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"I'd Rather Be Dancing": Wisconsin Women Moving On.

Some years ago, while sitting with my aunt drinking coffee, I asked her why she left her Wisconsin farm for the city of Milwaukee. What was there to do, she asked in return. Meet a boy down at the bridge? What did she do in the city, I asked. She said she had first worked in a candy factory and roomed with the family of a young friend. The year was 1916. What did you do after work, I persisted. We went dancing, she replied, every night except Monday. Why never on Monday, I asked. Because, she responded with a smile, the dance hall was closed on Monday.

Dancing is one way to transcend place and space. Migrating is another. Rural women embraced both types of mobility. In this article I explore the parallelism between work and recreation by looking closely at these two types of mobility--dancing and migration. I use the experiences of young women in central Wisconsin during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for this exploration. Recreational opportunities, in addition to the need for access to better employment, influenced the decision of rural women to migrate to urban areas. City dance halls offered a larger and more varied social group, better facilities, and more exciting and fashionable music, all with less likelihood of community supervision, than did country dance halls.

Feminist scholars talk about the importance of space and place in shaping women's experiences. I, also, think that the ways space and place constrain and offer opportunities in women's lives is an important phenomenon. The context of women's working lives is strongly affected by the productive economy of the area and the accessibility of collective services. Patterns of work, culture, and migration are interrelated. [1] Mobility is essential for women: for economic support, to integrate production and reproduction, and to take advantage of opportunities for personal development and autonomy. Ideologies about appropriate behavior and responsibilities for women, and a variety of other conditions, can constrain women. Why did the twentieth-century countryside become a place where young women felt more constrained in their choices and in their mobility than in either the nineteenth-century countryside or in twentieth-century cities? Nineteenth-century immigrant daughters had access to rural dances and to some wo rk, and thus had spatial mobility. Later, cities offered rural women expanded access to dance and jobs.

Migration of rural women in the United States is difficult to quantify. Farm people numbered 32.5 million in 1915 and 9.4 million in 1971. Yet surprisingly few detailed historical studies of that massive migration exist for the period before the 1930s. Recent studies of black urban migration are an important exception and provide many insights into the process. Manuscript censuses record the place of birth by state, making interstate migration the easiest to document quantitatively. Intrastate migration is much more difficult to trace because census records give no county of birth, nor do they tell how long one has lived in any one place. Dates of immigration to this country are included, but that is little help in locating the children of immigrants. To track young people from countryside to city before the 1930s, scholars are dependent mainly on qualitative records, including family histories, that discuss individual migration patterns and experiences. While quantitatively limited, these records allow us t o sketch a probable framework for the experiences of young women as they abandoned rural life for jobs and recreational opportunities in nearby towns and cities.

Rural migration studies did not occupy scholars seriously until the 1950s. In the 1930s, historians gave attention to immigration history, and rural sociologists studied rural communities. After World War II, when government and private agencies funded studies of developing countries, rural sociologists shifted much of their attention away from the United States. Rural sociologist George W. Hill, who studied Wisconsin immigrant communities in the late 1930s, abandoned them to study Latin America after World War II. Sociologists shifted their focus to urban areas and to the negative aspects of urbanization. Anthropologists primarily studied rural indigenous cultures and ignored most settler communities. [2] In the 1960s, when urbanization became a central focus for many scholars, rural migration tended to be studied in cities. Sociologists and urban historians looked for urban problems rather than successful adaptation to urban life. Economists, who studied labor mobility, were more optimistic, but they too s hared an urban bias. They saw rural areas primarily as sources of urban workers. When women's studies and feminist scholars joined in academic discourse in the 1970s, they followed the course already set. They studied urban women's labor within the United States and rural women in developing countries. [3]

What young urban women workers did when they were not working began to interest scholars in the 1980s. Kathy Peiss found dance hail culture one key to understanding the social construction of gender among working-class Americans. In Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the Century New York, she described dance halls as the "favorite arena in which young working women played out their cultural style." [4] Peiss found that during their teen years, young women expressed their passion for dance and attraction to the culture that surrounded it by frequenting dance halls in the ethnic enclaves of New York.

As scholars looked more closely at the lives of young working women, they discovered that city dance hall cultures flourished across the country during the early decades of the century. In the 1910s, urban youth "danced like mad," wrote Tera Hunter. [5] Ballroom dancing reached deep into neighborhoods in all regions and all racial and ethnic groups. Many young working-class women and men lived in crowded tenements or rented rooms, and communities failed to meet the demand for places to work off their confined energies. Commercial dance halls provided, for a small cost, places where young people could hang out, meet each other, and exercise. Hunter found young African American domestic workers in Atlanta during the 1910s among the most conspicuous and dedicated dancers. These young women, says Hunter, found in black dance "resistance to the confinement of the body solely to wage work." [6] Feelings of self-empowerment and transcendence emanated from blues and dance, Hunter wrote, while reformers and employers seemed determined to control the women's movements of symbolic liberation. Dressing up and dancing reinvigorated workers and enabled them to persevere. Hunter argues that the middle-class employers, whether white or black, claimed the right to control and direct the use of the bodies of the domestic workers. [7] Young women workers rejected those claims. The passion to dance that Hunter found in Atlanta, and the objection to it by reformers, were a pattern repeated elsewhere during these years.

