The frontier was more subsidized than the inner cities of America

I’m gonna go ahead and assert this one, and post potential proofs at some later date, maybe even next week (not likely though). In any case, I think this is a set of numbers worth crunching, even if it takes me years to get around to it and I turn out to be wrong (I’m not lol).

The Rousseau-born idea of the frontier and the idea of living a scaled-down, rustic life beating the earth for its energy is one that requires vast amounts of cash from city folk to allow a much smaller group of people to “live off the land”.

There is a belief among the more technocratic and “human biodiversity (but only on test scores, and only sometimes)” type dissident right wing folk that endless rivers of cash have been poured onto black America (specifically and most widely claimed among these sorts, inner city black America) and that this was bad and didn’t make them uplifted or whatever anyway.

Given that nearly all of the money went to and continues to go to white Americans, I find their chain of logic more than a little confused and incoherent. But the debate about amount is one that might be settle-able in some manner.

The numbers needed, to start with, are the ones around President Johnson’s War on Poverty, plus the ones around the multiple land-grant acts of Congress over the 18th and 19th centuries. Then you have to bring in spending related to the frontier areas (and start with the midwest and work your way out west to California and the Pacific Northwest and Alaska). That can get involved, but the detangling is ever so worth it, if it can be done (ideally by someone with a lot more free time than I have).

The only point I’m fuzzy on is just how big the gap is. It might be small, or it might be comically large. By all means, I am eager for someone, anyone to crunch the numbers all up and issue a report.

Urban dads in the 1950s did a surprising amount of childcare. (from Phase 1 of the Princeton Longitudinal Fertility Study)

It looks as though the dad pitching in with the kids and housework is not quite as recent as people, particularly on the right, often claim.  While GI fathers show decent evidence of being hands-off, it appears things had changed for the fathers who came along a decade or so later.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of excited demographers studying the lower age of marriage and relatively higher fertility, and thrilled at the idea that a new pattern of family growth even in urban areas via natural increase might be the new normal.

One of those studies was done in two parts in 1957 and 1961 and it involved over 1100 white collar and blue collar couples in the eight largest major metropolitan areas at the time. It involved white couples who’d had their second child in 1956.  They further narrowed the group with technical requirements beyond the scope of this post, but the upshot was that they got some interesting data that Catholics, Jews and Protestants alike all wanted 2-4 children (90% across the board) and less than 10% wanted 5+.

Another interesting detail of this study is the post title.  Many of the mothers were still housewives, but fully 2/3 of them could count on their husbands to take care of the children as a norm.  Fully 1/3 of these urban women mostly living in apartments could also count on someone who wasn’t their husband (and by definition for the study NOT one of their own children, since they were tiny babies) to help them around the house as a norm.

If one includes “sometimes”, 85% of the 1100+ wives could expect some recurring level of help with the kids from their husbands.  And excluding “sometimes”, it was 60% of those wives.  So by 1957, the husband was already viewed as a major source of help by urban wives.

They did a follow-up study covering whether a third (or higher) child had been born, and I haven’t gotten far into that one yet.  But I found the detail about help that the wife felt she could count on reliably very relevant to 60(!) years later.

Source: Family Growth in Metropolitan America, 1961, Princeton University Press.

The Little House on the Prairie and its autonomous mamas.

This is kind of an overview of the Little House On the Prairie books, hereafter LHOTP, as is common when discussing them online.  I recently read the original eight book series and it was truly astonishing how much autonomy and independence Laura’s mother and Almanzo’s mother had.

There is a fascinating phenomenon in which this cultural bedrock of Americana is being transmitted solely through (mostly Frontier-American) women and Frontier-American men are basically ignorant of a major piece of where their women’s beliefs about home and family are coming from.

