The Farm Chronicles: Highfalutin farm women

Life on the farm for women in rural Northeastern Ohio during the mid-1900s certainly was not your picture of the modern liberated female—today’s upstart women would probably not have survived it or would have run away screaming. These women had houses to keep, economics to run, chores to do, and it was a lot of hard work. My English teacher in high school was able, for example, to carry two 100 lb sacks of grain, one on each shoulder. And she was also sophisticated and charming when she wasn’t on a tractor or tending to livestock. But there were a certain group of farm wives in Paris Township who, despite their 150-year-old-plus farm houses, wanted to bring some culture and kindness to their lives.

They started the L’Etole Club in 1905. L’Etole is a French word pronounced “Le Ah twol,” meaning “star or prima,” like the star of a show or prima ballerina. The mission of the club, taken from its handbook was “to stimulate active interest in all that pertains to service and kindness to all.” The motto: “For self-culture and the promotion of friendship.” My mother was president of the Ella-toil (NE Ohio pronunciation, not French) in 1955, the 50-year anniversary of the club, and the year of my birth. Now, this club was very special. Ladies took it very seriously. Their run down farm houses had to be immaculate. The china and place settings were appointed perfectly. The ladies wore their best dresses—often made from the latest cotton feed sack from the mill. All things were conducted in the strictest sense of protocol, and I might add, pretense.

Ladies were assigned to give cultural presentations at each meeting. In 1955, topics included: Race relations, Church Architecture, Origin of St Patrick’s Day, Israel, Industries of Oho, and more. They were involved dissertations, like college papers. Expectations were high. While all these women were friends, hard workers who sweat and get dirty, on L’Etole night they were sophisticated and high society. I know that our house was very clean all the time, but during the week that my mom hosted L’Etole, she would hire a house cleaner and we were not to touch a thing other than the kitchen and bedrooms. Mom was extra stressed leading up to the ladies coming to our house. One year, I was given popcorn, soda pop and candy and told to stay upstairs in the bedroom, and only come down if the house was on fire—no exceptions.

I had drank too much soda and couldn’t hold it. You know how it feels when you are trying to hold it in, but you just can’t. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I opened the window and let it go. Just so happened that a couple of the ladies were looking out the picture window in the living room and commented, “I didn’t know it was supposed to rain this evening,” “Oh my, but it is.” My mother was appalled and quickly moved them away from the window. I got a pretty healthy tongue lashing from that one. Dad thought it was hilarious when the story was relayed to him after returning from his exile in the barn. Altogether, these ladies were wonderful, as exemplified by Proverbs 31:10, “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” Far above rubies for sure, as they were truly highfalutin farm women, at least at L’Etole Club.

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Bill Wilson