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Household of a Large Working-Class Family in a Village near Frankfurt am Main (1877)

This report from Taunus, a hilly area near Frankfurt, makes clear that families of workers – especially unskilled ones – often lived on the edge of desperation. As in this case, their situation was often characterized by a large number of children, irregular employment, low income, meager savings (or none at all), cramped accommodations, poor diet, and little likelihood of husbands and wives enjoying leisure activities together, even on Sundays. Sometimes, children as young as seven had to cope with long working hours in various occupations, including the construction industry.

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At the time these notes were recorded, the family whose domestic situation we will describe consisted of the following seven persons:

Head of the household 44 years old
} married since 1859
his wife 38 years old
Joseph, the eldest son 16 years old
Adam, the second son 15 years old
Magdalene, the elder daughter 9 years old
Georg, the third son 5 years old
Christiane, the younger daughter 2½ years old

Apart from these five surviving children, N. had also had two sons who died before their first birthday, and a third one who had succumbed to spinal tuberculosis at the age of 10. These children would now be 13, 11, and 7 years of age. Before long, N. will become father to a ninth child.

N. can be regarded as more or less typical of the penniless day laborers living in the Feldberg villages [in the Taunus region]. He owns neither fields nor livestock and lives in a little rented house made of clay and half-timbering, which he owned in the past but was forced to sell because of his debts. He still has use of all rooms in the house: a living room (3.88 m long, 3.50 m wide, and 2 m high), which accommodates the common bed for him, his wife, and his youngest daughter, as well as the children’s bedstead for the youngest son; and an unheatable, very damp room (3.88 x 3.75 x 2.17 m), in which the two older sons and the eldest daughter sleep in one bed. The cottage also has a small barn used for storing potatoes and a pantry; N. manages to grow some herbs and a bit of lettuce in a small garden measuring about 25 square meters. In the usual fashion, the kitchen is identical to the hallway. There is no separate wash-boiler; water is heated in one of the cooking pots. As the inventory shows, kitchen utensils in general, as well as home furnishings, are very meager. The situation is even worse in terms of clothing. The inventory shows that most of their clothes were already purchased second-hand.
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