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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Family Life 1880-1920
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

Family Life 1880-1920

1880-1920Family Life

Family life in this period reveals a fundamental shift in many traditional American attitudes toward children, education, gender roles, and social status. Developments in industrial production and technology increased the ability of ordinary Americans to buy what once had been unattainable luxuries. Along with those goods came the chance to acquire customs and habits originally reserved for the wealthy. Meanwhile, these same industrial advances produced economic, political and social pressures on old habits and assumptions. More and more women worked outside the home, straining traditional beliefs about male and female roles and abilities. Adults perceived the world as a more confusing and dangerous place from which parents must shelter innocent children for as long as possible. Society no longer viewed children simply as unfinished adults; how best to educate them became a subject of considerable discussion and debate.

Dana Malone residence, Greenfield, Massachusetts, 1913

See the Digital Collection for further information.

Explore these subthemes to better understand Family Life at this time.

Child Life

Child Life : Play Imitates Life

The toys and play of boys and girls reflected the different roles they were expected to play as adult men and women.

Gender Roles

Gender Roles : A New American Workforce

Economic, political and social pressures began to erode older beliefs relegating men and women to separate spheres of influence and activity.


Education : A Revolution in Education

Teaching methods and schoolhouse architecture at the end of the nineteenth century represented decades of school reform.


Customs : True Refinement

Ordinary Americans continued to acquire the goods and habits that they believed signified respectability and gentility.

Getting Things

Getting Things : The New Consumer

By the turn of the twentieth century, more and more Americans purchased what had been luxuries only a few decades earlier.


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