So Ma and Mother are these women who have a huge span of responsibility and authority, along with far above average native talent and skills in the homemaking arts of their eras, but this has not become codified as any sort of serious norm for housewives/SAHMs.  Caroline Ingalls was a truly astonishing cook, with a high level of natural understanding of chemistry and plants to be able to cook on an unreliable stove with inconsistent heat and a nearly random selection of ingredients sprung on her at any point in time.  She was also a truly above average hand sewer.  Mrs. Wilder was a weaver and a food processor extraordinaire, whose skill with cloth and butter making accounted for much of that family’s cash income and nearly all their clothing and linens.

And Mrs. Wilder’s workspace is arranged and designed to suit her, so she can be the most highly productive she can be for her family.  Almanzo’s child’s eyes view of her weaving room is very insightful, you see a little boy who expects a grown woman to have her own separate space that Father doesn’t have any input into, beyond making it to her specifications.  You see a little of this in how Almanzo sets up the house for Laura when they marry.  He assumes it’s important for her to have things set up so she can be as effective/efficient as possible.

This was actually an interesting subtheme in a lot of early 20th century writing, because men were still building a lot of the houses directly and the whole notion that you needed to make the wife-offices, so to speak, tailored to your own wife’s skills was one that crops up in a lot of the women’s writing of those early decades.  Like, you were supposed to get a spec list out of her and then make it happen.

It’s interesting that the Frontier-American subcultures who are most into LHOTP as a world and worldview tend to not allow the wives and daughters and sisters the sort of free hand that was clearly not at all outside the norms of the era (late 19th century).  There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is the desire to believe there is no skill in domestic arts precisely because of the increasing arrival of mechanization and automation.

A lot of other things about LHOTP struck me as I was reading, but this one, that the two main mamas were badasterisk but also very lightly headed by (some) modern standards despite not at all being psychically of one accord with their husband’s desires and wishes was one of the bigger ones.

 

Why widows came to be treated poorly, or, single mommas have always been around.

The modern hyperfocus by some Christian-identifying conservatives on how *widows* should be treated better because they’re not at all like those wicked, awful, hypergamous single mommas is basically the result of broken tradition-passing and a complete inability to understand that the “grass widow” has been with humanity for a very long time.  Women sometimes claimed to be widows when they were not but as the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus shows, there were plenty who didn’t even use that fig leaf.  The text does not definitively indicate she was widowed five times.

The Bible repeatedly refers to the fatherless, and also widows, but it would not have had the precision understanding it has when it’s used to justify giving nothing but rude words and a closed church door to single mothers and divorced mothers.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims are specifically told not to sexually regulate and speculate on just how the “widow” came to have “fatherless” children.

The fruits of patriarchal regulation are specifically commanded to be shared with the naughty.

I think the strain of disgust and revulsion these types have for single mothers and divorced mothers having any kind of support for their children comes from the individualism that conservatives are so prone to. Since they don’t understand or want to be part of real patriarchal social structures, they can only think about support in the narrow, literal terms of marrying such a woman or paying child support to her.  There is so much more than that in caring for others in your neighborhood and church though, and none of it involves “man up and marry those scandalous dames” at all, not even a lil’ bit.

It’s worth noting none of these guys are beating the bushes to go provide support to those saintly, superior literal widows and orphans, of which there are still plenty around and about.  No, it’s all talk and justification for not doing anything for women you can’t have sex with or don’t want to have sex with.  And as for the women lining up to concur that only the right kind of individual woman is entitled to help with her children, that was a driver of fun stuff like socialism, other women not wanting to deal with the wrong kind of woman.

Single motherhood does have a sort of status in wider society in that single (and to a lesser extent divorced) mothers are more willing to bully or beg people (nearly always other women, which makes the panic over some stray man having to do anything for them even more sadly funny) into helping them with child care so they can work.  And people will give them verbal encouragement.  This is real, I won’t downplay its existence.

But it’s hardly some carefree, easy path.  And contrary to popular belief, a lot of explicit law and social norms work to sharply limit the number of children such women do have.

