To provide context for the scrapbooks of the Rowe family, we have conducted research on the history of scrapbook keeping in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Late 19th and Early 20th Century
The art of scrapbooking began long before the 19th century, but started to gain traction with a broader audience in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
An important aspect with scrapbooking is collecting various items from daily life. During the time before the Great Depression, collecting was generally seen as a form of entertainment for those who could afford to do so. These collections grew as industrialization took off in the United States, enabling collecting to be a hobby to more than just the wealthy.
In the early 20th century, collecting items and antiquing were both seen as methods to improve one’s overall aesthetic taste. Antiquing items of value was done to make it seem as though a person was of higher status than they actually were, even as industrialization made many goods more accessible.
Collecting was also able to delineate specific gender roles. While men were expected to collect items like rocks, baseball cards, and milk bottle caps, women were expected to collect flowers, soft materials, and more ordinary objects. For women, collecting was supposed to train them for their more domestic roles, where they were presumed to be collecting beautiful or sentimental items.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a cataclysmic event that shook the lives of millions across the world and left many people unemployed. With staggering numbers of citizens suddenly out of work, the United States government sought to support new methods to keep the population from partaking in unsavory activities.
The 1930s brought about the rise of hobbies for men and women alike. With newfound free time, the U.S. government supported hobbies like collecting cards and creating scrapbooks. Many people were concerned with maintaining and learning skills suited for the workforce, anticipating re-entering full-time work. As such, “New Leisure” had to be seen as productive in some capacity.
Compared to many states and regions that were hard hit by the Great Depression, Virginia managed to evade the worst of things due to its diverse economy. Even still, Virginia began facing hardships as the ’30s rolled on, with urban and rural areas alike feeling the effects of the Depression.
Scrapbooking has been an important part of women’s history throughout the past few centuries, wherein women have been able to collect items that held special and sentimental value to them as well as allowing them to remember friends and family members that were dear to them.
For women, scrapbooking pieces of nature, calling cards, and even mundane items like candy wrappers were important to them. Saving items such as these is seen across the nation as well as in the Rowe family’s scrapbooks, in which we found plants, dirt, posters, and wedding cards.
Scrapbooks allow us to see a uniquely feminine and visual view on what women considered to be valuable and which memories they treasured most. This gives us a special opportunity to understand history from the perspective of women, enabling us to better comprehend the full picture of our past.
Tying this into the Rowe family’s scrapbooks, we are able to see how four Fredericksburg women processed the ever-changing world around them. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, we can see Gilmer saving anniversary cards from friends. Through the 1920s and 1930s, we see Jeanette and Katherine detailing their weddings, excitedly collecting materials from their wedding days and their honeymoons. Into the 1950s, we are able to see Anne saving newspaper clippings of her successes and her ambitions to be an industrious and involved person in the community are made abundantly clear.
The scrapbooks featured in this project show a clear progression of not only family history, but women’s history throughout early 20th century America.
Buttery, Catherine. “Catherine Buttery Scrapbooks, 1931-1935.” 2010. https://library.ndsu.edu/ir/handle/10365/12573
Craft, Anna R., David Gwynn, and Kathelene McCarty Smith. “Uncovering Social History: An Interdepartmental Approach to Scrapbook Digitization.” The American Archivist 79, no. 1 (2016): 186-200. Accessed March 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/26356706
Gelber, Steven M. “A Job You Can’t Lose: Work and Hobbies in the Great Depression.” Journal of Social History (1991): 741-766.
Heinemann, Ronald L. Depression and New Deal in Virginia: The Enduring Dominion. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1983.
Encyclopedia Virginia. “The Great Depression in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia: Virginia Humanities, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/great_depression_in_virginia
Martin-Perdue, Nancy J. and Charles L. Perdue Jr. Talk about Trouble: A New Deal Portrait of Virginians in the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
“Scrapbooking History: How It All Began!” Scrapbooking Coach. Accessed April 14, 2020. https://scrapbookingcoach.com/the-uncut-history-of-scrapbooking-in-under-5-minutes/
Ware, Susan. “Writing Women’s Lives: One Historian’s Perspective.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 40, no. 3 (2010): 413-35. Accessed March 6, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20685513
Yung, Judy. Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco. University of California Press, 1995.