The Tendency to Country Life

Article thought to be written by Edward Bok, Ladies’ Home Journal, 1898
Keep scrolling for the full transcript of the article

One of the signs in American life which 1898 has emphasized in most noticeable way is the general tendency of our people to get away from the cities and to move into the suburbs. For the last ten years this fact has been apparent, but not until recently has it taken hold of so many people. The signs are unmistakable on every hand. Suburban operations in real estate have quadrupled in all our great cities. Small country houses are being built by the hundreds. Architects making a specialty of small surburban houses have never been busier. The trolley systems are extending their lines as far as possible into the country surrounding the cities. Every railroad is giving special attention to its “suburban: service. Millionaires, instead of building mansions in the town, are buying vast country estates. More books on suburban homes, flowers, birds, trees, plant and insect life and gardening have been published during 1898 than in any other five years combined, and each book has proved successful. Out-of-door sports have increased enormously. The whole tendency in American life, from whatever standpoint it is viewed, is toward a closer intimacy with Nature: a desire to live near green fields and under trees. And a healthier sign for the future of our American life can scarcely be imagined.

It is a great pity that our large cities cannot be confirmed to commercial uses, and that their people cannot all live outside of their borders. There are families, and thousands of them, where the business of the husband is such that living in the suburbs is practically impossible. But, on the other hand, there are families who might just as well live outside the city, yet who do not. For some notion or other they choose to remain not “twelve miles from a lemon,” but rather one block from it. The reason is, sometimes, the disinclination of the husband for country life in winter, or objection to the waste of time spent on the cars in going to and from business. “It is all very well in the summer,” he admits, “but in the winter I want things to be more accessible.” The wife, at other times, objects to suburban living, because it is more difficult to get servants to live in the country in winter, or household marketing and necessities are inaccessible. Or, as often, it is the reluctance of the wife or husband to be “out of touch: with “what is going on.” Generally, amusement of some sort for another is meant by this. And so many remain in town where by a little sacrifice perhaps, they might live in better, healthier and more generous quarters in the suburbs.

Living in town is all very well where it is absolutely necessary that it shall be so. But when a fancied notion or inconvenience stands in the way of a home where the eye can see more than a few square feet of God’s skies it is to be regretted. Especially is this unfortunate where there are young children. Experience is teaching the wisest of parents more truly each day that our large cities are not the best places for bringing up children: certainly not the healthiest spots. A child wants a great deal of breathing-space and play-room, and these he cannot get in a thickly populated cit. And even where the space is had, the air which he breathes is not conducive to the best development of the child’s health. Strong men and healthy women can only be raised in a pure, wholesome air. Healthy morals, too, are more easily instilled into a child’s mind where the air is healthy. Wholesome ideas come from a close intimacy with Nature, and a child who, from his first recollection, can step out-of-doors on green grass, has an infinite advantage over the child who sees only the dirt of sidewalk and street each time he ventures out. All this every sane father and mother knows. They know that the city offers more disadvantages to a young child than advantages, and unquestionably a great proportion of the movement to the country has come from a realization of this fact.

Not alone are the children benefited by country living. For their elders the life is equally wholesome and sound. Thousands of business men are beginning to realize this, and are acting accordingly in living out of the city the year round. Our more open winters in a greater part of the country have made daily access to and from business more comfortable. It adds years to a busy man’s life when he can leave the polluted air of the city behind him at the close of a day and breathe, eat and sleep in the pure, sweet air of the country. A woman’s life is inestimably better for it, too. There would be a far smaller percentage of nervous women in America to-day if suburban life had been in vogue ten years ago as much as it is to-day. Especially is this present impulse beneficial to our girls, who, in the suburban homes of their parents, are learning the beauties of country life. The amusements may not be so varied or numerous, but earlier hours are assured, and more robust constitutions are the result. One of the most gratifying phases of this suburban tendency is the proportion of young married couples who are moving into the country and building simple pretty homes at the very start of their wedded life. The building and loan associations, and the other ways that make it possible for a man of limited means to build his own home, have been a Godsend to America. It is a splendid thing when a young married couple can write the word “Home” in large capital letters from a sense of ownership. It is a right start. It gives them the sense of proprietorship of land, and impels improvement.

View it from whatever point one will, this tendency to suburban living is one of the best signs of the times. It is a sign which should be encouraged in every respect. THE LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL thoroughly believes in it, and next year the magazine will keep abreast of this tendency. Old people would soon disappear if more of us would follow the impulse which to-day has taken hold of so many. Nothing in the world can keep a man or woman so young and fresh as to be able to be in touch each day with the perpetual freshness and youth of Nature. Suburban life means more out-of-door living, and that is what we Americans all need. We want more exercise, and suburban living makes that easier. We want our interest in things kept fresh, and that Nature does for us as nothing else can. The more our busy men see of Nature’s restful ways the more restful will they become. The closer we keep our children to the soil the healthier will they be physically, and the stronger will they develop mentally. The more our girls breathe in the pure air which God intended for all, but which man in the cities pollutes, the better women we shall have : the fewer worried mothers we shall see. The more our young men see of the out-of-door sports the more clearly will they realize the greatness of splendid physical health. The more the tired housewife sees of flowers and plants and trees the closer will become her interest in all things natural and simple; and as she sees the simplicity with which nature works, unconsciously will the lesson be forced upon her and enter into her own methods. We all agree to that there is no teacher like Nature herself. Let us all, then, get as close to her as possible. Whatever she teaches is wholesome to the mind, and uplifting to the soul and strengthening to the body. In the very act of studying her wonderful ways there is health. So let those of us who can, and all of us to whom it is possible, leave the cities to those who must live there, and who, by our very going, will be benefited by the larger room we leave to them. For them our going is beneficial. For us it means a larger, a fuller, a saner, a more wholesome, a much richer life. And Christmas next year will mean more to us by reason of the change we have made for the better in opening the door and coming closer to a truer meaning of home.

Article researched and curated by Samuel Russell, Library & Archival Collections Manager, Bok Tower Gardens
Article transcripted by Evie Nagel, Executive Administrative Assistant, Bok Tower Gardens