Jun 22, 2023 by Tempe Javitz
Imagine being alive in 1909.  Jessamine and Will had
been married for three years.  The stats for 1909 are
rather alarming to a 2023 mind.  Average life expectancy
was 47 years.  Jessamine was 23 years old, but Will was
39!  Imagine having a husband who is 23 years older and 
wiser, but supposedly only has eight more years to live
on average.  (Well, so much for stats, Will lived to the
ripe old age of 85.)  I guess marrying Jessamine added 
spice to Will’s life.

            Will & Jessamine in 1929

This will make your hair stand on end.  Only 14% of 
homes had a bathtub in 1909.  8% had a telephone. Speaking
of hair, most women washed their hair once a month using 
borax or egg yolks for shampoo.  Imagine how that smelled.  
The first version of liquid shampoo wasn’t invented until 
1927.  Will and Jessamine’s homes all had indoor plumbing,
thank goodness.  However, many houses only had outdoor 
plumbing, as in an outhouse.  Imagine crossing a yard full
of snow first thing in the morning… 

If you wanted to talk to someone you went “visiting.”  When
you lived in a town that was easy, the ladies went next door
to borrow some sugar, or have coffee between sweeping the floor,
cooking and washing most of the week.  The vacuum wasn’t in 
common use until the mid-1920s.  

Don’t forget the “ladies” also made most of the clothing for 
the whole family. Jessamine’s diaries note that she spent 
every Monday washing the family’s laundry and every Tuesday
ironing.  On Wednesdays she was mending or sewing new clothing.
How she ever found time to take a photograph depended on the
family’s income when they could afford a cook.  Also, as her
girls grew older, they helped with the cooking, baking and
mending clothes.  No wonder Jessamine loved to rush outside, 
saddle her horse, and go help round up the horses or cattle.  
What a relief to run away from housework.

    Here’s Nora (hired help) washing
  clothes at the Big Red Ranch in 1917.

Jessamine also practiced all the new techniques of child 
rearing, including special exercises for babies as gleaned 
from the Women’s Home Companion Magazine.  Each of her children
were given physical exercises starting at two weeks of age.  
Eileen, Torrey, and Victor were all able to stand erect on the 
palm of her hand at three months of age and to hold their own 
weight hanging on to her thumbs from six weeks to two and 
one-half months.    William (Bill) scored 99 in a Better 
Babies Contest in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1913 at twenty months.  
Eileen also scored 99.5 in 1916 at nine months of age.  Torrey
was never scored, but Victor scored a perfect 10 on July 24, 
1924 at two years, two months.

     Bill standing on his                        Torrey standing on Willis M.               
       mother's hands.                             Spear's hand, his grandpa.

In the United States there were only 8,000 cars in 1909.  Roads
were graded dirt, subject to rain, sleet, snow and confrontations
with horses and buggies.  There were only 144 miles of paved roads
in the total US at that time.  

                  Jessamine and friends change a tire.

Here’s another fun statistic.  95% of all birthdays were celebrated
at home.  Mom had to bake the cake and cover it with icing if sugar
was available.  Forget those darling little candles and cake 
decorations we are all so fond of.  Decorating your cakes with bits
of candied fruit was a common practice.  While we take dozens of 
photos at our birthday parties, I couldn’t find one birthday party
photo in her collection.  Her photos concentrated on activities 

Education for kids?  You were lucky to make it to eighth grade in
1909.  Children started to work early on farms and small businesses. 
Only 6% of all children in the US in 1909 had graduated from high 
school.  Jessamine and her siblings were extremely well educated 
for the time.  Will and Jessamine made sure that all of their 
children graduated from high school, but weren’t especially 
supportive of college due to the expense.

Life in town or on the range was full of domestic chores for women
in the early 1900s.  Sewing, cooking, cleaning and child raising 
filled a woman’s day to the maximum.  Trouble getting to sleep 
seems unimaginable.  The only time Jessamine seemed to sit down 
was when she was horseback or viewing the scenery.

        Jessamine and Flag in the Bighorn Mountains.

Cowboy Jargon:

Cowboy coffee:  Coffee brewed on the range.  In a used pot, that’s
been making coffee for months without being washed, you add some 
new grounds to some of the old grounds, add water, and boil it over
the fire.  Add cold water to settle the grounds and pour.  It was
said to be strong enough to float a horseshoe.  

Arbuckle’s:  A brand of coffee so common in the old West that it 
became a generic term for coffee, like Levi’s for jeans.  It was 
the word for coffee at Navajo trading posts until World War II.  
Other names for coffee?  Try black water, bellywash, brown gargle, 
cafecito, Indian coffee and jamoka.  What would I do without my 
Dictionary of the American West by Win Blevins!

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