Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see how things have changed in the last 100 years. When our grandparents or great-grandparents were our age, they did things a lot differently than we do today. Inventions in areas such as transportation and communications have made things easier. While this blog post is a little different from my normal post, in some ways it’s not. Often when I am out shooting pictures of old homesteads or ghost towns, I am thinking of what life was like for the people who lived in those places. I know that I get so busy in the day-to-day business of living that it’s easy to forget how only 110 years ago the first Model T rolled off the production line. When I started to think about this the other day, it blew my mind that things have changed so much. It also makes me wonder what the next big invention will cause a huge shift in our lifestyles. In my lifetime so far things have changed so much that my childhood memories seem unreal. How did we get so far so quickly and where are we going?
So what has changed?
1. Where we live
In 1918, 54% of the population lived on farms. Now less than 20% live in rural America. As the way we live changes so does where we live I guess. For one thing, we no longer have to raise our own food for survival.
Through my research, I found out that there are huge amounts of normal people’s diaries now digitized for us to catch a glimpse into their everyday lives and to see history through their eyes! I found this great one that shows what it was like for this farm wife around 1900. It really shows how much things have changed, though for some in rural America it may not have changed that much.
Farm Wife, 1900 When America entered the twentieth century, almost half of its population lived on a farm (compared with approximately one percent in the year 2000). It was a hard life. There was little industrialization to help with the chores and no electricity to illuminate the darkness. The majority of farms were family-run, providing subsistence and hopefully an income through the sale of any surplus.“I am not a practical woman.”
The following description of farm life was written at the turn of the twentieth century by an anonymous woman who had secret aspirations to be a writer. At the time she wrote this she was in her early 30s and had been married about 14 years. She and her husband, whom she describes as “innocent of book-learning,” have two children. In addition to providing insight into life on a farm, she reveals a much different attitude towards the marital role of women than we have today:
“I have been a farmer’s wife in one of the States of the Middle West for thirteen years, and everybody knows that the farmer’s wife must of a necessity be a very practical woman, if she would be a successful one.
I am not a practical woman and consequently have been accounted a failure by practical friends and especially by my husband, who is wholly practical.
We are told that the mating of people of opposite natures promotes intellectuality in the offspring; but I think that happy homes are of more consequence than extreme precocity of children. However, I believe that people who are thinking of mating do not even consider whether it is to be the one or the other.
We do know that when people of opposite tastes get married there’s a discordant note runs through their entire married life. It’s only a question of which one has the stronger will in determining which tastes shall predominate.
In our case my husband has the stronger will; he is innocent of book learning, is a natural hustler who believes that the only way to make an honest living lies in digging it out of the ground, so to speak, and being a farmer, he finds plenty of digging to do; he has an inherited tendency to be miserly, loves money for its own sake rather than for its purchasing power, and when he has it in his possession he is loath to part with it, even for the most necessary articles, and prefers to eschew hired help in every possible instance that what he does make may be his very own.
No man can run a farm without some one to help him, and in this case I have always been called upon and expected to help do anything that a man would be expected to do; I began this when we were first married, when there were few household duties and no reasonable excuse for refusing to help.
I was reared on a farm, was healthy and strong, was ambitious, and the work was not disagreeable, and having no children for the first six years of married life, the habit of going whenever asked to became firmly fixed, and he had no thought of hiring a man to help him, since I could do anything for which he needed help.
. . . I was an apt student at school and before I was eighteen I had earned a teacher’s certificate of the second grade and would gladly have remained in school a few more years, but I had, unwittingly, agreed to marry the man who is now my husband, and though I begged to be released, his will was so much stronger that I was unable to free myself without wounding a loving heart, and could not find it in my nature to do so.
. . . Later, when I was married, I borrowed everything I could find in the line of novels and stories, and read them by stealth still, for my husband thought it a willful waste of time to read anything and that it showed a lack of love for him if I would rather read than to talk to him when I had a few moments of leisure, and, in order to avoid giving offense and still gratify my desire, I would only read when he was not at the house, thereby greatly curtailing my already too limited reading hours.
. . . It is only during the last three years that I have had the news to read, for my husband is so very penurious that he would never consent to subscribing for papers of any kind and that old habit of avoiding that which would give offense was so fixed that I did not dare to break it.
