America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
FARM AND COUNTRYSIDE

CONTEMPORARY OBSERVERS WERE GENERALLY WELL AGREED UPON the lack of amusements in the rural America of the late nineteenth century. Life on the farm varied greatly in different parts of the country, but it could not anywhere offer social or recreational opportunities comparable to those of town or city. A majority of all Americans-two out of every three people still lived in the country despite the increasing exodus to the citiesfound themselves largely cut off from both the commercial amusements and the organized sports which had so transformed urban recreation.

In the Middle West, more typical of the agrarian scene than any other part of the country, the isolation which the telephone, the automobile, and the radio have now broken down was especially marked. The farmer was often miles from his nearest neighbor, and even farther away from the town. The incessant labor, the almost unbroken daily routine, and the dreary loneliness of the great farms being opened up on the prairies have been described again and again in sectional novel and autobiography. The lack of amusements played no small part in stirring tip the discontent that led to agricultural revolt and to the Populist movement of the 1890's.

An even gloomier picture is sometimes drawn of rural life in the East with its equally back-breaking work and often less favorable rewards. "As for amusements and recreation," Nathaniel Egleston wrote in 1878, "there is next to none, at least that is worthy of the name. It has been said of the New England villagers particularly that their only recreations are their funeral

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