Reading Eagle/Times October 27, 1996

Past Roles of Women Explored

Volunteers Demonstrate How to Brew Beer and Make Sauerkraut as Wives and Mothers Did at Hopewell Furnace

By Lisa Scheid

As they might have done more than 100 years ago, the women gathered on Saturday around the iron cauldron outside a tenant house at Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site in Union Township.

They chatted and laughed while the brewing beer bubbled.

Inside the house, children took turns mashing cabbage for sauerkraut.

About 370 people visited the stie Saturday to understand the overlooked role of women in the second annual event, “They Were What They Ate: How Women Fed a 19th Century Iron Furnace Community.”

Bread, squash and onion pies, stews and “chicken on a string” were prepared in ovens and hearths throughout the site.

For Charles R. Berger, Tilden Township, the event provided a chance to get a few pointers on home-brewing and history. He has a historic home along Berne Road and wants to use its walk-in fireplace someday.

...For the women of the 19th century iron furnace community, beer-making was one of the few chances they had to socialize with one another. It was practically a party.

The wives of furnace foremen and founders would gather with workers' wives and widows to make beer once or twice a year, said Nancy R. Reynolds, a volunteer from the Friends of Hopewell Furnace.

Outside the tennant house, Reynolds mashed barley grain into a murky juice. Nearby Helen K. Clogston stirred the juice and hops in a hot cauldron. Both volunteers are from Reading.

Weeks before, barley grains were allowed to sprout and then were quickly dried. The timing had to be just right.

Little is recorded of the lives of women at Hopewell.

Records showed that a few women were paid for mold work, but recent researchers have speculated the women may have been paid for work done by sons who were too young to be given credit at the company store, said park superintendent Josie Fernandez.

Saturday's event was part of “Raising Out Sites: Women's History in Pennsylvania,” a program of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.