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In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 15

Lesson Fifteen
Deerfield at the Third Turn, 1880-1920

by Susan McGowan

Rapid change typified the years between 1880 and 1920, and the people in Deerfield, Massachusetts as well as those in other towns and cities across America, experienced shifts in their lives. The pace of life was no longer linked to nature, with task-oriented work dictated by the season, but increasingly relied on the tempo of the timetable and the clock. America was changing from a largely agrarian society to a predominantly urban industrial one. Technological advancements such as those connected to the beginning of the "century of electricity," which included electric ranges, vacuum cleaners, washing machines - all "labor-saving" devices - began to be available in many homes in America.

The postal service improved and everywhere newspaper publication was on the rise. Automobiles, produced on the assembly line, opened the possibility of local and distance travel to those with modest incomes. New and improved roads were created as a direct result of the increased production of automobiles; railroads, too, multiplied to serve a population more on the move. People could travel further to work, and many began to explore vacationing at destinations a distance from home. Thus began the incorporation of leisure time into the work year.

People had access to better medical services and enjoyed increased opportunities for higher education as the number of colleges increased. More free lending libraries were established, lyceums were offered in both small and in larger communities, and private book ownership grew. With a growing educated population, new institutions, in addition to colleges and universities, were developed, including municipal hospitals, life insurance companies, and a plethora of government bureaus. Increasing numbers of American homes were served by public utilities; department stores aggressively advertised their wares, encouraging consumerism; and food markets began offering pre-packaged foodstuffs reducing the time needed for food preparation. All these "improvements" gave rise to a marked increase in money-oriented values.

Walter Nugent, in his 1981 book, The Structures of American Social History, talked of the transformation of middle-class aspirations from "land hunger to home-ownership hunger, money-hunger, or durable-goods hunger." Americans gradually became consumers rather than producers and aspired more to material goods than to land acreage.

In the years between the Civil War and World War II, twelve new states were admitted to the union, making the United States the largest continental republic in the world. The population doubled to more than 100 million, owing both to a high rate of natural increase and to successive waves of immigration from Germany, Ireland, Asia, Scandinavia, Italy, and Eastern Europe.

Everyday life in America was becoming more institutional, more homogeneous, more material, and more urban. By 1915 twenty-five cities existed in this country with populations of 200,000 or more. The establishment of improved transportation networks helped the resettlement of newcomers and of dissatisfied rural residents all across America. Some of the new urban residents found work as domestic workers as more affluent families hired out some household chores - laundry and cooking, for instance. Middle-class and wealthy families often had live-in servants. Others served as an unskilled work force for the growing number of factories. Working conditions in the factories, unprotected by unions (only about 15% enjoyed union protection) were often appalling. The factories, located in cities, contributed to the growing metropolitan character of American life. Differences in the quality of life between the very poor and the middle class were increasingly noticeable.

The Colonial Revival, a nation-wide movement that was intended to glorify America's colonial past, grew, in large part, as a reaction to industrialization and to the large influx of immigrants. The abundance and availability of mass-produced, factory-made wares caused people to attach new importance to "hand-made" and sparked the hope that the old values they assigned to the country's "founding fathers" would re-emerge as they set themselves to making things by hand. Embroideries, baskets, rag rugs, furniture, iron work - all were symbolic of what they perceived as a simpler, purer time. In Deerfield, Massachusetts workers, most of them women, banded together to form The Deerfield Industries. They revived the making of many domestic articles common in the eighteenth century: woven rugs; embroidered panels, scarves, and bed curtains; baskets; and ironware.

Partially in response to their fear of a hybridization of the population, Deerfield residents were among others in the country that mounted historical pageants to memorialize events in their early history. Local photographers, Frances and Mary Allen, captured the pageants in carefully staged portraits. The Allen sisters also glorified colonial life with the pictures they took of neighbors and relatives posed in old-fashioned clothing cooking before an open fire or completing a household task with hand tools.

The Colonial Revival (an American phenomenon) and the Arts and Crafts Movement (an organized action felt in Europe as well as America) were direct responses to the age of industrialization felt across the land when materialism began to dominate everyday life. People experienced a fundamental transformation in the number, variety, complexity, and the use of artifacts that they increasingly came to rely on to do their work, to cope with the physical world, and to regulate their social relations.1



1Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America, Transformations in Everyday Life (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), passim.


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