensive and time consuming, driving up costs. It was only after the development of the cotton gin that it became the dominant agricultural crop of the South. In the late 18th century cotton was sold for $0.40-0.50 per pound, and the average family made only $60 a year, so it was considered a luxury item.

For the first few years cotton was raised in small quantities and manufactured into stockings, or cloth, with hemp or flax…After a few years, the early frosts of autumn destroyed much of it before the floss was formed, and taught them that this was not the proper climate for cotton.”- Samuel Hildreth, “Pioneer History”


The most common fabric found in the United States in the 18th century was linen. Grown from the flax plant, it is typically planted in May and harvested in July (wool, on the other hand, required at least a year to grow on the sheep before it could be shorn). On average, each person required ¼ of an acre of flax for a year’s worth of clothing. Linen required  Photo by Wolfgang Sauber                                  a long and labor intensive process to be transformed from plant to spinable fibers. First, the flax was uprooted and left to dry in the field. While drying, it was repeatedly rippled, or dragged through large wooden combs to remove the seeds, which were pressed into flaxseed oil or saved for planting the following year.

Next, the flax stalks were left in water to rot for several weeks to soften the hard outer shell of the stalks to make their removal easier. Then, they were taken indoors to dry again. The woody outer shell of the stalks were removed using a flax brake (an example of this is fig. 11 in the illustration on the left). The brake was a large wooden device with board placed in an alternating pattern on the top and bottom. When closed, it broke the stalks, separating the outer shell from the fibrous center.

The flax was now swingled, or hit with a large wooden knife until all of the chaff and debris was removed. This also softened the fibers and removed natural resins that made it resistant to dyes. Finally, the fibers were pulled through hetchels (shown below), a series of combs running from wide to narrow to remove any remaining impurities.

The flax fibers were spun into thread using a spinning wheel. The thread’s quality was dependent on the spinner’s skill. A skilled spinner could spin two skeins of linen a day.

 “In the spring of 1790, Captain Dana sowed a piece of flax, pulled it early in June, while it was in blossom, water rotted it in a swamp near the river, had it dressed out and spun in the           from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedia (1762).            family, and wove into  substantial cloth by his                                                                    son William.”- Samuel Hildreth, “Pioneer History”

For more information about the production of linen, see Colonial Williamsburg's blog post here:


Durable clothing made from buckskin or leather was also in use on the frontier, and was most often used to make trousers or pants. Transforming deer skin to leather was a fairly straight forward process. After the deer was skinned, all of the fat and meat was scraped off of the hide. Next, the hair was scraped off. To tan the leather, the hide was placed in a bucket, along with a cloth pouch containing a paste made from dried deer brains, and rubbed with the brain paste. It was then stretched on a special board made for tanning hides until it was dry, then returned to the bucket and rubbed with the brain paste and stretched again until it was soft. To waterproof the hide, it was smoked over rotten wood.

 “Many families who had been brought up on the frontiers, depended entirely on the skins of animals killed in the chase, for clothing… Before the introduction of sheep, buckskin pantaloons were in general use by all the farmers’ boys.”- Samuel Hildreth, “Pioneer History”

“Sheep had not yet been introduced into the country, and all their home spun garments were made from flax and hemp, or the skins of the deer, which, when nicely dressed, afforded warm and comfortable jackets and pantaloons for the men and boys.”


After the sheep were shorn, the wool was washed and dried. Small children were enlisted to pick out any grass, burrs, and other foreign material from the fibers. Older children carded the wool using wool cards, or paddles with small wire teeth until the wool fibers combined into a long, sausage shaped roll. The women then spun these rolls into thread on their spinning wheel.

 “Sheep were not introduced until after the war (The Ohio Indian Wars, 1790-1795), in the year 1797, or ’98; the first came from Pennsylvania.”- Samuel Hildreth, “Pioneer History

The combination of linen and wool into one piece of fabric was called linsey-woolsey. Linsey-wolsey was commonly found on the frontier because it was durable and because it required less of both linen and wool than either fabric.



