Family Structure - US 1900 to Pre-WWII
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 8
 
TOPICS COVERED: Continuing our historical overview of U.S. families' interaction – from the inter-relationships between generations, to gender roles, and other outside forces that shaped families – from the beginning of the Twentieth Century to the beginning of World War II.
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Family Structure - International, Family Structure - US Colonial to 1899, Family Structure - US Modern Era, Family Roles and Responsibilities, How Important is Family?, Family as a Social Institution, Multiple Generation / Extended Family Households
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 
 
 

FAMILY STRUCTURE - 1900 TO PRE-WWII

 
 
 
 
In 1923, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). In Meyer, the court held that the Constitution provided that an individual had the right to “contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life,to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” Meyer at 399. Because of that right, families should be able to educate children as they see fit, and the Court overturned a state law that required children to be taught solely in English. Then, in Pierce, the Court expanded on this, overturning a state law which required children go to public school (they should be able to go to private school, too), finding that “The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” Pierce at 534 (emphasis mine). (Interestingly/ironically, revisionist historians say that while these appear to be liberal, lovey-dovey, that in fact, they were meant to re-establish parental supremacy/authority: the kid’s mine mine mine all mine and I can do what I want with it. 1.
 
 
 
In 1944, the Supremes came down with Prince v. Massachusetts. In this case, a Jehovah’s Witness guardian illegally had her wards handing out fliers. (The JWs drive the Courts crazy, by the way.) The Court said a law that a (religion neutral) child labor law prohibiting such work (handing stuff out) was enforceable and upheld her conviction. But that’s not the part people focus on. Instead, they quoted the following:
 
 
 
“It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, supra. And it is in recognition of this that these decisions have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.” 2.
 
 
 
These three cases are considered the primary recognition that the family is a nurturing entity that the state should leave alone, unless there’s a really, really good reason (e.g. danger) to interfere with it. Everyone cites to these three, and forgets about the centuries of law before it, except to say that even in English common law recognized the overall importance of the family. That holds true today.
 
 
 
The increase in women’s rights, and the continuing ideal that women are the nurturers in child-rearing meant a gradual flip so that the hundreds’ year old parental preference became a maternal preference. 3.
 
 
 
In 1926, a (female) writer in The Survey wrote: “Men and women whose grandparents measured their income in barrels of apples and potatoes stored in the cellar for winter use; in rows of hams hanging from the rafters; in the bags of wool from sheep-shearing; in piled wood in the dooryard and the corn in the silo; and the hay stacked high to the peak of the barn; in butter and wool and preserves, now see that income in terms of the pay envelope at the end of the week, and what that will buy at the chain grocery, the five-and-ten, the department store.” 4.
 
 
 
In 1905, Charities reported that families (mostly immigrants) carried out small manufacturing of clothing, hats, etc in their tenements – even toddlers, children, and those so sick with tuberculosis that they can't walk. 5.
 
 

In 1905, Charities reported on Philadelphia's tenement district: "Because of its low buildings the density of population per acre in Philadelphia is small, but the crowding within the rooms in some sections is very great. One tenement house, the largest inspected, contained thirty families, one hundred and twenty-three persons, in thirty-for living rooms. In the Italian district more than one family in every four, almost one in three, had but one room for all the purposes of kitchen, dining-room, and bedroom. One hundred and four single-room 'housekeeping apartments' were found in this one block. Five instances were met with in which as many as seven persons of all ages and both sexes slept in one room, which served as kitchen, as well. One family was found sharing three rooms with eighteen lodgers." 6.
 
 

In 1905, Charities reported, "The fact that despite the work of the entire family the income is still too small for living purposes, gives rise to greater evil of overcrowding. The average number of persons in the apartments, due largely to this cause, was 6.4 persons. The average number of rooms occupied by such groups was 2.6. In order to make the income reach the out-go, boarders, lodgers, two and three families huddle together, until not even the ghost of decency remains." 7.
 


According to an analysis of a 1910 census, “black mothers with children were more than three times as likely to be living without a male partner in the household as were white mothers with children. Higher mortality among blacks undoubtedly accounted for some of the difference; but the researchers found that the racial difference was greatest among younger mothers . . . black children more often were raised by kin other than their parents, even when the parents were still alive; about 7 percent of black children, compared to 2 percent of white children, had mothers who were alive but were not living with them. Even among two-parent households, blacks were four more times likely to have children living elsewhere.” 8.
 
