Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Middle Class and Consumption in the 1890s

With the rise of industry, the gap between social classes in the 1890s widened. The working class toiled in factories, such as Carnegie’s Steel Company, and had to face terrible living conditions whilst struggling with residency in the tenements. On the opposite end of the scale was the rich upper class – the industrialists which Winter Park was founded by. Consisting of factory owners and the “elite” in society, most of the wealth and power of this era was concentrated in their hands. Finally, there was the middle class.

The middle class of the 1890s were dominantly white collared workers. They took on jobs which were not based majorly around manual labor, unlike the working class. That being said, they did not take on leading jobs (or simply remain jobless) like the upper class.

A key factor in differentiating the middle class from the upper and lower classes is to observe the amount of leisure time which they had, and, furthermore, to observe the items which they own (that is, the items which they bought due to the fruits of industry). The photo which I have chosen from the Rollins Digital Archive is that of a middle class woman, with a child and a servant.

The photo demonstrates that she is part of the middle class in that she is dressed well, in a dress with gloves and a hat, though not to the point of upper-class finery. She is accompanied by a servant and a small child who is, presumably, her daughter. They sit on a simple boat on Lake Osceola by the Old Seminole Hotel. The middle class enjoyed leisure time, a concept which the woman in this photo demonstrates. They could enjoy the benefits of living during the rise of industry. The boat itself is probably a product of mass production, given the time period, as well. Also to note is that she is accompanied by an African-American woman, whom, judging by her clothes and how she is the one rowing the boat, appears to be her servant. The ability to have servants was another part of middle class identity. The three are pictured outside of the Old Seminole Hotel, and this hotel further demonstrates effects of industry and consumption. It is undoubtedly affected by them, and business itself must be reliant on them. A middle class woman’s ability to be able to stay at such a hotel would further demonstrate consumptive ethos of this time period.

1 comment:

  1. There is no question that the gap between middle and working-classes is wide. For those people enjoying a life of leisure in Florida, would they understand our description of their world?