Thread was woven into fabric using a large wooden loom. It was first warped, or stretched the length of the loom in dozens of rows to establish the length and width of the fabric. More thread, called the weft, was then woven through the warp thread to create its width.


 Image from Wikimedia Commons


Both linen and wool were colored using a variety of plant based dyes. Black walnut hulls created brown fabric, golden rod was used for yellows and light greens, and indigo purchased at trading posts created blue fabrics.


Men’s Clothing

The staple garment of a pioneer man’s wardrobe was a linen shirt. They ranged from coarse homespun for everyday to finer, Irish linen for special occasions. These shirts were usually long and loose-fitting, able to be tucked into breeches or trousers (underwear was not common for men or women at this time). Knee length breeches were fashionable, but saved for important occasions. They buttoned in the front and laced up in the back to allow for freedom of movement for work or riding horses. Leather, homespun linen or wool trousers were common. Many frontier men adopted leather leggings from the Native American tribes to cover their legs below the knees.

Men also wore button up vests and coats, especially during the winter. Hunting shirts were also common for everyday wear. They were a long open front linen shirt with a shoulder cape with fringe. The hunting shirt was worn by overlapping the sides and secured by a belt.

Homemade moccasins and leather shoes were worn with linen or wool stockings, which came up to the knee. Hats ranged from homemade wide-brimmed straw hats in the summer to knit or fur hats in the winter.


Women’s Clothing

Women typically wore more layers than men. The first layer was a linen shift or chemise. Similar to a nightgown, the chemise was elbow length, loose-fitting, and fell to the woman’s knees. The neck usually featured a drawstring and was worn during both daytime and nighttime. Neither women nor men had pajamas as we understand them. They simply wore their shirts or chemise to sleep in. The chemise protected the outer garments from sweat and body oil, and was made to be hard wearing and durable.

Next came the bodice or stays. 18th century stays for the working class typically laced up in the front and back so the wearer could put them on without help. Unlike women in the later Victorian era whose corsets were tightened to give them tiny waists and an hourglass figure, stays of the middle and working class women of the 1780s and 1790s were used primarily for back support.

Depending on the time of year, women wore at least one petticoat, or skirt. Petticoats had long strings to tie at the waist and were calf to ankle length. Linen petticoats were worn during warmer weather, and linsey-wolsey, wool, or quilted wool petticoats were layered during colder months.

Over the chemise and stays, women wore a short gown. The short gown was a jacket made of the same material that was usually elbow length and fastened in the front by metal pins. On average, a women during the 1780s married in her early 20s and was pregnant on average every 2-3 years, or at least 6-7 times (often more!) This meant that her body was constantly changing, so buttons that had to match specific buttonholes were not practical. Every piece of women’s clothing was adjustable, and fastened either by ties or straight pins. All women wore aprons and caps of varying colors and patterns. White was usually reserved for Sundays. Like the men, shoes were either moccasins or leather with hard soles.



Children typically wore simple shifts or shirts cut from their parents’ old clothing until they reached the age of 8 or 10. Afterwards, they dressed in the same manner as their parents.

Questions for students

What kinds of clothing were worn by pioneer men? By women? By children?

What materials were used in making their clothing?

Do you think the pioneers valued nice clothing as much as we do? Do you think pioneer men, women, and children were concerned about their appearance as we are?

What article of clothing from the pioneer era would you like to wear? What article of clothing do you think would be hard to get used to wearing?

Ohio Pioneers Crossword Puzzle

This crossword puzzle is based on the information found in the Exhibit. The answers will be found on each of the panels.

Pioneer Children Games and Activities

Games known to have been played at Farmers’ Castle in Belpre:

According to Samuel Hildreth, author of Pioneer History and an early settler of Marietta himself, the following games and activities were played by both children and adults alike.

Foot races, wrestling, leaping (possibly similar to modern day long jump) were all extremely popular. Not only did young (and older) men participate for fun, they were also seen as important pastimes because the fitness, skills, and speed they encouraged were extremely beneficial during an Indian attack.

