Shantytowns in the United States, 1820-1930


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation adds a missing piece to the story of the creation of the American middle class by documenting an overlooked category of low-income housing and the ways in which these self-reliant communities were assigned cultural meanings at odds with their physical form. Using sources that range from photographs and oil paintings to novels and sheet music, the dissertation traces the shanty house type from frontier homesteads to Depression-era Hoovervilles. It also examines their evolving cultural construction. Presented as domestic by their working-poor builders, shantytowns were nonetheless perceived as degraded by middle-class observers. This had public policy consequences, as shantytowns were razed and outlawed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.