By Fred Collins
August is generally our hottest month. It was also the beginning of the cotton picking season for small family farms in Texas. In many areas of the state, school would not start until most of the cotton was picked because it was a family affair. In some years, school wouldn’t start until December because the children were critical to the family endeavor. School would often end in spring when too many kids did not show up because they were home “chopping” cotton. The early Cypress area schools probably set their schedules to accommodate the child labor in the cotton fields.
Even though it was hot, pickers were generally heavily dressed. They wore long pants or dresses, long sleeves, gloves and hats or bonnets. These clothes protected them from the sun, the rough cotton leaves and from the thorn-like dried sepals of the cotton bowls. Once the clothes were thoroughly wet with sweat, they would then have a cooling effect. The girls and women were even more bundled up. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, a lady’s skin was supposed to be lily-white. Heaven forbid that she would be tanned. The ladies wore high-buttoned neck dresses and large bonnets with long brims and capes. It was something of a negative stigma for a woman to work in the cotton fields, so the clothes helped shield her identity as well.
Today it is hard to understand a family’s preoccupation with the cotton crop. All small farms across the South grew corn to feed the family and farm, but cotton was for cash. A successful crop meant financial security to meet their obligations, but also meant they could purchase comforts like coffee, sugar, shoes, books and store-bought clothes —things we take for granted today. In almost every letter Minnie Kleb wrote to her mother, in the Kleb Woods Historic Farm Collection, she mentioned the status of the cotton crop. So when the cotton economy collapsed during the Depression, people were lost emotionally as well as economically.
To learn more about Texas or Cypress history, visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Hwy., open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The Cypress Historical Society website, cypresshistoricalsociety.com, has more information on the museum buildings, special tours, and on available genealogy and history information. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the society at 281-758-0083.
Historical facts courtesy of Cypress Top Historic Park Collection & Cypress Historical Society: Preserving Cypress History for Posterity.