Chapter 23 - Mass Society in an Age of “Progress”

The Emergence of a Mass Society

Education in the Mass Society

Mass education was a product of the mass society of the late nineteenth century. Being “educated” in the early nineteenth century meant attending a secondary school or possibly even a university. Secondary schools emphasized a Classical education based on the study of Greek and Latin. Secondary and university education was primarily for the elite, the sons of government officials, nobles, or wealthier middle-class families. After 1850, secondary education was expanded as more middle-class families sought employment in public service and the professions or entry into elite scientific and technical schools.

UNIVERSAL ELEMENTARY EDUCATION In the decades after 1870, the functions of the state were extended to include the development of mass education in state-run systems. Most Western governments began to offer at least primary education to both boys and girls between the ages of six and twelve. States also assumed responsibility for the quality of teachers by establishing teacher-training schools. By 1900, many European states, especially in northern and western Europe, were providing state-financed primary schools, salaried and trained teachers, and free, compulsory elementary education for the masses.

Why did European states make this commitment to mass education? Liberals believed that education was important to personal and social improvement and also sought, as in France, to supplant Catholic education with moral and civic training based on secular values. Even conservatives favored mass education as a means of improving the quality of military recruits and training people in social discipline. In 1875, a German military journal stated, “We in Germany consider education to be one of the principal ways of promoting the strength of the nation and above all military strength.”

Another incentive for mass education came from industrialization. In the early Industrial Revolution, unskilled labor was sufficient to meet factory needs, but the new firms of the Second Industrial Revolution demanded skilled labor. Both boys and girls with an elementary education had new possibilities of jobs beyond their villages or small towns, including white-collar jobs in railways, subway stations, post offices, banking and shipping firms, teaching, and nursing. To industrialists, then, mass education furnished the trained workers they needed.

Nevertheless, the chief motive for mass education was political. For one thing, the expansion of voting rights necessitated a more educated electorate. Even more important, however, mass compulsory education instilled patriotism and nationalized the masses, providing an opportunity for even greater national integration. As people lost their ties to local regions and even to religion, nationalism supplied a new faith. The use of a single national language created greater national unity than loyalty to a ruler did.

A nation’s motives for universal elementary education largely determined what was taught in its elementary schools. Indoctrination in national values took on great importance. At the core of the academic curriculum were reading, writing, arithmetic, national history (from a patriotic perspective), geography, literature, and some singing and drawing. The education of boys and girls differed, however. Where possible, the sexes were separated. Girls did less math and no science but concentrated on such domestic skills as sewing, washing, ironing, and cooking, all prerequisites for providing a good home for husband and children. Boys were taught some practical skills, such as carpentry, and even some military drill. Most of the elementary schools also inculcated the middle-class virtues of hard work, thrift, sobriety, cleanliness, and respect for the family. For most students, elementary education led to apprenticeship and a job.

FEMALE TEACHERS The development of compulsory elementary education created a demand for teachers, and most of them were female. In the United States, for example, women constituted two-thirds of all teachers by the 1880s. Many men viewed the teaching of children as an extension of women’s “natural role” as nurturers of children. Moreover, females were paid lower salaries, in itself a considerable incentive for governments to encourage the establishment of teacher-training institutes for women. The first colleges for women were really teacher-training schools. In Britain, the women’s colleges of Queen’s and Bedford were established in the 1840s to provide teacher training for middle-class spinsters who needed to work. Barbara Bodichon (boh-di-SHOHNH) (1827-1891), a pioneer in the development of female education, established her own school where girls were trained for economic independence as well as domesticity. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century, however, were women permitted to enter the male-dominated universities. In France, 3 percent of university students in 1902 were women; by 1914, their number had increased to 10 percent of the total.

LITERACY AND NEWSPAPERS The most immediate result of mass education was an increase in literacy. In Germany, Great Britain, France, and the Scandinavian countries, adult illiteracy was virtually eliminated by 1900. Where there was less schooling, the story is very different. Adult illiteracy rates were 79 percent in Serbia, 78 percent in Romania, 72 percent in Bulgaria, and 79 percent in Russia. All of these countries had made only a minimal investment in compulsory mass education.

