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Dancing after Dark: A Rural Woman Recalls Farm Life in the Early 20th century

by Icy Norman

Although we sometimes think of farm and factory as antithetical, many people moved easily between the two. Icy Norman grew up in North Carolina, the daughter of a miner. As a young woman she worked long hours in a textile mill, but she also helped with the farm chores, especially seasonal chores like the corn shucking described here. In this excerpt from a 1979 interview conducted by the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina, she recalled family and friends rolling up the rug for dances and parties when the day’s work was done.

Listen to Audio:

Icy Norman: We have wheat, we have rye, and then, while we gathered all of our corn, we’d cut them tops. Now, I was working in a shoe factory then. You was, too. Barney wasn’t there. He was somewhere in Roanoke. And me and him, we’d work till 6: 00. We’d come home, momma would have supper on the table. And that’s the only time my daddy would ever let me wear a pair of overalls—

Interviewer: Oh, really?

Icy Norman: —would be when I was cutting tops or pulling fodder. He’d let me wear a pair of Barney’s overalls and tie them around the ankles on account of snakes.

Well, me and Dewey, we would come in at 6: 00. Well, you know, in fall of the year, at 6: 00, it’s dark. And we’d go out there and we’d cut tops and tie them tops and pull fodder by the moonlight, till 11: 00 and 12: 00 of the night to take care of our fodder and stuff for the cows and the horses. And then we’d go pull the corn. And then they’d have corn-shucking. Now, that’s when you’d have a good time. They’d have a pile of corn bigger than this high, piled up, and they’d shuck that corn. And the mothers would all wave. If it was at dinnertime, they’d cook dinner. And at suppertime, another neighbor would cook supper, you know, and all of us young—

Then after the corn-shucking, well, they’d give us young people a dance. And that was a lot of fun. Then they’d have quilting. People would gather, you know, and have quilting at different houses. And it would be the same way. They’d cook a big dinner, a big supper. And after everybody was through, eat and everything, they’d pull everything back and the young people would have a little square dance.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

See Also:Saturday Night on the Range: Rural Life in World War I Era Montana
Good Neighbors and Bad: Religious Differences on the Plains in the Early 20th century