. . . This is a vague, general idea of how I spend my time; my work is so varied that it would be difficult, indeed, to describe a typical day’s work.
Any bright morning in the latter part of May I am out of bed at four o’clock; next, after I have dressed and combed my hair, I start a fire in the kitchen stove, and while the stove is getting hot I go to my flower garden and gather a choice, half-blown rose and a spray of bride’s wreath, and arrange them in my hair, and sweep the floors and then cook breakfast.
While the other members of the family are eating breakfast I strain away the morning’s milk (for my husband milks the cows while I get breakfast), and fill my husband’s dinner pail, for he will go to work on our other farm for the day.
By this time it is half-past five o’clock, my husband is gone to his work, and the stock loudly pleading to be turned into the pastures. The younger cattle, a half-dozen steers, are left in the pasture at night, and I now drive the two cows, a half-quarter mile and turn them in with the others, come back, and then there’s a horse in the barn that belongs in a field where there is no water, which I take to a spring quite a distance from the barn; bring it back and turn it into a field with the sheep, a dozen in number, which are housed at night.
The young calves are then turned out into the warm sunshine, and the stock hogs, which are kept in a pen, are clamoring for feed, and I carry a pailful of swill to them, and hasten to the house and turn out the chickens and put out feed and water for them, and it is, perhaps, 6.30 A..M.
I have not eaten breakfast yet, but that can wait; I make the beds next and straighten things up in the living room, for I dislike to have the early morning caller find my house topsy-turvy. When this is done I go to the kitchen, which also serves as a dining-room, and uncover the table, and take a mouthful of food occasionally as I pass to and fro at my work until my appetite is appeased.
By the time the work is done in the kitchen it is about 7.15 A. M., and the cool morning hours have flown, and no hoeing done in the garden yet, and the children’s toilet has to be attended to and churning has to be done.
Finally the children are washed and churning done, and it is eight o’clock, and the sun getting hot, but no matter, weeds die quickly when cut down in the heat of the day, and I use the hoe to a good advantage until the dinner hour, which is 11.30 A. M. We come in, and I comb my hair, and put fresh flowers in it, and eat a cold dinner, put out feed and water for the chickens; set a hen, perhaps, sweep the floors again; sit down and rest, and read a few moments, and it is nearly one 0′ clock, and I sweep the door yard while I am waiting for the clock to strike the hour.
I make and sow a flower bed, dig around some shrubbery, and go back to the garden to hoe until time to do the chores at night, but ere long some hogs come up to the back gate, through the wheat field, and when I go to see what is wrong I find that the cows have torn the fence down, and they, too, are in the wheat field.
With much difficulty I get them back into their own domain and repair the fence. I hoe in the garden till four o’clock; then I go into the house and get supper, and prepare something for the dinner pail to-morrow; when supper is all ready it is set aside, and I pull a few hundred plants of tomato, sweet potato or cabbage for transplanting, set them in a cool, moist place where they will not wilt, and I then go after the horse, water him, and put him in the barn; call the sheep and house them, and go after the cows and milk them, feed the hogs, put down hay for three horses, and put oats and corn in their troughs, and set those plants and come in and fasten up the chickens, and it is dark. By this time it is 8 o’clock P. M.; my husband has come home, and we are eating supper; when we are through eating I make the beds ready, and the children and their father go to bed, and I wash the dishes and get things in shape to get breakfast quickly next morning.
It is now about 9 o’clock P. M., and after a short prayer I retire for the night.”
This eyewitness account appears in: Holt, Hamilton, The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves (1906).
“Farm Wife, 1900” EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2007)
I know that was long but it’s a real eye-opener. How would you like to live like that?
2. How we communicate
When I think back to my childhood in the 1970’s, I laugh about how we only had 4 tv channels and I was the remote. Sometimes I was even an extended antenna if the rabbit ears needed to be adjusted and the picture was better when I touched it. We even had a “party line” for a short while when I was young. Several houses were on one line basically, so you had to check if anyone was on the phone when you picked it up to use it. LOL, see what I mean about my childhood memories seeming unreal? What about the early 1900’s though? To begin with, the electronic television wasn’t invented until 1927 by Philo T. Farnsworth, an Idaho farm boy, who got the idea while plowing a field of potatoes. As for telephones, only 30% of households had them. Now we have handheld computers that are more powerful than a room full of old-school IBM computers that were as big as refrigerators. Oh ya, they can also make phone calls. By the way, refrigerators for home use were invented in 1913. Cellphones and the internet have vastly changed our everyday lives.
