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June 13, 2011

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The "time is short" and "every minute counts" banners ("streamers") were, like the posters, standard items from the War Production Board catalog ca. 1942 (and later, presumably; source).

The streamers are pictured in the above as fixtures in factories, rallies exhorting production, etc. - so who knows what's going on in this street scene.

There also appear to be small flags (of various countries?) strung from balcony to balcony.

Houses in those days did not have running water. If your house was well-sited, it might have a well inside. So someone had to draw the water, and perhaps carry it in. The storage vessel was probably a bucket.

To worry that your family will have to reach for their own food and drink is *bizarre*, and makes me feel as though a gulf of understanding has opened up at my feet.

I think you're being overly literal. Pouring a cup of water is the least amount of labor Hamilton can think of. He's saying his family will lack all comforts, in the days when most comforts came as a result of another person directly providing them to you. They won't have someone to do as much as hand them a cup of water, much less chop wood, mend a fence, etc.

MoMA dates it to 1942, but offers little else.

I am staggered trying to imagine an America, less than 200 years ago, in which it seemed *reasonable* for someone to be afraid he'd have to get his own cup of water.

We have those people *today*. They're called "celebrities," and they have something called "personal assistants" who do things like . . . fetch water.

"I never thought I would be so rich as to have my own motor car, nor so poor as I would not have my own servants." -- Agatha Christie

One of the major "social problems" of the nineteenth and early twentieth century was "the servant problem". With the expanding middle class and the movement of the working class into factories, how does one hire reliable servants? From reading literature of the time, work in a sweatshop was *a lot* more attractive than "service". (One was not expected to provide sexual services in a factory, for example.)

Yeah, it's a real mindwarp. It's as hard for me to imagine living with servants as it must have been for Mr. Hamilton (or Ms Christie) to imagine living without servants.

Maybe they're Yankee fans and they're listening to the Cardinals beating New York in the 1942 World Series.

I agree that the picture is of the lower east side, but it certainly doesn't have to be Italian-Americans pictured; those faces could belong to a variety of immigrant groups, including Gypsies and Jews from Romania and Galicia (which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though it is now located in southeast Poland and western Ukraine.) I would guess that the crowd was gathered for either a parade or a flag-raising, both of which were done regularly to honor the boys serving overseas. Both events would trigger mixed emotions, especially in 1942-43.

Prior to the twentieth century, anyone with any pretensions to the middle class had to have at least one servant. In the absence of hot and cold runing water, gas and electricity, refrigeration, and machines like washers and vacuums, maintaining even the most modest lower-middle-class household took an enormous amount of work. A woman simply could not maintain a household and also maintain a middle-class appearance. Without a servant, you were a proletarian or a peasant.

There's a scene in the novel New Grub Street (1891) - about a young man of lower-middle-class origins who is trying and failing to succeed as a novelist - in which there is literally no food in the house and no money to buy any, and the hero is wracking his brains about how he will feed his wife, his son, AND THEIR SERVING GIRL.

If you dismissed your servant, you fell out of your social class. You would starve first.

To worry that your family will be homeless is reasonable and understandable in any era. To worry that your family will have to reach for their own food and drink is *bizarre*, and makes me feel as though a gulf of understanding has opened up at my feet. And yet, it's less than 200 years, and not that far in space.

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