Southern Traditions: Why Did My Grandmas Sweep Their Yards?

+41
Answered
My question as I watched these grandparents was always, "Why are you sweeping your yards, and why is there no grass around your house?" We have grass around ours.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Today's post came to mind from seeing a meme on Facebook with an elderly lady sweeping her yard. Yes, sweeping the yard was a common thing back in the day.  I as a child watched my grandmas and Aunt Fannie sweep their yards. I seem to remember them doing this especially hard on Saturdays. Back then chores had to be done and done well to get ready for Sunday.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

I was small but certainly remembered how hard they worked at keeping that yard around the house clean. If there was a sprig of grass coming up it had to be hoed up. There was no grass to be found in the yard around the house ever!  That made me scratch my head for sure.  We had grass growing around our house why did the grandparents not want any grass anywhere near their home?  I couldn't stand it so I of course asked them. They said "Well, it keeps the snakes away and if a fire was to get out it would protect the house from burning down".  I guess that settled it in my mind at the time at least.

The grandparents on the left lived in a home at one time that I remember had the heater room as they called the living room which had a wood burning heater in it.  The kitchen had a wood burning stove in it.  Those two rooms were separated from the rest of the house.  Well when they moved into the home there was a long hall that connected the home that once was completely separated.  In the olden days they were very afraid of fire and with good cause because those houses were built with as they called it "fat lighter" wood.  In fact this very house I'm talking about burned down due to faulty wiring a few years later.  It happened in a matter of minutes and they had family guests at the time so the house was full of people.  We've always said it was a miracle all got out of the house safely. Thank God. 

This memory caused me to search more to find out more.  I came across the following drawing that is part of a booklet online and a very interesting one at that.  Click on the credit below and read it is an interesting part of history and traditions.

The Life & Times of F. M Wilkinson
Memories by George!
I'm going back to read this booklet!

Excerpt taken from the booklet:

Brooms
Our modern homes have floors covered with carpet or the floors may be varnished hard wood or vinyl.  The housewife cleans her floors with a vacuum cleaner, dust mop and stick broom.  Her great grandmother swept her floors with a "straw Broom" and got down on her knees and scrubbed them with water and lye soap.  The wood was bleached almost white.
She made her straw broom herself.  She cut a bundle of "broom straw" and wrapped twine around about two feet of the butt ends and used the bushy ends to sweep with.  The broom straw was found on ditch banks and unplowed edges of fields.  It looks like a form of grass, about 3 or 4 feet tall with a stiff stem running most of the way up the plant.  Grass like blades run out the sides of the stem and the top is bushy with fluffy seed pieces that float away in the wind.
Yard Brooms
She swept the fallen leaves from the yard with a brush broom which was a bundle of small straight branches with bushy ends cut from small selected hardwood trees or branches.  They were cut about five feet long and the butt ends were tied into a bundle with wire or strong cord.  Fan rakes had not been invented.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

I do remember watching my Grandma Cora make her house brooms with the straw sedge and twine. It was fun to watch her soft hands with the beautifully manicured nails work so smoothly to make one.  I don't know how she worked that hard and was able to keep her hands and nails looking so good.  Wish I'd paid more attention to how she made the brooms so I'd know how to do it.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Broom straw credit
gathered by Jannie Pinckney in the 1960s 


I found some  (broomstraw/straw sedge) here a few years back and tried to make a broom but I didn't do it right so it fell apart. If I see more of this precious straw growing I'll have to research how to make one of these and hopefully do that.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Ms. Catherine Waiters
Amelia Wallace Vernon, African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University, 1993.
Reprint. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1995), p.168-171. Credit

Description of picture above
Here at her old home, showing the old ways of housekeeping.  Ms. Catherine is holding a yard broom that she made. When she lived here, her yard was swept daily.  This custom was widely practiced in West Africa and widely practiced by both African Americans and European Americans at Mars Bluff. Note that the yard broom was made of tree branches, while the house broom on the left was made of broom straw. (Photo 1986) 


q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Ms. Catherine with her Wash Pots

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Ms. Catherine would set up her ironing board across two chairs when she was ready to iron.  They would heat those irons in the fireplace until hot.  Evidently they had two or more to switch them out when they cooled.  We have ours in storage guess I need to pull them out, take pictures and share them with you. 

