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BEULAH AND FLORENCE USHER

Beulah and Florence Usher were the only daughters of Henry and Mary Usher.

Mary and Henry P. Usher were married May 29, 1901 in Lisbon, Iowa.
Mary and Henry P. Usher were married May 29, 1901 in Lisbon, Iowa.

Beulah was born in 1902 and her sister Florence in 1905. At the turn of the century it was common for children to be born in a home rather than a hospital. Beulah and Florence were no different. They were introduced to this world in their parents' small cottage just four miles from Cedar Rapids.

Florence and Beulah Usher c 1907
Florence and Beulah Usher c. 1907

Their great-grandfather Henry A. Usher was a real pioneer. He homesteaded in Iowa in 1838, before Iowa was even a state! At that time, farming required back breaking work. Pioneer farmers cleared the prairie land, cut down trees, built log homes and raise their own food. In 1855, Henry A. Usher built the home where the girls were born. It was located on a family homestead near Cedar Rapids.

Map with the Usher Farm
Map with the Usher Farm

If walls could only talk that house would tell about a great adventure! In the 1860s the house was actually cut in two and moved across the Cedar River. In the dead of winter it was moved across the ice and placed on a piece of property four miles west of Cedar Rapids owned by the Usher family. That's where Beulah and Florence were born.

Stoney Point School c. 1910
Stoney Point School c. 1910

As children, both girls attended the one-room Stoney Point School, one mile from their home. Their great-grandfather Henry A. Usher donated the land for the school. A rocky triangular-shaped corner of his farm became the site of the Stoney Point School.

Class picture of students at the Stoney Point School c. 1910
Class picture of students at the Stoney Point School c. 1910

At this time many students stopped going to school after the eighth grade or even earlier. But education was important to Henry and Mary Usher and they wanted their daughters to get more than the one room rural school near their home could provide. So in the middle grades the girls attended Madison School in Cedar Rapids and later Grant High School.

Florence and Beulah with the sheep wagon c. 1906
Florence and Beulah with the sheep wagon c. 1906

When they attended Grant High School, Beulah drove the buggy four miles to town over dirt roads. When it rained the roads would turn to mud, sticky mud with lots of ruts. It was easy for even a horse-drawn wagon to get stuck. Some times in bad weather, Beulah had to hitch up a third horse to pull the wagon through.

Florence and Beulah going to school c. 1920
Florence and Beulah going to school c. 1920

Today many high school students drive cars to school and park them along the streets or in lots provided by the school. But Beulah couldn't park her horses outside the school for the day. Horses needed to be cared for and fed. So Beulah left the horses and buggy at a livery stable while she and her sister were in school.

What is a livery stable? When it was common for people to travel by horse and wagon, a livery stable worked like a parking garage. During the day while Beulah's horses and wagon were "parked" in the livery stable, an attendant would see that the horses were fed, watered and generally cared for.

When they got home from school, Beulah and Florence each milked six cows. They left the gentlest cow until last because she would allow the girls to milk from both sides at the same time. Since Henry and Mary had no sons, the girls not only helped their parents with housework but also did farm chores. That was just fine with Beulah. She never liked to play with dolls anyway. Florence preferred doing work in the house, patching overalls, darning socks or baking pies. Beulah would rather work outside with the horses. She knew all about hitching them to a buggy or operating horse-drawn farm machinery.

Early 20th Century Farming Practices provides information about how farming was changing after 1900. You will also see pictures of Beulah doing farm work with horse drawn machinery.

Beulah took advantage of the fact that she was driving a wagon to Cedar Rapids for school every day. Because there was space in the wagon she hauled the cans of milk to town. Rawson's Ice Cream Company would then come to the livery stable and pick up the milk cans. As time went on, she hauled milk for other farmers in the vicinity as well.

In the winter a kind family near the livery heated a soapstone for Beulah and Florence. The stone was heated on a stove and then wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The stone would be placed on the floor of the wagon where the girls put their feet. It would help keep their feet warm on the long trip home.

In evenings after supper, Beulah and Florence would do their homework by lamplight. They used lamps because in the 1920s most farmers had no electricity in their homes. Electric lights were common in towns and cities but electricity had not yet reached the rural countryside.

Henry P. Usher, Beulah, Florence and their mother Mary c. 1920
Henry P. Usher, Beulah, Florence and their mother Mary c. 1920

Beulah graduated from Grant High School in 1922 and then enrolled in St. Luke's School of Nursing. Florence got a job as a milliner with Lyman Brothers in Cedar Rapids. Do you know what a milliner made? Hats. At this time women wore hats whenever they were out in public. Women's hats were often very large and beautiful with flowers, veils, lace, ribbons, feathers and all kinds of decorations. It took special skill to make a beautiful hat.

After high school Beulah and Florence lived in Cedar Rapids. Neither ever married. Beulah was a nursing supervisor at St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids for many years and retired in 1965. Florence worked in various retail businesses in Cedar Rapids. She also retired in the mid 1960s. Beulah was active in the Red Cross after her retirement and volunteered at the Veteran's Hospital in Iowa City.

Beulah as Red Cross Volunteer in Iowa City c. 1965
Beulah as Red Cross Volunteer in Iowa City c. 1965

 

 
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Early 20th Century Farming Practices