Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ranch Photos Women and Chores

As promised, this post continues my series of early 1900 photos of an Alberta ranch, all photographed by the ranch owner, Hugh Beynon Biggs and available for online viewing through the Glenbow Archives in Calgary. You can see the other posts in this series here:Feb 5, 2016 - Alberta Ranch Winter Photos
Mar 5, 2016 - Riding Side Saddle

While going through the collection, I found that Mrs. Mabel Biggs is the subject of most of the photographs, although she is not officially named as such. The photos on this post show women working, mothering, and relaxing on a ranch in the Drumheller region of Alberta.  

I've always been fascinated with the way women cared for their children through the years before all the safety features were introduced. Of course, there were many dangers, but parents did what they could with what was available at the time. In this first image, you see the woman I suspect to be Mabel Biggs and her daughter on the doorstep of their ranch house. (This canyon will turn out to be a 1970's location shoot for one of the Superman movies, which I'll expand on in my next post.)

Woman with baby, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1907-1910 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Washing clothes was essential, but also a danger when parents didn't have older children or baby gates to keep little ones from falling into wash or rinse tubs. This image is quite different as it shows a wringer washer in parts. However, the woman in this photo is not wearing the fashionable clothes we see in the other photos and I wonder from the look on her face in the photographer got in a spot of trouble for taking this one. 

Woman washing clothes, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1910 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

This next posed image is one of several which show ranch life in action. In this one, the woman is feeding some chickens on the ground, while the one in her arms ignores the corn kernels on her lap and goes right for the bucket beside her. I would have liked to see this in color to check the breed, but I'm guessing the chickens are of the dual-purpose Barred Rock (also called Plymouth Rock) variety which originated in the New England area of the United States.

Woman with chickens, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Although there isn't a woman in this next photo, I wanted to show that they also raised Narragansett turkeys, a heritage breed developed in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and one which is still common with heritage breeders today. 

Chickens and Turkeys, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Cutting wood into firebox-size lengths was a real chore and a job carried out by both genders as the need arose. Most wood was harvested in the winter months and left to season for a year before cutting. Although I've never used a bucksaw like the woman in this photo, I am quite adept at using an ax to chop my share of wood and kindling. Note what looks like a full-cover apron as she tackles this chore. 

Woman cutting wood, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Here we see the whole family berry picking. Looks like the flies or sun might be bothering the child in the middle, but it's the infant's tongue that makes me smile. This is a great photograph of an early 1900's ranching family.

Family group berry picking, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1910 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Here's another image I wish we could see in color. The caption reads that the woman is cutting hay, but it looks like a crop of oats to me. Therefore, she's either cutting the oats when they're green to use as green-feed, or they are a golden color and ready to be harvested. Regardless, this is a job either gender--and most ages can do. Last summer as I drove through a community where horse power was still in use, I saw several people mowing hay and more than one person was nodding off as the horses plodded along. 

Woman haying, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta. 
ca 1907 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Usually, the woman would ride with the children in the wagon, but a few of the images show women riding what appears to be heavy horses usually reserved for driving and field work. The 2 women are riding sidesaddle and are not wearing hats. I wonder if they rode onto the ridge or stayed in the valley.

Women on horseback, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta.
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

This next image of the woman posing on a buck-and-rail fence shows the beauty of the landscape. What's interesting in this photograph is where the right side shows a parasol or umbrella and a chair or two. 

Woman on fence, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta.
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

I debated whether to include this image because it is so obviously posed and simply shows a man taking a photograph of a woman, yet it seems so personal. They could be alone with no one around for miles and who knows what they've seen, what they've been doing, or what they talk about...but they'll always have this image to remember the day. 

Woman, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta.
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Finally, I need your help on this last one. At first I thought the woman was gardening, except the ground appears too rocky. It looks like the top right corner of the image might be showing a fallen over tree so that we're looking at the root system, but if that's the case she can't grow anything with all those roots. And look at the wooden bucket beside her...what is she collecting? I thought perhaps mushrooms, but they don't look the right shape. Or maybe she's planting something?

Woman, Springfield (Biggs) ranch, near Beynon, Alberta.
ca 1900 Courtesy of Glenbow Museum Archives, Calgary, Alberta

Does anyone want to guess what she is doing in the above photo? There are no wrong answers and I'd sure like to know.

Okay, that's it for this installment of images featuring women (and turkeys) on the Springfield (Biggs) Ranch in Alberta.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these pics, and I'll be back next month with some cowboy shots. 


Anita Mae Draper's stories are written under the western skies where she lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their four kids. When she's not writing, Anita enjoys photography, research, and travel, and is especially happy when she can combine the three in one trip. Anita's current release is Romantic Refinements, a novella in Austen in Austin Volume 1, WhiteFire Publishing, January 2016.  Anita is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Management. You can find Anita Mae at  www.anitamaedraper.com

Austen ~ in ~ Austin Volume 1
WhiteFire Publishing
Discover four heroines in historic Austin, TX,
as they find love--Jane Austen style. 

Each of the four Texas-set novellas is based on a Jane Austen novel. 

Romantic Refinements by Anita Mae Draper
is the Texas-style version of
Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility...
 misguided academy graduate spends the summer fallinin love . . . twice.


  1. I really enjoyed this post and the old photos. I wonder if the woman gathering in the last picture is picking something like wild onions, or taking shoots from those roots to try to plant a tree back at her house? Thanks for the post.

    1. Hello, Connie. Gathering shoots is a very realistic guess, especially since it looks like something similar in her bucket which I hadn't noticed until you drew my attention to them. They remind me of the wild raspberry canes we used to find along embankments in the Northern Ontario bush. They could be wild onions, but I don't know anything about those.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I love these old photographs! Thank you for sharing them, Anita!

    1. You're very welcome, Beth Erin. I appreciate you letting me know. :)

  3. Great photos and pics, Anita! Thanks for sharing. Could she be collecting kindling? Whatever's in that basket looks highly flammable. :)

    1. Yes, Linore, it's certainly possible, especially since it looks like dead branches and stuff around her. Ah... and you think it's a basket vs a wooden bucket? That's entirely possible too. We'll have to keep an eye out for other pictures of the ranch in the next 2 posts to see if we spot a match. Thanks for guessing.

  4. Wow, we sure don't know how easy we have it nowadays, Anita. Our female ancestors were heroes!

    1. You got that right! After using my grandparents' outhouse and the Sears catalogue for a full summer, I can honestly say that I'm a wimp. Thanks for popping in. :)

  5. Hey Anita, I blew the picture up as far as I could and it is still hard to see. However, what I do see is a lot of rounded things in there that look very much the shape of morel mushrooms. But there seems to be long sticks, stems, or ferns stuck in there too. Many times morel mushrooms are found around trees or on the side of hills.