Historians have traditionally assumed that this emerging working-class youth culture attracted rural youth to the city. This seemed especially true in the 1920s, when youth moved away from the countryside in large numbers. Recent studies have questioned these easy assumptions. Jane Pederson, in her study of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, imaginatively used obituaries for the period from 1915 to 1930 to show patterns of persistence rather than mobility. Most children lived within twenty miles of the home community at the death of the parent; fewer than 15 percent lived in the cities. [8]

For those who did leave, both push and pull factors influenced rural youth. Mary Neth has argued that new forms of recreation in rural areas, such as dance halls, may have increased dissatisfaction with farm incomes, and better economic opportunities in the cities pulled youth there. In her analysis of leisure culture in rural areas between 1910 and 1940s, Neth saw traditional dance patterns give way to commercial ones. Traditional dances, which usually took place in homes or barns, marked special events, broke routines, and were an excuse for socializing. Here neighborhood musicians played square dances, schottisches, polkas, waltzes, and two-steps. Gradually dance halls replaced home and barn dances. All dancing could be controversial, but many rural people considered the new sexually explicit dances especially unacceptable for farm daughters. Neth argues that rural dance halls were available and used by farm youths, especially in the 1 920s and 1930s, but economic opportunities for income were not availab le in the countryside. [9]

One can also find earlier accounts of dance and work. Between 1870 and 1920, rural work changed dramatically for young rural women. By the 1870s, ethnic patterns of work for young women already existed in the nation. Two patterns existed, one for native-born Yankee (northern/eastern native-born white) women, another for young, unmarried immigrant women and the daughters of immigrant women. Immigrant women often worked between the age of fourteen (when they were usually confirmed by their churches and graduated from grammar school, and considered by immigrant families ready to work), and the age when they married (usually between nineteen and twenty-five). A second generation Norwegian, Thurine Oleson, who was born in central Wisconsin in 1866, explained the difference in working patterns simply: "All the Yankees looked down on the girls who worked out. No Yankee girl ever did it.... All immigrant girls did." By "working out" she meant "housework," either on nearby farms or in local villages. [10]

But not all immigrant daughters worked out. Oleson explained that in the wealthiest Norwegian families the parents also refused to let their daughters work out. We know from other accounts that in poorer Yankee families young women also had to work out. Yankee families, however, did not consider it acceptable. Some tried to hide their daughters' hard physical labor. Most immigrant families, on the other hand, considered it normal and a source of pride that their daughters were able to earn an income. Thus, many Norwegian, German, and Polish daughters worked out. [11]

The traditional work for immigrant daughters remained low-paying housework. When young immigrant women went into Yankee households in the 1870s, they found the work highly satisfactory. To quote Oleson again about her experiences: "It was not the worst thing for a girl to go out and learn to do housework nicely, and it made good housekeepers our of us. ... No one ever abused me. I was like a member of the family wherever I went." Working out was hardest for first-generation immigrant women, like Oleson's mother-in-law, who had worked before she married and spoke no English. Native-born, second-generation immigrant women, who had learned English in schools, gained mobility and status as wage earners by working out and lessened the burden on the family for space and food. [12]

Most young farm women who worked apparently did so only in the winter. Like their brothers and fathers, who often worked in Wisconsin lumber camps, young women returned for the summer. Such seasonal work was common for immigrant daughters who moved to small towns in winter to work for Yankee families, hotels, or boardinghouses, then returned for the summer season to work on the home place. Because central Wisconsin had few towns, winter jobs might be some distance from home, but young women regularly rode trains many miles away from home to work. [13]

By the 1890s, immigrant daughters had taken on wagework on farms as well. A Bureau of Labor report of 1894 queried over 555 farmers about whether they had increased wages for female labor that year and if so, why. Fifteen percent did not reply, 12 percent said no, but 73 percent said yes and explained their answers in one of two ways. Some gave their own negative explanations: "American girls won't work.... Too high toned to work on a farm.... Want to get along without work.... All girls want to be ladies." The others were more precise. "Foreign girls will work out. American not.... Many girls think it degrading to be hired girl.... Rather not work in the kitchen.... Farm work too hard," these farmers said. Over 60 percent of them simply said the women preferred to work in a village, town, or city. Another 20 percent said young women preferred teaching. The rest of the farmers, another 13 percent, said the women preferred jobs in offices and stores, or in factories. The other categories, each 2 percent or le ss, were marriage, dressmaking, or work in summer resorts. [14]

The survey told in broader terms what the individual accounts showed. Yankee women would not work out on farms, but a scarcity of immigrant daughters was driving up wages, and even they found the work too hard and disliked working in the kitchen. Family accounts mentioned similar complaints. A transition seemed to be taking place around the turn of the century.

