Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spreading the News "Broadcast"

Yesterday, my husband came into the house and told me, "It's Williams." He was referring to our neighbours. We've lived in this suburban development for 10 years but never learned the last name of our next door neighbours.

As it happens, I am in the midst of editing the 1911/12 Nicholson letters. I haven't cut them down much. Mostly I've added background and clarification.

I expect my editor to get back to me and say that I left in too much gossip.

But I did it on purpose: I wanted to show what life was like in a town back then. How you had no privacy. Or, as Edith Nicholson put it in a 1908 letter, how "Everything is spread broadcast in a few hours." (Actually, she was referring to Radnor Forges, an even smaller place than Richmond.)

I think this is important, because I hope these letters will be used (continue to be used) by high school teachers, and modern teens are apt to recognize or at least sense something familiar in these letters.

After all, they use Facebook.

There was been a lot of controversy over Facebook Privacy. Those who aren't that concerned say that all Facebook is doing is returning us to an earlier time, when people lived in towns, and when everyone knew everyone else's business.

I think it would be a terrific exercise to compare my 1911/12 letters to Facebook (when I've finished editing and annotating them.)

I already can see how the Nicholson Family Letters both prove and disprove this idea.

Yes, everyone knew your business but, in 1910, you sacrificed privacy for security. There was a kind of trade-off.

Mrs. Montgomery was a nosy and sometimes interfering neighbour, but she was always there with the chicken soup when Margaret was sick!

Anyway, privacy was considered an issue in 1911 with respect to the Census. I think they only released these documents to the public after 91 years.

The Census is online now and I've been checking it out. Firstly, I looked up McCoys and Watters and they spelled Watters WATERS and mixed up Isabel and Marie McCoy. On top of that, Margaret Nicholson lied about her age!

There must be tonnes of lies and mistakes on the Census. In the McCoy's case, it looks like the Census person is French, so perhaps he didn't understand. ("He" because I seriously doubt women were employed as Census takers; Norman Nicholson worked for the 1901 Census.)

I made a mistake,myself, reading the Census. On an earlier blog I said that the McCoys employed a live in-couple to do housework. Wrong. These were neighbours.

But many families on their street had maids. Just on this same Census page I found 4 maids: one West-Indian, one from France, one Swedish and one from England, all girls between 16 and 21.

I searched further up and down and street and noticed some 'servants' were as young as 12 and 14, and others in their 30's and 40's.

(It just occurred to me: a 'servant' is called 'a maid' probably, because it was usually a young, unmarried woman.)

I know these Hutchison flats were big, because Marion remarks upon it in a letter. But if the family was large, with lots of kids, they either had no maids (letting the kids do the housework) or they had live-out help. Or so it seems.

All very interesting.

I think I will pitch this story to someone.