Life in 1900 was Strange

Wouldn’t you like to be able to talk with any of your ancestors who lived as adults in 1900, some 120 years ago? Life was so different then, think of learning what their life was life, whether they lived in a city, town or farm. You could share with them all the advances in technology and the achievements of the descendants.

Yet, one of the biggest things to realize is what was considered a normal life, the regular daily occurrence would appear to us in the early 21st century as strange or even bizarre. By better understanding, especially if you can talk with your ancestors, is to learn what life was like in 1900 in America.

For example in Chicago, Illinois, in 1881, local Alderman James Peevey decided he’d had enough of seeing horrors of other people’s misfortune right on the city streets. So he introduced an ordinance ‘Ugly Laws‘ to ban people who were “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object” from the streets of Chicago, where they might make people uncomfortable. If you were deemed too ugly to be in public, you had to pay a fine of $1 to $50 (which was a decent sum in those days) or go to the Cook County Poorhouse. Not just Chicago but other mid-west cities, San Francisco in Calif., had ‘ugly laws’.

Those ‘ugly laws’ remained the longest on the books in Chicago for decades and the enforcement didn’t lessen a little until after the end of World War One when the war veterans returned home, scarred from battle. The enforcement did continue some even into the 1950s. Those Chicago ugly laws remained until 1974.

Halloween was not the only time in the 1900s to dress up in costumes. People had a grand time at Thanksgiving, dressing up. Wearing masks or what were called ‘false faces‘ was very popular. Children were involved also, dressed up and going around their neighborhood asking “Anything for Thanksgiving?” Getting the treat of candy made the time out great fun.

Dressing for little boys was a bit different compared to today. It was common, and maybe even fashionable for boys to wear dresses, sometimes up to around the age of 8. you might be able to check that out by reviewing some family photos of children from 1900, see who is a boy or a girl. Yet, there was a reason back then, when pot-training a young child, wearing pants was harder than a dress. It had been a practice for years. By 1919 and 1920, this practice of little boys in dresses died out.

Many of the buildings a hundred years ago had asbestos, considered a great building material. What people would not figure out for decades was that asbestos was very harmful to a person’s life, especially those workers building structures using asbestos.

So just a small sampling of life in 1900, there is so much more.

Photos: People going to the Chicago poorhouse; Dressed up for Thanksgiving; and little brother (on the left) and sister (on the right) in 1903 with dresses (from the author’s family photo collection).

Related Blogs:

Posters of 1900

Video of 1896 and 1900

Early 20th Century

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