Agriculture represents an aspect of United States identity with its emphasis on independence, hard-work, and strong family networks. This Jeffersonian narrative specifically focuses on the patriarchal authority of the white male farmer taming nature and the frontier, ignoring the importance and roles of women, children, and social networks on the farm. My dissertation uses farm diaries and the Census to address these invisible forms of labor largely ignored in the traditional narrative. Andrew Peterson’s diaries described family labor and neighbor labor exchanged with nearby families. While living in a frontier area, exchanged neighbor labor worked with the Peterson household through the 1860s until Andrew’s children were old enough to work in the fields. Neighborhood exchange of labor complemented a low worker to consumer ratio within the Peterson household, and was not simply a frontier or pre-capitalist form of bartering. Farm diaries better describe the work of these invisible groups than the Census, but Andrew still underreported women’s work due to traditional narrative biases. Gendered ideologies and census procedures emphasized norms of separate work spheres and reinforced the traditional agricultural narrative at the expense of these invisible groups. While most of the bias for women occurred in planning by Census officials, enumerator practices and biases resulted in inconsistent reporting for children. Biases such as month of enumeration and sex of the respondent were small but statistically significant for women and children. Other important socio-demographic variables for occupational responses included age, school attendance, marital status, and parental occupation. The availability of new complete count census data allows for measuring kin networks beyond the household. Kin propinquity declined in the United States from 30% in 1790 to 6% by 1940, which closely mirrored long-term declines in agriculture and intergenerational coresidence due to urbanization and industrialization. Kin propinquity was especially clustered in Appalachia, Utah, and New Mexico. The convergence in kin propinquity rates for younger and elderly people between 1850 and 1940 were caused by declining fertility, declining mortality, and younger generations leaving the farm with better economic opportunities elsewhere.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2018. Major: History. Advisor: Steven Ruggles. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 184 pages.
Relieved of These Little Chores: Agricultural Neighbor Labor, Family Labor, and Kinship in the United States 1790-1940.
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