After a century of creating infrastructure and wiring up homes, it looks like the trend is to get rid of the wired home phone and just use cell phones. Now only around 50% of households still have phone lines wired in. I would guess that a lot of those are for internet access. I wish that we could get internet with the telephone line, but the equipment in our rural subdivision won’t support it still. We get internet access through a radio transmitter pointed to an access point on the mountain near town.
3. How we shop
It is really interesting to me that we seem to be going back to the way things were as we change. Granted, we improve the process along the way. In 1918 you would travel to and go to a store to buy something. They had to actually get dressed and get off the couch. How barbaric, except in 1903 the US Postal Service started rural delivery and made shopping from home easier. They didn’t have Amazon Prime though. They had the Sears or maybe Montgomery Ward catalog to look through and then send in an order and wait for who knows how long to get the product. I love looking through replicas of those catalogs. Now we are ordering more and more online and the brick and mortar stores are closing left and right.
Hey, if you like my blog and are going to buy something using Amazon, please click my affiliate link here to help me out. You could even drag it up to your bookmark bar and use it as your Amazon link if you are really cool. ;).
4. How we get somewhere
This is another invention that made things change in the lives of our ancestors. It was not that long ago that our grandparents or great-grandparents were riding around in horse-drawn wagons. Think about it for a second. From maybe 3000 B.C. until the 1800’s people used horses and carts as transportation.
Then along comes the steam locomotive and BAM things changed quickly from there. Whole towns were sometimes moved miles to be near the new railroads because of the benefits that came along with them. Suddenly they could move people and products much more quickly.
Then just over a hundred years ago, the automobile was invented and that “accelerated” progress even more.
I wonder what the inventors of the early cars would think about the ones we have now.
5. The make-up of our families
Historically, families had to work together to survive and they typically had more kids back then. The average family was 5 people and now is between 2 and 3. The divorce rate has climbed from 10% then to around 40 – 50% now. I’m not a social scientist, but I think that they had to work so hard for survival that they stuck together better than we do. They also lived in smaller houses that were much less comfortable and insulated as ours. We work hard for survival now too, but we define it differently than they did. Recently our home water well pump broke and my family was without running water for the weekend. It was horrible. I can’t imagine living my whole life without electricity and water. We do what we have to, but I hope I don’t have to do that.
6. How long we live
In 1918 people had rough living and working conditions. Throw into that mix that there was World War I going on and a huge flu epidemic without the medical knowledge that we have now. These factors all contributed to a life expectancy of 36 yrs. for men and 42 yrs. for women. We are still not without disease and wars, but today the life expectancy in the United States is better, at 79 yrs. for men and 81 yrs. for women.
7. How we take pictures
The last couple of points were pretty heavy, so let’s end with a look at how photographers worked their magic back then. This is a photography blog. It was a lot harder also. There were 35mm film cameras at that point but they didn’t have SLR (Single lens reflex) or TLR (Twin lens reflex) cameras yet. It would have been a much more scientific approach of measuring the focal distance and using a chart to set the aperture and shutter speed. I imagine it would have been much harder to learn photography back then. Their cameras looked all complex and scientific like the tools the optometrists use to check our eyes now. With today’s modern mirrorless cameras, like my awesome Sony A7RII , we can make adjustments and see the results while looking through the viewfinder. I would feel a little unworthy if one of those photographers traveled through time and came to see me. I did learn with a film camera, but I am definitely spoiled by digital.
In the title of this post (Way up there), I hinted that I would tell you what’s next. I am hoping that a lot of you will comment and let me know what you think is next. If I had to guess, I would say that artificial intelligence will have a big impact on our lives and photography. Self-driving cars seem to be a little uncertain at this point. Maybe there will be real hoverboards and flying cars. I really like to look back at the past and to photograph whats left over from it, but this is a really exciting time to live.