HST296E: Reading Notes, 24-Feb-2005
McMurry, Sally. Families and
Farmhouses in the nineteenth Century: Vernacular Design and Social
Change. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1997.
"19th century agricultural journals represent a viable avenue to
analysis of rural society in the period." (p. vii) Reading becomes a
necessity of life . . . agriculture journals are a "flowering of this
emerging culture of print" (p. viii)
Farms changed: more intensive, diversified, dairy. People changed their
houses to reflect those changes.
We should not assume that specialization of work spaces necessarily
implies gender segregation (both men and women worked in barn/dairying
etc. (p. xiii)
Mechanization of farm work leads to marginalization of women's work
"What did progressive farmers' houses look like? Who were the people
who designed them? " What was going on inside them and how were they
rearranged for work, play, socializing? (p. 7)
"This book is the story of how one particular class of northern farm
families literally reshaped the domestic landscapes in which they lived
and worked as America underwent the transformation from an agrarian
society to an urban, industrial nation. . .Self-styled progressive farm
men and women aimed to reform American agriculture and rural life
through the introduction of capitalist method, technological
innovation, scientific experimentation, and the reorganization of
social and family life." (p. 3)
She uses agricultural journals, farm memoirs and autobiographies,
domestic economy texts, architectural pattern books, atlases, local
histories: a variety of sources that have home plans.
Farm homes, some designed by women, show a different viewpoint of the
home/work spheres: farmers: child space near kitchen, efficiency.
City/town: kitchen hidden away, child space prominent, home/work
"The rural planners' homes suggest that the mid-century ideal of
domesticity was not monolithic, that instead it took different forms in
different settings." (p. 6)
Industrialization, mechanization, increased division of male/female
labor: result: kitchens moved (women=household drudgery), farm hands
not in house, specialized child space
Abandoning the parlor in favor of a sitting/living room
social atomization: children have their own rooms: keep farm children
2) The Progressive
The planners were somewhat well-to-do men and women New Englanders, New
Yorkers, or Midwesterners who were transplanted New Englanders. The
successful settle down, stay, and leave a record of themselves. They
designed homes that implied they were considering the long term
occupation by family.They were farmers+, i.e.farming as main job but
other things on the side: store, surveying, sawmill, cabinet shop, and
obviously, given the book's source, people who wrote articles or sent
designs to magazines!
- Vermont farmer: Derby, Verback house, 1825, mixed
farming/lumbering economy, plank construction covered with brick
- New York farmer: Pike, Rider house, 1860, mixed
farming/beef/surveyor, balloon frame, Italianate with other mixed styles
- New York Country Merchant: Coventry, 1860, octagon house with
- Prairie pioneer: Illinois, Bryant, 1845, Gothic with porch
- Ohio Farmer and agriculture educator: Mechanicsburg, Wing, 1892,
model sheep and alfalfa farm, compact, built-ins, stucco
The Design Process
progressives: innovation, book-learning, experimentation, probably more
well-to-do than neighbors, use local vernacular but stand out, maybe
imitated by locals
women's input important
"Progressive farmhouse design were inspired by three principal sources:
common vernacular forms, original ideas, and pattern-book plans." (p.
A. J. Downing "America's leading writer on country houses" (p. 39)
praises farm houses as worthy of attention but tells farmers their odd
plans are not aesthetically or architecturally sound. Beauty is simple,
muted, incorporated into landscape
Lewis Allen draws on Downing but differs: he also castigates bad
design, trying to find balance between simple and effusive. places
health and convenience above beauty
3) The Shape of
Cooperation: The Farmstead as Workplace, 1830-1855
urban men: work for money, time-oriented, outside home
urban women: thrift, task-oriented, inside home
rural: communal changing to market competition, intensive farming,
businessman farmer, farm 'manufactory', Farmer Slack/Farmer Snug, women
contribute to family finds through kitchen garden, dairy, orchard.
"blurred territorial boundaries" men and women both plow, plant and
harvest, raise sheep, etc.
farm mother: raise future (good) farmers
urban mother; raise moral citizens
Centralizing farms: 1828: 'Nothing can be more preposterous, than to
continue the old system of having the farmhouses placed in villages
totally detached from the farm; a plan which originated, from the want
of domestic security in feudal times...' (p. 62)and build away from the
road:less time socializing, more time being productive
1830-1855: labor saving house designs, regularization/systemization,
efficient (Beecher) see Mathilda Howard's prime example 1843 (p. 68)
kitchen/work area, entrance w/faucet to dining area (workhands wash
without need to access kitchen), parlor in front: division of home
between family/laborers and public
time is money: labor saving devices
stoves make massive chimneys obsolete
Beecher; domesticity, orchards as refining and donating to poor: rural
women: orchards as source of income! nurseries far from kitchen
4) The Spheres
Diverge: Work on the Progressive Farmstead, 1855-1885
More work for mother: farm work is mechanized outside the home, home is
still manual labor. Urban culture promoting housewifery and motherhood
mean more time spent on housecleaning, cooking, child rearing in
addition to regular farm work.
