The Progressive Era, falling between the conspicuous materialism of the Gay Nineties and the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, promoted a vision of America united by an emphasis on science and progressive reform. The zeal to modernize business, government, and social relations extended to farm families and the ways women defined their roles.
In this study of the expert advice offered by the domestic-economy movement, Marilyn Irvin Holt argues that women were not passive receptors of these views. Seeing their place in agriculture as multifaceted and important, they eagerly accepted improved education and many modern appliances but often rejected suggestions that conflicted with their own views of the rewards and values of farm life. Drawing on a wide range of sources—government surveys, expert testimony, and contemporary farm journals—many presenting accounts in farm women’s own words, Holt carefully contrasts the goals of reformers with those of farm families. Anyone seeking a better understanding of the role of women in agriculture will find this a rewarding book.
Marilyn Irvin Holt is the author of The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America, available in a Bison Books edition.
“Holt offers an interesting look at the lives of farm wives at the close of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. It wasn’t roughing it like earlier pioneer women, but it wasn’t as cushy as microwave ovens and instant foods either. These ladies worked! Holt also gets points for covering minority women.”—Library Journal Classic Returns
“[Holt] deserves particular credit for her attention to non-Anglo participants, who have often been neglected in similar studies. She also merits praise for the inclusion of many photographs, several of which illustrate the endeavors of non-white women.”—Journal of American History
“Holt’s study provides a readable history of developments in a significant part of rural women’s lives—the domestic-economy movement—as well as treating topics that allow better understanding of rural life in general.”—Historian
“A well-documented and very readable account of the lives of farm women during this period. . . . Linoleum, Better Babies, and the Modern Farm Woman, 1890-1930, offers more than just a description of the numerous programs and resources that the ‘domestic economy movement’ promoted. More important, it is an account of the rural women who sorted through those reforms and adopted those new technologies and techniques that they identified as beneficial for themselves and their families.”—Ann Billesbach, Nebraska History