Oleson's family went through this work transition between her marriage in 1886 and 1925, when her last child was born. In her memoirs, she defended the benefits of her own experience working out in the 1870s. "Lots of well-to-do Norwegians and all the Yankees looked down on the girls who worked out," she said. "It was not until we were married and settled down that the working girls reaped their reward. Whereas the well-to-do, proud Norwegian girls, who had thought it a disgrace to be a servant, now kept house in the same old-fashioned ways, we others had learned all the nice, up-to-date American ways, and American cooking, and were not a bit sorry." Oleson bore six daughters and two sons, but she did not want her daughters to work out. "Believe me," she told her daughter, "when my own girls were growing up, I worked my fingers to the bone to get them a good education so that they would have it easier than I did." Several "went away" to high school and one attended college in South Dakota. [15]

In the area where my German family settled in northern Wisconsin, young women also worked in the city during the winter. They returned to the home farm to work in the summer months. At this time, the city usually meant Chippewa Falls, about fifty miles to the southeast. This urban migration began in the neighboring Jantsch family in the 1890s, when the eldest daughter Mary received a letter from a friend who already had a job as a domestic. The friend offered to find Mary a similar job for the following September. Mary, in turn, helped her younger sisters Anna, Emma, and Rose obtain jobs as domestics. They would leave in September and return in June. Middle-class families normally closed up their city homes and went to country homes or resorts during the summer. The husband might stay behind to work and visit the family only on weekends or for short periods of time. The advantage of seasonal city domestic work was that it allowed daughters to return to the farm during the busy harvest season when their labor was most needed. [16]

Summer was also a time for dancing. Dances followed every type of communal work in this part of the country--stump pulling, logging, and barn raising. Barns and granaries with their rough floors provided space, an accordionist the music. Young people also flocked to Jerkwater, the local saloon and dance hall which, recorded Joseph Jantsch, had a "marvelous" dance floor. Jerkwater was located about two miles from the Jantsch farm. Jantsch remembered that Jerkwater served an area of about five miles around it and that each small town had a similar saloon and dance hall that served the neighborhood. Most saloons--whether in small towns or, like Jerkwater, at country crossroads--usually did nor allow women into the main bar. They could only enter and wait in a side room. The dance hall, however, was open to all. People from outside the neighborhood seldom visited the Jerkwater dance hall, and the young people seldom visited other halls. They walked the two miles to and from the hall on Saturday nights. [17]

Who stayed in rural areas and who went to the city? We have no systematic studies, but it probably varied by economic status. Family history may offer some insight into the process. My grandmother's first husband died and she remarried. The first five children bore the name Schopper; the last three Schopp. Thus I refer to the family as the Schopper-Schopp family. Only the eldest son, who inherited the farm, stayed in the small community of his birth. All the other seven children left for the city, dispersed by poverty and lack of nearby, off-farm jobs. In wealthier families, younger sons might have family assistance in acquiring their own farms, or a large acreage might be divided. Daughters might find local farmers with their own land and even bring land with them into marriage. Children might work at the few middle-class occupations that existed in small towns and in rural areas, but the economic infrastructure of these areas provided few jobs for poor farm daughters.

Town populations did not grow during the first two decades of the century. Marathon County, the huge county in which the Jantsch and Schopper-Schopp children were born, grew slowly after the turn of the century. In the first decade, it grew less than 12,000; in the second just over 10,000. Two thirds of the villages and towns grew only a small amount, often through consolidation; the other third declined in numbers. Wausau, the largest city in the county; grew by only about 6,000 in these two decades--not nearly enough to provide work for discontented rural youth, who would have to compete with small-town youth for access to high school education and social contacts that could give them an advantage in obtaining jobs. [18]

Teaching was the best job for young women. Yankee parents tried to keep their daughters in school longer and, if they did not marry immediately after high school, arranged for them to teach. Young Yankee women dominated teaching in the ethnically mixed area of central Wisconsin during the nineteenth century. While the Yankee school teacher was predominant, immigrant daughters did make inroads into teaching. Immigrants worked hard to create a country school system for their children, often building school houses with their own labor and materials, and spending scarce township funds to staff them with Yankee school teachers. These small, one-room country schools with their Yankee school marms dotted the Wisconsin countryside. The chances of a young immigrant daughter going on to high school--or even to the State Normal School for the few weeks of summer school necessary to qualify for teaching--were very slim in the nineteenth century. Oleson remembered proudly how one bright Norwegian girl named Martha Stromm e, after attending the "common country school," was able to go to the State Normal School at Oshkosh for a few weeks, take an examination, receive a diploma, and teach. [19]

Immigrant daughters increasingly became teachers after the turn of the century. They did not need a high school diploma to teach in Wisconsin until 1920. Young people needed only to graduate from grammar school and to attend normal school or one of the many county teaching institutes. A list of 202 names on Teacher's Certificate Stub Books for Clark County for 1908 and 1909 show German surnames for almost 25 percent of the teachers. The percentages of Clark County that were foreign born, or children of foreign born, were roughly the same. Germans had been in that county and surrounding areas for decades by 1910. Those who could afford a ten-week course and were willing and able to complete it could qualify to teach and possibly remain near home. [20]

Few immigrant daughters or sons had access to high schools before the 1920s. School census statistics indicate that the percentage of young people who went to high school changed little between 1910 and 1920. In a sample of four central Wisconsin counties with a heavily immigrant population, almost 95 percent of all rural children were in school between the ages of seven and thirteen, but fewer than a third were in school by sixteen and seventeen, and only 11 percent by eighteen to twenty. Joseph Jantsch, who graduated from high school in Marathon County in 1911 and went on to teach, recalled later that he was the first young person in his German farming area to attend high school. He could do so only because his older sisters worked in the city to provide money for him to live in town during the winter. He recounted harrowing walks home in cold weather to visit his family. [21]

