Mama Knows Best

The women of the land in Iowa are still catching my attention, both because they are so few and far between and because they seem to have a more nontraditional relationship with land ownership.

This particular land owner, Mary Hooker (CB&Q 753.8 – Land Dept – B&M RR – Iowa – Applications – Contracts – Delinquents – #3286), rented the land from Benjamin Millage and was unable to pay her land debt. Most of the delinquent contracts I read contain a standard tale of agricultural woe: owner makes improvements on their land, builds a house, and is met with a bad harvest, a plague of grasshoppers, dozens of dead livestock, or sickness in the family. Owner then pleads with CB&Q to extend his or her contract, based on a better outlook for the next harvest, a debt that will soon be repaid to the owner, or whatever money they can front at that time, if not all of it.

This is not the case with Mary Hooker. Unlike most female land owners, the examiner on Hooker’s case refers to her as “she” instead of “he,” deferring to a male member of the family rather than the woman who owns the property. The examiner notes that “she wants to keep [the land] and has $50 due her in the spring which she will pay.” The examiner goes on to explain that John M. Landon, son of Hooker, wants and has the means to pay for the land, but she refuses him.

I was surprised, perhaps naively, that the examiner recommended stepping in on this family squabble instead of following more common CB&Q procedure. He refers to Hooker (age 50) as “an old lady” with “no prospect of anything better” and recommends that CB&Q seize the land and sell to Landon.

The more personal tone of this examination, and the derogatory nature of the examiner’s assessment of Hooker, given the circumstances, caught my attention. The extenuating circumstances of the female land owners in Iowa seems especially noticeable here.

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