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A Town Without Steel

A Town Without Steel: Envisioning Homestead

Judith Modell
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Charlee Brodsky
Copyright Date: 1998
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt9qh5r2
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh5r2
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  • Book Info
    A Town Without Steel
    Book Description:

    In 1986, with little warning, the USX Homestead Works closed. Thousands of workers who depended on steel to survive were left without work.A Town Without Steellooks at the people of Homestead as they reinvent their views of household and work and place in this world. The book details the modifications and revisions of domestic strategies in a public crisis. In some ways unique, and in some ways typical of American industrial towns, the plight of Homestead sheds light on social, cultural, and political developments of the late twentieth century.In this anthropological and photographic account of a town facing the crisis of deindustrialization,A Town Without Steelfocuses on families. Reminiscent of Margaret Byington and Lewis Hine's approach in Homestead, Charlee Brodsky's photographs document the visual dimension of change in Homestead. The mill that dominated the landscape transformed to a vast, empty lot; a crowded commercial street turns into a ghost town; and an abundance of well-kept homes become an abandoned street of houses for sale. The individual narratives and family snapshots, Modell's interpretations, and Brodsky's photographs all evoke the tragedy and the resilience of a town whose primary source of self-identification no longer exists.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8086-5
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. PREFACE. Envisioning Homestead: Anthropology and Photography
    (pp. vii-xxii)
  2. 1 ENVISIONING HOMESTEAD: The Place
    (pp. 1-21)

    I drove into Pittsburgh in December 1984, the winter before I was to move there to teach at Carnegie Mellon University. As I entered the city, newscasters on the radio were announcing a startling event: a group of unemployed steelworkers and their families had thrown skunk oil and dye into the Sunday morning services of a prominent Presbyterian church. I listened with fascination, as the stories conveyed what seemed to me a complicated and powerful form of protest—polluting the sacred domain of a church. The event also struck a chord with my anthropological training in the importance of symbolic...

  3. 2 SETTING THE STAGE: Three Generations in a Mill Town
    (pp. 22-56)

    “I have over two hundred years in the mill.” I did not understand this statement when I first heard it from an ex-steelworker, a man in his late thirties. His meaning emerged during the interview. He was the child in a family whose men had, among them, accumulated two hundred years in the mill. I was to hear a similar calculation from others, who totted up their lives in Homestead in terms of the members of all generations who had lived there. “And I’m the son of a steelworker who was the son of a steelworker,” another man said to...

  4. 3 THE CURTAIN COMES DOWN: Living Without a Mill in a Mill Town
    (pp. 57-89)

    Steelworkers in the United States had won a great deal in the post–Second World War decades: good benefits, high wages, and long vacations. It was not surprising that, in thinking back, a Homestead resident might downplay the oppressive work conditions or translate them into the stuff of heroism. Accidents and danger were mentioned, but not so often as anecdotes of a foreman’s anger or a fellow worker’s insults. In memories the mill certainly had an aura, and it was evoked to convey the character of the town and the townspeople. Women and men in Homestead shared an image of...

  5. 4 WOMEN’S ACTIVITIES AND MEN’S WORK: The Division of Labor in a Steel Town
    (pp. 90-131)

    The bulk of Byington’s book shows how little household life was “subordinated” to industrial life. Spending her time inside the households of a mill town, and with the women who managed those households, Margaret Byington created a portrait of a vibrant and vigorous institution: the kitchen hearth was as significant a part of town life as the mill’s furnaces. Her text shows the women at home engaged in demanding tasks as time-consuming and strenuous as the men’s.

    Byington does not deny the intricate connection between mill and household; she insists upon the strength of the household and the part it...

  6. 5 RAISING A NEW GENERATION IN AN EX-STEEL TOWN
    (pp. 132-156)

    The town of Homestead, with church steeples rising to counteract the visual dominance of the mill, was also once a town full of schools. School buildings were attached to the churches and scattered through the residential areas of the industrial town. A walk through the town in the 1990s revealed a transformation: some schools had been torn down, only a brave set of front steps left standing; others had been converted to other uses, though none were remodeled into apartments a middle-class population might rent. A few schools looked abandoned though they were not; budgetary restrictions left playgrounds in disrepair...

  7. 6 HARMONY AND DISCORD: Interpretations of Ethnicity and Religion in a Steel Town
    (pp. 157-192)

    I met Sam while looking at photographs from theHomestead Daily Messengerthat the librarian at the Carnegie Library of Homestead had given me—her way of introducing me to the town. Public events such as parades and political speeches, the opening of a new area in the mill, or a new restaurant on Eighth Avenue dominated the collection; they were news photos, after all. Some pictures came from before the Second World War, when the neighborhood around the mill flourished despite the economy of the Great Depression. Others were of wartime Homestead , including views of the progressive razing...

  8. 7 STEEL AND SEGREGATION: Race Relations in Homestead
    (pp. 193-229)

    Louise described the Italians who lived two miles down the Monongahela River in Hays as “dark, different, and strange.” When she thought back to her childhood, she did not mention a group that may have seemed even “stranger,” the blacks who lived in the Lower Ward along with the Slovaks, Russians, and Hungarians she did mention. African Americans in Homestead were part of Homestead history for whites, but a complicated part; these fellow workers and neighbors did not fit smoothly into nostalgic memories of the good old days.

    Holding a distinct place in the stories whites told of their childhoods...

  9. 8 OUTSIDE THE MILL: Recreation and Residence in Homestead
    (pp. 230-249)

    The mill was not the only institution in Homestead to come under federal surveillance and be forced to change its policies and (presumably) its practices regarding race. By 1960 much had changed in Homestead, and most residents were aware of the significance of those changes. Moreover, a number of the people I interviewed claimed the changes came about because of “outsiders,” strangers who fixed what was not broken. When people recalled their experiences of the civil rights movement, they expressed nostalgia for the time prior to it. If people drank in separate bars, it was “only natural.” If a Roman...

  10. 9 RESPONSES IN THE VALLEY: The Aftermath of the Closing
    (pp. 250-293)

    In Margaret Byington’s description of the 1892 strike, the most famous incident in Homestead history, she remarked on the solidarity of the townspeople, rushing to the riverbank in support of their workers, and also on their determination to maintain the ordinary rhythms of life at home. A century later the people of Homestead faced a crisis of equivalent proportions in an apparently opposite fashion. Very few rushed to the barricades, figuratively or literally, after USX finally shut down the Homestead Works. At the same time, rather than preserving its familiar rhythms, daily life began to crumble around the edges. Over...

  11. 10 BEYOND THE CLOSING: Changes in Homestead
    (pp. 294-324)

    InHomestead: The Glory and Tragedy of an American Steel Town, William Serrin remarks that, after awhile, most of the clientele at the Rainbow Kitchen “were from the poor population that had begun to drift into the area and were not laid-off steelworkers.”¹ Though he does not specify their negative attributes, his worddriftsuggests a contrast between this population and the people who had lived in Homestead all their lives—steelworkers, members of steelworking families, their neighbors, and their friends.

    As Serrin observed, in the decade after its founding in 1982 the Rainbow Kitchen accumulated an increasingly disparate clientele....