Attending high school remained a possibility for only a few immigrant daughters. It usually involved establishing a second house in town where the schools were located, with the mother and children moving there in winter, or paying for room and board. Most rural youth worked part time while they attended high school. Jane Pederson, in her recent study of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, between 1880 and 1970, uses alumni lists of high school graduates from 1904 to 1935 to show that some rural immigrant women did graduate from high school. For these exceptional middle-class girls, the free high school and low-cost college system largely replaced kin and community as a source of opportunity. They worked or continued their education after high school graduation, increasingly becoming white-collar workers. But many immigrant daughters stayed home, keeping kin and community networks as a basis for social and geographical opportunity. Even before 1920, less affluent women without a high school education were less li kely to stay home and more likely to go to the cities than were more wealthy and educated young women. [22]

Still, until the 1910s, seasonal labor, increasing numbers of teaching jobs, and inexpensive passenger fares made it possible for most rural daughters to have their jobs and dancing, too. Oleson recalled once picking hops for two weeks. The farm employer had a dance every night where all hop pickers joined in. For Oleson, community rituals and work bees provided opportunities for hours of dancing. Oleson wrote that she just loved them. She danced although her mother and father objected to it and continued to dance after she became engaged and her fiancee also objected. She abstained only when he was home. When he was working on the log drive in spring or on a lake boar in the summer, she felt no compulsion to please him. She danced as often as she wished. "I really had a fling while he was gone," she told her daughter years later. She talked freely about her passion for dancing and showed no guilt about it. [23]

Because of the work of Peiss and others, we know that this dance culture in which Oleson participated was one of two that existed in the late nineteenth century. One was the dance culture of family or neighborhood amusements, held in a private environment controlled by local supervisors. This was Oleson's dance culture. The other was also private, but a commercial "sporting" dance culture where males of all classes went to purchase the physical services of working-class women--everything from dancing to sexual intercourse. After the turn of the century a new, more public commercial dance culture emerged, offering entertainment to youth of both sexes, a place where they could dance and negotiate various types of relationships. [24]

Traditional dance continued, but social clubs and amusement societies, and then regular commercial dance halls, enticed young women into new dance spaces. New dance halls transformed the old "sporting" dance culture into one where working-class youth of both sexes could meet and mingle without community or parental supervision and without the necessity of previous friendships. As the locale and clientele changed, so too did the dance styles. Public dancing reduced the pelvic motions of the "tough" dancing of the "sporting" culture and replaced it with a style that allowed some heterosexual intimacy in public. Dance halls also allowed young women to trade sexual favors for male treating and to experiment with unconventional sexual and social roles. [25]

When rural women went to the city they had access to these new dances. Popular songs caught glimpses of the popularity of the new dances introduced during the early decades of the twentieth century. "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis," promised, "We will dance the hoochee koochee. I will be your tootsie wootsie." The hoochee koochee referred to the Middle Eastern belly dance introduced at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. By the time of the Saint Louis Fair of 1904, it had already evolved into a popular couple dance. [26] Irving Berlin's 1911 song, "Everybody's Doin' It Now," tracked the arrival of black dance into northern dance: "See that ragtime couple over there, watch them throw their shoulders in the air, snap their fingers, honey, I declare, it's a bear, it's a bear, it's a bear." The "grizzly bear" was one of the many dances that incorporated the supposed movements of animals into them. [27] These dances were as popular in middle-sized cities such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis, to which most Wisconsin farm dau ghters migrated, as in New York, Chicago, or Atlanta. [28]

While city girls and country girls danced, urban reformers worried about their morals at the popular dance halls. The line between the stylistic erotic dancing of the late nineteenth century intended for male audiences and the new couple dances of youth seemed indistinct to urban reformers. As dancing became the favorite pastime of urban youth, the adversaries of dance organized to meet the perceived threat to morals. Ann Wagner, who has traced the opponents of dance from the early colonial period, finds a change as the dancing craze engulfed urban areas after the turn of the century. Earlier, ministers had preached mass evangelism as the solution to the evils they saw in couple dance, and even sometimes in solo ballet. The waltz, introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, seemed particularly dangerous to many ministers. Now new dances were replacing the rigidly proper waltz with the movement of many more body parts. According to one account, after a period of about seventy years when dances remained almost t he same, enthusiasts introduced some two hundred new dances between 1912 and 1914. Reformers literally did not know which way to turn, as more and more dancers took to the floor to perform these popular new dances. [29]

Ministers turned to secular urban reformers who, in turn, urged officials to curb and control ballroom dancing. During the nineteenth century, tracts circulated by ministers commonly argued that the ballroom was just a transfer point where young girls were sent on to brothels. Wagner calls similar language used in the early twentieth century "the rhetoric of moral panic." [30] Presbyterians and Congregationalists, along with Catholics, seldom expressed this language of concern, but Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans often urged urban reformers to investigate and design legislation to control dancing. Even Jane Addams, then just beginning her social reforms in Chicago, became concerned about the dangerous influence that dance halls might have on young girls. Reformers sympathized with working youth who, they agreed, relieved tired nerves and over-strained attention with dance, but they did not like the proximity of saloons to dance halls. The young people did not care. Second-generation immigrant youth could have danced at immigrant society halls, but they considered the commercial dance halls more American, according to some reformers. [31]

