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Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 (The Everyday Life in America Series, Vol. 4) Paperback

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Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 (The Everyday Life in America Series, Vol. 4) + The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840 (Everyday Life in America) + Everyday Life in Early America
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Product Details

  • Series: The Everyday Life in America Series, Vol. 4 (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st HarperPerennial Ed edition (July 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060921609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060921606
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #428,303 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

From Schlereth (American Studies/Notre Dame): a detailed, lively survey of the commonplace objects, events, experiences, products, and tastes that comprised America's Victorian culture, expressed its values, and shaped modern life. Between the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and the San Francisco one in 1915, the US population doubled, redistributed itself, and developed the character and lifestyle identified with the middle classes in the 20th century. Its mobility required roads, trains, trolleys, maps, canals, autos; new means of communication in telephones, telegraphs, and mass media; and a standard time devised by railroads and measured by alarm clocks, time clocks, and cheap watches. New economic systems emerged: farms were commercialized; foods were processed (Kellogg's), condensed (Borden's), preserved (Heinz), distributed in food chains (A&P), promoted through advertising, and identified with brand names and slogans. New occupations emerged; typewriters created secretaries who cultivated new standards of personal appearance wearing shirtwaists, using cosmetics, shopping in department stores, and visiting beauty parlors. Toothpaste, razor blades, health foods, and spas expressed the rising interest in personal fitness as well as recreation, which extended to moving pictures, spectator sports, public gardens, amusement parks, and bicycles--all based on the new technologies, on the new vision of people mastering nature. But the book is not all trivia, not just the Juicy Fruit gum and the cafeteria-eating that Americans discovered at the San Francisco Fair. Schlereth, a writer of immense tact and range, recounts with equal interest and vitality the whole constellation of events that surrounded the development of suburban living, domestic history, the labor movement, the architecture of colleges--and conveys it seamlessly. The notes reveal something of his erudition, his ability to see the relationships, to depict unpretentiously this complex period of cultural history with all its ironies and color. A splendid achievement. (Forty-three pages of photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


Migration and movement, mobility and motion characterized identity in Victorian America. A country in transition was also in transit. Everyone seemed en route: emigrating and immigrating, removing or being removed, resettling and relocating, in many directions--east to west, south to north, rural to urban, urban to suburban. In American slang, "going places" came to mean a geographic as well as a social destination. Movement so touched this American era that it deserves to be treated first in any survey of its everyday life.

An overseas diaspora marked the personal history of a quarter of Americans living in 1915. These "new" immigrants figure prominently in the national image of the period, an age of unprecedented immigration and one immortalized in two national symbols: the Statue of Liberty (1886) and Ellis Island (1892). Immigration entailed both departure and destination. The rupture of traditional everyday life--relocation from familiar surroundings, separation from kinfolk, the experience of becoming a foreigner and ceasing to belong--took a toll that will never be completely knowable.

America also experienced continual internal migration, causing Norwegian novelist, Knut Hamsun, to note, "Everyday is moving day . . . The population is only half-settled."1 Treks westward took every conceivable form: Arizona land runs, Yukon gold rushes, California dreams. Flights out of the South took blacks to northern cities and whites to the Southwest plains. Midwesterners, in a revolt from the village, poured into Milwaukee and Minneapolis, Cleveland and Chicago.

Movement increased on the margin as well as in the mainstream. Vagrants, squatters, and regiments of unemployed workers, took to the roads; some (for instance, Coxey's Army in 1893-94) marched on Washington (figure 1.9) to dramatize their plight. Paradoxically, as homeless, landless, and jobless Americans roamed city streets in the 1890s, other citizens took to traveling about on annual vacations.

Some Americans were moved against their will or prevented from moving. American Indian nations were systematically removed to (usually western) reservations. Nativists, a half million strong in the American Protective Association in 1894, clamored that some foreigners ought to be excluded or restricted in their movements, particularly if they were Orientals, Jews, or Catholics. Jim Crow laws sought to keep blacks in their place.

Immigrants and Emigrants

Arrivals: Europe, Asia, and the Americas

Immigration officials, nativists, and social reformers often turned to statistics to demonstrate the massive influx of newcomers. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor mounted an "electrical diagram" at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition that furnished spectators with extensive data on the "races of alien arrivals; occupations of those persons admitted; causes of exclusion; and arrests and deportations by classes."2 The display noted that before the Civil War, the banner year for new immigrants was 1854, when 427,833 people arrived. A new peak was reached in 1882, when 788,992 entered. However, in the early twentieth century the annual influx passed the million mark six times, and in 1907 the figure rose to 1,285,349.

Many who came after the 1880s were labeled "new immigrants" because they differed from those who previously emigrated largely from northern and western Europe. The outflow of Italians, Greeks, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, Austro-Hungarians, as well as people from the Orient (first the Chinese, then the Japanese and the Filipinos) and from Mexico diversified everyday American life. These new immigrants differed in religious background, for many were Greek Orthodox, Buddhist, or Roman Catholic, entering a basically Protestant society; a large segment were Russian and Polish Jews. The new immigrants spoke numerous languages and were generally poorer and less educated and more differentiated in color and culture than were the earlier immigrants.

In focusing only upon national statistics and ethnic diversity, historians often lose sight of emigrating and immigrating as personal historical acts. Why did individuals or families decide to go or to stay? How did they journey? Did they feel uprooted or transplanted? How did their everyday lives change?

