How different are the changes
Since forty years ago
When girls wore home-spun dresses
And boys wore pants of tow?
The girls took music lessons
Upon the spinning wheel
And practiced late and early
On spindle, shaft and reel
The boys would ride horse back to mill
Some dozen miles or so
And scamper off before ‘twas day
Some forty years ago.[i]
The death of an aged woman last week whom I knew many years ago, and the manner of life in which she then lived, vividly recall the above lines. The times are, indeed, changed since forty years ago. When I first came into Sussex County, a pair of oxen, an old cart, a plow and harrow, and possibly a horse, was the tout ensemble of the average renter farmer. And when he rented a farm it was generally stipulated with the landlord that he—the renter—was to cut and sell enough pine wood to keep his family in “groceries.” As a matter of fact, most of the farmer’s time was employed in cutting and hauling pine wood to the neglect of his crop. And at the end of the year the tenant had but little, and the landlord had less. This condition has ceased to exist. The pine wood currency as a currency, is no more. Land owners have turned their attention to the improvement of their land; and the once poor farms with few exceptions are now in high state of cultivation, producing more than their owners ever dreamed of, in their highest fever of delirium. The old-style tenant is either dead or has drifted with the current into the new order of things, and is enjoining life beyond his wildest expectations. The metamorphosis is indeed great, and everything has kept pace with the enlightened order of the twentieth regime. Do farmers live easier? Yes, indeed. I remember in my younger days, when the farmer spent his winter months in the woods splitting rails to fence his farm; or in fencing that farm, and now he spends three months in other pursuits and lets the State Legislature fence his farms by passing hog laws and other “laws concerning strays.” O, yes! These are the days of improvements and high living. People live faster, enjoy life better, and die, almost, without notice.[ii]
A college professor and a married man has been making attacks on college girls, saying they don’t “make good wives,” etc. etc. The editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer in commenting on the above, remarks after making other good points: “College graduates of the male persuasion do now want educated wives, because they fear disillusion. Ignorant men want them because they consider them prizes. So they are. No home is really happy without a wife who can read Greek and solve problems in differential calculus. This is the reason for the activity of the divorce courts. When all women go to college, men will not need to do so and then Utopia will be established to be sure.
Allowing for the sarcasm in the above, it may be said there is more truth in its outlining than caricature. Whether college girls do or do not make good wives is an experiment to the prospector of matrimony. There are many men who have been disillusioned after the knot has been tied. We know of a man—his widow now resides in Milton—who said if he ever married again, he would never marry a school teacher. He will never marry again. He is dead. In regard to the writer about the “college girls,” I married one. She couldn’t “read Greek,” but she was fairly educated for the time. She could make an old-fashioned country pone and give her husband the enjoyment of life. She in her youth was a pupil of Dr. James A. Hopkins, which is recommendation enough for her education. She died nine years ago today, November 30th, the mother of eight children.[iii]
Steamer Marie Thomas was burned at Milton dock on Friday evening Dec. 2nd. The steamer was under libel by a Pennsylvania firm and the hearing came off on the date of the fire. At about 1 of the clock, the people of Milton were aroused from their slumbers by the church bells, and the dreaded cry through the streets of “Fire! Fire!” Everyone, even John B. Welch, was soon on the ground, and whence, and where, was the Mecca of all. The unusual call, and the startling dishabille that were conglomerated at the public dock, were a facsimile of the paraphernalia of the town. At the beginning of the fire the vessel was cut loose from the dock, and when we were there she lay across the channel. By the herculean efforts of Charles Thackeray and James Palmer—not Jim—with their naphtha launch, the burning hulk was towed parallel with the stream, where it smoldered and died. A few more men like Charles Thackeray is what we want. Capt. George E. Megee, the supposed owner of the steamer Marie Thomas, arrived home from Wilmington on the 8.15 train on Friday evening. The watchman left the vessel at about 10.30.
Dorman Porter has removed from Chestnut Street into Miss Susie Carey’s property on North Union Street. William Maull, the former incumbent of this property, has removed into the property with his father-in-law J. Crouch.
The enterprising W. W. Conwell is shoving piling into the station. Conwell is like a man rolling down hill in company with a log. He’s on top half of the time.
The many friends of the Rev. George R. McCready welcomed him the latter part of last week and the first of this. Mr. McCready is now retired and is living at Laurel. He preached on last Sunday morning at Reynolds and in the afternoon at Wiegand’s.
The Mrs. Avarilla Behringer, of Swedesboro, N. J., and sister Mrs. Elizabeth Fowler, of Philadelphia, returned to their homes last week after spending some time with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Constable King.
The Deputy U. S. Marshal came to Milton on Saturday, after the burning of the steamer Marie Thomas, and is still here on Monday.
We wonder if it be a fact that Milton is “pizen” to steamers. Or is it a convenient place for a holocaust. Some years ago the Van Dorn was burned near the Drawbridge, on the Broadkiln; subsequently the Vinyard was sold and taken away, possibly to escape a worse fate.
Miss Mamie Conner entertained the members of the Y’s at her home on Federal Street on Tuesday evening.
[i] This is a paraphrasing of a popular song of the time
[ii] In the early 20th century Sussex County was starting to emerge from being a backwater of subsistence farming to cash crop agriculture. Some mechanization, better soil management, and the arrival of the railroad in many small towns all contributed to this progress. For a more in-depth look at 19th century farming, the reader can begin with the posting John Sudler Isaacs and his times (Part I)
[iii] Between 1890 and 1920, the notion of the “New Woman” was being popularized in the press; in direct opposition to the Victorian “True Woman”—the paragon of domesticity and submissiveness—the “New Woman” represented a spectrum of possibilities in education, behavior, and expression. The ultimate early 20th century expression of the “New Woman” was the 1920’s flapper, but much of what a woman could realize at that time was dependent on her resources. Among the many changes that were taking place in the early 20th century, woman’s suffrage, access to contraception, and liberalization of attitudes toward sexual behavior represent a proto-feminism that would not come to full realization until the 1960’s. David A. Conner is not certain where he stands on the issue, although it is clear he adored his wife and is still mourning her death nine years later.