Historical Markers
Rural Electrification, Tioga County Historical Marker
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Rural Electrification, Tioga County

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
N. Main St. (Business US 15), Mansfield

Dedication Date:
October 24, 1986

Behind the Marker

Black and white image of a  teacher holding a light bulb in her hand, while surrounded by her amazed students
A Pennsylvania teacher shows a light bulb to rural students, circa 1940.
By 1930, 70 percent of urban Americans enjoyed the benefits of electricity, while much of rural America was still in the dark. To help rural Americans suffering through the hard years of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, by executive order, created the markerRural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935.

In the years the followed, the REA provided long-term, low-cost loans for rural electric cooperatives and for farm families to help them put up electric lines and string these to individual farms.
Set back in image is a Cow Milking Machine at the Rural Electric Association circus.
Demonstration booth for electric cow milking at an REA exhibition, circa 1939.

In Pennsylvania, farm residents eagerly availed themselves of the REA's offer. Despite conflicts-electric utilities sometimes ran "spite lines" and challenged the cooperatives' operations- rural electrification was a huge boon, especially in Pennsylvania and other states where rural settlement was relatively dense. (The REA required required three farms per mile of line). By 1950, the overwhelming majority of American farm families were hooked into the grid.
Black and white image of a woman in a striped dress standing at a modernized kitchen sink. A stove is directly behind her and small appliances sit on the counter.
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Housewife in a model electrical farm kitchen, July 1936.

Electrification revolutionized daily life on the farm. It eased the sheer physical drudgery of farm work in many ways: water could be pumped with a flick of a switch, poultry houses heated, and cows mechanically milked. Family life changed, too, as the radio brought the sounds and words of the outside world into homes, and lights and household appliances eased labor.

Rural electrification failed, however, to achieve its goal of reducing farm-to-city migration. It, in fact, probably had the opposite effect. It did make farms ever more dependent on outside energy sources, and in the process brought the federal government into people's lives in a more thoroughgoing way, not always a popular thing in rural areas where people believed intensely in local control. Nonetheless, most farm residents agreed that it was a welcome change.
Black and white image of woman at the stove.
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Cooking on a cast iron cook stove, circa 1890.

Since cooperatives thrived financially only when farm people used more electricity, the REA, state agencies, and extension agents promoted electrical appliances as labor saving and time saving devices and encouraged farm women to use electrification to emulate the gender-role models of urban America - to aspire to a more "domestic" life and leave "farm" work to the menfolk.
Black and white image of man and woman with two young girls preparing for wash day on the farm. A big black kettle hanging over an open fire holds the water. A wash tub sits on the ground and one can see the wash board placed inside. Buckets for carrying water are in the children's hands.
Wash day on a Pennsylvania farm, circa 1890.

Rural women, however, had their own ideas about work. Many resisted outside attempts to redefine women's work. Farm women certainly enjoyed the new radios, electric mixers, and vacuums cleaners, but they valued even more labor-saving farm equipment. In response to an essay contest sponsored by the Pennsylvania Electrical Association on "the electric service or appliance which I find most useful," women listed brooder house heaters, milk coolers, barn lights, and irrigation systems as often as kitchen appliances.

Placing the farm's very survival ahead of all else, farm women during the tough economic years of the Great Depression placed a high priority on their income-producing labor. Even in the home, where electrification reduced the difficulty of women's farm labor markedly, the amount of work actually rose, as did expectations for cleanliness and for variety in the farm family's diet. Time-study surveys in the 1970s consistently found that time spent in housework had changed little since the turn of the century.
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