In summarizing the European experience, John Bodnar suggests a combination of factors that prompted people to leave: the commercialization of agriculture, the decline of craft work, changes in landownership patterns, expansion of the population, and major shifts in the financial and market conditions of capitalism. To be sure, the familiar imponderables--wanderlust, adventure, family problems--played their part, but most of those who moved did so because they were "pragmatically adjusting their goals and behavior throughout the nineteenth century to meet the changing economic realities in Europe as well as opportunities in America."

Most emigrant streams Bodnar identifies followed one of two courses. Skilled artisans and independent farmers, threatened by the factory production of cheap goods and by the commercialization of agriculture, left first. Hoping to avoid the "further decline in social and economic status, they usually possessed modest financial resources, left in family units, and were less likely to return." As a pioneer wave, they "exercised leadership and influence in American ethnic communities." A second group, larger in size and poorer in status, "consisted of marginal land owners who hoped to earn enough to return and increase their holdings," the children of such owners, and those with no real property. This second group was comprised more of individuals than of family groupings and, at least initially, their intent often was to come to America to earn money that would allow them to improve their life once they returned to Europe. Whatever their plans, most immigrants set out well prepared for their journeys. Through kinship networks, labor agents, and other intermediaries, as well as emigrants' guides and maps, most had amassed a wealth of detailed information, before departing, concerning exactly where they wanted to go and how to get there.3

Emigrants first journeyed to a major seaport, such as Liverpool, Hamburg, Le Havre, Bremen, or Antwerp. Once they were there, numerous decisions had to be made: which baggage runners, boardinghouse keepers, and provisioners to trust; which border officials, emigration officers, and government bureaucrats to placate; and which tickets, sailing routes, and accommodations to purchase.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 15, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Make no mistake about it: this book is less a history of everyday life in the United States in the Gilded Age than it is an encyclopedia of an astonishing range of facts about life in that period arranged around a series of very general themes. In a lesser book, this could be accounted a flaw, but in Schlereth's case it is a virtue because of the quality and pertinence of the particular bits of information that Schlereth pulls together. I felt I came away from the book not merely with a deeper knowledge of what life was like in America around the beginning of the 20th century, but a deeper appreciation for and sense of what life was like at the time. This was especially brought home to me upon reading SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser shortly upon finishing Schlereth's book. On almost every page I remembered something from his book that illumined in some way or other the events in that novel (which was published in 1900, but set in around 1890).
What I most appreciate about the book is the sense that it was during this period that a way of life that most people living today would recognize and feel at home with developed. Most of the conveniences that we take for granted--grocery and department stores, electricity, the telephone, our particular forms of housing, indoor plumbing, and a host of other services and products, all became prevalent during the period covered in this book. I urge anyone with an interest in the deep background of life in this century a century ago to look closely at this volume
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Todd Hancock on September 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
I had to read this book for a history class and I must say that I was extremely impressed. This book does not concern itself with wars or political leaders, but instead focuses on the everyday life for the ordinary American. This is a social history, presenting the dramatic change that occurred in the workplace, housing preferences and communication, during the years of 1876 to 1915. It is a very vivid account of this age and one can learn a lot about what it was like to live in America during this time period, by just reading the book. I highly recommend it.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Thornton VINE VOICE on November 4, 1999
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I'm an old house owner (and writer!) who was *searching* for answers to the curiosities of old house living, 100 years ago.

I found this book 100% fascinating. Lots and lots of "aha...that's why they did that..."

I originally checked it out of the library and then found it so intriguing, I purchased my own copy.

As a prior reviewer said, it is an unusual book because it deals with the 1001 nuances of everyday life in an average person's day. GREAT reading.

Rose Thornton
author, The Houses That Sears Built
co-author, California's Kit Homes
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Air Force Member on March 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Victorian America is a breezy yet intelligent overview of American life, especially middle class life, from 1876-1915. At times it reads as almost a laundry list of innovations and changes, but that's not a bad approach. This time period in American history is fascinating but extremely complex. The author manages to explain why the changes in technology affected the social life of today's Americans without being boring. This book serves as a great introduction to a pivotal turning point.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By mastermindquiet on January 1, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is an overview of pretty much everything, or so it seems, in the United States between 1876 and 1915. Subjects such as the newspapers we read, the shoes we wore, the parlor rooms in which we sat, all this and much, much more. So much is covered that nothing seems to be covered in enough detail to be enjoyed. This is exacerbated by the intent of the author to not just to provide a snapshot of Victorian America, but to show how things changed from the beginning of the period to the end. So we learn how clothes went from looking like this to looking like that and then we are rushed off to another subject. It is not a bad book, but after reading it I felt that I couldn't really recall much in the way of details. I would recommend this book only to those who are interested in gaining an overview of the period. It also might server as a good reference or refresher for someone who has an interest in the period and wishes to brush up on certain subjects.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Reader 200 on February 10, 2008
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The book overviews the Victorian period, touching on a vast array of topics that would have influenced the daily lives of ordinary people. I would highly recommend it for those looking to introduce themselves to this age or those interested in the factors leading the changes of the times. However, it does not go into deep discussion / explanation on individual topics. I would consider this an introductory book rather than an instructional book.
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