Saturday, February 17, 2018

Women in Farm Work

Yesterday, the Indoor Farmers Market announced that greens--spinach, lettuce mix, chard, and Asian greens--were becoming available. The vendor at the market best known for growing greens is a woman: Sue Decker of Blue Star Farm in Stuyvesant. The news (and the gender of the greens grower and many other vendors at the farmers market) provided a reason to share this editorial which appeared in the Columbia Republican on February 19, 1918. It contemplates the appropriateness of women doing farm work. In 1918, it was a critical issue, because, with so many men "over there" fighting in World War I, there was a shortage of workers to keep the farms of Columbia County going.

The Maud Muller mentioned in the editorial is a character in a narrative poem by that name, written in 1856 by John Greenleaf Whittier. As the story told by the poem goes, Maud, a beautiful farm maiden, and a judge from the nearby town meet while she is out in the field harvesting. They are smitten with each other but do not express their feelings. She dreams of being his bride; he dreams of being a farmer married to her. But, alas, they go on to marry others: the judge a woman of wealth; Maud a local farmer. Throughout their lives, they remember their meeting with remorse and regret. The poem is the source of these familiar lines: "For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: 'It might have been!'" 

You can read the poem "Maud Muller" and hear it read by clicking here.

There's a Hudson connection to the Maud Muller story. Bret Harte, who lived in Hudson in his early childhood when his father was the principal of Hudson Academy and who returned to Hudson as an adult to read his stories and poems at the Hudson Opera House, wrote a sequel and parody of "Maud Muller" called "Mrs. Judge Jenkins." In the poem, the two marry. Maud's relatives get drunk at the wedding, Maud grows "broad and red and stout" after giving birth to twins, and the judge wishes his twin sons "looked less like the men who raked the hay on Muller's farm." Harte's poem ends:

For Maud soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;
And the Judge would have bartered Maud's fair face
For more refinement and social grace.
If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, "It might have been,"
More sad are these we daily see:
"It is, but hadn't ought to be."

All of "Mrs. Judge Jenkins" can be read here.

1 comment:

  1. For a second Hudson connection to the Maud Muller story, the poet John Ashbery was a distant cousin to the poet John Greenleaf Whittier.