With the dramatic increase in literacy after 1871 came the rise of mass-circulation newspapers, such as the Evening News (1881) and Daily Mail (1896) in London, which sold millions of copies a day. Known as the “yellow press” in the United States, these newspapers shared some common characteristics. They were written in an easily understood style and tended toward the sensational. Unlike eighteenth-century newspapers, which were full of serious editorials and lengthy political analyses, these tabloids provided lurid details of crimes, jingoistic diatribes, gossip, and sports news. There were other forms of cheap literature as well. Specialty magazines, such as the Family Herald for the entire family, and women’s magazines began in the 1860s. Pulp fiction for adults included the extremely popular westerns with their innumerable variations on conflicts between cowboys and Indians. Literature for the masses was but one feature of the new mass culture; another was the emergence of new forms of leisure.

Mass Leisure

In the preindustrial centuries, play or leisure activities had been closely connected to work patterns based on the seasonal or daily cycles typical of the life of peasants and artisans. The process of industrialization in the nineteenth century had an enormous impact on those traditional patterns. The factory imposed new work patterns that were determined by the rhythms of machines and clocks and removed work time completely from the family environment of farms and workshops. Work and leisure became opposites as leisure came to be viewed as what people did for fun when not on the job. In fact, the new leisure hours created by the industrial system - evening hours after work, weekends, and later a week or two in the summer – largely determined the contours of the new mass leisure.

New technology and business practices also determined the forms of leisure pursuits. Gas street lamps and open boulevards enabled many urban dwellers to escape their cramped working and living conditions to promenade for pleasure. In 1901, an observer from Glasgow wrote, “Here come every night the young persons who have spent the day cooped in shops or warehouses, or offices, and who find sitting at home in dreary lodgings an intolerable torture. On Saturday they come in all the greater number.... The lighted street demands no admission money, and so they come in droves.” New technology also created novelties such as the Ferris wheel at amusement parks. The mechanized urban transportation systems of the 1880s meant that even the working classes were no longer dependent on neighborhood taverns but could make their way to athletic events, amusement parks, and dance halls. Likewise, railroads could take people to the beaches on weekends.

MUSIC AND DANCE HALLS Music and dance halls appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century. The first music hall in London was constructed in 1849 for a lower-class audience. As is evident from one Londoner’s observation, music halls were primarily for males:

[They were a] popular place of Saturday night resort with working men, as at them they can combine the drinking of the Saturday night glass and smoking of the Saturday night pipe, with the seeing and hearing of a variety of entertainments, ranging from magnificent ballets and marvelous scenic illusions to inferior tumbling, and from well-given operatic selections to the most idiotic of the so-called comic songs.

By the 1880s, there were five hundred music halls in London. Promoters gradually made them more respectable and broadened their fare to entice both women and children to attend the programs. The new dance halls, which were all the rage by 1900, were more strictly oriented toward adults. The sight of young people engaged in sexually suggestive dancing often shocked contemporaries.

MASS TOURISM The upper and middle classes had created the first market for tourism, but as wages increased and workers were given paid vacations, tourism became another form of mass leisure. Thomas Cook (1808-1892) was a British pioneer of mass tourism. Secretary to a British temperance group, Cook had been responsible for organizing a railroad trip to temperance gatherings in 1841. This experience led him to offer trips on a regular basis after he found that he could make substantial profits by renting special trains, lowering prices, and increasing the number of passengers. In 1867, he offered tours to Paris and by the 1880s to Switzerland. Of course, overseas tours were for the industrial and commercial middle classes, but soon, thanks to savings clubs, even British factory workers were able to take weekend excursions.

TEAM SPORTS Team sports had also developed into yet another form of mass leisure by the late nineteenth century. Sports were by no means a new activity. Unlike the old rural games, however, they were no longer chaotic and spontaneous activities but became strictly organized, with written rules and officials to enforce them. The rules were the products of organized athletic groups, such as the English Football Association (1863) and the American Bowling Congress (1895).

