Reviving the USDA/Purnell Act 1920s and 1930s Time-Use Diary Data: Exploring Change in Women’s Activity Patterns

Teresa A Harms, University College London

The earliest US time-use diary evidence in current use dates from 1965. The US Department of Agriculture, under the Purnell Act, coordinated a major diary study of Farm, Town and College women in the 1920s and early 1930s. At least 1500 women were surveyed across several states including California, Michigan, Montana and Oregon. The 566 ‘Farm and Town’ women’s materials recovered include USDA researcher-produced individual-level diary ‘summary’ sheets giving weekly aggregate times in various activities for individual home-makers. The ‘College’ women (alumni from the ‘Seven Sisters Colleges’ including Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley) materials include the original diaries, supplementary questionnaires and researcher-produced summary sheets. This paper focuses on the 77 College Women’s own-words diaries, which were completed for seven consecutive days. Each diarist also kept a daily record of unpaid and paid domestic work, and help received from household members and others. A supplementary questionnaire provided information about household composition and characteristics, appliances and equipment and the diarist’s assessment of the effectiveness of the diary instrument in capturing her daily activity. The College women’s time-use data (539 days) constitute the only diary evidence prior to the mass diffusion of electrical household equipment and appliances and broadcast media, and provide a unique opportunity to explore various aspects of daily life in this period. This is the first time that the original diary data have been re-coded using the most recent American Time Use Survey (ATUS) coding lexicon and the 68-activty Multinational Time Use Study (MTUS). This paper presents findings from the College women’s time-use diaries on a range of activities, including paid and unpaid work, educational pursuits, volunteering and leisure. These findings are then compared with more recent time-use survey data.

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 Presented in Session 129. Women's Time Use in the Early and Mid- Twentieth Century: Research Using New Historical Time Diary Data