The Two Sides of Rural Electrification

Jason Arquette
Professor Hirsh
Blog 8g
October 5th, 2017

As accounted for in Clayton Brown’s essay “North Carolina Rural Electrification”, the traditional narrative of electricity’s spread to the rural areas of America starts with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Initiated as a part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression, the act was two fold: the project would bring jobs to the nation while simultaneously improving the standard of living for regions of America where only close to 10% of homes were electrified. From this perspective it was a rural electrification was a project that only produced winning sides. Obviously against the backdrop of the Great Depression more jobs meant a steadily improving economy and since electricity was treated as a symbol of modernity and technological advancement, offering it to rural areas would ‘even the playing field’ so to speak by catching rural life up with urban life.
However, the article “Resisting Development, Reinventing Modernity” by Ronald Kline tells a different story. The traditional narrative does not take into account that the work of the Rural Electrification Administration was essentially forced upon tenants of these areas. Before electricity there were other so-called ‘urban technologies’ that farmers often hesitated to adopt such as the telephone and automobile; and electricity faced resistance for the same reasons that these two inventions did. Although urban cultures found ready uses for technology, to an extent electricity was a technology that farmers had to find a use for rather than it feeling a preexisting need. However, unlike the telephone and automobile, thanks to the R.E.A electricity was forced upon farmers and this initiated resistance.
Ultimately these voices of resistance were too quiet to drown out the outcry of success created by the R.E.A. However, taking both of these articles into account has helped me to understand that the label of ‘traditional narrative’ does not make facts impermeable to new information or perspectives. So although resistance was an act by the minority group of rural citizens, this information allows historians to understand that the success of the R.E.A was not as complete as history believes it to be.

Word Count: 341

Works Cited:
Brown, Clayton. “North Carolina Rural Electrification: Precedent of the REA.” North Carolina Historical Review 59, no. 2 (April 1982): 109-24. Accessed October 5, 2017.
Kline, Ronald. “Resisting Development, Reinventing Modernity.” Enviornmental Values 11, no. 3 (August 2002): 327-44. Accessed October 5, 2017.

  1 comment for “The Two Sides of Rural Electrification

  1. blogrh
    October 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I’m really glad you found Kline’s article. It points out, as you note, that not everyone wanted electricity–at least in the way that the government thought people should have it. The article also demonstrates that people’s values (and experiences) greatly affect the way they want to deal with various technologies. Nice! RH

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