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The Johns Hopkins University Press


In the 1860s when Harriet Robinson annually set aside a full month for the spring cleaning of her Malden, Massachusetts home, she had the occasional assistance of hired help, but none from her husband William. Over the years, as the Robinsons improved their house by installing weather stripping, repapering rooms, refinishing furniture, and putting in a new mantle, Harriet's biographer Claudia Bushman notes that neither she nor William "lifted a finger toward household maintenance."1 Some eighty years later, immediately after World War II, when Eve and Sam Goldenberg moved into a somewhat decrepit apartment in the Bronx, Sam patched the holes in the wall himself and they both worked to scrub away the residual odor "of people who don't care."2 After a few years in the Bronx, the Goldenbergs (now the Gordons) moved out to a new subdivision on Long Island where Sam built a brick patio and the surrounding fence, installed a new front door, and drew up plans to build a dormer window on the front facade. Real estate agents for the development would drive prospective buyers to the Gordons' house so they could admire Sam's handiwork and, in the words of the family chronicler Donald Katz, "see what a homeowner could do with old-fashioned, all American know-how ... through the agency of his own hands."3


Reprinted in:

• Intimate Concerns: The American Family in Historical Perspective, ed. Joseph M. Hawes and Elizabeth A. Nybakken (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000).
• Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, ed. Jennifer Scanlon (New York: New York University Press, 2000).

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