Material Culture: More Status than Personality

by Ryan Weiner

It can be fair to say that most houses in America have furniture, pictures, food and many other objects that make up the domestic space. Without a person to occupy the space and call it their “home,” there would be no objects. Therefore, the objects in the domestic space are a good representation of the resident’s personality. However, the objects tend to become more of a representation of status and the lifestyle that the residents live. Jackie Siegel’s way to express herself and lifestyle was to buy as many things as she could. Even in struggling financial times, she still had the desire to buy many toys for her children even though most of her kids ended up not even utilizing the toys (Queen of Versailles). Jackie’s “shopaholic” personality is created by her desire to fill her mansion-size house so that people realize and understand the wealthy lifestyle that they live. David Siegel expresses the same desire when discussing the building of his new house, which would be the biggest in the country. He explains that the reason he is building the house is, “because I can” (Queen of Versailles). Throughout the Queen of Versailles documentary, David Siegel is mostly seen in a small cluttered office, which shows his discontentment with that space. He does not need the bigger house: he simply wants to improve his status as a wealthy person. Status is also shown by the Tredwell family in the 19th century. The family insisted that guests came through the mid-level door so their first sights would be the magnificence architecture and furniture of the house. Downstairs was where the family room and kitchen were located, which were isolated from the guests. The Tredwells wanted to make sure their status of wealthy people was seen and that was not to be done in the family room or kitchen (Merchant House Museum).  Even though the Siegels and Tredwells are from two completely different centuries, they share the same characteristics. Each family thrived on the importance of status in society. Both families made sure that the inside of their houses expressed their wealthy lifestyles to the public. Therefore, it shows that even in a private domestic setting, society can still have an impact. People have the opportunity to do whatever they want inside their own homes, but instead tend to make sure they satisfy society.

Ryan Photo 1

This is a 60 inch High Definition Television set that has AppleTv and an XBox system. This is the first thing a person sees as they walk into my college apartment. It blows the minds of everyone who walks in the apartment, college students or not, because college students are supposed to be “poor” and not have anything nice in their living spaces. However, my roommate and I decided to spend the money and buy these things because we wanted our apartment to be “the place to be.”

Ryan Photo 2

This lamp that is located in our apartment has never been plugged in. The lamp is there for decoration because it is unique from any other college apartment. If we were going to have our apartment be “the place to be” then we decided to decorate it with a unique taste like this Sea-Shell lamp.

Ryan Photo 3

This golf club set sits in the corner of the apartment. I am a golfer myself and do use the clubs, but when not used my roommate and I wanted to use the set as a decoration in the apartment. We did this because golf can sometimes be associated with high status and that is the decoration style we wanted in our apartment. College students are not known to have high status, but we wanted to decorate our apartment with objects that represented that type of status.

This post was completed as part of an assignment interpreting the “material culture” of home, and how objects, keepsakes, and ephemera from our domestic lives contribute to our social identities. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

Women Accepting Their Roles Due to Consumerism

By Ryan Weiner


As more and more families moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, domestic roles started to develop. One of the most influential factors regarding domestic roles was consumerism, as “the amount spent on household furnishings and appliances rose 240 percent”  during that time (May, 157). The increase in such spending led to clear roles in the household as the wives became the ones who stayed home and dealt with all the appliances, while the husbands earned the money to buy the appliances by working. The role of housewife became important to women as “public opinion polls taken after the war indicate that both men and women were generally opposed to employment for women and believed that a woman who ran a home had a ‘more interesting time’ than did a woman with a full time job” (May, 159). This shows that due to the many appliances that were being added to households, lives were being made easier for women and therefore they became accepting of their roles as housewives. Also, women did not want to work in factories or other jobs because they felt that their role in the home was important: a woman could train her children to live in her particular way and she could create an atmosphere of manners around her own personality, which was the chief source of her effectiveness and power (Cowan, 113). Women’s roles in the home became important to them, and as Elaine Tyler May further argued, the home was the place where a man showed off his success by the accumulation of consumer goods and by surrounding their wives with the commodities, the wives lives became more efficient. The women would be content with their role as housewives because the “appliances would ease their burdens” (May, 156-157).  Therefore, consumerism was crucial to women accepting their roles in domestic life as housewives because the new appliances and goods made their lives easier around the house, which in turn gave them more pride in their housework. It allowed for women to focus more on domestic life and accept that the house is where they wanted to be, not in the work force.


The following Ivory Soap advertisement was posted in a magazine in 1925. It is directing the commodity, which is soap, toward the woman of the household. It states how the soap will make things a lot easier for the woman of the house, as her day-to-day activities of cleaning dishes, doing laundry and changing diapers, will be a lot more efficient. The ad also makes note of women’s beauty, as it discusses how the soap will preserve their hands. This ad is important because it promotes an important need for women to make most domestic chores easier for them to accomplish. Also, by discussing a woman’s appearance in the ad it allows women to actually have a sense of themselves and what they do.

Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen


“Your hands can keep their good looks even though they work in the kitchen,” 1925. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries.


The next advertisement was encouraging woman to go to cooking classes. They would not only learn how to use the many new appliances that are in a kitchen, but also gain home management skills. These type of classes were important for woman because with the extreme amount of new purchases taking place, a woman needed to know how to use them to maximize their efficiency. These classes were designed for the purpose of achieving efficiency.


Drawing of woman presenting a table filled with cooked foods. An electric range and a blackboard are behind the table.

“Come to Our Free Cooking School,” 1928. Courtesy of American History Classic Advertisements.


