Thomas C. HubkaFeb 19, 2021
How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900–1940
U of Minnesota Press 2020
At the turn of the nineteenth century, the average American family still lived by kerosene light, ate in the kitchen, and used an outhouse. By 1940, electric lights, dining rooms, and bathrooms were the norm as the traditional working-class home was fast becoming modern—a fact largely missing from the story of domestic innovation and improvement in twentieth-century America, where such benefits seem to count primarily among the upper classes and the post–World War II denizens of suburbia. Examining the physical evidence of America’s working-class houses, Thomas C. Hubka revises our understanding of how widespread domestic improvement transformed the lives of Americans in the modern era. His work, focused on the broad central portion of the housing population, recalibrates longstanding ideas about the nature and development of the “middle class” and its new measure of improvement, “standards of living.”
In How the Working-Class Home Became Modern, 1900–1940 (University of Minnesota Press, 2020), Hubka analyzes a period when millions of average Americans saw accelerated improvement in their housing and domestic conditions. These improvements were intertwined with the acquisition of entirely new mechanical conveniences, new types of rooms and patterns of domestic life, and such innovations—from public utilities and kitchen appliances to remodeled and multi-unit housing—are at the center of the story Hubka tells. It is a narrative, amply illustrated and finely detailed, that traces changes in household hygiene, sociability, and privacy practices that launched large portions of the working classes into the middle class—and that, in Hubka’s telling, reconfigures and enriches the standard account of the domestic transformation of the American home.
Bryan Toepfer, AIA, NCARB, CAPM is the Principal Architect for TOEPFER Architecture, PLLC, an Architecture firm specializing in Residential Architecture and Virtual Reality. He has authored two books, “Contractors CANNOT Build Your House,” and “Six Months Now, ARCHITECT for Life.” He is an Adjunct Professor at Alfred State College and the Director of Education for the AIA Rochester Board of Directors. Always eager to help anyone understand the world of Architecture, he can be reached by sending an email to btoepfer@toepferarchitecture.