[originally published 3.9.2015]
Women on the Farm in Ardenhurst Township, Itasca County
During the past four months, I have spent at least twelve hours a week at the Itasca County Historical Society in Grand Rapids. For the most part, I have been looking at Deer River and Bigfork newspapers’ old issues. The staff and volunteers are a close-knit group and very helpful to amateur genealogists or historians. The research area is one large room with several workstations as well as computers for community use. I love being there on quiet days, but I also like the excitement of some of the busy days.
Recently I was perusing the microfilm while the historical society director Lilah Crow was organizing books in a new shelving unit. Well aware of the research and writing I have been doing, she said, “Chris, you might want to take a look at this.” She held a non-descript book entitled Woman on the Farm. “This has a very interesting story behind it,” she added and went on to explain that it belonged to Alma Anderson, a woman who lived in Ardenhurst. This township is in the northwest section of Itasca and borders Koochiching County. It is up Hwy. 46 about thirty-five miles north of Deer River. Alma had received the book as a gift from her daughter Ruth. On the first page, Ruth had written, “With Love To Mamma from Ruth – An appreciation of a mother on the farm.”
Woman on the Farm was written by Mary Meeks Atkeson and published in 1924. Atkeson explains her intent in the foreword. “Introducing the woman on the farm – her work, her problems, and her point of view of life – is the purpose of the present volume. In its preparation, the farm woman herself has given much assistance to the writer. Nearly a thousand special correspondents, representing every State in the Union, have taken time in their busy lives to write their views upon one or more of the subjects here discussed.” The fourteen chapters cover everything from the farm home, grounds and gardens, to home business, politics, and national organizations, with a liberal sprinkling of children, school, church, and community.
Alma enjoyed the book and decided to share it with her dear friends and neighbors. As it was passed around, each reader signed the page below Ruth’s inscription. In addition to Alma Anderson’s signature, it was signed by Mrs. A.W. Nelson, Mrs. J.E. Guptill, Mrs. J.D. Brandon, and Mrs. R.J. Field. I eagerly took the book and spent a couple of hours reading chapters that caught my eye.
I decided to see what I could learn about the five women who had also turned the pages. I wanted to know when the women might have read the book and wondered, too, if the book was given as a gift on a birthday, Christmas, or Mother’s Day, perhaps. The volume I found online had a jacket cover to protect it. This copy no longer did.
Alma was born in Sweden in 1870 and immigrated when she was twenty-years-old. I spent hours searching ancestry but could not definitively find her maiden name. She married Albert Anderson, a man from Norway, in 1898. The Andersons lived in Polk County, Minnesota, in 1900, but by 1910 they were settled in Ardenhurst. Alma and Albert had seven children, Esther, Bertha, Hilda, Ruth, Andrew, Melvin, and one baby who died in infancy.
Mrs. A.W. Nelson, otherwise known as Emma Nesseth, was born in Wisconsin to recently immigrated Norwegian parents. Her mother died by the time she married Andrew in 1899. He emigrated from Sweden at age fifteen. Andrew and Emma were married and raised their family on a farm in Washington County, Minnesota. They moved to Ardenhurst between 1920 and 1930. There were other Nesseth’s in the area who may have been Emma’s brothers or cousins, which might have been why the Nelson family moved north. I found documentation that in November 1908, Edward Nesseth married Hilda Berg in Ardenhurst. Martin Nesseth was a witness, and Rev G.P. Nesseth performed the ceremony.
Mrs. J.E. Guptill is actually Sophia Rose. She was born in 1882 in Scotland and immigrated as a small child with her parents David and Mary. Sophia’s obituary states that “her parents homesteaded at Island Lake in 1898. She and her sister Jesse were the first young woman at Island Lake. They took out their own homesteads in 1903. Sophia Lake and Jessie Lake were named for them, and Muggins Lake is named for their dog.”
Eventually, the Rose family settled in Ardenhurst. The Guptill’s lived down the road, and as often happened, the two young neighbors married. John and Sophia set up housekeeping near their parents, and soon, daughters Mary and Edna came along. Their farm on Island Lake was often the site of community picnics and was said to be a very picturesque spot as some of the white pines were left standing when the area was logged.
Mrs. J.D. Brandon’s birth name was Isabelle “Belle” MacDonald. She was born in Canada in 1839 and immigrated in 1870. She and Jesse Brandon married and started their family in Wright County, Minnesota. In 1900 they were in Morrison County, in 1910 Koochiching County, and finally, by 1920, they resided in Ardenhurst. Four of their seven children Earlie, Pearl, Roland, and Norman, lived to adulthood.
Mrs. R.J. Field was born in Beltrami County in 1908. The name her parents, George and Frances, gave her was Cecelia Nina Horton. Cecelia and Ralph Field’s parents were born in the United States, so this couple is the only second-generation family of the five. Ralph’s father was a postmaster, and Ralph was the proprietor of a confectionary store in Northome when they married in 1926. Shortly after 1935, the Field family with sons Charles and Lyle moved to the state of Washington. As far as I can tell, this family never lived in Ardenhurst Township, but it is probably the Cecelia was friends with Belle Brandon as they both had connections with Koochiching County. Also, it was much closer to shop in Northome, which is in Koochiching County, than it was to go to Deer River.
Ruth Anderson was about twenty-years-old when Woman on the Farm was published. According to the 1940 census, she had attended college for four years, so she certainly had a good education and may have taught before she married Carl Peterson. Alma and her daughter Ruth were both widows and living together in Ardenhurst by 1940. Cecelia Field was the last person to sign the book, and her family had moved out of the area about 1936. It can be assumed then that Ruth gave her mother the book sometime between 1924 and 1934 and that it was carefully read and passed from Alma to Emma to Sophia to Belle and finally to Cecelia by 1936. As far as the occasion for the gift, we can only imagine.