Lives of the Farm Folk

Based on conditions in the 19th century in Waasland in East Flanders1

Last revised August 15th 1999. Your comments and suggestions would be appreciated.

   During the 19th century there was gradual increase in the proportion of rural people who were hired help so that by mid-century 30% of rural folk were such employees and remaining 70% were farmers who owned or leased farms.
The farmer (boer,landbouwer), the farmer's wife (landbouwster), their children and one or more farmhands (landknechten) and maids (meiden) lived on a farmstead. (boerderij). Young men sought work on a farm as landknechten when they were about 16 years-old. Usually they contracted to work for 1/2 a year at a time. Older farmhands usually were married and rehired repeatedly on the same farm, some times for years. Young women at about 16 or younger contracted as meiden for 1 year at a time. They usually did not stay for longer, preferring to return home and contribute to the small family income by making lace--> or doing other handiwork. But some sought jobs as house maids in towns. So it was usually easier for the boer to find landknechten than meiden.
   The landknechten did the 'rougher' work but generally shared the life of the farmer. They ate at the same table with him and his family. However, if there were too many for one table a separate one was set for the knechten and meiden. The
clothing of knechten was like the boer's but somewhat simpler. They cinched their blouse at the waist with a belt while he wore his hanging loosely.
sleeping accommodation differed. While the boer, his family and the meiden slept in the farmhouse, the landknechten slept in the outbuildings. The knecht who was responsible for the horses and worked the fields with them slept in a space attached to the stall. The other knechten also slept in quarters often next to the cowshed. In both cases the sleeping space were cramped and lacked light. The 'bed' might be just a few roughly arranged planks. Often such primitive and unsanitary arrangements persisted and no improvements were made until late in the 19th century. But on some boerderijen a mattress consisting of a bag of oat chaff ("outer coating of the grain separated by threshing or winnowing") or of chopped rye straw was provided. In contrast, to the generally poor sleeping accommodations for the knechten, the meiden slept in the farmhouse, usually in their own room(s) or with the children.

1Source: "Het Land van Waas" by Prosper Thuysbaert, published in 1913 as Volume 32 of the "Annalen" of the the Historical Society of Waasland. Extracts of Chapter VII of that article were provided by Alfred Van der Gucht, President of the Historical Society of Waasland.

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