 
 
In 1916, an essayist in Harper's Monthly Magazine wrote on the "Break-up of the Family": “I do not think that the family will completely disappear nay more than scarlet-fever or the tax-collector. But certainly it will change in character, and its evolution already points towards its new form. The old-fashioned family sickened because it was a compulsory grouping. The wife cleaved unto her husband because he paid the bills; the children cleaved unto their parents be-cause they must cleave unto something. There was no chance of getting out, for there was nothing to get out to.” 9.
 
 

In 1916, an essayist in Harper's Monthly Magazine wrote on the "Break-up of the Family": “That is the tragedy of the family; it lives on top of itself. The daughters go too much with their mothers to shop; there are too many joining holidays, too many compulsory rejoicings at Christmas or . . . birthdays. There are not enough private places in the house. I have heard one young suffragist, sentenced to fourteen days for breaking windows, say that, quite apart from having struck a blow for the Cause, it was the first peaceful fortnight she had ever known.” 10.
 
 

In 1916, an essayist in Harper's Monthly Magazine wrote on the "Break-up of the Family": ”In a family, friendships are difficult . .. That sort of thing is called tolerance and self-sacrifice; in reality it is mutual tyranny, and amounts to the passing on of pinches, as it were. . . As for the old, they cannot indefinitely remain with the young, for, after all, there are only two things to talk of with any in--tensity – the future and the past; they are the topics of different generations. ¶ Still, for various reasons, this condition is endured. it is cheaper to live to-gether; it is more convenient socially; it is customary, which, especially in England, is most important. But it demands an impossible and unwilling tolerance, sometimes fraudulent exhibitions of love, sometimes sham charity.” 11.
 
 

In 1916, an essayist in Harper's Monthly Magazine wrote on the "Break-up of the Family": "An immediate consequence of the growth of education has been a change in the status of the child . . . I do not think that the modern parent desires to coerce as much as did his fore-bear. Rather the desire to develop the child’s personality, and in its early years this leads to horrid results, to children being ‘taught to see the beautiful’ or ‘being made to realize the duties of a citizen.’ We are in for a generation made up half of bulbous-headed, be-spectacled precocities, and half of barbarians who are ‘realizing their personality’ by the continual use of ‘shall’ and sh‘an’t.’ this will pass as all things pass, the old child ad the rude child, just like the weak parent after the brute parent, and it is enough that the new generation points to another generation, for there seldom was a time that was not better than its father and the herald of a finer son. ¶ Generally the parent will help, for his new attitude can be expressed in a phrase. He does not say, ‘I am master,’ but, ‘I am responsible.’ He has begun to realize that the child is not a regret-table accident or a little present from Providence; he is beginning to look upon the care of the child as a duty. He has extended the ideal of citizenship, born in the middle of the nineteenth century, which was ‘to leave the world at little better than he found it’; he has passed to wanting his son to be a little richer than he was, and a little more learned; he is coming to want his son to be a finer and bolder man; he will come in time to want his daughter to be a finer and bolder woman, which just now he bears pretty well. His wife is helping him a great deal . . . . her head a waste-paper basket of intellect, but still create in that head a disturbance far better than the ancient and cow-like placidity. The modern mother is often too much inclined to weigh the baby four ties a day, to feed it ozoneid, or something equally funny, to expose as much of its person as possible to make it gaze at Botticelli prints when in its bath. She will no doubt want it to mate eugenically, in which she will probably be disappointed . . . The modern mother has begun to consider herself as a human being as well as a mother . . . ." 12.
 
 

In 1925, a Harper's Magazine essayist wrote, “Among the many subjects agitating the minds of the people of the United States to-day none com-pares in its insistence and acuteness with the question of the future of the institution of marriage in America. A com-plete change in attitude, often in the form of a violent revolt against the for-mer ideals and customs affecting the marriage relation, is in full swing and the general uncertainty and instability in the relation is probably more marked than in any other country. People all over the land are aroused by the disturbed conditions and they are arguing, writing, and preaching about it from all angles, in an effort to stem the tide of disaffection and disruption which is making such inroads upon this ancient institution. ¶ It is too late. . . . only a seer would at-tempt to predict what the outcome will be or when the final stage of disintegration will be reached.” 13.
 