It is interesting to see how others lived even those who had been in slavery and remembering how your ancestors lived.  I'm finding out that they had a lot in common and lived almost exactly the same in those days.  Evidently each shared their customs and eventually many learned and used them to make them their own.

q southern traditions why did my grandmas sweep their yards

Look at this adorable cabin that belonged to Ms. Catherine and is now located at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina.  You can read more about the Hewn-Timber Cabins:  African-American Life in rural South Carolina 1840s to 1950s here.  A very interesting part of our heritage and a great read!
Click the link below for much more information. I would love for you to join me each week, leave your email at the bottom of website for notification of posts.

I guess I now know the reasoning behind the sweep of the yard....Look where my search led me!
Some of you may be old enough to remember your grandparents or great grandparents doing this.
Share your stories if you wish.
I've had several family stories shared on my Facebook page about it today.
We think we have it hard evidently we live the "Life of Riley" (a luxurious or carefree existence).
Join me if you will at the website www.hibiscushouseblog.com

  21 answers
  • 1984roro 1984roro on Mar 11, 2017
    very interesting. thanks for sharing!
  • Terra Gazelle Terra Gazelle on Mar 11, 2017
    I was given a ceiling broom years ago. It had a long handle and long very soft grass to use as the sweep. I loved that thing..no cob webs, spider webs or dust devils escaped that ceiling sweep....

    It disappeared one day and I never saw it again. The craftsmanship was beautiful..the handle made also of the grass was woven tightly to be the handle. I could imagine some woman taking great pride in her home. Maybe it was made for her hope chest.

  • B. Enne B. Enne on Mar 11, 2017
    I just quickly scanned your post (thanks for sharing it BTW), so I hope I'm not repeating anything...I have seen a few elderly people sweeping, in the last few years, but didn't know it was a "thing". I wonder if it helped keep the weeds in check on sidewalks, driveways etc. Interesting...
  • Happy Days Hometalker Happy Days Hometalker on Mar 11, 2017
    I have always wondered about : sweeping the yard " as well, thanks for the insight, very interesting and it makes perfect sense.
  • Love this post! Great share, thank you so much! 🤗
  • Dolly Sarrio Dolly Sarrio on Mar 13, 2017
    Thank you Naomie!
  • Joyce Johnson Joyce Johnson on Mar 13, 2017
    I remembered my grandmother sweeping the oak leaves with her broom she made for the outside and the straw broom she made for the inside.They also made shuck mop from the corn shucks and mopping with them, sure did a great job using those, so thanks for the memories thinking back.Joyce
    • Dolly Sarrio Dolly Sarrio on Mar 13, 2017
      Hi Joyce! I'd never heard of the shuck mop now I have to go look that one up and see where it leads...Thank you for telling me of something else I didn't know. This is interesting.
  • Dee Dee on Mar 13, 2017
    This post is so sweet! I really enjoyed reading it. People, women especially, had such hard lives, but they just got on with it and did what they had to do. I'm not sure many of our modern-day householders would be able to manage what they did.
    • Dolly Sarrio Dolly Sarrio on Mar 13, 2017
      Awe thank you Dee! I know what you mean and can tell you I'm sure glad we don't have to do some of the things I've seen my ancestors do...We are blessed.
  • Janice Janice on Mar 14, 2017
    I loved reading this as it brought back memories of my "MA" my mother's mother sweeping the yard!The brooms made me smile because on my father's side of the family my aunt owns a broom which belonged to my great-grandmother. My aunt says that broom was made by cutting down a small tree then carefully peeling back layers which were the broom straws.
    • See 1 previous
    • Janice Janice on Mar 14, 2017
      Thank you Dolly. Yes, our ancestors were extremely talented in so many ways.
  • Karolyn Karolyn on Mar 14, 2017
    Loved this info! I remember when my brothers and I were kids (I'm now 69) we would "sweep" around our old chicken coop/playhouse with branches from a tree! Guess somewhere in our past consciousness, we remembered to do this!!
  • CarolynCruse1 CarolynCruse1 on Mar 15, 2017
    Thank you for this, I can remember little parts of the "sweeping the yard" as my mind drifts. I am not old enough to have actually seen it done but my parents speak on their grandparents. I can't wait to have my parents read this.
  • Jessi G. Jessi G. on Mar 15, 2017
    EVERY morning after breakfast, at my maternal grandmother's house, the front yard and walkway had to be swept clean of any twigs and leaves and with two huge oaks, there were a lot of leaves. This was before leaf blowers were common. In Georgia, those twig brooms were called switch brooms and my grandmother purchased them from an elderly man who made them himself and went door-to-door on a regular schedule.
  • Gee3037299 Gee3037299 on Mar 15, 2017
    we make those brooms from the veins of the leaves of the coconut palm. The veins are then tied together at the thickest part. we use them indoors and out doors. perfect cleaners.
  • Gee3037299 Gee3037299 on Mar 15, 2017
     hope you can enlarge it to have a better view
  • Patsy Patsy on Mar 16, 2017
    I loved this.
  • Ruth Zumwalt Ruth Zumwalt on Mar 18, 2017
    My grandparents had the ground just outside their back door and screened-in porch hard as cement from sprinkling and sweeping the sandy soil there, tramped down first of course. I don't remember the brooms though. As two huge trees shaded the area, it was like an outdoor porch or patio. My grandmother let us grandchildren (and friends) use that area for drawing Hop-Scotch squares, little roads for little cars and trucks, etc. What ever we wanted to imagine and play. But we weren't through using it until WE had to sprinkle and sweep that area back to hard ground with no loose dirt around. What good memories my grandmother made for us.
    • Dolly Sarrio Dolly Sarrio on Mar 18, 2017
      Oh my how I love your memories! I can just see you children playing and then getting rid of the loose dirt! Abilene I was there and love love love your home state. I met one of my daddy's WWII buddies and at 92 almost he drove us around in his old but pristene Howard Hughes Cadillac. He worked with him for years. One of the best trips, food and scenery I've ever enjoyed! What an interesting man, city and state...
      I so enjoyed your story.
      If you ever want to read about our trip you can under the travel category on the website. The link is at the end of the broom post.

