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Third museum program to look at women’s work in latter 19th century

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The third program on issues related to threshing stones in Kansas takes place at Kauffman Museum Dec. 9 at 3:30 p.m. in the museum auditorium.

The current special exhibit at the museum is “Threshing Stone: Mennonite Artifact and Icon,” and the Sunday-Afternoon-at-the-Museum speaker will look at women’s work in rural Kansas during the time period that threshing stones came to the state with Mennonite immigrants from Russia.

Isaias J. McCaffery is professor of history and chair of the humanities and social sciences at Independence Community College. He has served as a humanities consultant for Kansas Humanities Council-funded projects, and is currently part of the KHC Speakers Bureau.

The title of his Kauffman Museum presentation is “Rural Kansas Women at Work (1850–1900),” which “examines the contributions of working women in 19th-century Kansas from the territorial period through the advent of the 20th century,” McCaffery said.

“Rural women performed a backbreaking cycle of exhausting tasks as mothers and homemakers that would shock most pampered Americans today,” he continued. “Many worked outside the home to augment family incomes, while also tending vital family gardens, butchering, canning and preserving, for winter rations or to barter extra farm products in nearby towns as another important stream of income.

“Unique environments created specialized jobs. For example, on the treeless High Plains, German immigrant women spent long hours gathering buffalo and cow manure to store and burn as ‘Mistholz’ in order to keep their homes warm during the winter.”

McCaffery noted that “thousands of young unmarried farm women traveled to urban communities to work as domestics, experiencing the exciting and often alienating surroundings of ‘the city’ before many returned to take up the rural labors their mothers had performed, while others elected never to return to farm life. After the Civil War, women represented the state’s primary educators, working in more than a thousand one-room school houses that dotted the landscape.”

McCaffery added, “Female mortality statistics reflect the stark realities that over-worked women faced during the first half-century of Kansas history.”

McCaffery is the author of Mennonite Low German Proverbs from Kansas, available for purchase in the Kauffman Museum store. The speaker will sign copies of the book following his Dec. 9 presentation.

All programs take place at Kauffman Museum and are free to the public through funding from the Kauffman Museum Association, Bethel College and the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization promoting understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the special exhibit “Threshing Stone: Mennonite Artifact and Icon,” as well as the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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