Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ypsilanti High School Teacher Carrie Hardy's 1919 Ypsilanti

Related to the ongoing serialization of YHS math teacher Carrie Hardy's diary.

What Ypsilanti did Carrie live in? A look at June, 1919 editions of the Ypsilanti Record offers some clues.

The city was still not wholly wired for electricity. Readers may recall that the Washtenaw Light and Power Co. published ads touting the new utility of electricity in 1907. This is twelve years later, and they're still begging people to wire up! Clearly, electricity was less of an instant hit in the city than a slow, grudging, lead-footed conversion.

"A washing machine and an electric flat iron turn this one-time nightmare into a pleasure": well, that's still not true 90 years later. Note that there are apparently no electric clothes dryers yet.

A few days on, and here's another plea to wire up from a contractor who apparently wired homes for a living, implying a certain ongoing steady demand for the new service. Note that this ad, like the last one, is aimed squarely at women. It also implies that those without electricity do not have a modern, up-to-date home. Because Crouse paid for this ad, presumably the appliances he listed are the 4 he thought would make the biggest impact on (female) readers: vaccuum, washing machine, toaster, and iron. (Toaster?!)

The advance of new utilities is at least a generation behind the city in the out-county rural areas. Readers may recall "Dad Carried a Lantern," the 1946 Detroit Edison ad about ongoing farm electrification. Here the thing is rural plumbing. Like many electricity ads, it pleads "it's not as expensive as you think--really!" Readers may also recall that O. A. Hankinson, formerly of 16 N. Huron, was some years prior a vendor of revolutionary toilet bowls.

One final note: though electricity was still making inroads into the city, home air conditioning was not available, and wouldn't be for another 30 years. Here you can see two ladies sleeping on their home's porch, protected from the streetview by screens. DD has seen many old ads from this period and earlier for porch screens--porch-sleeping appears to have been a popular habit in Ypsi, and sounds rather pleasant. One observation, by no means a criticism, is that the Historic District Commission in its Porch Fact Sheet apparently forbids use of porch screens, saying "porches should not be enclosed, as doing so changes both the appearance and the function of the porch." It's a bit unclear here as to whether they mean enclosed with lumber and windows or enclosed with historically accurate porch screens. DD would be interested to find out.

Hope you enjoyed this brief peek into some of the facets of Carrie's world.


Bob Garrett said...

You know - even today, sleeping on the porch sounds somewhat appealing...to me, at least. I kind of like sleeping outdoors.

Dusty D said...

Bob: I agree; it sounds lovely. However, I don't know if these porches had wire window screens to keep bugs out. I've seen advertisements for window screens in papers from Allie McCullough's day, 1874, but I'd bet these porches are not screened with bug screens (just the roll-down shades).

Still nice though.

Bob Garrett said...

Hmmm. Yeah, the lack of a bug screen might be a deal breaker!

Fritz said...

The household conveniences aspect of the electification adds was new to me. I tend to think first of electric lights. But after home electricity had been around for a while, all the little motors it could run probably made a bigger difference in peoples' lives. Things like electric fans, for example.

Dusty D said...

Fritz: Oh yes. I think the biggest labor-saver would be the washing machine. I have one not much younger than the old tub-style ones you occasionally see in a front yard out in the boonies, but it saves me SO much work. Throw it in, push the button, voila.

And the controllable iron is probably second, in lieu of a sad iron you had to put on the (probably not perfectly clean) stove and then pick off with a potholder only to spread rust/dirt marks on the clean shirt as you iron it, so you have to (ugh!) wash the shirt again...no wonder washing day was a Whole Day. Egads!

jml said...

Most online sites I can find imply that sleeping porches became popular after the availability of screening.

Tying back to an earlier post, sleeping on a porch (in all weather) was often advised for folks with tuberculosis. Each room in Asheville, NC's St. Joseph Sanitarium had its own sleeping porch.

Dusty D said...

Hm. In some papers I've been looking at lately there are house plans; I'll have to look more closely to see if I can determine for sure if sleeping porches were screened. Thanks jml.

Yep, I also read somewhere that consumptives were encouraged to sleep outside. Similar to the St. Joseph Sanitarium example you cite, in the picture of Leland Sanitarium, you can see huge 2nd-floor porches as well.