If you’ve read my historical fiction books, or even this blog, you no doubt can tell that I am interested in women’s history and rights, race relations, abolition, the Underground Railroad, religion, and how it all intersected with culture, and family. I’m also fascinated with the nineteenth century.
Today I want to look at a bit of cultural upheaval that occurred in the early- to mid-1800s.
Although Civil War-era America was not nearly as heavily industrialized or urbanized as the Gilded Age of the last decades the nineteenth century, the impact of the United States’ Industrial Revolution still was felt keenly. Until the nineteenth century, the newly-born United States and the colonies that preceded it, had been largely rural and agrarian. Towns and cities existed, of course, but these were nothing compared to the cities we know today or even the cities the nation would have at the end of the 1800s.
Despite this, the beginnings of urbanization and industrialization brought enormous cultural changes. One of them was a shift in the understanding of time.
In earlier eras, time was measured by seasons and agricultural tasks. Plowing, planting, tending, and harvesting dictated how much and how long farmers worked. Even religious observances for the most part seemed to follow the agrarian calendar. Festivals fell at the end of the harvest or the planting season. The season of Lent, with its emphasis upon self-sacrifice and fasting, came in late winter-early spring before the new crop was in and food was scarce. The celebration of Christmas in medieval and Renaissance times was a huge 12-day party. Why such a long party? Well, aside from the liturgical calendar in which the Christmas season runs from December 25 to January 6, nothing much is happening agriculturally during that time. So why not party? Especially since your food supplies haven’t thinned out yet.
Okay, there are other reasons holidays occurred when they did. But there is a connection with the agricultural calendar.
As factories emerged and grew, though, time as a concept shifted. Factory workers were not subject to the dictates of seasonal change. People no longer worked until a job was done. Instead, they worked according to a schedule. And ta-da! The modern workday was born. Of course, when I say “workday,” I mean a 12-hour stretch of time on the job. The 8-hour workday would not become a reality until the twentieth century.
Interestingly, our workday seems to be shifting once again, and this is a result of the Technological Revolution. Today, it is not unusual to for people to telecommute. And because our bosses or co-workers are linked to us through the internet via computers and tablets, or by text and telephone, more and more of us experience an overlap between our employment and our homelife.
As I write this, for example, I am sitting in my family room. I can write and upload my material any time. It is up to me. Also, my position at First United Methodist also overlaps with my life at home. I can get a text, email, phone call, or social media message from anyone in the church at any time. In fact, I just got an email from one of our church members while writing this. And of course, I answered right away, because that’s the kind of person I am!
Think about this. Our Industrial Revolution ancestors probably had trouble finding adequate time to relax and interact with family after a grueling 12-hour day. And we Technological Revolution folks have trouble finding adequate time to relax and interact with family because our jobs never leave us alone. Walking away from the “office” no longer is possible. Face it, we can’t even take vacation these days. Of course, our ancestors of the 1800s probably did not get a vacation. Period.
Hmm… maybe we have a deal more in common with them than twentieth-century people would have had with any of us from the 19th and the 21st centuries.
Tomorrow, I’ll be blogging about another Industrial Revolution change that occurred in upper-, middle-, and working-class families.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder