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 America in the 1890s
Lina
 Posted: Mar 28 2012, 06:37 PM
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Disclaimer: This is probably not accurate. If you see anything that you know is definitely not true, please tell me and I'll amend what I've written. I'm so not a historian, but I do think it's easier for people to get into the feel of a site if they can read a bit about the time it's set in, so this is my attempt at making it more fun and nicer for someone to join.

1890's America was a society with a few essentially different values from today's society in general. At the very centre stood the traditional patriarchal family, with most responsibilities and decisions undertaken by the father, with the house work and the charge over the family's education performed by the mother and with the children being more or less bound to the wishes and abilities of the previous two. It was a year of interesting discoveries and splendid attempts at breaking social form.


Society Values

The idea of consumerism was introduced some thirty years later to the world, by none other than Sigmund Freud's nephew. The concept of making a purchase for the sheer thrill of it was reserved only to the very well-endowed. The common 1890er performed on a need-by-need basis. Even advertising was done by presenting potential customers with the quality of the product and appealing to its necessity.


Family Values

Thomas Jefferson's family.

Like New Venetian society as a whole, the family units are patriarchal, led by the husband and father. Women rarely work and are expected to fill stereotypically feminine roles. Smoking is absolutely not appropriate for a woman, and women really aren't taken seriously. A female author, for example, would not typically be valued as an intellectual but as a writer of simple romances. Men are valued as the providers, protectors and ultimately the ones in control.

Men are the patriarchs. They can work from as early as the age of 12 (but usually 14) and are expected to provide for their families. Women often stay at home and take care of the children. John Stuart Mill describes it as:

    "We are continually told that civilization and Christianity have restored to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bondservant of her husband; no less so, as far as the legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called."

Women do not partake in legal activities and all documents refer to 'man' in the literal sense. They are not emancipated and will not be taken seriously, or be allowed to own a business, for example.


Children

I'll leave you with a quote describing the times by a contemporary:

Assumed 11-year-old girl working in the mills.
    "There are 10,000 children living on the streets of New York... The newsboys constitute an important division of this army of homeless children. You see them everywhere... They rend the air and deafen you with their shrill cries. They surround you on the sidewalk and almost force you to buy their papers. They are ragged and dirty. Some have no coats, no shoes, and no hat."

And these are not just newsboys. Actually, the majority of underage workers were in factories, mills, shops, often because they have smaller brothers and sisters at home and their parents are already working overtime and not making enough money. Some of them never learn how to read.

For relevant pictures and inspiration, check out the epoch child labour gallery.


Inspiration from Literature

It might be fun to draw on existing literature for inspiration for the epoch - we can recommend James Joyce's The Portrait of a Lady, Hans Christian Andersen's Match Girl and other novels and stories written by authors such as Mark Twain, Jules Verne or Arthur Conan Doyle, to name a few.

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