Accession number 1998-162-51a,b at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a pair of women’s stays in an unlikely size. Laced shut, they measure forty-six inches at the chest and forty-three inches at the waist, with a back length of eleven and three quarters of an inch. Even with no other information, we can deduce that they were worn by someone wider than average, and as they measure ten to fifteen inches wider than most other extant stays, they provide a unique example of how fashionable styles were adapted to fit less than fashionable bodies.
Though the full force of the labour movement was not to become a political force until after the Civil War, American workers were organizing and advocating for themselves since before the Revolution. Continue reading
The New Deal changed the way Americans perceived the presidency and social safety nets. Churches and private charities were unable to cope with the scale of hardship in a nation with a 25% unemployment rate, and an increasing number of people were unable to reconcile American values and social duty with the laissez-faire Social Darwinism that decreed that the destitute deserved their fate.1 Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election campaign was to realign the Democratic and Republican parties, bringing progressives and reformers firmly onboard with the Democrats, and cementing Gilded Age conservatives on the Republican side.2 Continue reading
The modern day Republican party bears no resemblance to the Republican party of the 19th century abolitionists. There was a shift from the 1880s to the 1970s, beginning with the 1876 court case US vs Cruikshanks, which set the precedent that mob violence aimed at intimidating voters was a matter for local law enforcement rather than the federal government. This allowed the KKK to systemically terrorize black voters and Republican whites to the point where the Republican Party ceased to exist in the South, leaving only varying degrees of Jacksonian Democrat. Meanwhile, cities in the North saw an influx of immigrants who tended to ally themselves with the Democrats due to the party’s populist overtones and lack of support for Prohibition, another Republican morality reform. Thus, the northern Democrats began moving left. Republican president Herbert Hoover’s failure to prevent the 1929 economic crash and timid attempts to relieve the suffering of the Great Depression that followed soured many progressives and liberals against the Republican party, and the success of FDR’s New Deal programs firmly cemented the Democrats as the party of labour unions, urban politics, minorities, and the working poor. However it also angered many southern Democrats, who saw themselves as betrayed by their party. This group deserted en masse after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and joined the now-obsolete Republican religious reformers who saw themselves as bastions of American morality. The process was completed in the aftermath of Roe vs Wade, when the anti-abortion evangelicals jumped onboard, drawing off much of the southern vote.
Winter is terrible. It is cold, it is dark, green things die, the weather can be dangerous. Sicknesses worsen, and a poor harvest can mean malnutrition and starvation for humans and animals alike. There is not much to be done apart from waiting until the sun returns, warming the earth and bringing it back to life. Even now, with widespread knowledge of the earth’s rotation, it sometimes feels like a long wait. But before? It may well have seemed like the sun might never return at all.
So we have holidays. Continue reading
Chart of occupations of wage-earning Massachusetts women in 1837 (taken from page 20 of Transforming Women’s Work by Thomas Dublin)
Many groups came to the New World, for many different reasons. They found different climates in different areas, which created different social structures. The fertile soil and warm climate in the south created a need for large numbers of unskilled labourers, which led to the development of race-based slavery, a situation which has lasting effects on the United States even today. The cooler climate and rocky soil in the north created a society that depended more on industry, commerce, and wage labour. This division between societies would become more and more jarring in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and eventually lead to the Civil War. Continue reading