The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917

By Jon Gjerde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Mothers and Siblings among the Corn Rows The Individual Life Course and Community Development

On 7 June 1846, G. Mellberg, a Swedish immigrant, penned a simple passage in his diary. "Sunday," he wrote, "Married to Miss Juli Etta Devoe by Pastor Unonius at 3 o'clock." About a month later, he noted, "Worked on my house. Set radishes. Juli Etta moved to my place." And four days after she arrived, Mellberg recorded that "Juli Ette washes and mends."1 These prosaic notations belie the social significance of what were momentous events for Mellberg and his new wife. The marriage formed a conjugal link that would soon contribute to the reproduction of frontier society: Juli Etta bore her first child nine months to the day after she moved in with Mellberg. From a personal perspective, the marriage was a decision that would have profound implications for the individual life courses of both Mellberg and Juli Etta. Patterns of family reproduced those of society, yet they also informed the parameters of opportunity for the individuals who lived within them.

This is not to say, however, that individuals alone charted their own futures. On the contrary, they were enmeshed in households that represented social and economic arrangements replete with inherently unequal structures of power. Whereas intrafamilial relationships were played out in myriad ways, they typically were influenced by a family morality with customary conventions concerning household roles, rights, and responsibilities. As noted in the previous chapter, moreover, the varying

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