Yesterday's Christian Woman
When Nutter and Nancy Murphy and their family came to Shawnee, Kansas, in October 1859, the first thing they did after finding temporary lodging for the night was to hold family devotions. Daughter Lydia later remembered, "That night the family Bible rested in the center of the room. We gathered around the table, seated on boxes and improvised chairs while the usual evening family prayers were held after the reading of a chapter of Scriptures. During the 50 years of his Kansas citizenship, this morning and evening Scripture reading and prayer was not once omitted in my father's house."
For many pioneer families, Christian faith was an integral part of life. It formed the backbone of their values and sustained them through numerous hardships. When John Klein, who grew up on a Texas farm at the end of the 1800s, thought about all his mother Ida (see "Religion—Sunday and Every Day," below) did in a day to care for the family and help run the farm, he recognized, "Special strength provided by the Almighty must have made it possible for her to do all this."
Frontier farms were family farms, and the family was an economic as well as a social unit. Though most pioneers believed the woman's sphere was within the home, the shortage of manpower meant many women (and children) helped with the farm. They helped dig cellars, build cabins, plow, plant, and harvest, as well as tend to their "domestic" activities, such as cleaning, cooking, sewing, and caring for the children. To understand the lives of frontier Christian women, then, we must take a look at the toil that filled their days.
Clara Hildebrand, looking back on her own pioneer experience, described the woman's role:
"The pioneer Kansas woman shared her husband's work and interest ...