  • Ginger the farm gal Ginger the farm gal on May 05, 2017
    My brother and I played together everyday inside and out with his metal trucks, army men, marbles and made dirt pies for my rubber dolls, out of the dusty dirt when it rained.
    Many Amish still sweep their yards and walks, it prevents weeds and gets rid of the chicken poo. I stepped in chicken poo more than once with my bare feet as a child and took baths on the back porch in a metal tub with lye soap.
    We always went to my aunt and uncles farm in the summer. They were my mothers sister and my dads brother and dated together. Talk about different personalities of siblings, they were it. We used the metal can (pee pot) for a toilet at night time it was to dark to go to the out house. Had my hair put up in pin curls (way to curly lol) and learned more than we did all year at school, how to survive and work in the garden. Loved listening to the rain on the metal roof and the smell of biscuits in the morning. Nothing like a biscuit with a thick slice of homegrown tomato in the middle for breakfast. Thanks for the post, I have since retired on my own farm, loving it and very blessed by God and thankful for all the experiences.
  • 861650 861650 on May 06, 2017
    What sweet, heart-warming stories! And you shared. Awww! Can't imagine no grass and using a broom to sweep a yard. You can bet there were no snakes! LOL! Thank all of you for sharing your blessed memories.
  • Em Em on May 06, 2017
    I have a memory: My G'ma Addie lived "in town", nevertheless, her house had a country feel. There was a garden shed out back that she claimed needed painting and would send me out with a pail of water and a paint brush. The shed was barn red and every stroke of the brush made it darker. Of course the water "paint" would eventually evaporate and I'd paint the same area over and over. I was easily amused and G'ma was wise beyond her years! I was content with my grown up "job" while G'ma sat resting with her super sweet iced tea. She lived to 102. I miss her.
    • Dolly Sarrio Dolly Sarrio on May 08, 2017
      What wonderful memories! I love it! 102 great age and same as my great grandma. Thank you for sharing!
  • TD McKinney TD McKinney on Jul 06, 2019

    When I was growing up in the 1960's, everyone who didn't live "in town" had swept yards. There might be an ornamental spec of lawn bound by monkey grass, but it was never to be walked on, and was usually no more than 3 feet square. We had a field full of broom sedge where we played. That stuff would grow taller than our heads and was perfect for hide-and-seek. We'd also tamp it down with our little feet into patterns -- early crop circles!

  • George Lewis George Lewis on Sep 06, 2019

    Question? There is no question here.

Your comment...