 

In 1925 , a Harper's Magazine essayist wrote, “As individual wealth increased, this condition spread and its influence per-meated all classes. Practically all American husbands will say, when asked why they work so hard and intensively, that they do it for their families. This is the fiction which they repeat with monotonous uniformity, regardless of the fact that these same wives and families frequently implore their men to give them less of material things and more of themselves, that they may share interests. together. The fact is the men are caught in a mechanism of their own creating, which now has become inde-pendent of the individual will and which drives them on regardless of necessity or wish.” 14.
 
 

In 1925 , a Harper's Magazine essayist wrote, “The husband, even in wealthy circles, is so intensely occupied with his business interests that he has no energy left for more cultural fields or for the family, while the wife, because she has so much idle time on her hands, and no necessity to force her to independent constructive activity, becomes unhappy and neurotic – a waste product without meaning or purpose.” 15.
 
 

In 1925 , a Harper's Magazine essayist wrote,“. . . it is not possible to separate the changed attitude to-wards marriage from the changed status of women. one is dependent upon the other. It is women who have revolted and for whom the conflict over marriage has arisen. ¶ The suppression of the woman’s individuality and her personal needs and wishes for t the sake of her husband, the submersion of herself in his life and interests, and in those of her children,has become no longer acceptable, since the whole social condition which demanded this has changed. And this applies not only to the present generation. Older women who have devotedly followed this ancient path have repeatedly told me that it had been a mistake, that it did not bring to either husband or wife the happiness and contentment which was expected from it, and that they would not submerge themselves in this way if they had the experience to live over again. ¶ An interesting commentary on the submerging effect of marriage on women is afforded by the numerous instances in which wives separated by death or otherwise from their husbands have blossomed suddenly into happy, capable, useful individuals. Even among what have appeared to be successful marriages, there has come about after the final adjustment had been made to the separation, the transformation of the wife from submergence, semi-invalidism, or a dependent inconsequential existence to a healthy, socially valuable personality. . . ." 16.
 
 

In 1925 , a Harper's Magazine essayist wrote, “Nevertheless, the new ideal in relation to marriage is rising. The old ideal of duty and responsibility to society, to religion, and even to family, which kept marriage intact, is gone never to return; but a new duty and responsibility more solemn, more bind-ing, and more imperative than the old is here. Just as to all men of honor their unsupported work seriously given engages their feeling of integrity and responsibility, binding them far more securely than all the legal and business restrictions could do, so the new ideal of personal freedom in marriage places a responsibly upon the individual far heavier than that of the past. ¶ Marriage is a duty of the individual to himself, for only within such a close relation volitionally entered into can there be found those opportunities for the development of an individual integrity, . . . A failure in making the strongest efforts to wrk out a satisfactory relation is a failure of the individual within himself. Therefore, instead of acting from impulse and personal gratification in regard to marriage, the necessity exists for an honesty towards one-self, for serious reflection and thoughtful action – intellect cooperating with feel-ing – in order to insure the basis for the development of a true relationship. ¶ Furthermore, this ideal involves a far great and more impersonal aspect than that of the individual or of the family; it reaches out to embrace the whole problem of general human relations. For whether the individual considers it or not, the welfare of society depends upon marriage and the family more than on anything else. Therefore, a new ideal and a new reality attained by individuals in marriage is the first step towards the attainment of new world relations. To carry this ideal though and to create thereby a new life of relationship is the great social task of women." 17.
 
 

In 1928, a Harper’s Monthly Magazine essayist wrote, “It is the inevitable outcome of the egocentric philosophy which the modern girl is learning in school and college. She can-not have her cake and eat it. She can-not be a man and hold a man. If she is seeking to abolish marriage, we must give her credit for knowing exactly how to go about it.” 18.
 
 

In 1928, a Harper’s Monthly Magazine essayist wrote, “. . if we do look with uneasiness on the growing divorce rate and all that it may lead to, then, though, there is no panacea to cure it, two steps it will help us to regain the lost ground. First, married women should decide voluntarily to give up the independent bread-winning function wherever economically possible. With this goes the correspond-ing determination of men to assure wherever feasible a decent family income, the economic subordination of their wives, and the male authority which goes with it. Second, married women, should realize that their desire for unrestrained freedom is a direct cause of divorce in American, and a treason to their primary function as women, which is to keep the family intact and to carry on the race to higher and higher levels.” 19.
 
