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How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900-1940

2020
Author:

Thomas C. Hubka

How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900-1940

The transformation of average Americans’ domestic lives, revealed through the mechanical innovations and physical improvements of their homes


This book analyzes a period when millions of average Americans saw accelerated improvement in their housing and domestic conditions. It is a detailed narrative that traces changes in household hygiene, sociability, and privacy practices that launched large portions of the working classes into the middle class, reconfiguring and enriching the standard account of the domestic transformation of the American home.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the average American family still lived by kerosene light, ate in the kitchen, and used an outhouse. By 1940, electric lights, dining rooms, and bathrooms were the norm as the traditional working-class home was fast becoming modern—a fact largely missing from the story of domestic innovation and improvement in twentieth-century America, where such benefits seem to count primarily among the upper classes and the post–World War II denizens of suburbia. Examining the physical evidence of America’s working-class houses, Thomas C. Hubka revises our understanding of how widespread domestic improvement transformed the lives of Americans in the modern era. His work, focused on the broad central portion of the housing population, recalibrates longstanding ideas about the nature and development of the “middle class” and its new measure of improvement, “standards of living.”

 

In How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900–1940, Hubka analyzes a period when millions of average Americans saw accelerated improvement in their housing and domestic conditions. These improvements were intertwined with the acquisition of entirely new mechanical conveniences, new types of rooms and patterns of domestic life, and such innovations—from public utilities and kitchen appliances to remodeled and multi-unit housing—are at the center of the story Hubka tells. It is a narrative, amply illustrated and finely detailed, that traces changes in household hygiene, sociability, and privacy practices that launched large portions of the working classes into the middle class—and that, in Hubka’s telling, reconfigures and enriches the standard account of the domestic transformation of the American home.

How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900-1940

Thomas C. Hubka is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and author of Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England; Resplendent Synagogue: Architecture and Worship in an Eighteenth-Century Polish Community; and Houses without Names: Architectural Nomenclature and the Classification of America’s Common Houses.


How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900-1940

Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments


Introduction: Housing and Domestic Reform from a Middle-Majority Perspective


1. Headwinds to Researching Common Houses: Eleven Prevailing Themes


2. Two Worlds Apart: Domestic Conditions at the Turn of the Twentieth Century


3. Modern Houses for a New Middle Class: New Standards of Living


4. The Dwellings of Modern Domestic Reform: Cottages, Duplexes, Multi-Units, and Remodeled Houses


5. Domestic Life Transformed: How the Working Class Became Middle-Class in Housing


Epilogue: Response to Working-Class Improvement


Notes


Index