Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE HEALTH OF THE FARMERS OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Every citizen of Massachusetts, with but few exceptions, is obliged to pursue some occupation for the support of himself and his family. The number of individuals, who, from inherited or acquired wealth, are independent of labor, is comparatively small; and consequently the great majority of our people are actively engaged in pursuits involving physical or mental toil, the interruption of which for any considerable period would involve privation. It is therefore extremely important that every person should be advised to what extent, if at all, his occupation is prejudicial to health, and have such a perfect understanding of its dangers and the means of escaping them, that he may not, through ignorance, find his pecuniary success early supplemented by his physical wreck.

It is proposed, in this paper, to consider a single occupation, that of the farmer, and to apply to it the same sort of investigation which has, in the previous reports of the State Board of Health, been applied to certain diseases and causes of disease. Thus we may hope to ascertain how far our agricultural class is exposed to the deleterious influences which prey upon the health of civilized man, and what special measures it is important that its members should take for improving their health and prolonging their lives.

The farmer is generally considered the healthiest of men: he breathes the pure air of heaven, untainted with city fumes; his labors develope his muscles and strengthen his digestion ; he keeps early hours and is removed from the temptations of the town. To become a farmer in his declining years is the ambition of many a professional and business man, and he yearns for the life as bringing tranquil happiness and renewed health. The young man who droops in the city is sent to the farm, and often returns, strong, vigorous and hard-handed. The poets of every age and language have extolled the farmer's life; and the great warriors and statesmen both of ancient and modern times have loved to turn, for strength and relaxation, to agricultural pursuits. It might, therefore, be supposed that an essay upon the health of farmers could have no other purpose than to describe them as affording the standard of health, and to hold them up to the admiration and envy of the rest of the world. Such is not, however, the object of the present paper, which is undertaken in the spirit of inquiry, to ascertain the actual sanitary condition of the farmers of this State, what dangers, if any, are incident to their calling, and, when necessary, to make suggestions tending to the elevation of the farmer still higher in the health-scale.

As this inquiry must, of necessity, be a practical one, it has been pursued by practical methods. Correspondence has been held with a number of physicians practising in agricultural districts in various parts of the State, asking the result of their observations and experience in reference to the health of our farmers and the causes by which it may be influenced. Outside of the medical profession, some valuable information has also been obtained, and the compiler wishes to express his grateful recognition of the prompt and satisfactory manner in which the desired assistance, from whatever source, has, when possible, been furnished. The country doctors, as a class, are men of whose thoughts and experience the world at large seldom gets the benefit, for their arduous duties deprive them of the leisure required for writing ; but they are men, at least in our own State, of vigorous thought and close observation, their long drives afford ample opportunity for reflection, and their isolated situation makes them self-reliant and independent. A paper, therefore, based upon, their combined experience cannot be otherwise than instructive.

After some preliminary observations upon the prosperity and social conditions of our farmers, their longevity, general health and the various influences to which they are subjected, will be taken up successively, .

SOCIAL CONDITION AND PROSPERITY. The census of 1870 showed Massachusetts to contain 39,766 farmers, being one-eighth of all persons having occupations, and one-sixteenth of the whole population over the age of ten years. There were also 31,019 agricultural laborers, and 2,020 persons classed as gardeners, nurserymen, dairymen, overseers and stock-raisers. In 1860, there were 45,204 farmers and 17,430 farm-laborers, which shows an apparent decrease in the former, during the last decade, of 4,438 ; but, whether this is a real decrease, or only arises from a different mode of classification, is difficult to determine. That it is probably the latter, is shown by the fact that the aggregate of farmers and farm-laborers in 1870 was over 10,000 more than in 1860, the number of farm-laborers being nearly doubled. It is therefore likely that, in the last census, the definition of the latter class was extended to cover many, who, in the earlier census, were classed as farmers.

