Photos Of Old Kitchens

There are 12 photos here:
History Lovers Club, Photos of Old Kitchens

As I flipped through them I thought about what historian Katherine Turner said in her book, How The Other Half Ate, that most Americans at the turn of the last century (late 1800s, early 1900s), the time of these photos, were working class. Most of the kitchens in these photos don’t appear to me to belong to the working classes; they are spacious and clean with water pipes and gas hobs. The kitchens in these photos were probably less common, belonging to families who could afford to hire cooks and maids to work in them. That domestic help, part of the predominant working class, would return to their own homes in the evening, often to a tenement that had no running water, no electricity, and little food.

Here’s a kitchen that to me is more representative of the majority of Americans at the time:

December 1912: “High up on the top floor of a rickety tenement, 214 Elizabeth St., N.Y., this mother and her two children, boy 10 years old and the girl 12, were living in a tiny one room, and were finishing garments. The garments were packed under the bed and on top of it and around the room. Said the make from $1 to $2 a week, and the boys [sic] earns some selling newspapers” Library of Congress.

The living conditions of many in the working class at that time were deplorable:

Industrialization also caused social changes. The new factory working class in the cities was housed under generally poor conditions. Whole families lived in small one or two-room apartments in tenement buildings up to six stories high, badly aired and with insufficient lighting. … The kitchen in such an apartment was often used as a living and sleeping room, and even as a bathroom. Water had to be fetched from wells and heated on the stove. Water pipes were laid only towards the end of the 19th century, and then often only with one tap per building or per story. Brick-and-mortar stoves fired with coal remained the norm until well into the second half of the century.

On to these Photos of Old Kitchens

While most Americans were living in a room that served as a kitchen, living room, dining room, sometimes bedroom, with a bathroom either down the hall or outside, the room below was clean, spacious and devoted to preparing meals, with a large and ornate stove and what looks like a gas hob. There is plumbing to a sink in the back. And those eggs? According to Turner, eggs where mostly available only for a couple weeks in April when hens laid them. Even then, when they were cheap, at 15 cents/dozen, the woman in the photo above probably could not afford them. This is an upper class kitchen:

Another spacious room. Big window to outside. I’d like to see the stove.

This photo below seems a bit off to me. The stove on the left looks well-used but is that a newer gas hob on the right? And she doesn’t really look like she’s cooking, the pan doesn’t look full and there are no food prep items in use. This feels set up; maybe it was taken to promote something?

The first thing I noticed in this one was the placement of the stove, not against a wall or built into a chimney but standing alone in the center of the room. How is it exhausted? It looks like there’s a flue that reaches up and turns 90 degrees? Was that done?

You could say the photos show the evolution towards modern kitchens, but as a commentary of kitchens of the day it doesn’t work. Most people didn’t live like this. The working class lived like this:

“The kitchen may have looked like this. It came equipped with a bathtub and stove. A spigot for water may have been in the hall.” Ephemeral New York

“An Italian immigrant family in the kitchen of their East Side apartment, date unknown, photographed by Jessie Tarbox Beals.* That gas stove to the right looks awfully dangerous. This must be an old-law tenement; the apartments in these buildings weren’t required to have ventilation in each room. The window facing the kitchen appears to look into a smaller room or closet.” Ephemeral New York

* Jessie Tarbox Beals

According to Turner, tenents paid for gas through a coin-operated gas meter. Even if they had a gas-fueled stove, they might not have been able to use it.

3 thoughts on “Photos Of Old Kitchens

  1. Robert

    Have you had a chance to visit the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side of Manhattan? They have restored a tenement building showing how poor, immigrant city dwellers lived between the 1860’s – 1930’s. It’s an interesting experience if you’re in or visiting NYC.


  2. Bix Post author

    This was all people, all the time. Where did they go to be alone? Not the bathtub, not the bathroom. All these images I’ve seen in the last few days will stay with me.



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