The early 1900s watched families grow whether you lived on a rural farm or in the ethnic neighborhoods of booming cities. Brothers and sisters often paint different pictures of the same family events. Birth order and whether male or female sex determined the responsibilities in the family.
"My mother had a child every nine months or so. She used to say that every time dad hung his pants on the bedpost another brother or sister was on the way. Some pregnancies ended in miscarriages, no one really knew why. Women didn't stop working in the fields or at home just because they were pregnant. There turned out to be eight of us kids, born 1910-1927. I was in the middle with four sisters and three brothers. My older sister always complained that she dreaded another new baby. My mom and dad would have her and my other older sister take turns going to our one-room school so that one of them was always home to take care of the little ones. My sister said that's why she never got a full education.
"Babies were born at home. Sometimes the doctor was there if he could make it and if we had something to give him for his services. We never paid him any money. My mother stayed in bed up to six weeks after each birth. Babies were breast-fed and of course, they had cloth diapers that usually were rags of some sort.
"We carried the babies around as we didn't have a stroller or anything but our arms. Wherever we went, the baby went. We didn't know whether it was going to be a girl or a boy. It didn't matter too much. All of us kids wore hand-me-downs, including the babies. There was lots of yellow and green. Mom was a wonderful seamstress. She sewed all of our clothes. She used whatever material was around like flour sacks and such. The new baby might get a new blanket if mom had time to make one. We didn't have many toys and neither did the baby.
"My husband was the middle of five children. They were all born at home. He had another little sister that died around 18 months. The kids knew her name but no one ever talked about her and even as we got older, we could never find her grave. Babies died young. They were usually buried beside others in the family cemetery. Sometimes when the mother and baby died, they were buried together.
"I don't know how Mom and Dad kept a record of all of us. I know Mom would write it in the Bible. In fact, when my husband's brothers went to get their social security, they found out their names were totally different from what someone had recorded when they was born or as small children.
"In those days, there weren't any pills or affordable birth control to prevent having children. And Mom didn't tell Dad no. They just quit sharing a bedroom.
"Many of the boys were not circumcised except where religious customs dictated. Inadequate nutrition and lack of doctor care left babies with physical problems or mentally retarded. Unless it was real bad, they stayed home with the rest of the children.
"When I was young and trying to have children, I had several miscarriages. In fact, the doctor told me not to have any more after my son. But I was determined not to have an only child. They didn't have medication for pain like they do now. You were pretty much on your own unless you had some type of home recipe. Having a long labor was usual. When my children were born, women stayed in the hospital for a week and then we were told to stay in bed for another month. Usually the grandmother or other family member came to stay to help take care of the new mother and baby. The year my son was born, my mother spent three months going house to house to take care of her new grandchildren. My younger sister had a daughter in July, I had a son in August and my older sister had a son in September. Mother made a beautiful quilt for each one."
……Dorothy Ellen Baker Atkins
Gladys Marie Short Vogt told this story about the day the youngest child in her family was born.
"I was 5 years old the day that my brother Walter Clark was born in 1919. There were neighbor women and the midwife and my dad's sister, my Aunt Belle, at our farm near West Liberty, Kentucky, to help my mother with the birthing. The grownups sent all of us kids outside so we wouldn't be underfoot, but we saw the pots of water boiling and the stacks of bleached white rags.
"Aunt Belle told Dad (she called him Clark Alexander, but everyone else called him Jake) to go hoe the tobacco in the lower field by the creek, as the baby wouldn't be here for a while, and he was just in the way. She said she would send for him when the baby was about to be "borned". I could see he didn't want to go, and he was used to getting his way, but he must have thought better of it when he looked his sister in the eye and saw that glint which only came when she was dead serious about something. She was so sweet- natured that people paid attention when she got the glint
"So my dad rode off to the field on his big chestnut gelding and was muttering under his breath.
"We played around the yard and the barn all morning, then we decided to climb the hill behind the house. My sisters Myrtle and Nina had drug me up the path because I insisted and they knew they wouldn't get any peace (as the baby, I was used to getting my way). We had reached the very top and were looking down at the farmhouse way below when Aunt Belle came out the kitchen door and started hollering for my oldest brother, Archie. He was nowhere to be found. Then she started calling for us girls. We answered from up top of the hill, and she urged us to come down to the house so as to go get Dad 'cause the baby was coming.
"Myrtle and Nina forgot me and took off down the hill going lickety split. I got scared and mad and started jumping up and down. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I tripped on a root, took a tumble off the path and kept on rolling down the hill. Myrtle and Nina came struggling up the hill again to catch me in my tumble, all the time yelling out all the dire things that they were going to do to me. I saw a black log coming and rolled right over it, then somehow managed to stop my roll. Myrtle and Nina reached me just then, snatched me up, and kept on running. I said "Niney, Niney, stop, stop!!" but she kept on running. We finally got to the house below and Myrtle was sent off on the mare to get Dad. The neighbor woman, Lizzie McKenzie, was cleaning my scrapes and bruises and she remarked to Nina, "Lordy, child, you must have been excited about the new baby coming, the way you come running full tilt down that hill." "Nah," replied my sister, Nina. "It was just that Gladys landed on a black snake and thought it was a log, so I grabbed her and run before she could figure it out and start making more fuss..she never has been quite all there.
"At that moment I was afraid the baby would be cursed with the face of a black snake (country folk were superstitious back then) but he turned out to be just fine. That was the day my brother Walter Clark was born."
……. Gladys Marie Short Vogt
Published U S Legacies November 2003