Milwaukee reformers were concerned enough by the attraction of commercial dance halls to commission a dance study in 1912. Rowland Hayes, field secretary for the Playground and Recreation Association, began to collect statistics. On one Saturday evening in November, Rowland reported that of 9,300 dancers on Milwaukee dance floors, two-thirds were youths between eighteen and twenty-five, which accounted for about 14 percent of their age group. They danced in public halls, in club halls, in fraternal halls, and in dance academy halls. At immigrant society halls, young people mingled with families and elders in relative safety; Hayes thought, but commercial dance halls encouraged drinking. He and others suggested that urban schools offered more recreation, including mixed couple dancing. [32] By the time my aunt arrived in Milwaukee in 1916, public dancing was as popular as ever. She recounted that her dancing did not occur at mixed-age immigrant halls but in commercial halls where young people went in groups u naccompanied by adults.

What happened in rural areas is not as clear. The old male culture that offered saloons, dancing, and commercial sex definitely declined as lumbering waned in northern Wisconsin. Agricultural communities based on family labor replaced the male-based lumbering industry that had supported these commercial entertainments. Perhaps some saloon keepers, looking for a new clientele, reoriented their enterprises to country youth. Other entrepreneurs may have opened new commercial dance halls to take advantage of the expanding desire for places to dance to the newer dance music. Hop dances and barn dances may have declined because they did not offer opportunities for the new couple dances with age-peer audiences, which might have seemed more liberating to young people. Such rural-tradition dances were also associated with the firm labor that seemed unattractive to the younger farm daughters in the first decades of the century. It may also be that rural youth had acquired good transportation, and parents could not kee p track of them as they had when dancing after work, or walking a few miles to crossroads dance halls such as in Jerkwater.

There is some evidence of growing disapproval of dancing in rural communities as well as urban communities after the turn of the century. As communities began to lose control over the social customs of members, battles occurred over public dancing and its forms. One Danish church community in Clark County, between its founding in 1893 and 1908, regularly allowed its assembly hall to be used not only for church services but also for social events sponsored by the Danish Brotherhood and Sisterhood. Many in the community were followers of the Danish philosopher and theologian N. F. S. Grundtvig, who believed that fellowship linked the past, present, and future, and could transcend all class differences. Grundtvigians believed that for fellowship to flourish, different generations and social classes needed free and fruitful interaction. In their view, social events were the best way to achieve this. They established a high school, sponsored group lectures and other recreations, and consumer movements to foster t his spiritual fellowship. By 1908, however, many in the congregation no longer saw recreation as a part of the churchly mission and objected to holding public dances and Saturday night card games in the assembly hall. The church decided to build a community hall to spatially separate sacred from secular activities. Religious communities like the Mormons also continued to see dance as part of the social fabric of spiritual fellowship through the 1930s, but some religious communities redefined their mission as did this rural Danish church, omitting recreation as a necessary underpinning for spiritual fellowship. [33]

Dancing seemed to take on a particular symbolic significance during these years. Even the federal government increased regulation of dance by Native Americans. While the government had interfered early in dances performed by warriors, they increasingly encroached on traditional religious dances as well. To federal officials, these dances seemed evidence of resistance to acculturation. The government spent much effort during the first few decades of the century trying to regulate Native dances. After 1910, officials did allow some groups, such as the Mescalero Apache in New Mexico, to openly practice their religiously-based dances. Yet as late as 1914, the government queried the agent for the Menominee in northern Wisconsin about dancing. The agent explained that not only were traditional Native dances being performed for the annual fair, but also traditional settler dances, like square dancing. He allowed popular modern dances for young people, which he identified as the waltz, the tango, and the hesitation. He argued that he needed the traditional Native and settler dances to attract the elders and the modern dances to keep the young people from going to town. Nevertheless, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered the agent to halt all traditional Native dances. [34]

The attraction of traditional square dancing seemed to wane among young people, who now wanted "modern" dances. If young people could not get these dances in rural areas, they were prepared to go to town if they could get there. What had been church- or community-based entertainments that included entire families, now became public and segregated by age. It is possible that dancing increasingly came to symbolize sexual freedom by the turn of the century. Certainly the opposition of Oleson's parents and her future husband to her dancing was based on this assumption, but their attitudes were not shared by everyone in the Norwegian community. Opposition seemed to vary by religion, from adamant opposition by Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans, to very little from Catholics.

Another way to see changing attitudes towards dancing in the early twentieth century is through the efforts to restrain young women from frequenting dance halls. The records of the Milwaukee Industrial School for Girls contain some intriguing notes about dance halls. In a sample for four central Wisconsin counties, I found the first specific reference to "going to dances" as a reason to incarcerate a young woman in an 1899 entry. Young Emma K., a sixteen-year-old farm daughter and a Lutheran German, was brought in by the sheriff of Marathon County. She had been going to dances and had gone to a house of prostitution as well, perhaps only to dance, but most likely at risk of engaging in paid sexual activities. The conjunction of dances and a house of prostitution seems to refer to the older "sporting" subculture of dance and its association with commercialized sex. [35]

References to dance halls became much more frequent in records for the Industrial School after 1907. Fourteen-year-old Julia P.'s Catholic Belgian family, which objected to her running around with men and boys and going to dances, had her committed in 1908. The next year the sheriff of Clark county brought in Mildred V., a fourteen-year-old Methodist of German and Dutch ancestry whose parents were dead and who was working out. Records reported her staying out nights and going to dances and theaters. In 1914, the Marathon sheriff brought in three Lutheran Germans who were also fourteen or fifteen. Frieda B. went to dances and shows, and Hattie B. went to saloon dance halls. Another young woman was put away for drinking between dances.