 

In 1928, a Harper’s Monthly Magazine essayist wrote, “Feminists, note this well! It is the double-headedness of the modern American family which is causing it so fre-quently to split down the middle, leaving the children more or less exposed. The heads are at war with each other. The house divided against itself does not, we observe, stand. Marriage dissolves in feminism as sugar melts in acid. No one expects married women with the price-less gift of leisure to spend their time entirely within the home. but let them avoid the mistake of assuming the man’s part. Let them fill a terrible gap in American life by devoting themselves to the many good causes which do not, as a matte of fact, pay cash dividends. Let them dedicate themselves to the task of showing their men that there are finer interests in life than dollar and cents. ¶ I want to leave this thought in the modern married woman’s mind. Co-commandership in a family, and un-bridled self-assertion in a woman are the quickest ways to break up a home. There is a deal of truth in the saying that a woman who wins an argument with her husband is likely to lose her man. . . . Assuming that women still desire the welfare of their children, and that children are to receive the care to which they seem to be en-titled, divorce must be knocked on the head. And the quickest way to kill divorce is to restore all loyal husbands, in these times of prosperity, that natural authority which is theirs anyway the moment anything goes wrong.” 20.
 
 

In 1934, a sociologist analyzed a 1933 census of relief recipients, writing that “By early summer it was definitely determined that more than one seventh of the families in this country were receiving relief from public funds.” 21.
 
 

In 1934, a sociologist determined that “The first and most significant fact . . . was that more than twelve and a half mil-lion persons were dependent on unemployment relief in October 1933 – a population equal to that of the whole United States one hundred years ear-lier, and constituting one tenth of the present population. the four states of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Illinois included, as their size would suggest, a third of these persons.” 22.
 
 

In 1934, a sociologist reported that 32 percent of Jacksonville FL’s population was on relief. 23.
 
 

In 1934, a sociologist determined that “One seventh of all the children from 6 to 13 years of age in the United States were found sharing in unemployment relief, an experience which is probably comparable to their school life in affecting their outlook on the world in which they live. Almost a quarter of a million infants were start-ing life on relief. Children under 16 comprised 42 per cent of the relief population, although they represent only 31 per cent of the general population. This unusually high proportion of children was more marked in urban than in rural area, but otherwise, it was shown quite consistently throughout the United States.” 24.
 
 

In 1934, a sociologist determined that “Negroes comprised one sixth of the persons on relief in October 1933, although they represent less than one tenth of the general population. This contrast was almost entirely confined to urban areas . .. In rural areas the estimated percentages of the population on relief were 9.3 for whites and 10.9 for Negroes. In urban areas they were 9.6 and 26.7 respectively, the Negro percentage being nearly three times that of the white population.” 25.



In 1939, Science News-Letter reported that a survey of professional men and their wives revealed: "One-child families are not considered ideal by this group. Like most other people they would like to have three or more children." However, it's financial considerations that are preventing them from doing this, particularly the high cost of higher education." 26.
 

In 1939, Science News-Letter reported, "The present decline in population growth in the United States is due, not to any biological decline in fertility among moderns, nor to economic factors, as such, but to the powerful influence of our social atmosphere, declares Dr. Warren S. Thompson, population expert of the Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems. . . . 'You hear people say ' we cannot afford more children.' But it is not the very poor who feel that way. It is the relatively well-to-do." Because they aren't willing to give up a standard of living that includes life's amenities like travel and entertainment." 27.
 
 

In 1939, Science News-Letter reported, "Almost 30 per cent estimates, Dr. Thompson, have no children, 18 per cent. have only one child and another 18 per cent. have only two children." 28.

 
 
In 1939, Science News-Letter reported, "Before men and women will want large families, it will be necessary for the social environment to change so that 'there is no handicapping economic or social discrimination between those who want to contribute to community life by raising families of the proper size [3-4] as well as through their own work and those who are interested in making their contribution only through their own work." 29.

 
 
“. . . compared with 1950, 1960, and 1970, more older children in their late 20s and early 30s still lived with their parents in the years before World War II.” 30.

 
 
In 1940, the Census determined that 11.1% of those living in private households were not members of the nuclear family. Instead they were the household head's grandchild (2.6%), household head's parent (1.6%), household head's other relative (4.1%), lodgers (1.6%) and servants/hired hands (1.2%). 1.6 million family households included "subfamily" – a married couple with or without children – in addition to the household's family. 2.858 million families had one or more lodgers in their households. 31.
 
