All posts are copyright Barbara Rogers 2018. Please ask if you wish to share, and give attribution to the author.My ancestry and more personal notes are now at a revised version of "When I Was 75."

Friday, March 10, 2017

No Electricity

Rural America didn't have electricity until the 1930s and 40s.

William Douglas home around 1890, only the foundation remains, situated above current Douglas Dam, TN. Photo from Sevier County Library collection.

In Tennessee, where my forefathers and mothers came from, Rural Electrification came about the time the new dam systems of TVA were established, though they didn't ever provide that much electricity. The Tennessee Valley Authority was part of the effort to provide work for people during the depression, through the WPA.

In 1947, Sevier County, TN:  "May 27 - Zion Hill Baptist Church made a $5.00 deposit to the Sevier County Electric System to get on line for electricity."

Widener family in Boyd's Creek, TN.Photo from Sevier County Library collection

"March 9...(in Texas)
"On this day in 1936, a fifty-eight-mile power line near Bartlett, Texas, was energized, according to some sources the first in the nation under the Rural Electrification Administration. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt began the REA in May 1935, only about 2 percent of the farms in Texas (and only about 10 percent nationally) had electricity. The REA was originally intended to be a large-scale depression relief agency like the Work Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, but became a lending agency instead with the passage of legislation cosponsored by Sam Rayburn. The $33,000 loan to a group of farmers at Bartlett was one of the first ten loans made by the REA. The REA had an incalculable impact on life in rural Texas, especially in the Panhandle, which had become something of a proving ground for New Deal programs thanks to the influence of Marvin Jones, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee. The REA first brought electric power to the rural Panhandle in Deaf Smith County in 1937. By 1965, instead of only 2 percent of Texas farms with electricity, there were only 2 percent without electricity."  SOURCE: Texas History on Line

What are these folks doing?

A time without electricity.
And several sources of information say that.  The kerosene lamp to start.
Then the portable radio.
But what is on top of it? A clock saying 10 after 7. And some other dial? It seems to have hand(s) pointed around the 11:00 place on it's dial.
The gentleman's watch doesn't seem to agree with a 7:10 reading.

But a clue is that this is in Miami, Florida, according to Sepia Saturday this week.  Anyone there and then might know about barometers to know when a hurricane was coming, and that you couldn't count on electric power during/after storms.  So I'm guessing that these folks are dealing with one of those storms back when they all had women's names.

Today's quote:

"The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment." Johannes Kepler


  1. What an interesting study of the photo searching for clues to tell the story.

  2. Too bad cell phones and transistor radios weren't invented before electricity got to rural areas which would have kept the backwoods areas connected to the rest of the world. But that would have been backward altogether.

    1. Ha ha, I even remember when there were miles of spaces out in the country that were called "dead zones" and you couldn't get any cell phone reception...there weren't any towers nearby. Now apparently satellites make up for those missing towers, but I wonder that there aren't still many areas without cell reception.

  3. My grandfather's house did not have electricity until the late 1950's, not because there were no lines close by, but because he refused to get connected. I remember my aunt ironing with an old heavy flat iron, heated in the gas stove, and she stood on a chair every evening to light the gas mantle.

  4. I love the detective work on the photograph :) The Flickr caption says Title: Philip and Frederica Wylie listening to weather reports: Miami Beach, Florida

    Date: November 10, 1950

    General note: Photographed for a Saturday Evening Post article on hurricanes. Philip Gordon Wylie (May 12, 1902 - October 25, 1971) was a prolific American author on subjects ranging from pulp science fiction, mysteries, social diatribes and satire, to ecology and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

    So I checked for a possible Hurricane. From this site I got "1950 hurricane King oct 17th ,125mph(hurdat) from the SSE some gusts to 150mph press 28.20 106mph 97mph for 5 min, 1 min 122mph,Many radio towers destroyed in North Dade.Very short notice on this one as the forecast was for the Bahamas to get hit." Not a female name !?! :)

  5. I figured it was a hurricane photo too - I'm amazed they named a hurricane "King"!

  6. We do take electricity for granted these days and it’s easy to forget what an innovation it was. You’ve done a good job of studying the photo minutely. I never noticed the times.

  7. Rural Electrification was a big deal back in the day. Now it's high speed internet connection that's the big necessity. Sadly the old infrastructure needs replacing before it collapses but instead we have to build huge walls.
    And even though I now live in the mountains, having lived on the coast for much of my life I still keep several kerosene lamps in the house, as well as radios, rubber boots, flashlights, bottled water, soup, etc. Can't be too prepared.

  8. Excellent observation work on the prompt photograph. We are lucky to only experience power failures caused by weather here events relatively rarely here in Melbourne Aus ( as opposed to Melbourne, Florida), but it's warned that they may become less unusual because demand may outstrip supply in relation to gas-fired power availability here in Australia. There are still a lot of areas in Aus where mobile phone recption is either poor or non-existent, and they are not necessarily all that remote!


Looking forward to hearing from you! Since I didn't know the 1000+ people who supposedly looked at my blog the other day, I'm back to moderating comments. If that doesn't help, I don't know why blogger doesn't have a filter that stops this hacking...