Admissions records at the school more generally complained about "bad company," but one of the symptoms seemed to be attending dances. Were young girls choosing dance halls over community dances? Were community dances simply less available? Was the community less sympathetic to dancing of any kind? Or was the state just being asked more frequently to act for parents and the community in discouraging young women from frequenting dance halls which had existed all along? Studies from other areas may help us resolve some of these questions.

Whatever the reason, attitudes of secular reformers were hardening toward the dangers of dance. Willa Cather may have been reflecting the attitudes of these reformers in her portrayal of dance in the 1918 novel My Antonia. Cather used dances in her fictional town of Black Hawk, Nebraska, to show the difference between the attitudes of hired immigrant daughters and Yankee daughters. Cather described dance as almost a type of narcotic for the young women. For the men, dance became an occasion to take liberties with immigrant women they dared not take with Yankee women. When Antonia is forbidden by her employers to attend dances, she quits. Her new employers do not object to her dancing, but the husband attempts to rape Antonia. Her younger, single male companion at the dances later seduces and abandons her. Young Antonia returns home to the farm unmarried and pregnant. [36]

Another transition took place in Wisconsin, sometime after 1910, with young women traveling farther away to work in metropolitan cities and moving out of domestic work. Family histories indicate a change in the pattern of the migration of young women from seasonal work on farms and in small nearby towns to full-time work in more distant larger cities. From north central Wisconsin, farm daughters could strike out for either of two metropolitan areas, Milwaukee to the southeast or the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis to the west. Both urban areas grew rapidly in the first three decades of the century. Milwaukee grew in population from 285,000 in 1900 to almost 374,000 in 1910. By 1920, it would reach 457,000. Milwaukee boasted a burgeoning industrial base, everything from its already famous brewing industry to smaller factories specializing in food processing. In 1916, my aunt quickly found a job in a candy factory. Within a few years, she had a white collar job working for the telephone company. The po pulation of the Twin Cities grew from almost 366,000 in 1900 to 519,000 in 1910, and to 615,000 in 1920. [37] The older Jantsch daughters soon moved from domestic work in Chippewa Falls to other types of work in Minneapolis, which had a substantial industrial base. My mother and her older sister chose St. Paul, the smaller of the Twin Cities, but they, too, easily found jobs within the thriving commercial sector as clerks.

Four of the six daughters in my family completed the transition from domestic to white collar work in one generation. My grandmother began working out at fourteen years of age in Bohemia in the 1870s and she worked in the United States at a hotel doing domestic work before marrying in 1893. She bore eight children in the next seventeen years. The two eldest children, born in 1894 and 1895, remained in farming, the son on the home farm, the daughter on a homestead in Canada. The six children born from 1897 to 1905 all left the farm and farming. By 1920, five were in cities and the eight-year-old girl at home would follow their lead. Although the youngest daughter eventually went into domestic work in Chicago, the other daughters worked at clerical, factory, or sales jobs and saw to it that their daughters did not do domestic work. [38]

These second generation immigrant daughters who fled their rural lives for booming cities were what might be called "the new immigrant daughters." They had received a good elementary education. They spoke English fluently. They were used to the discipline of hard work, but they fit comfortably into the urban economy and increasingly shunned domestic work. They were part of a new social class, between the middle and the working class, who no longer had to work as housekeepers in other women's houses. They could afford to live with one of the many working-class families who welcomed boarders for a few dollars a week and take jobs in the new expanding economy that allowed them surplus money for clothes and entertainment after paying for necessities. [39]

In a city such as St. Paul, these young women did not move into the old compact ethnic enclaves to which first generation immigrants had come. Instead, they moved into ethnically and religiously mixed neighborhoods. My mother and aunt lived in exceptionally diverse working-class neighborhoods in St. Paul, where German, Italian, Polish, and Native Americans lived side by side. In 1920, my aunt chose to marry a Native American veteran of World War I from among her neighbors. My mother, who arrived in St. Paul a few years later, married a young Italian immigrant from a stable working-class family. He managed a soda fountain and she met him there. [40]

These sisters from my family were careful to marry Catholic men, but all married men outside their German ethnic group. The triple melting pot, which scholars talked so much about in the 1950s, seemed to be taking form in these neighborhoods after world War I. The immigrants from the country and the younger first generation immigrants formed a new lower middle class, anxious to leave immigrant culture and working-class occupations behind for white-collar work. They had aspirations for themselves, not just for their children. A 1920s photograph of my mother with her beau showed them in a Chicago park, she in a fashionable and expensive dress, for which, she told me later, she had paid seventy dollars. My future father is wearing a white shirt. They are confidently moving into the middle class on the booming urban economy of the 1920s.

