Life for Our Ancestors in the 1910s

It was a difficult time, the 1910s for many Americans. Very little technology, war was ongoing in Europe, and the choices that Americans have come to expect—in their cars, clothes, food, and homes—were preceded by a monotonous consumer economy. In 1915, Americans walked everywhere (or took a streetcar, if they lived in cities), lived in three-generation homes that they rarely owned, ate almost as much lard as chicken, and spent Friday nights dancing to player pianos. In short: Everything was worse, except for the commute.

For your male ancestors, work for men was more widespread, more dangerous, worse paid, and, well, just more annoying. According to the 1920 census, 85 percent of men over 14 were in the labor force. It was the dawn of scientific management, with factory workers introduced to a brand new office colleague, the time clock. Manufacturing workers averaged 55 hours at work per week. Plus the jobs were more dangerous: With a fatality rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers, the workplace was about 30 times more dangerous than it is today.

For female ancestors, women were much less likely to work, and in 1915, many were finding employment at elementary and high schools. The reason for women’s early entry into education in the U.S., however, is a little depressing. School boards preferred female teachers not only because they were seen as more loving, but also because they would do what male principals told them while accepting less than a man’s wage.

For the elderly, there was no Social Security and in bad times, poverty among the old was so bad that contemporaries wrote of growing old as if it were evil. The industrializing economy was no country for old men or women. As families moved off farms into cities and suburbs, it became harder for some old people to find work in factories, which ran on limber sweat. In the 40 years before 1920, the share of men over 65 working on farms dropped 39 percent.

The typical American spent one-third of his income on food in the 1910s. This was the golden age of cold-cereal products—Corn Flakes, Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat, and Shredded Wheat all came on the market between 1906 and 1912.

Half of all families lived in rural areas, or in towns with populations below 2,500. Children remained under their parents’ roofs until they were married (at an average age of 21, for women). Practically no couples got divorced, and widows moved in with their adult children. Most babies were born at home, even those living in big cities.

Thirty percent of the country had a telephone in 1910s. Less than 20 percent had a stove. Very few people owned a refrigerator, and almost nobody owned a radio. Instead, the most popular media product of the time might have been the player pianos or the phonograph.

Now you have a better idea of life for your ancestors in the 1910s – not easy.

Photo: Typical American family in 1910s.

Related Blogs:

1910 Census and Your Ancestors

Life in 1900

1920s – New and Exciting

< Return To Blog Samuel Jimenez
Samuel Jimenez 27/08/22

Thanks for reading the blog.
alice 27/08/22

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