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BACKGROUND ON RURAL ELECTRIFICATION
Video Commentary on Life on the Farm Before the Coming of Rural Electrification
Video Commentary on Some Alternatives to Central Station Power Before Rural Electrification
Video Commentary on the History and Significance of Rural Electrification



RURAL ELECTRIFICATION: THE MODERNIZATION OF RURAL AMERICA
By Dr. D. Clayton Brown, Professor of History, Texas Christian University

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No single development equaled electrification in lifting farms and rural homes out of the preindustrial age. By 1935 electric service reached the cities and towns of the United States, but only 10 percent of America's farms had electricity. This difference had a staggering impact because it meant that about one-third of the general population, farm families and other rural inhabitants, did not enjoy the comforts and conveniences that were common in urban households. While industrialization advanced and cosmopolitan cities grew across the country, life in the countryside continued to resemble the patterns of the nineteenth century when hand labor and animal power prevailed. The rural way of life and the viability of America's agrarian ideals came under challenge as youth moved into cities seeking fulfillment as citizens in a more modernized environment.

Insufficient Lighting
Life on the farm was more restricted for the simple lack of adequate lighting. Families did not have equal access to information because they were discouraged from reading and they had no radios. School children found homework even more displeasing as siblings competed for a lantern. Insufficient lighting discouraged nighttime activities such as sewing or making household repairs, and farmers had to carry out chores during day hours and forsake home shop work after sundown. With no refrigeration, food spoiled quickly and restricted the diet. Perishable foods such as beef had to be eaten quickly, and dairy items as milk and butter could be stored in a springhouse, but only for a short time. Water had to be carried in buckets from a nearby stream or lifted from a well with rope and pulley. A hand pump on the back porch ranked among the more convenient means of getting water.

Household Drudgery
Household drudgery ruled the life of farmwives. They carried out an endless and repetitive routine of tasks much in the same fashion as their pioneer forebears, leaving them exhausted at day's end and looking forward to enough rest to renew the routine the next day. Ironing was particularly debilitating because the heavy cast irons, appropriately known as 'sad irons," had to be heated on a wood or coal-burning stove alongside the ironing board. During the summer, ironing the family laundry quickly sapped one's energy. Washing had to be done outdoors, often in a kettle over an open fire, filled with water carried in buckets from the well or stream. Scrubbing on a washboard, rinsing, and hanging up clothes was backbreaking work—and the ironing followed. Stoves for cooking and heating used coal or wood, which meant they had to be refueled hourly and cleaned several times per week. Women and girls needed strong arms for brooms, dustpans, and mops. Each day the family assortment of kerosene lanterns had to be cleaned, a chore often delegated to children. As farm women watched their urban sisters living in homes equipped with electric vacuum sweepers, refrigerators, automatic toasters, and electric ranges, they longed to have similar conveniences. Years of such routine caused women to age prematurely, and even though they took pride in themselves and their families, knowing that self-worth related not to home appliances, they realized electrical service would make life easier.


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