Young men and women enjoyed dancing, and the settlers of Farmers’ Castle, Campus Martius, and Fort Harmar would get together several times a year to hold dances.


Blind Man’s Bluff:

The person who is “it” is blindfolded and spun around several times. The other players walk in a circle around the blindfolded player until the blindfolded player claps three times. The other players stop walking. The blindfolded player points at one of the players in the circle and guesses the identity of the person they pointed at. If wrong, the blindfolded player tries to catch the other player inside the circle and try to identify the player by touching their face or hair. Once the blindfolded player guesses correctly, their turn ends and the person whose identity he guessed takes their turn being blindfolded.  


Hunter & Deer

Stand in a circle with hands touching. The “hunter” weaves in and out of the circle around the players. He/she picks the “deer” as they go around the circle. The deer follows the hunter as they weave around the other players until the hunter reaches the deer’s space. If the deer catches the hunter, the hunter goes into the middle of the circle. The game ends when the center becomes too full. (This game is very similar to “Duck, Duck, Goose.”)


Whirligig: The original fidget spinner

Items needed:

                Cardstock                            Yarn/string                                          Scissors

                Glue stick                             Markers/Crayons                             Hole punch

Trace a circle using a bowl or other round object onto the cardstock two times. Decorate the cardstock with markers, crayons, etc. Cut the circles out and glue the non-decorated sides together.  Using the hole punch, put two holes just on either side of the center of the circle. Feed the yarn through one hole and back through the other and knot the end to make a large loop with the whirligig in the center..

To use, hold the ends of the yarn at shoulder width, or keeping the yarn taut. Spin the whirligig away from you until the yarn is twisted along its entire length. Pull the ends of the yarn away from each other left and right and          Image from Mount Clare Museum House                       the whirligig will spin. (it takes a little time and practice to figure out).

Instructions for making a whirligig on Youtube found here.


Ring Taw (marbles)

Draw a large circle, several feet in diameter. Use the Taw (shooter/big marble) to knock the other players’ marbles out of the circle. In the 1780s and 1790s, players got to keep all of the marbles they knocked out.


Other Ideas:

Build a log cabin using Lincoln Logs. This gives the students an idea of how pioneers’ log cabins were constructed.

Pioneer Food

Churning Butter

 Pioneers on the Ohio Frontier had to make all of their food from scratch- including butter. All pioneer  families had a cow for milk, cream, and butter. Butter is made by stirring milk so long that it becomes solid. Children were put to work using a wooden paddle to stir, or churn, milk in a large wooden  bucket until it turned into butter. After the butter formed, the women and girls put it in special wooden molds with designs cut into them to create pretty patterns in the butter.

Engraving by Denis Diderot (1771).


  • ½ pint whipping cream
  • Glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (like a large jam jar or mayonnaise jar, or doing as a group, use baby food jars and divide the cream among the jars) 

To make your own butter, fill a jar halfway with the cream. Make sure the lid is on tight and shake it. Keep shaking it until the cream thickens and turns into a solid yellow lump of butter. The liquid buttermilk will separate from the butter. It should take less than ten minutes for the butter to form. If you want, you can use candy molds to shape the butter. It will taste wonderful on the cornbread from the next recipe.


The most common grain eaten by the Ohio pioneers was corn. Native Americans had taught English settlers how to grow corn in the early 1600s, and by the time the pioneers came to Ohio, it was a very important part of their diet. The settlers didn’t eat sweet corn the way we do now, instead, they let the corn dry and ground it into cornmeal. The leaves, or husks, were used to stuff mattresses.

Ingredients Utensils
1 cup cornmeal   Mixing bowl
½ cup flour     Measuring cups and spoons
¾ teaspoon salt    Spoon
1 cup milk    1 8X8 inch pan, greased
1 egg  
2 tablespoons vegetable oil  
butter or molasses, for serving  


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the cornmeal, flour, and salt in the mixing bowl. Add the milk, egg, and oil and stir until everything is combined into a smooth batter. Pour into the greased pan and bake for 15 minutes, or until baked through. Eat while warm with butter (try the homemade butter recipe!) or molasses.