Migration to these larger and more distant cities signaled an important break with their birthplaces for many of these women. They tended to marry city men and to return to the farms only for visits. Although these daughters maintained ties to kin and to community, they apparently sent little money home from the city. The question of remittances is difficult to document for the period before social scientists began to ask such questions. Recent studies in developing countries show that large amounts of money flow from migrating children, both men and women, back to extended families, enabling them to remain in rural areas. That may have happened less frequently in the United States. Of the six children in my family who went to the city, only my mother is reported to have helped with small sums of money and a few gifts of furniture. Her mother and older brother struggled on, hoping to make their forty-acre farm support the two of them and the youngest daughter in the early 1920s. The city-bound family migrant s did nor help. When I asked my uncle how they survived, he replied that after prohibition began in 1920, he distilled and bootlegged liquor in neighboring towns for a cash income. In the neighboring Jantsch family, the older daughters brought home gifts for their younger siblings, including comic books and, in 1902, a velocipede (a tricycle) for young Joseph Jantsch. [41]

Cities offered more easily available public and private transportation for farm daughters than rural areas. Private transportation in rural areas was closely related to mobility. Young people could ride horses, but adults tended to reserve both horses and buggies for family outings or for errands. When bicycles became available at low cost in the first decade of the twentieth century, males had easiest access to them. Jantsch, in his family history; explained that a family usually had as many bicycles as it had males. A bicycle was the fastest vehicle on the road, he noted, and a young farm lad could pass a horse and buggy on the level. At five miles per hour--the speed farm boys expected of themselves and their bikes in this community--boys could go beyond the nearest town six miles away to as much as fifteen miles in a single outing. For celebrations, such as the Fourth of July, young boys might stay away all day, riding over in the morning and returning in the evening. Older youth used bicycles for courti ng and for business, such as fetching parts from town for broken threshing machines. After Jantsch finished high school and began teaching at a country school, his neighbor Frank Schopper (my uncle) would bicycle over to the schoolhouse for evening programs. A bicycle light helped him return after dark over the bumpy country roads. In 1914, young Schopper bought himself an Indian motorcycle, which gave him even more mobility. [42] Certainly a few young women had bicycles. One photograph from 1909 shows a young woman pedaling along a country road with a lunch bucket over the handlebars. She looks as though she might be a teacher going to work. But young women had far less access to bicycles than their brothers. None of the Schopp-Schopper or Jantsch daughters had bicycles, although their brothers used them to roam quite far at a young age.

Urban jobs gave young women access to private cars, streetcars, and dance halls open six nights a week. Some farm daughters even became owners of automobiles. Emma Jantsch left an account of her first car and how it related to her dancing. Emma, her older sister Anna, and their younger brother William were all working in Minneapolis by 1917. William found a car that he wanted to buy, but he could not afford it. So the three siblings bought their first car in partnership. In June 1917, they brought it home from Minneapolis on a harrowing two-day trip through a rainstorm with William at the wheel. Emma recalled how wonderful it was to have the car at the farm that summer for the weekly dance: "No longer was it necessary to walk the two miles to the Jerkwater dance hall and retrace the same distance at 2 a.m. after the dance. Now we were able to extend our dancing limits to Dorchester [six miles away] and to more distant neighborhoods. No longer did we come home with a headache after the bumpy six miles in summ er heat or with half-frozen feet in the winter cold." The car did not keep Emma on the farm, even though it extended the range of her dancing. She returned to Minneapolis to work. [42] Without city work, of course, she would never have been able to buy a car. The Schopp-Schopper family was never able to buy a car while the daughters lived at home, but in the city, young women did not need a car. Public transportation allowed them to move around the city easily. Dance halls were within walking distance from most working-class communities. Young working-class men were buying cars and using them in courting or, as it soon became known, in dating.

Improved transportation in rural areas did not keep farm daughters "down on the farm." Instead, it facilitated migration to cities where the women eagerly participated in the new dance cultures as well as new forms of employment. For these young women, migration, work, and dance all formed part of a transition out of rural into urban culture. Despite the dire predictions of reformers, most probably settled into urban life without major problems, even if they "danced like mad."

My aunt looked back on her early days in the city, not unrealistically, as times of great opportunity. She had a job that paid well and seemed easy in comparison with farm work. She spent a very small portion of her wages for room and board and did not feel obliged to send money home. She felt safe to walk to dance halls and to accept automobile rides home with men whom she had just met. Why should she not think that living in the city was better than in the country? For her, and for thousands like her, it surely seemed so.

JOAN M. JENSEN is professor emerita at New Mexico State University where she taught women's history for many years. Among her publications on rural women are Promise to the Land: Essays on Rural Women, Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 1750-1850, and With These Hands: Women Working on the Land. She is currently writing a book on rural women in Wisconsin.


The author would like to express appreciation to Mary Ann Schopper Reynolds for collecting and sharing much of the family history used in this article.

(1.) Janice Monk and Cindi Katz, "Making Connections, Space, Place and the Life Course," in Full Circles: Geographies of Women Over the Life Course, ed. Cindi Katz and Janice Monk (New York: Routledge, 1993), 264-78.

(2.) George W. Hill and Ronald A. Smith, Rural Relief Trends in Wisconsin from 1934 to 1937(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1939).

(3.) A good summary of this research on women's work is found in Elizabeth Faue, Community of Suffering and Struggle: Women, Men, and the Labor Movement in Minneapolis 1915-1945(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 1-20.