Changes reflected in kitchens.
"The farmer did not necessarily curtail his work hours when the reaper
came, bu the amount he could produce in a day rose quickly." (p. 90)
and he didn;t need as many hands to help.
But, machines cost $$ so poorer farmers get progressively poorer as
bigger farmers mechanize
Cheese factories, butter factories, railroads to transport truck and
orchard products, pig and poultry growing, take income producing work
out of women's hands.
urban publications and female seminaries urge/teach different interests
for women than farm work, thus breeding desire for consumption
home plans show movement toward solitary woman in kitchen (no farm
hands, room for cooking, not eat-in) and differentiation between
cooking and scullery type work (Hart's designs, p. 103-4)
farm workers move to separate space - importance of privacy for family
life as hired hands are no longer neighbor's sons but immigrants.
Even husbands and sons are soon seen as invaders to the woman's
kitchen. Entrance to dining area not through kitchen.
Labor saving in kitchen no longer means time for more producing $$, now
it means save time for health. Moving it to front of house away from
farm yard to pleasant aspects, or to passersby to break monotony of
5) City Parlor,
Country Sitting Room
"over the course of the century, farm writers and designers rejected
the formal parlor, which they associated with urban customs and with
conspicuous consumption, for the informal family-centered sitting room.
The story of the rural sitting room illustrates how progressive
planners shaped their material culture to suit their own
circumstances." (p. 135)
Parlor located at front, often projecting, connects to hall but not to
back. Display room.
"Private family rituals held in the parlor reinforced ideas of family
solidarity, continuity, and patriarchy. The social aspect of the parlor
encompassed female hegemony, entertainment of friends, and the display
of feminine accomplishments." (p. 141)
Parlor is for entertaining. Poorer homes lack parlors because they are
not expected to entertain.
Parlor not a place for children. Parlor kept clean for unexpected
visitors (and so rest of house does not have to always be perfectly
urban: short calls
rural: long calls, overnights, guests often sleep in parlor bedroom:
rural hous eplans show bedroom opening from parlor.
Informality of rural visiting makes parlor seem stiff and cold.
Children: From Useful (country) to Useless (city) so family rooms
Parlor seen as waste of space and money. (p. 147)
Parlor represents city/consumption. Kitchen represents country/women
being productive. The fact that so many progressive writers are hung up
on that division reflects the division in America between idolizing
consumption vs. hard work.
So, throw open the parlor, turn it into a sitting room for the whole
family, but bring the family up to snuff in order to inhabit it. Aprons
off, kids hands clean, etc. Parlors integrated to rest of house through
folding doors or undoored openings. Some left out altogether.
"People with refined habits do not need to have rooms shut up for the
occasional visitor. They respect themselves so far as to suppose that
their guests will be pleased to see them amid their usual surroundings,
where the house atmosphere makes all parties at ease and interested in
each other." (p. 163)
By the 20th century, urban parlors are being seen as useless,
stilted, cluttered, and the rural model is hailed as the better.
"Cultural current flows in the opposite direction" especially as more
people move to the city from farms. (p. 169)
6) Supervision to
Self-Culture: Children's Spaces on the Progressive Farmstead
Antebellum: children near kitchen, in family bedroom, easy access
inculcate moral restraint vs. sudden conversion: constant attendance by
rural children not gender or age segregated
1870s-80s: kids given their own mini-farm business: a pig, a calf, a
garden patch, and keep the proceeds: there is more stuff to buy
Playrooms (where children can learn to be little responsible adults)
and girl's own rooms where they can keep their made and bought
treasures come in after CW. Boys' own room is later in century. Having
his own privacy will keep him in the family and on the farm.
1890s: Baby playpen (fenced area in corner of room) pushes other
furniture out of the way because baby is most important! Children get
more toys, need space for them: storage that they should learn to keep
Changing nature of "collecting":
antebellum, collect for learning, nature, biology: keep it in family
post-war: collect for self interest and personal expression, keep it in
your own room. (p. 199)
Darwinism: child development, also, late century: more school and more
activities (like "Those who stayed behind")
7) From Production
to Consumption: Progressive Farmhouse Design at the Turn of the Century
Turn of the century home: smaller specialized kitchen, connected rooms,
no parlor, bedrooms age/gender segregated, open off "social buffer"
Milled dimensional lumber or pre-made standardized building materials,
contractors, houses similar whether rural or town, professional
architects and designers, windows, doors, etc. mass produced. Land
grant system encourages reliance on experts who have spent time
"thinking about the details."
Helen Young, 1919, home economist comments on house plans; divides
house into living, working, and sleeping categories.
Back to HST296e