Recipes taken from Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World by Laurie Carlson.

Hearth and Home

Building a Log Cabin

“An ax, a saw, an auger, and the hammer usually constituted all the mechanical tools with which the rude architect was to rear and construct the house…After a few days spent in an improvised shanty, or perhaps the interior of the covered wagon, the pioneer sets himself seriously to work in the construction of his log cabin. Having selected his spot, the tall, straight

Image of cabin on University of Pittsburgh campus         young trees of the forest are to be felled,

from Wikimedia Commons.                                              measured, cut, and hauled by horses

or oxen to the place; at the same time properly distributed to form the several prospective sides of the proposed structure. The “skids” are provided upon which to run up the logs. The clapboards, rived from the cleanest white oak blocks, rough and unshaved, are made ready for the roof, whiskey, then about twenty-five cents per gallon, is laid in, and due notice given to such neighbors as can be readied, of the day appointed for the “raising.”

When the time comes, and the forces collect together, a captain is appointed, and the men divided into proper sections, and assigned to their several duties. Four men most skillful in the use of the axe, are severally assigned to each corner; these are the “corner men,” whose duty it is to “notch” and “saddle” –as it were, like a dovetail- the timbers at their connection, and to preserve the plumb, “carrying up the respective corners.” Then there are the “end men,” who with strong arms, and the aid of pikes, force the logs up the “sheds” and deliver them to the corner men. In this way the building rises with wonderful rapidity, the beamers for the roof logs are adjusted; the broad clapboards laid with skill, the “weight poles” placed upon the successive courses, and the shell of the cabin is completed. The frolic is ended and a good supper crowns the day’s work. Then follows the puncheon floor, made of heavy planks split from timber and dressed on one side with an axe; the big log fire-place; the beaten clay hearth; the stick and clay chimney, the clinking and daubing, the paper windows, and the door with wooden latch and hinges. The ordinary house was eighteen by twenty feet (about 360 square feet)..."

Adapted from “Pioneer Days in Central Ohio” by Henry B. Curtis published in the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly in 1888, p. 242-3.

Questions for students

  1. What type of house did the pioneer build? Why did he build this type of house?
  2. Who did the construction?  Was house building an individual or a cooperative activity?
  3. What materials were used in the building of the cabin? What tools were used in the construction of the cabin?

Household Furnishings

On entering the cabin, the first and indeed an important consideration was the construction of bedsteads, upon which our hardy pioneers were wont to lay their weary bodies during the shades of night…every emigrant was compelled to be the architect of his own bedsteads, and other household furniture… (beds were typically made by putting together a rectangular frame and inserting slats or poles along the length of the bed to hold up a mattress.) Mattresses were usually large linen sacks filled with corn shucks or leaves. Bear or buffalo skins were used to keep warm in the winter.

The only other furniture were usually three legged stools and a table. Dishes were made out of pewter or wood. Spoons, knives, and forks were usual

ly made of wood as well. Cups were made of tin or gourds. Bowls and wash tubs were made from large tree trunks. Most pioneers had a broom, spinning wheel, rifle, bullet-pouch and powder horn in the cabin.

Pioneer cabins usually had few windows, and of those, most did not have glass, as it was expensive and difficult to get. For light, pine-knots, tallow candles, or lard-oil lamps were used.

Adapted from Frontier Ohio: A Resource Guide for Teachers published by the Ohio Historical Society, 1972 p. 28.







Image by Derek Jensen of cabin recreation at Conner Prairie Living History Museum.

Questions for students

  • What common problems would a frontier settlement and a village or city of today share?
  • In what important ways did the pioneer settlements differ from today’s villages and cities?
  • What aspect of living in a log cabin would you find most difficult? Why?