(4.) Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 88.

(5.) Tera W. Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 168.

(6.) Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom, 180.

(7.) Hunter, To joy My Freedom, 168.

(8.) Jane Pederson, Between Memory and Reality: Family and Community in Rural Wisconsin, 1870-1970 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 115.

(9.) Mary Neth, "Leisure and Generational Change: Farm Youths in the Midwest, 1910-1940," in American Rural and Farm Women in Historical Perspective, ed. Joan M. Jensen and Nancy Grey Osterud (Washington, D.C.: The Agricultural History Society, 1994), 183.

(10.) Erna Oleson Xan, Wisconsin: My Home (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, (1950), 150. The pattern was already clear in the 1850s. See Laurence A. Glasco, "The Life Cycles and Household Structure of American Ethnic Groups: Irish, Germans, and Native-born Whites in Buffalo, New York, 1855," Journal of Urban History 1:3 (1975): 339-64.

(11.) Xan, Wisconsin: My Home, 150.

(12.) Xan, Wisconsin: My Home, 149, 118.

(13.) My grandmother and many other immigrant women worked at boardinghouses located near lumber camps and towns. Mary Ann Schopper Reynolds helped supply this family history.

(14.) Wisconsin, Bureau of Labor, Census, and Industrial Statistics, 7th Biennial Report (1894-96).

(15.) Xan, Wisconsin My Home, 150.

(16.) Joseph Jantsch, "The Jantsch Saga," (1948, mimeographed), 18. Copy in possession of the author.

(17.) Jantsch, "The Jantsch Saga," 42.

(18.) Statistics for Marathon County are from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920, Population, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1921), 672.

(19.) Xan, Wisconsin: My Home, 107.

(20.) Clark County, Teachers Certificate Stub Books (1909-1939), Series 8, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

(21.) Jantsch, "The Jantsch Saga."

(22.) Pederson, Between Memory and Reality, 95-100.

(23.) Xan, Wisconsin: My Home, 141, 149, 151.

(24.) Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 90-91.

(25.) Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 90-91.

(26.) Robert C. Allen discusses the introduction of the chooch in 1893 in Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 225-32. The lines from "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis," are from Theodore Raph, The Songs We Sang: A Treasury of American Popular Music (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1964), 296--99.

(27.) Berlin's "Everybody's Doing It," is from Charles Hamm, ed., Irving Berlin Early Songs, part 2, 1911--1913, Recent Researches in American Music, vol. 21, Music in the United States of America, vol. 2, part 2 (Madison: A-R Editions, 1994), 112-13.

(28.) Ann Wagner, Adversaries of Dance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 255.

(29.) Wagner, Adversaries, 236, 241, 303.

(30.) Wagner, Adversaries, 294--95. See 271 for Protestants, 286, n.90 for absence of Catholic clerical opposition. William Vance Trellinger, Jr. tracks the movement in Minneapolis in God's Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 64--67.

(31.) Wagner, Adversaries, 296.

(32.) Wagner, Adversaries, 297--301.

(33.) Harold Pedersen, "Acculturation Among Danish and Polish Ethnic Groups in Wisconsin," College of Agriculture, Rural Sociology, Records, Steenbock Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin, Madison, series 9/21/5, box 1.

(34.) Joan M. Jensen, "Sexuality on a Northern Frontier: The Gendering and Disciplining of Rural Wisconsin Women, 1850--1920," Agricultural History 73:2 (1994): 163--64.

(35.) All references are from Board of Industrial School for Girls, 1875--1926, Inmate Case History Books, Series 1381, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

(36.) Willa Cather, My Antonia (Boston: Houghton Muffin, 1918), 197, 207--8.

(37.) Census material for Milwaukee and Twin Cities is from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920, vol. 1 1921), Henepin County, Minnesota, 473; Ramsey County, 480; Milwaukee County, 672; and U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, vol. 3, part 1 (1932), Minnesota, 1187; Wisconsin, 1305.

(38.) It is difficult to know which ethnic group provided domestic workers in the Milwaukee or Twin Cities if this pattern of abandoning domestic work was the dominant pattern for immigrant daughters from Western Europe. African Americans were a small part of the population. It is possible that more recent Eastern European immigrants or their daughters occupied these positions.

(39.) I tracked the residences of my aunt and mother and their future husbands through manuscript census and city registers. The continued importance of income from boarders for urban, married, working-class women is traced in Joan M. Jensen, "Cloth, Butter, and Boarders: Women's Household Production for the Market," The Review of Radical Political Economics 12:2 (1980): 14--24.

(40.) For remittances from children, see Oded Stark, Economic-Demographic Interactions in Agricultural Development: the Case of Rural-to-Urban Migration (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations, 1978), 35--41; and Bridget Hill, "Rural-Urban Migration of Women and Their Employment in Towns," Rural History 5:2 (1994): 191. Jantsch, "The Jantsch Saga," recounts gifts, but no regular contributions to the family economy.

(41.) Family history supplied by Mary Ann Schopper Reynolds.

(42.) Joseph Jantsch, "Second Generation at Eventide," (1962, mimeographed), 18-19. Copy in possession of the author.
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Title Annotation:rural women's work, recreation and migration to cities in the twentieth century
Author:Jensen, Joan M.
Publication:Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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