HST296E: Reading Notes, 17-Feb-2005

Barron, Hal S. Those Who Stayed Behind; Rural Society in Nineteenth-century New England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

1) After the frontier: theory, historiography, and the social history of settled rural America

rural and city life developed differently in late 19th cent. One should not conflate the two. "Condition in settled rural communities stand in marked contrast to our prevailing perception of rapid growth in nineteenth-century American society as well as to our theoretical presuppositions about the relationships between economic and social change." (p. 15)

2) The storm before the calm: growth and conflict in a developing rural community

"For the first 50 years of its history, then, Chelsea grew rapidly and was dominated by social conflicts that manifested themselves in the arenas of religion and politics." (p. 25)

Early conflict: mixing different people; later conflict: social differences in economy.

1800s: aging population, smaller families, railroad bypasses, older sons leave, younger sons inherit farm and parents. Less population but number of farms remains steady (p. 29)

3) The different meanings of rural decline in nineteenth-century America

Agricultural periodicals in New England, for example, expressed relatively little anxiety about the nature of country life in the region as it lost population...instead...agricultural societies [were formed] to promote better farming practices and other economic improvements." (p. 31)

Out-migration was high, in-migration low. In-migration from close communities. Soil was not old and worn out, there were just not as many people there to work it.

"Agriculturists regarded population loss mainly as the result of an imbalance of economic opportunities between rural New England and the West, which they sought to redress through specific agricultural reform." (p. 36)

"Later, eugenicists such as Charles B. Davenport formalized this impression and viewed feeblemindedness and sexual immorality as the hereditarian hallmarks of declining and degenerating rural communities." (p. 39) The pioneers are the cream of the crop--what gets left behindis the dregs.

Country Life Movement: let's go fix the country scientifically
Rural Church Movement: the church is a good useful institution - don;t abandon it.
Schools: professionalize them, centralize them
Socialization: teach them the benefits of

Response to reformers? just say no

But wait: city and country need each other - we'll take your surplus population and your food!

3) Quitting the farm and closing the shop: the economy of a settled rural community

6) Their town: the emergence of consensus and homogeneity in a settled rural community

"Chelsea at the turn of the century was a remarkably homogeneous and like-minded community. . .[embodying] a settled rural respectability." (p. 112)

Late 19th: Protestant, Republican, temperate, social, little in-migration, stable population (so familiar thought patterns)

1830, 40s: Second Great Awakening (1833: West Hill Union Meeting House, auctioned pews)
1842: Congregational Church revival, large and mostly male artisans and tradesmen, but also single women. In wake of depression of late 1830s many of these would soon move on, but affinity with church (and letters of recommendation to new churches) brought feeling of stability and for businessmen, good business contacts. But, 1840s revival: no balls, dancing, circuses, theatres or liquor. Number of Congregationalists was still minority, but these practices were adopted by many in community.

"The most intriguing hypothesis argues that temperance and evangelical religion in general offered a substitute for the traditional social bonds that had been destroyed by the emergence of free wage labor and translocal economic relationships." (p. 117) most converts were tradesmen/professionals/merchants

Still, temperance was OK if voluntary but resisted in face of attempts to impose it

"Temperance reform began in Chelsea during the 1830s and 1840s as an individual strategy for coping with economic uncertainties, but during the course of the century it became a means for defining the local community with sobriety as the most visible social boundary." (p. 120)

Republican party: 1855, 75-85% of vote for rest of century. Idealogy was progressive, optimistic, identified with farmers and small entrepreneurs.

Civil War also acted to cement unity, while voluntary associations helped: Agricultural Society, temperance societies, veterans, Ladies Aid, Band, Baseball, Debating, drama, sewing. Churches became more like clubs, denominational lines blurred.

(He also sees the dwindling number of lawsuits as a sign that people got along better--but couldn;t it be that lawsuits no longer were felt to resolve issues and other means were tried...)

"Elsewhere, images of vicious gossip and enduring quarrels permeate literary depictions of settled rural life, albeit by authors who usually chose to leave town rather that those who stayed behind." (p. 130) Hey! The Gossips of Rivertown. He footnotes #44 - check it out.

Conclusion: Those who stayed behind

"two major configurations of values that emerged from the great social and economic transformations of the second half of the nineteenth century: laissez-faire individualism and the spirit of progressive reform." (p. 133)

Successful Chelseans combined competance in farming/business with stability in kinship ties--not profit-maximizing entrepreneurs.

Ironically, what they did paralleled what the Country Life Movement wanted them to do, but they did it not out of reforming zeal but out of building stability.

"Although society in Chelsea became more homogeneous and although life within the boundaries of community was rarely marred by social conflict, those boundaries eventually became rigid and anachronistic and excluded new people and outside ideas." (p. 136)

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, created/updated: 17-February-2005
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