Jeff Bremer’s A StoreAlmost in Sight: The Economic Transformation of Missouri from the LouisianaPurchase to the Civil War, comes out this month. Editor Catherine Cocks took a moment to talk with the author about his work.
Catherine Cocks: What role did women play in sustaining their households?
Jeff Bremer: Women played an incredibly important role on family farms. Their labor in their households consisted of juggling a vast number of crucial tasks, from child care to cooking, from caring for the family garden and harvesting and preserving many hundreds of pounds of vegetables to producing butter and cheese. They also sewed or mended the family’s clothes and worked in the fields when necessary. A household could not have survived without female labor.
CC: Of all the people whose letters, diaries, or memoirs you read for this book, is there one whose experience most struck or moved you? Could you share a quotation from that person with us?
JB: The experiences of one German immigrant, a man named Frederick Steines, stand out. He came to Missouri in the 1830s with his family and they bought a farm west of St. Louis. Cholera killed his wife and children the year they arrived, and he quickly remarried, since, as I noted above, a household could not survive without female labor. He left a series of detailed letters behind, which I use throughout the book to help explain the lives of average people. In 1840, he wrote, “To make money is the only ambition of the typical American. Money is the motive of his action; it is the axis around which his world turns.” This quotation gets at the heart of my book and at the interest of Missourians in taking part in the growing capitalist economy around them.