And related to this, raising children has historically not been so totally expected to be the work of individual parents to individual children at all.  It was much more collective.  Jane Austen’s mother bore seven children, and every last one of them was shipped off to be raised by *gasp* another man and his wife! when they were infants and then brought back to their parents when they were around toddling age.  That particular kind of foster care is but one of the many traditions among Western societies in which raising other people’s children was just part of the social fabric.  Apprenticeships for both boys and girls at ages seven or eight were also one such tradition.  And many of those kids, particularly the boys were quite utterly raised by a man who wasn’t their dad.

Weirdly, all this is mysteriously ignored by people who freak out about a child having strongly masculine, healthy and Godly men in their lives if mom was improvident about how the kid got into the world.  Christ’s love isn’t zero-sum.  You can love the grass widow and the not-grass widow and their children.  This very issue is, incidentally why we have so many of those awful government programs and nonprofits for supporting single mothers’ children.  It was the increasing unwillingness to share with the naughty and take on the burdens.  Some frontier woman turning up at her city sister’s doorstep with five kids might well be a widow, but it was just as likely she “married the wrong man” (as Betty MacDonald put it in a sequel to The Egg and I) and just left and wanted to come home to family.  And fewer and fewer families wanted to deal.

Never-married motherhood is terrible for kids, and the harshness of taking away the children of those women to be raised in other families was an attempt to compensate for that.

Notes on Letters from a Woman Homesteader

Letters from a Woman Homesteader is yet another bit of old writing that doesn’t quite match up to the myths around frontier and pioneer folks.

It’s some letters a homesteading woman from over 100 years ago wrote to a former employer she’d maintained cordial relations with.  She’d worked for the employer as a laundress.  What is fascinating about the letters is that yet again, she didn’t do all the work alone, but routinely had other women helping her, or she traveled to help them.  It is clearly normalized in these letters for the women to go around to each other and spend days or weeks assisting with, well, homesteading for each other, along with the demands of hospitality.  When parties and social events are undertaken, it’s just assumed that everyone (including men) will pitch in to help the individual household tasked with hosting duties.  There is, despite the fact that they all live ten and twenty and thirty miles away from each other, not actually that much rugged individualism.

Also, this woman’s body broke down having lots of babies (six, more or less, according to other information about her life elsewhere on the internet) and working hard.  The letters Mrs. Stewart writes detail multiple instances of being unwell and struggling physically due to pregnancies (and infant deaths/miscarriages) and the work of homesteading. Her marriage was a mail-order marriage, but it lasted and as noted above produced quite a few surviving little bundles of joy out of it.

Mrs. Stewart promotes homesteading aggressively, feeling strongly that however hard that labor is, it still beats being a laundress in an urban metro area in the early 20th century.  She really felt that women should get out there and grab a piece of land for themselves, with or without a husband.  That sort of feminine self-determination is American to the core, being in regular currency prior to the 19th amendment.  American women waving a flag of securing financial independence through earning income rather than marriage is older and as traditionally American as apple pie.

It’s a short read, plus she’s a capable and engaging writer.  There’s a reason her employer sent the letters to be published in a magazine.

The fundamentalist 1970s back to the land movement was funded with food stamps and welfare

This was also true of the more left-wing hippies.  There was an interesting confluence during this time of far left and far right starting “self-sufficiency” communal living experiments with the help of welfare.  I didn’t read a book for this one, although you can find little allusions in memoirs about some of this, and the very occasional one-off reference.  Mostly you can find out what happened by looking up the history of the food stamp/SNAP/WIC nutrition support programs on wikipedia.  During the 1970s, some changes were made to what was then still called “food stamps” to permit seeds, gardening equipment and some other tools to be purchased with the stamps instead of money.  A fascinating side effect was that a number of fundamentalist groups/cults/etc. decided to leave the cities and go try to live out in the country off the land.

What I find really interesting about this is that the right wing appears to have no history for this.  The entire Crunchy Con, fundie-hippie, prepper/survivalist, homesteading subset of conservatives finds its Ur-model in the Back to the Land movement.  And this movement that was all about surviving off the grid self-sufficiently away from The (Liberal) Man was jumpstarted by food stamps and cash welfare.  Yet as far as I can tell, it might as well be knowledge hidden under a rock to the modern conservative equivalents.