Pioneer Agriculture


                The first and great work of the farm was grubbing and clearing the heavy timber from the land. Trees were “girdled,” in which a large ring of bark was removed near the tree’s base to kill the tree. After several months, or during the following year, the tree was cut down and used for firewood, logs for a cabin,          19th Century Woodcut by Alexander Anderson       furniture, or other useful items. The underbrush was often burned, both to remove it and to make the soil even more fertile.

                The fields were plowed using a wooden or iron plow pulled by a pair of oxen. The most common grains grown were corn, wheat, and rye. All were planted by hand; wheat and rye were broadcast, where the farmer scattered handfuls of seeds across the field, and corn was planted in rows directly into the earth. Wheat and rye were harvested by a steel sickle, with a curved steel blade attached to a long handle, tied into sheaves, and stacked. Both grains were thrashed using a wooden flail to remove the chaff from the grain. The grain was then ground into flour either by hand or in one of a handful of grist mills on the rivers and creeks in the area.

Hay was cut with a hand scythe and stacked in a corner of the field where the cattle and horses were corralled. Harvest time was one of the most labor intensive seasons of the year for farmers, and it was common for neighbors to help one another gather their crops. The men would sing and tell jokes to keep the work from becoming to monotonous, and whiskey could often be found in the shade of a tree at the field’s edge.

Adapted from Farm Life in Ohio Sixty Years Ago by Martin Welker (1895) pp. 30-33


  1. What were the main crops of the pioneer farm? Which of these crops were borrowed from the Indians?
  2. What tools and other equipment were used for planting, cultivating, and harvesting? How does the specialization of farm tools in the frontier period compare with today?
  3. What words or phrases do you think most accurately describe frontier agriculture?
  4. A pioneer farmer might see very little money in the course of a year’s operation. Did this mean that he was necessarily poor? Why or why not?
  5. The farmer in the frontier period seems to have been far more self-sufficient than the farmer today. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this type of farming?


  1. Encourage students to trace the history and development of an invention in this period of history connected with the planting, cultivating, and harvesting of crops. Some examples might be the iron or steel mold-board plow, or the water mill for thrashing and grinding grain. Not should be made of how these inventions changed the people’s way of life. Students can find pictures to show the changes in these inventions.

Pioneer Cuisine

Food and Cooking

                The staple foods in a pioneer family’s diet were cornbread, potatoes, milk, butter, and meat. Tea and coffee were considered luxuries by many, so sassafras and spicebush tea took their place. Salt was a basic necessity both for flavoring foods, but also for preserving meat. Turkeys, deer, buffalo, and bear were all hunted and consumed by the pioneers, as well as raccoon, opossum, and even panthers and wolves were eaten. There was no simple way to preserve food at this period in time as refrigeration methods and canning had not been developed. The only way to preserve meat was to smoke and salt it. Fruits and vegetables were stored in root cellars or dried. During the winter months, as fresh foods ran low, the pioneers typically ate meat and cornbread or other dishes made with cornmeal, and little else.


From "The Story of Agriculture" by Albert Hart Sanford (1916).

                To supplement their diet, the pioneers foraged for wild plants in the fields and forests. Wild fruit like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and pawpaws were found throughout Ohio, and enjoyed by the pioneers during the warmer months. Apples, peaches, and pear trees were brought from back East and planted in orchards throughout the area. The most famous planter of apple trees was Johnny Appleseed, who planted apple trees throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Apples were preserved for the winter by drying, making apple butter, or distilling into cider. Maple trees were “tapped” for maple syrup. Sugar was far less common than in modern times, and maple syrup or molasses were the most common sweeteners available at the time, and were used much more sparingly than today.

                All pioneer families had gardens, and grew many of the same vegetables we do today. The most notable exception was the tomato, which was believed by the settlers to be poisonous. Root crops such as potatoes and turnips were widely grown and stored for winter use. Other common vegetables included beans, pumpkins, squash, cabbage, melons, and cucumbers. In the early spring and summer before garden produce ripened, the settlers used nutrient rich “weeds” like nettles and purslane to add variety to their diet. In some cases, especially during a particularly hard winter in 1790 when they ran out of food, these plants weren’t a supplement- they saved the pioneers from starvation.

