Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cradle of the Middle Class

I can't help being more than a quarter-century late to the party, I'm an enormous fan of Mary P. Ryan's Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Not only was Oneida County a major feeder for Midwestern migration, the story she tells -- from frontier to commercial to industrial center -- was replayed with variations further west. She ties together big-picture economic changes, religious revivals, child-rearing strategies, the emergence of privacy, the separation of public and private spheres, and the loosening grip of family ties -- all without losing touch with specific people and places.

I had no idea, for instance, how "a fine network of kin relationships was superimposed upon the factory order of New York Mills. One set of employment records dating from 1826 was actually arranged into family units. This ledger detailed the work experience of some twenty families, all identified by the name of the father or occasionally a widowed mother at the top of the page." {46} If you're reading this blog, I predict you won't be able to put this book down.

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