Reasonable community standards are functional community standards

Pre-60s housewives were generally NOT expected to cough up fresh bread daily, or gourmet meals three times a day.  They were also not expected to keep a very large home spotless whilst mincing about in heels and pearls.  The community standards for what a housewife was supposed to do were actually pretty minimal and attainable for even relatively brokedown women.

A simple (truly simple) dish of meat/eggs/fish, a starch and one or two spices was considered completely decent and good enough.  Needless to say, this is no longer true, particularly among conservative SAHMs, who tend to be most driven towards expectation inflation in the matters of domesticity for various reasons I’ve either already covered or will the next time I read through old posts to note allusions I haven’t written up yet.

One of the reasons Mormons are still functionally conservative in many respects is that they remember that you can’t keep up appearances if the appearances are very complex and detailed.  People sometimes make cracks about how Mom wouldn’t let them mess up the ‘parlor for company’, but this dramatically slashed the ongoing cleaning burden and made for an attainable cross-class and cross-income and cross-racial set of housewiving standards that average to slightly dim women could manage with a little elbow grease.

Conservatives, if they want normal life restored, have to remember that broad-based community standards must consider all God’s children and be minimal without being token.  It can be a fine line to navigate, but we have so much tradition from so many of the cultures that infuse American identity to draw upon in shaping those simple, reachable goals.

But it can be hard when Walter Mitty syndrome is rampant.

Fraud Alert, John Taylor Gatto edition

If you’re going to set up alternative sources of authority, you need to vet them for fraudulence.  John Taylor Gatto is demonstrably set up as a homeschooling authority figure and even when his name isn’t directly mentioned, the boilerplate about the “Prussian system” and “everyone was college-level literate before the evils of public school” shows up in plenty of conservative advocacy of homeschooling. But Gatto’s claims are not vetted, and when they are questioned, the response is that *footnotes are a tool of the man to keep you from going on a heart journey*.  An example of not vetting Gatto is the claims he makes about literacy being higher before compulsory public education by comparing WWI literacy *data* with literacy *reports* from before WWI.  Subjective reports that ranged from being able to compose a complex essay to being able to sign one’s name are not really a useful way to assess historical literacy or compare it to hard data after the World Wars, yet that very digging into the primary sources and trying to get at the heart of things is ostentatiously absent when it comes to Gatto among homeschool advocates. This is part of a larger problem with modern people conservative and liberal alike running screaming from explicit authority, but then becoming ensnared by the allure of false authorities.

Panglossian Chauvinism undermines normal living in America

Panglossian Chauvinism is how Americans continue to prop up and support disorder and abnormal beliefs as normal.  It’s also how conservatives unwittingly prevent any among them from developing robust and successful alternatives to the liberal status quo.

“Everything will work out in this, the best of all possible nations.”

This is why the right wing thinks voting will be useful under the current systems in place.  This is why we don’t have better alternatives to the current energy grid, or the current farming infrastructure.  It’s also why conservatives are not at the vanguard of making it less crummy to have children and grandchildren (and thereby great-grandchildren, etc.) even though they are among the few subcultures still bothering to bring said glorious blessings into the world at all.

Panglossian Chauvinism has people boasting in their frugality as they rely on astonishing advancements in container shipping and materials science but fancy themselves independent and self-sufficient.  The world of canning is but one example.

Panglossian Chauvinism also makes it impossible for Americans to understand how things work in other parts of the world.  It isn’t all crummy over in Western Europe, Canada and Australia/New Zealand.  But it’s not some technotopia of socialist love neither.  Panglossian Chauvinism is an American flaw, but I plan to come back to the specific manifestations of it among conservative-Americans.  Another day though.

Nuclear family plus servants doesn’t equal nuclear family plus appliances

Below is a tantalizing excerpt of an essay by Peter Laslett (link is paywalled), who researched the structure of the Western European (particularly English) family for decades.  He’s one of the reasons I talk about the domestic help aspect of family formation, even as righties of all types ignore that when declaiming about how the nuclear family is a staple of certain kinds of white people.  I’d put Laslett’s more exhaustive work on the back burner, but I have moved it up in the old queue. Below I’ve reposted the excerpt with the important bit at the end highlighted.

