September 25, 2016
History of American Technology & Culture--Spring 2013
Prof. McClurken's HIST 325
Post your comments/questions about our reading from Pursell, 169-188, 253-290.
I liked the section about the farmer’s wives demanding for new appliances and technologies such as a sink with plumbing attached to it. Some people are pointing out the fact that these sought after, household technologies were frivolous things, and that it is easy to do “the simple taks” that housewives were expected to do each day; but then the same standards should go for the male farmers. I completely agree with the argument Pursell shares, that if the male farmers can have new technologies, such as a riding mower instead of one you push, then why is it so ridiculous that women ask for a technology that could help them do something easier as well?
I also appreciated the magazine Pursell described, where it gave women a list of 60 ways they could convince their husbands to buy them new technologies for the kitchen. One of the first ones was to make your husband do your chores, and maybe then he would recognize how much work it really was.
Once again I find myself talking about farmers and their wariness about adopting new technologies. For the last few discussions it seems that our readings have discussed how technology can benefit farmers but they continue to find new excuses for not utilizing them. So, as Gibran pointed out, the fact that rural homes were less likely to have certain utilities is not all that surprising. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” seems to be the correct phrase to describe the situation. Farmers not only saw water lines and electrical appliances as suspicious but frivolous. Yet, in the end, technology eventually made its way into farming over a long transition from the 19th to the 20th century.
Of all the discussions of civil rights that I have done over the years, I have not heard much about the working lives of African American women. Most discussions were focused on just gender, rather than gender and race as one entity. African American women have been prejudiced against by the racist and sexist, but also belittled because they were always part of the lowest class socially. African American women became telephone operators because it was an easy job for them to obtain. Although there was a push to automate the calls, it provided women with jobs.
I really enjoyed the reading about farms and how the mechanization of agriculture changed farm life. I thought Pursell made a good point when noting how the modern working women try to share some domestic responsibilities withe their husbands but in that time, it was more admirable for women to manage the domestic sphere on their own. This interesting because women did also have farm responsibilities maybe not in the fields but they had obligations taking care of farm animals such as the newborn animals. I’m not really surprised through by this section because I feel that even though the modern machinery made their way out to the farms, it took longer for the new gender ideas to also become implemented in the farms.
The article on telephone operations and how african american women became involved was interesting. I am not surprised that african american women faced problems because of their race and gender. I am currently taking a history of race and education class and we often talk about how african american women had two x’s on their backs when trying to enroll in higher education and this article reminded me of that idea. I’m sure we are all disgusted by knowing how much racism and sexism was in the workplace but for african american women during this time period, this was their reality.
I found the article on the struggles of African-American women telephone operators interesting, but unsurprising. I am taking a class on the history of the 1920s and 30s, where we have frequently discussed the added struggles African-American women face because of their race and gender. I was more surprised by the section on farm women’s work. I had always thought of the farm as equally gender divided where men worked in the fields and women worked in the home, with both working in the barn. I had never considered the fact that the outside work on the farm (planting, reaping, etc.) had mechanized well before the inside. This left an extremely unfair gap in farm labor. Mechanization made the man’s job easier and would have made the woman’s job easier, but home labor saving devices were seen as not as important to life of the farm. This section also discussed that on some farms the women were considered drudges who had very little say in the running of the farm, while on other farms the women were equal partners. I found myself wondering if the mechanization and addition of labor saving devices to the women’s sphere came more quickly on the farms on which the women were considered equal partners?
The one thing that really struck me was how quickly skills of home production were considered “lost” or “obsolete” by the beginning of the 20th century. Pursell talks about how women no longer made butter at home the way they used to, and how during the milk strike in the 1910s, the butter women started making again was terrible. I’ve churned butter before doing the stand-by shaking-cream-in-a-jar, and first off, I didn’t think it was that hard to make good butter… I mean, it’s cream and physics. But then I started thinking about all of the skills that people used to be expected to do as part of daily life that we simply don’t have to do anymore, and how hard some of those can be to pick up, even when they’re pretty simple concepts. Canning preserves, for example, is just boiling some smashed fruit and sugar and lemon juice, but even with modern stoves and pretty precise temperature control, it’s a really tricky process to get it thick enough to be jam but not so thick as to be a complete solid. Without that modern technology, and with one generation not doing it regularly, I could easily see how something so “simple” got lost so quickly
The essay on African American women and their double glass ceiling in the telephone industry was unfortunately not surprising. The essay on the farm women’s work, on the other hand, was more intriguing only because I did not realize how complicated incorporating technology on farms would be on a grander scale such as dividing up the farm even more between women’s-only and men’s-only work. I had always thought that for most part (except for heavy lifting) that farms tended to be more equalized, and they were until the new technologies such as creameries and washing machines were introduced. However, as we have learned in class, not technological progress is not all inherently good, so although women did not have to do all of the cream-making processes with creameries around, it also pushed them away from outdoor work and into solely indoor work, which reinforced the idea of the domestic sphere.
Also, as a young girl at summer camp, I remember making a small jar of butter by filling it with heavy cream and shaking it up and down until it solidified together. I remember (as a girl) being very capable of it just as the women in the essay were very capable at making cheese until the process was industrialized and some of the men thought women had forgotten the process since they were not doing it everyday anymore.
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