Posted by: Laura | July 29, 2011

An Iowan’s Reminiscences of Iowa Life in the Early 20th Century

We now live in the early 21st century, but what was life like in Iowa a hundred years ago?  There are many resources here in the Special Collections Department which can help shed light on this question, but this post will highlight a collection which recently had its finding aid made available online:  Joseph C. Reasoner Reminiscences (MS-182).   Reasoner was a life-long resident of the Humboldt, Iowa area.  As an adult, he took over the operation of his family’s farm and also worked on the hog cholera vaccine for the Fort Dodge Serum Company.

The reminiscences in this collection cover a wonderful range of topics – some of which, such as Iowa storms, can still be recounted by residents of Iowa today (although the experiences might be a bit different!).  Reasoner created many of the reminiscences for his grandchildren so that they might have an idea of what life was like when he was a boy.  Topics include his early school days, farming, his involvement in the hog cholera vaccine, stone quarries, ice harvesting, Iowa storms, rag doll corn tests, and various trips.

Reasoner in 1975, with some of the artifacts he donated to the Special Collections Department in front of him.  He is probably wearing on his right hand the hand corn husker (Artifact 2011-R001.002).  See below for a close-up photograph of the corn husker.  (Photograph located in MS-182, Box 1, Folder 1).

The “Common Sense Husker No. 3 Pat. 4-26-04″.

During the heat of this summer, and as the in-season fruit and vegetables continue to change as the weeks go by, his reminiscence on food preserves and preservation might be interesting to read.  How did people preserve their food before refrigerators, especially during Iowa’s hot and often muggy summer days?  Reasoner describes how he and his family kept food cool during the summer with a cooling tank made of wood and cooled with well water (pages 6-7). He discusses food preparation and preservation, how his family kept food cool in both the winter and summer, and storage of fruits and vegetables over winter.

The topic of preserving milk and cream comes up quite frequently in the food preservation reminiscence. As I read through the transcript, one of the passages which struck me was his remembrance of his father pouring cream over his pie – and that “today” (1965), with the benefit of fridges and freezers, Reasoner used ice cream instead:

” ”Course today we’d go to the refrigerator and get a big helping of ice cream and put on it and that would be pie a la mode, but our a la mode was just the cream without it being frozen.  And I guess probably it had just as many or more calories in than what you would use today.” (page 13)

If you are interested in taking a look at any of Reasoner’s reminiscences, please come on up to the Special Collections Department. (But please excuse the construction which is now taking place on the fourth floor – a new classroom is being constructed!).

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