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

1) Introduction

"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 segregated.

"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 at home!

2) The Progressive Agriculturist's Vernacular
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!

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. 32)

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 housework

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 maintained).

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 reflect that..

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 mother

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 tidy.

Changing nature of "collecting":
antebellum, collect for learning, nature, biology: keep it in family room;
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" hallways.

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.

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, created/updated: 24-February-2005
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