                The forests also provided a wide variety of nuts the pioneers ate throughout the long winter months, including hickory nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts. It was common to send children out to gather and crack the nuts in the fall. Because of their limited resources, most meals were fairly simple. Women cooked over an open fire in the hearth, using copper or iron cooking pots. Food was eaten out of wooden bowls or on wooden or pewter plates with wooden utensils.


  1. What were the staple foods in the pioneer’s diet?
  2. Why was salt so vital to the pioneer family?
  3. If you were living on the pioneers’ diet, what foods would you miss? Why?

Pioneer Family Life

Frontier Family Life

In the Puritan New England tradition, the husband/father was the unquestioned head of the house. Children were taught from an early age to contribute to the family economy, and discipline was strict. Girls typically married in their late teens or early twenties, while boys married in their mid to late twenties. While the idea of marrying for love was growing in popularity by the late 18th century, most people cared more about the economic stability and social status of their potential partner than romantic sentiment. Parents still played a significant role in helping to choose their childrens’ future spouses, and it was commonly accepted that parental permission was essential before a young man and woman could marry. Large families were common, with women bearing an average of seven children from her early twenties to her early forties.

Women’s Work

There was a clear division between men and women regarding the duties they performed. Working in the fields and protecting the family were men’s work, while activities revolving around the upkeep of the house and family were done by women.

“The women did the offices of the household, milked the cows, cooked the mess, prepared the flax, spun, wove, and made the garments of linen of linsey. The men hunted and brought in the meat; they planted, ploughed and gathered the corn. Grinding it into meal at the handmill or pounding it into hominy in the mortar, was occasionally the work of either or the joint labor of both. The men fought the Indians, cleared the land, reared the hut, built the fort.” – James H. Perkins Annals of the West: Embracing a Concise Account of Principal Events which have occurred in the Western States and Territories, p. 235

“Nearly every family had their spinning-wheels and loom. With these the girls and young women used to congregate in companies of ten or fifteen, in the spacious rooms of the block houses [in Campus Martius] and cheer each other at their labors, with the song and sprightly conversation.

They used also to stir up their ambition with trials of skill, in spinning the largest number of skeins in a given time.” from Samuel P. Hildreth’s Pioneer History (1848).

“I remember well seeing my mother shearing the wool off it (buffalo skin) and I think I wore stockings made from the wool. It was very common for farmers to tan their own leather for shoes and dress their deer skins for clothing. Buck skin overalls were a common dress at this time (1790s). My father generally tanned his heavy hides such as buffalo and bear and beef hide when he killed one. He was a shoemaker also and generally worked till bed time on his shoe bench. As soon as my sisters were big enough to sit on the loom bench he had a loom provided for them. So the loom was kept up till bed time and us boys were furnished work of some kind also, shelling corn or filling quills for the wearer and indeed very often in the clearing burning brush till nine or ten o’clock at night. Once in a while we could (have) a night to take a hunt for coons and opossums. But it was the custom in father’s house to keep all at work of some kind till bed time.” Thomas Rogers Sr. “Reminiscences of a Pioneer.” Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Vol. XIX (1910).

“We lived in log houses; some with two rooms, but more with only one. In 1818, and from then to 1826, very often there was not a family but had one or more cases of ague [fever/shivering] and fever… When not sick, women would spin wool for clothes and bedding…Some women had looms in their houses and did their own weaving, and also wove for their neighbors. Now, what with sickness, spinning, weaving coloring, cutting, making, and mending, besides knitting, dipping candles, making soap, cheese and butter; without carpets or lamps; no sewing machines, no door or window screens; flies and musquitoes plenty…Perhaps it was Providential circumstance, that there were no “Woman Clubs” or “Womans Suffrage Societies,” in those days, because women were too busy at home.” Maumee Valley Pioneer Association. Woman’s Part in Pioneer Home Life, pp. 52-3.

