Edison and the Kansas Housewife

Historical content: 
World War I and the 1920s
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Use the document and the facts below to answer the question that follows.

Letter from Mrs. W.C. Lathrop to Edison. (Special thanks to the Thomas Edison National Historic Park for this high-resolution copy of the letter.)
Source text: 

Norton, Kansas
March 9, 1921

Dear Mr. Edison:

It is not always the privilege of a woman to thank personally the inventor of articles which make life livable for her sex . . . . I am a college graduate and probably my husband is one of the best known surgeons between Topeka and Denver. . . . [Our] house is lighted by electricity. I cook on a Westinghouse electric range, wash dishes in an electric dish washer. An electric fan even helps to distribute heat all over the house. . . I wash clothes in an electric machine and iron on an electric mangle and with an electric iron. . . . I rest, take an electric massage and curl my hair on an electric iron . . . .

Please accept the thanks Mr. Edison of one truly appreciative woman. I know I am only one of many under the same debt of gratitude to you.


Mrs. W. C. Lathrop


Additional facts related to Mrs. Lathrop’s letter:

1. George Westinghouse invented the electric range, not Thomas Edison.
2. Before the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, less than 10% of rural America had electricity.
3. The 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, was passed only one year before this letter was written. 
4. At the time of Mrs. Lathrop’s letter, less than 5% of American women were college graduates.

Question: Which 2 of the 4 facts above help you determine whether Mrs. Lathrop was typical or atypical of American women in the 1920s? 

Explain your reasoning.

About the Assessment

This exercise measures sourcing and contextualization. Students read a letter from a Kansas housewife to Thomas Edison. Students then select two facts that help them determine whether Mrs. Lathrop was typical of American women in the 1920s.  Students must select the facts that allow them to explain why Mrs. Lathrop was atypical.

This student selects a correct fact and explains how it demonstrates that Mrs. Lathrop was atypical of American women in the 1920s: