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The History Of Everyday Life

May 2024
1min read

My real brush with history was being an observer of a fast-fading style of life while I was growing up in a small town in northern Vermont in the 1930s and 1940s. I remember visiting my uncle’s farm before he got electricity, for much of rural America did not get plugged into the twentieth century until Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration of the late thirties. I used the privy (a two-seater), operated the pump in the kitchen sink, helped light the kerosene lamps (which had to be adjusted just right so they wouldn’t smoke), and carried wood to stoke the Glenwood range. In my own house in a bigger town, where we had electricity, I often helped my mother with the ritual of washday (always on Monday, with ironing on Tuesday) before the miracle of the Bendix replaced the washboard, the hand wringer, and the tub of bluing. And I remember the icebox with its picks and tongs and the iceman who delivered twice a week before the electric refrigerator destroyed the culture of ice. In the end the everyday history associated with privies, wood stoves, iceboxes, washday (and the horse), and the technological revolution that replaced them is more important in its impact on everyday life than all the generals and Presidents combined.

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