“The employments of women were confined to a few occupations. Doing house work, sewing, spinning, knitting and weaving, were their principal labor. They were, in fact, the manufacturers in the household. The mothers and daughters made their own clothing, and mostly that of the men and boys of the family.

In those days, the big spinning wheel was the most important instrument in the house. To run it was good exercise for the girls. The walking to pull out the woolen thread, and run it on the spindle, brought into exercise the muscles of the limbs, expanded the chest, and generally made them active and healthy, and with their exercise in outdoor life made them a race of strong and well developed women. The little wheel was often run at the same time in spinning flax, as well as wool. In the busy time for this work, in almost every household, the hum of the wheels,     "The Spinning Wheel" by C.W. Jeffreys (1945) In        the merry song of the pretty spinner,         "The Picture Gallery of Canadian History"                  with jokes and fun, made pleasant music, and regaled the family with rich enjoyment not excelled by the music of the stage.”

From Farm Life in Ohio Sixty Years Ago by Martin Welker (1895) p. 50

On doing laundry:

Before the advent of the washboard and the washing machine, the washing of clothes was done by our mothers by rubbing them with the hands, or beating them with a stick on a bench made of a puncheon, and wringing them with the hands. The clothes were dried upon a grape vine, where they were fastened with thorns for pins. The flat-iron was then nearly as now, with the exception that never more than one was owned by a family, and neighbors borrowed from each other on ironing day.

From Farm Life in Ohio Sixty Years Ago by Martin Welker (1895) p. 51

Law adopted September 2, 1788 at Marietta:

“If any children or servants shall, contrary to the obedience due their parents or masters, resist or refuse to obey their lawful commands, upon complaint thereof to a justice of the peace, it shall be lawful for such justice to send him or them, so offending, to the goal [jail] or house of correction, there to remain until he or they shall humble themselves to the said parents, or masters, satisfaction. And if any child or servant shall, contrary to his bounden duty, presume to assault or strike his parent or master, upon complaint and conviction thereof, before two or more justices of the peace, the offender shall be whipped not exceeding ten stripes.”

Law governing marriage in the Northwest Territory:

“Male persons of the age of seventeen years, and female persons of the age of fourteen years, and not prohibited by the laws of God, may be joined in marriage…Male persons under the age of twenty-one years, and female persons under the age of eighteen years shall not be joined in marriage without first obtaining the consent of their fathers respectively, or (in case of the death or incapacity of their fathers) of their mothers, or guardians, provided such parents or guardians live in the territory.”



  1. Why might large families be considered an economic asset on the frontier? Are large families considered an economic asset today? Why or why not?
  2. How did children learn men’s or women’s work? Is this a good way to learn an occupation? Why or why not?
  3. Compare the traditions of marriage in the frontier period with today. What parts are similar, and which are different?
  4. How has parenting changed since the pioneer times? What are some negative and positive outcomes from this change?

Frontier Weddings

”Nothing could excite more hilarity than a frontier wedding. Most generally, all the neighborhood, for miles around, were invited; and if it was in the winter, there would be a log-heap or two somewhere near the cabin. Around these fires the men assembled with their rifles; the women in the cabin; and if there was a fiddler in the neighborhood, he must be present at the hour stated. The parson, if one could be had, if not, the Justice of the Peace, called the assembly together. After the ceremony was over, and all had wished the happy pair much joy, the bottle passed around; the men then went some to shooting at a mark, some to throwing the tomahawk, others to hopping and jumping, throwing the rail or shoulderstone, others to running foot races; the women were employed in cooking. When the meal was ready, the guests partook of venison, bear-meat, roast turkeys, etc. This being over, the dance commences, and, if there is no room in the cabin, the company repair to or near one of the log fires; there they dance till night, and then they mostly return home; yet many of the young people stay and perhaps all night…till the moccasins are worn through. The next day is the infair: the same scenes are again enacted, when the newly-married couple single off to a cabin built for themselves, without twenty dollars’ worth of property to begin the world with.”- James B. Finley, Pioneer Life in the West, p. 71-2.