The new sports were not just for fun; like other forms of middle-class recreation, they were intended to provide training for people, especially adolescents. Not only could the participants develop individual skills, but they could also acquire a sense of teamwork useful for military service. These characteristics were already evident in the British public schools (which were really private boarding schools) in the 1850s and 1860s when such schools as Harrow, Uppingham, and Loretto placed organized sports at the center of the curriculum (see the box on p. 715). At Loretto, for example, education was supposed to instill “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence. Fourth – Manners. Fifth – Information.”

The new team sports rapidly became professionalized. In Britain, soccer had its Football Association in 1863 and rugby its Rugby Football Union in 1871. In the United States, the first national association to recognize professional baseball players was formed in 1863. By 1900, the National League and American League had a monopoly over professional baseball. The development of urban transportation systems made possible the construction of stadiums where thousands could attend, making mass spectator sports a big business. In 1872, some 2,000 people watched the British Soccer Cup Final. By 1885, the crowd had increased to 10,000 and by 1901 to 100,000. Professional teams became objects of mass adulation by crowds of urbanites who compensated for their lost sense of identity in mass urban areas by developing these new loyalties. Spectator sports even reflected class differences. Upper-class soccer teams in Britain viewed working-class teams as vicious and prone to “money-grubbing, tricks, sensational displays, and utter rottenness.”

The sports cult of the late nineteenth century was mostly male oriented. Many men believed that females were not particularly suited for “vigorous physical activity,” although it was permissible for middle-class women to indulge in less active sports such as croquet and lawn tennis. Eventually, some athletics crept into women’s colleges and girls’ public schools in England.

Standardized forms of amusement drew mass audiences. Although some authorities argued that the new amusements were important for improving people, in truth, they served primarily to provide entertainment and distract people from the realities of their work lives. The new mass leisure also represented a significant change from earlier forms of popular culture. Festivals and fairs had been based on active and spontaneous community participation, whereas the new forms of mass leisure were businesses, standardized for largely passive mass audiences and organized to make profits.

Mass Consumption

Amusement parks, dance halls, organized tourist trips, and athletic events all offered new forms of leisure for masses of people, but they also quickly became part of the new mass consumption of the late nineteenth century. Earlier most people’s purchases had been limited: some kitchen utensils, bedding, furniture, and a few select pieces of tailor-made clothing. Now middle-and upper-class Europeans were able to purchase and enjoy a wide variety of material goods. The new mass consumption was made possible by improvements in the standard of living, the factory system, population growth, expanded transportation systems, urbanization, and new modernized retailers, which sold standardized merchandise in large volumes.

When European cities were reconstructed in the late nineteenth century, space was allotted for department stores. Constructed of the new industrial materials - iron columns and plate-glass windows - department stores such as Paris’s Le Bon Marché (luh BAHN mar-SHAY) offered consumers an endless variety of goods in large spaces; Le Bon Marché covered 52,000 square meters of surface space (see the box on p. 693). In 1860, its merchandise included shawls, cloaks, bedding, and fabrics; by the 1880s, its stock had expanded to include women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing, accessories, furniture, rugs, umbrellas, toothbrushes, stationery, perfume, toys, shoes, and cutlery. Sales at Le Bon Marché in 1877 registered 73 million francs. Omnibuses carried people throughout Paris, enabling them to travel beyond their neighborhoods to shop at the new stores. Advertising in mass newspapers introduced Europeans to the new products, while department store catalogs enabled people living outside the cities to also purchase the new goods.

Although most advertisements were directed toward women, men also took part in the new consumer culture of the late nineteenth century. Not only did men consume goods such as alcohol and tobacco, but they were also the chief purchasers of ready-made clothing in the late nineteenth century. In the United States in 1890, men bought 71 percent of all ready-made clothing. As work and leisure were separated, men needed to expand their wardrobes to include both clothes for work outside the home and clothes to be worn for entertaining at home or other leisure activities. Men also consumed such goods as shaving soaps, aftershave lotions, hair dyes, and sporting goods.

Next Reading: 23-6 (The National State: Western Europe)