The nativity of the farmers in 1870 was as follows: 39,760, or 92.5 per cent. were born in the United States; 2,083 in Ireland, 213 in Germany, and 282 in England. Of farmlaborers, 23,974, or 77.28 per cent. were natives of the United States ; 4,521 of Ireland ; 164 of Germany, and 728 of England. It is interesting to draw a comparison with the nativity of persons engaged in the two other great branches of industry, thus :

Born in United States. Farmers,

92.5 per cent. Agricultural laborers,

77.2 Persons engaged in trade and transportation, 82.6 Persons engaged in manufactures and mining, 67.3

Hence it appears that the farmers are the most strictly American class of all. Constituting, as they do, but oneeighth of the industrial population, their influence in the community is much less than in the great agricultural States of the West, where the proportion is much larger; for example, in Illinois the farmers make up a third of all persons having occupations, and with the farm-laborers, just a half.

It is not uncommon to hear persons familiar with the magnificent farming lands of the West express contempt for the

sterile soil of New England and commiseration for our farmers, who can barely, as they imagine, scrape from their stony hill-sides enough to keep soul and body together. And yet our farmers are comfortable and prosperous, despite our comparatively poor soil, our short summer and long winter, when animals must be housed and fed for half the year. We will even go so far as to assert that they are, on the whole, more prosperous than their brethren of the Middle and Western States, and, lest this statement be received with incredulity, will substantiate it by statistics.

The census reports give, for each State, the number of farms, acres of improved and unimproved land, cash value of farms, total value of productions for the year 1870, value of farming implements and the amount expended for wages. From these data, it is quite easy to compute the average value of productions to cach farm, the average value per acre of farming land, and the percentage of profit upon the invested capital. These results will be best shown by the accompanying table :

[blocks in formation]

Here is revealed the somewhat surprising fact that the value of farm products is greater, both per farm and per acre, in Massachusetts than in any of the great fertile States enumerated; the value of land per acre is less than in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but greater than in the others, and the percentage of profit is greater than in any other State except Minnesota, where the price of land is at a minimum. The percentage column in the table is, of course, too high for all the States, for it is computed without reference to the capital invested in buildings and stock, and the annual expenditures for fertilizers, seed, repairs and taxes. Still, it is serviceable for comparison, for it is, in all cases, based upon similar data.

The fact that farming is more profitable in Massachusetts than in most of the Western States may be explained by our closer proximity to a market. A small and poor farm in our State will pay better than a large, fertile one at the West, becanse everything it produces is readily saleable, at a good price, and needs but little transportation, while many of our best staples are unmarketable at the West, and the Western farmer's splendid crop of wheat sells at a ruinously low rate, the railroad companies getting the lion's share of the profits.

Yet the Massachusetts farmers are not rich, as a class; and this is largely attributable to the fact that their wants are greater than those of their Western and Southern brethren. Living, as they do, in a wealthy and cultivated community, they must spend more money on their dwellings, dress and the education of their children, in order to keep up with their neighbors. But, notwithstanding this extra expense, the result of which is to increase their enjoyment of life by elevating them in the social and intellectual scale, they are generally not only above the reach of poverty, but able to accumulate.

This prosperity, however, is by no means uniform throughout the State, nor could it be expected in a State so unequally populated as ours, and so varied in soil and surface. Mr. Alexander Hyde asserts, in his recent work on agriculture, that the value of farming land, while it is rapidly increasing in the vicinity of the large manufacturing towns, is decreasing upon the hills, so that some farms can now be bought for less than the cost of the buildings upon them. There is an opportunity, therefore, for a great diversity of opinion in regard to the prosperity of our farmers. The Rev. W. H. H. Murray maintains that farming does not pay, and that this is the reason why young men are so unwilling to choose it as an occupation. A physician in the eastern part of the State writes that "a farmer in Massachusetts cannot make over two or three per cent. on his investment; hence, very few but stupid, lazy blockheads are found upon farms about here." We hope it is in but a small section where this is true. The reverse of the picture is drawn by the Hon. H. F. French, of Concord, in a recent letter. His description of the farmer's

« EelmineJätka »