The final advertisement was encouraging men to treat their wives in a great way for the holidays by buying them cosmetics for their appearance. The ad preys on the fact that men are the ones who earn the money and can afford the cosmetics goods to make their wives look great. The ad wants the men to acknowledge that the women deserve to look good. And the reason they deserve to look good, even though it is not stated, is because the women work hard throughout the year in the home, so the ad is saying that because of all this hard work that their wives have been doing, the men should reward them.


This Christmas make a woman happy


“This Christmas Make a Woman Happy,” 1944. Courtesy of the Duke University Libraries.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit:

The Battle Between Homesickness and Economic Growth

The Battle Between Homesickness and Economic Growth

by Ryan Weiner

Whether voluntary or involuntary, one of the root reasons why people have decided to migrate has been for economic growth. The 19th century was full of migration from within and without America. As Susan Matt discusses the market revolution in America during this time in her book Homesickness, she addresses the common trait of people in the country by saying, “Influenced by the ideal of the self-made man, American men and women abandoned the familiar in search of new profits and possibilities” (5). In Away from Home: American Indian School Experiences, K. Tsianina Lomawaima discusses how the Indians were made to go to boarding schools that attempted to educate them intellectually, but mainly focused on developing skills that they could use in the job force and stated, “…many did go on to a meaningful employment, and many alumni report satisfaction at having learned the American ‘work ethic'” (34-35). Both accounts discuss that a person has a desire for economic growth. However, the irony behind this desire is the constant pain and dreadful experiences the people suffer from being homesick. Most of the time people, especially the Indians, left their families behind on their quest for economic growth and without their family or home country/town, they struggled from homesickness. In the Indian Boarding Schools, children had suffered from homesickness and the poor lack of communication to their families back at home did not help (Lomawaima 40-41). The problem was that there was still the constant desire for that economic growth that forbid them from going home until they succeeded. The stories of success were being published in books like The Emigrant’s True Guide that attempted to fight off the emigrants homesickness by telling tales of immigrants succeeding in America (Matt 55). Susan Matt discusses many stories of immigrants who came to America and after a while had strong intentions of going back to their homeland, but one account of a Norwegian lady summed up the immigrant’s problems by writing, “Fate has indeed separated me from my native land and all that was dear to me there…Cannot deny that homesickness gnaws at me hard. When I think, however, that there will be better livelihood for us here than in poor Norway, I reconcile myself to it” (Matt 58).  The battle between desires and homesickness was a problem for many immigrants and the toughest thing was to find balance between the two.

The following source was written by Michael Proctor, who was a resident of America.  He wanted to tell immigrants from England everything he could, good and bad, about America. Proctor discusses the immense amount of economic opportunities that are in America and how an immigrant cannot pass on the opportunities. He also discusses that the work is completely different from that in England and that a person will be miserable doing this type of work, especially without family.

But, from the moment he strikes the first blow with an axe in the forest, to the end of two full years he may bid farewell to every comfort of life; even to all those meagre comforts, which are afforded by the mud cottage of the poorest labourer in England; except he be a man of discernment, and his wife, if he has one, be equally endowed with natural good sense, then he will have one great source of comfort, all the time open, which to the poor man in England is perpetually closed, we mean the comfort of hope. Nay he will realize something more than mere hope, he will have assurance, that after two or three years trial he most certainly will be in such circumstances of comfort, as the greatest dint of industry and economy could never have procured him in his native land (81-82).

“Notes and Observations on America, and the Americas; Including Considerations for Emigrants,” 1830. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories.

This source is a collection of letters written by Norwegians discussing their experiences in America. Most of the Norwegians understood that their home country was suffering economically and this resulted in an influx of immigrants to America all seeking economic growth. A lot of the letters discuss the struggles of these Norwegians as they were homesick, but knew that they could not go home because of the economic conditions. This letter was written in 1883 by a Nordic immigrant who was constantly moving from city to city to find the perfect combination of comfort and wealth. However, the tone expresses that he’ ll never truly be able to mix the two.

  I didn’t get along well there, however, and after a few days in Dallas I went up to Dakota, 2,500 kilometers north. I went there because I had a friend there and thought I would enjoy it but I missed Stavanger and didn’t find it in Dakota. I spent nine weeks in a small town, where I worked in an American’s grocery store. But my homesickness wouldn’t go away, so I went to Chicago, which is full of Norwegians. But I didn’t find Stavanger here, either. At first it was very difficult to find any kind of work here even though I tried as hard as I could to get a job. Now I work for a combined wholesale and retail grocer and expect to stay at this job until spring. Then I’ll look for something else (64)

“Their Own Saga: Letters from the Norwegian Global Migration,” 1986. Courtesy of North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral History.

Irish emigrants leaving their home for America--the mail coach from Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland

This image is showing Irish immigrants getting ready to leave for America. The people seem to be celebrating the fact that they are going to America, showing how the immigrants were excited at first for the economic opportunities America offered. What the picture does not show is how these people will feel after months or years of being in America and how homesickness will affect them.

“Irish emigrants leaving their home for America–the mail coach from Cahirciveen, County Kerry, Ireland,” 1866. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

This image was on the back of a newspaper to discuss boarding schools for Indians. The picture was taken at a Dakota mission school. None of the Indians in the picture show any signs of happiness. Two do not even look at the camera. This shows how the schools made the Indians unhappy and miss their homes.

“Dakota Mission School,” 1880-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This post was completed as an assignment for the American Studies course, “The Concept of Home.”  A list of the readings that informed this assignment can be found here