What was life like for seven farmer’s daughters born at the end of the 19th century, and beginning of the 20th century? This was a period before there were Automobiles, Tractors, Radios, and even Telephones which didn’t reach the farms until probably sometime after 1910. Today’s story talks a bit about the Rist sisters and their life on the farm.

FHWC - Day 16 - Seven Farmers Daughters - 993 words

As each one of Anton and Lena Rist’s seven children was born in their farm house, they awoke to the sounds of farm life and country air. There were no sounds of trucks passing along the dirt road in front of their house that ran mostly west toward Mascoutah four miles distant. There were of course the normal farm sounds of cows, horses and roosters, and perhaps a rusty windmill turning to pump water from the ground to feed the farm animals. But the young babies did have to become accustomed to the sound of a nearby railroad.

Ever since Anton’s parents moved to their Mascoutah Farm when he was 16 years old, he had been near the thundering sound of the railroad as it passed by. His home with Lena and the children was now along the same farm road to Mascoutah, just one mile further East and very near the Pensoneau Railroad Station on the what became the Louisville and Nashville line. The land in this area is very flat and no matter which way you look all you see is flat farmland. In the winter there is also a problem with drifting snow, so farmers such as Anton placed fences on the west side of their property to cause the blowing snow to fall behind the fence and not block the road connecting their house to the main road. On many of the pictures of Anton’s house whose front faced North, you can see this fence west of the house just on the other side of their barn.

So Clara and her sisters as they grew up became accustomed to the cold winter winds, and sultry hot summers. As the eldest daughter, Clara was often counted on by her parents to make sure her sisters were properly dressed, and watched over. And through these years of practice, Clara learned how to care for children, and knew the hard work that was entailed in raising a large family. This would influence her later choice not to have a large family.

But they also learned that seven girls could have a lot of fun on the farm. The picture below is from a small 2-1/2 by 3-1/2 picture that even as an older adult that Clara always kept in her large handbag. It shows the seven Rist sisters standing in front of rows of corn, in ascending order by height - with the exception of the youngest sister Tillie who is almost unnoticeable standing in front of Clara holding her arms.

Seven Rist Sisters from left to right: Eleanora, Edna, Edwina, Adelia, Josephine, Clara with Tillie holding on Clara’s arms.

You will notice from the picture above, that the girls wore long dresses, and good sized sleeves. Even though they enjoyed life on the farm, they also did not want to have the tell-tale signs of being farmers with dark suntans. So long dresses, large sun bonnets, and sleeves were a normal attire - even on the hottest of summer days. One of Eleanora’s son told me a few years ago a story I had not hear before - that the girls while working the crops would often wear old stockings with the foot part cut off and wear them like fashion gloves over their arms to prevent dark suntans.

A story that Clara did often tell was how the girls all liked to have their backs scratched - well, maybe it was Clara’s idea. But the seven sisters would sit in a ring, facing the back of the sister in front of them, and they would all have a good back scratch. While mosquito bites may be part of the reason they did this, I think that the girls just enjoyed being together.

As they got older, the sisters would often get together with their husbands and children and have a good time talking, dancing, and telling jokes in German.  German was used so their children and grandchildren would not always know what they were laughing about!

In the past 5 years, I have connected with some of my second-cousins descendants of Anton and Lena, and it was great to share stories and pictures. Following are some photos that shows the benefit of re-establishing ties with cousins to help connect stories with pictures.

Back Row: Adelia, Clara, Edwina, Edna; Front Row: Josie, Anton, Tillie, Lena and Eleanora

When Anton and Lena retired from the farm, they moved to Belleville to live. And the daughters would often visit their parents. Following are a couple pictures taken in front of their Belleville house on some of those visits - one in summer, the other in winter.  

The last picture below was probably taken on one of the annual visits the seven daughters made every year to help their parents clean the coal soot from the walls using Absorene Wallpaper Cleaner. The Belleville area had several coal mines, and coal was used to heat houses into the late 1950’s.

I remember a coal bin in my parents basement, next to a coal furnace with an auto-stoker to minimize the work to keep it running.  It was replaced in the mid-1950’s with an oil-fired furnace.  But before it was replaced, I remember as a boy that my parents also used Absorene to clean the kitchen walls, and that we kids played with it like it was clay. And my grandmother Clara would bring a pump spray canister containing DDT and use it in our basement to kill the bugs. No one was as worried about the toxicity of products in the late 1950’s years.