Characteristics of the Western European Family

Peter Laslett

By ‘family structure’ many things may be intended. I shall take it here in two senses. First, in the sense of composition of the co-resident domestic group, as the historical sociologists call it. This means the knot of persons who live together, man, wife and sometimes, but by no means always, their children, their relatives, if any, along with their servants, now excessively rare. Such is the family which the wage-earner leaves when he catches his bus in the morning to go to work, and which he returns to in the evening. It is also the assemblage of possessions which the bachelor girl or the solitary widower or divorcee calls a home, along with himself or herself. A modest array of this kind is the constitution of the family for very large numbers of Western Europeans in the 1980s. The family in the second sense is the extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and so on who are recognised, and sometimes associated with, but do not live together in the same place.

I am concerned here with family in both these senses, historically, over time. This is not only because of the interest people have in their family history: but also because it has now been shown that unless we have some knowledge of the history of the family, the family of today, of our own personal experience, can be profoundly misunderstood. For the fact is that in the matter of the family we have suffered, and still suffer, from a series of persistent, deceptive, obfuscating misbeliefs which can only be shown up and corrected by a knowledge of the past.

This self-deception about the history of the family has particularly affected Western Europeans. Frenchmen, Germans or Englishmen, unless they have come across the work of recent historical sociologists, are likely to believe the following. That the co-resident familial group in the past, at least up to the point of industrialisation, was large and complicated, with several generations living together. Furthermore, that this comfortable, kin-enfolding, welfare-providing family group not only nurtured the young, but took in their spouses when they married, and also provided them with shelter and succour when they became old or suffered other misfortunes. That the family in the sense of extended kin was a further source of welfare. It seems to be supposed that before the days of the Welfare State it was the family and kin which rescued social casualties. Now all this has turned out to be untrue.

Untrue, that is to say, in a literal sense and for the particular part of Western Europe which first became industrialised and which has given what might be called industrial culture to the rest of the world. By this North-West Europe, especially the British Isles, Northern France, the Low Countries and Scandinavia, is meant. In this cultural region family groups had been simple in composition and quite modest in size for many centuries before industrialisation. Married children only seldom lived with their parents, and two couples in one family household were quite unusual. It is true that the family group has become much smaller in the 20th century, servants have disappeared, and solitary living has grown enormously in our own day: but this did not happen during the process of industrialisation as ‘traditional society’ gave way to ‘modern society’ and cannot be called a transition to the ‘nuclear family’. The ‘nuclear family’ was there already.

The kin composition of the English family group was much as it is today in the 16th century, and had been so since the 1300s, the 1200s or even earlier, but with one very important structural difference. Servants lived in large numbers of families, and the presence of servants made the family groups of the rich large, and the family groups of the poor correspondingly small. In this area of the West, moreover, welfare never flowed along lines of kinship. The casualties of the system, the widows, the orphans, the poverty-stricken, were supported by the collectivity rather than the family.

The implications, needless to say, are pretty major. I originally heard about this from someone with a subscription to the periodical, whose interest was in Laslett’s discussions of high servant turnover, and that the lifelong servant was less common than it appears in literary portrayals.  This is kindasorta true.  Laslett’s work is more nuanced, in point of fact.

Relatedly, due to labor shortage and some other historical quirks, the longtime or lifelong servant did exist in various forms in America and Canada all the way into the first half of the 20th century.  Likewise, the nuclear family in its frontier-isolated and later suburban form could not exist without the Industrial Revolution’s massive infusions of radical new technology and mass production.  So on the one hand, “the nuclear family has always been part of Western Europe”, but on the other hand, the people who came to America transmuted it along radical lines that were not reflected in the old country’s version of it.

And more to the point, as my title for this post notes, it’s not the same to say that appliances are your servants, even if they were devised as a replacement.  They are not a true replacement for all that.