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Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015

Thomas presents state history to Clay County Extension Homemakers

Thursday, June 28, 2007

(Photo)
State Representative Amos Thomas entertains the Clay County Extension Homemakers with a brief history of Indiana's pioneer women.
Laughter filled the room, as State Representative Amos Thomas struggled with the clip-on microphone before greeting the audience with the comment, "I'm really wired now."

Thomas was the guest speaker at the Clay County Extension Homemakers Achievement Program on Tuesday, speaking about Indiana's history, specifically the period between 1787-1851, and the role women played during that period.

Taking most of his information from a book about Indiana history recommended to him, Thomas had the crowd eating out of his hand with his dry humor and witty remarks.

The history of the early Northwest Territory, which later became the Indiana Territory, fascinates Thomas, particularly the politics involved in the creation of a state government.

The issue of slavery was a surprise to many at the event, with most people thinking that had been a "southern issue," not one for Indiana.

"People forget," Thomas said, " that Indiana was all virgin forest. Early settlers had to clear the timber before they could farm this rich soil.

"The countryside was not at all what we're used to seeing. Sprawling acres of corn, soybeans and other crops owe their existence to hours and years of hard work and sweat by our forefathers. They had a great demand for slaves to help clear this land so that it's what it is today."

The political landscape wasn't much different then, as opposed to now.

"Members of the congress were dubbed 'empty babblers,'" Thomas said, to the laughing crowd. "I guess not much has changed in Indiana."

According to the history books, Hoosiers wanted many of the same things that they still want, namely, freedom of opinion, cheap land and to succeed on their own without the government telling them what to do.

"Hoosiers just don't like change," Thomas said.

The frontier women had no rights, no right to vote, own property, run their own lives if single or even work outside the home if they chose.

"Men worked hard in those days, but you didn't hear about the women's contributions," Thomas said.

"The women helped in the fields, did all the housework, sewed all the clothing, and in most cases, made the cloth. They raised, butchered the livestock, and cooked it up and fed their families. They did all this, and still managed to be loving wives and mothers. The sheer amount of kids they had back then is staggering. They had no birth control, and the need for children to help on the farms, and the need to work harder to feed those children, put a terrible burden on the women. It's no wonder that the life expectancy of a woman back then was around 38 years."

Thomas concluded the evening with an observation about the separation of the state during the Civil War.

"Most of the southern half, was settled by southerners. The northern half drew people from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New England," Thomas said. "There seems to be an invisible line between the two halves, with the northern part being more Yankee and fancy, and I guess that leaves our part of the state to be settled by hicks. I don't mind being a hick if you don't."

Thomas also received a special memorial to his late wife, Mary, who had been a member of the Homemakers for years.



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