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1. Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). See Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, "Who Owns The Child? Meyer and Pierce and the Child as Property," 33 William & Mary Law Review 995 (Summer 1992).
2. ________, Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus, 268 U.S. 510 (1925). Archived at: http://laws.findlaw.com/us/268/510.html citing ________, Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 157 (1944). Archived at: http://laws.findlaw.com/us/321/158.html
3. See Barbara Bennett Woodhouse, "Who Owns The Child? Meyer and Pierce and the Child as Property," 33 William & Mary Law Review 995 (Summer 1992), and Janet L. Dolgin, "The Constitution As Family Arbiter: A Moral in the Mess?" Columbia Law Review, vol. 102, pp. 337-407 (March 4, 2002).
4. Mary Ross, “Shall We Join the Gentlemen?,” The Survey, p. 264, et seq. (December 1, 1926), p. 264.
5. Annie S. Daniel, "The Wreck of the Home," Charities, pp. 624-628 (April 1, 1905).
6. Emily Wayland Dinwiddie, "Housing Conditions in Philadelphia," Charities, p. 631 et seq. (April 1, 1905), p. 634.
7. Annie S. Daniel, "The Wreck of the Home," Charities, pp. 624-628 (April 1, 1905), p. 627 et seq.
8. Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, Revised and Enlarged Ed., Harvard University Press, USA (1992), p. 109-110. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/067455082X/ref=sib_rdr_dp/104-0887680-4192712?%5Fencoding=UTF8&no=283155&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books
9. Walter Lionel George, “The Break-up of the Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 249-59 (July 1916), p. 247.
10. Walter Lionel George, “The Break-up of the Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 249-59 (July 1916), p. 251.
11. Walter Lionel George, “The Break-up of the Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 249-59 (July 1916), p. 251.
12. Walter Lionel George, “The Break-up of the Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, pp. 249-59 (July 1916), pp. 253-254.
13. Beatrice Hinkle, "The Chaos of Modern Marriage," Harper's Magazine, pp. 1-13 (December 1925), p. 3.
14. Beatrice Hinkle, "The Chaos of Modern Marriage," Harper's Magazine, pp. 1-13 (December 1925), pp. 3-4.
15. Beatrice Hinkle, "The Chaos of Modern Marriage," Harper's Magazine, pp. 1-13 (December 1925), p. 4.
16. Beatrice Hinkle, "The Chaos of Modern Marriage," Harper's Magazine, pp. 1-13 (December 1925), p. 5.
17. Beatrice Hinkle, "The Chaos of Modern Marriage," Harper's Magazine, pp. 1-13 (December 1925), p. 11.
18. Henry R. Carey, “This Two-Headed Monster–The Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Vol. 156, pp. 162-171. (January 1928), p. 170.
19. Henry R. Carey, “This Two-Headed Monster–The Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Vol. 156, pp. 162-171. (January 1928), p. 170.
20. Henry R. Carey, “This Two-Headed Monster–The Family,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Vol. 156, pp. 162-171. (January 1928), pp. 170-171.
21. Corrington Gill, “A Study of Three Million Families on Relief in October 1933,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, pp. 25-36 (November 1934), p. 25. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7162%28193411%29176%3C25%3AASOTTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
22. Corrington Gill, “A Study of Three Million Families on Relief in October 1933,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, pp. 25-36 (November 1934), p. 26. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7162%28193411%29176%3C25%3AASOTTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
23. Corrington Gill, “A Study of Three Million Families on Relief in October 1933,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, pp. 25-36 (November 1934), p. 29. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7162%28193411%29176%3C25%3AASOTTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
24. Corrington Gill, “A Study of Three Million Families on Relief in October 1933,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, pp. 25-36 (November 1934), p. 30. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7162%28193411%29176%3C25%3AASOTTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
25. Corrington Gill, “A Study of Three Million Families on Relief in October 1933,” Annals of the Amer. Acad of Political and Social Science, pp. 25-36 (November 1934), p. 31. Archived at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7162%28193411%29176%3C25%3AASOTTM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y
26. Science News-Letter, p. 76 (Feb 4, 1939)
27. Science News-Letter, p. 25, (July 8, 1939)
28. Science News-Letter, p. 25, (July 8, 1939)
29. Science News-Letter, p. 25, (July 8, 1939)
30. George Masnick and Mary Jo Bane, The Nation’s Families: 1960-1990. Auburn House Publishing Co., Boston, Mass. (1980), p. 13. Available through: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0865690502/qid=1124129123/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/104-0887680-4192712?v=glance&s=books&n=507846.
31. 1940 Census report TK