The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

My favorite time period to write about is between 1880 and 1890. In many ways, the cowboys of yesteryear struggled with some of the same issues we currently face and that’s what makes the time period so fascinating to me.

They aren’t paying attention to each other. They’re too intent on the wireless.

For example, technology in the way of telephones and electricity changed the way people lived in the 19th century, just as new technology does today.  The Victorians even had their own Internet.  It was called the telegraph, and this opened-up a whole new world to them.

What, for that matter, is a text message but a telegram, the high cost of which forced people in the past to be brief and to the point?

In the past, our ancestors worried about losing their jobs to machinery.  Today, there’s a real possibility that robots will make us obsolete.

Sears and Roebuck was the Amazon of the Gilded Age. The catalogue featured a wide selection of products at clearly marked prices. No more haggling.  Customers were drawn to the easy-to-read, warm, friendly language used to describe goods, and the catalogue proved an instant success. Our ancestors could even order a house through the catalog and that’s something we can’t do on Amazon.

The Victorians worried about books like we worry about iPhones. We worry about screen time damaging the eyes.  Victorians were certain that the mass rise of books due to printing presses would make everyone blind. 

Then as now, women fought for equal rights.  Our early sisters fought for property ownership, employment opportunities and the right to vote. Women have come a long way since those early days, but challenges still exist, especially in matters of economics and power.

Nothing has changed much in the area of courting

Almost every single I know subscribes to at least one dating site.  These are very similar to the Mail-Order Bride catalogs of yesteryear.

Did our Victorian ancestors worry about climate change?  You bet they did! The Florida Agriculturist published an article addressing the problem in 1890. The article stated: “Most all the states of the union in succession of their settlement have experienced a falling off in their average temperatures of several degrees.  A change from an evenly tempered climate has resulted in long droughts, sudden floods, heavy frost and suffocating heat.”

Nothing much has changed in the world of politics. Today, the Republicans and Democrats are still battling it out, just as they did in the nineteenth century. We still haven’t elected a female president, though Belva Ann Bennett Lockwood tried to change that when she ran in 1884 and again, in 1888.

What about environmental concerns? Today we’re concerned that plastic bags and straws are harming our oceans.  Our Victorian ancestors worried about tomato cans. That’s because a German scientist told the New York Times in 1881 that the careless deposit of tin cans was “bringing the earth closer to the sun and hastening the day of the final and fatal collision.”

During the 1800s, horses were taken to task for messing up the streets.  (Oddly, enough, it was once thought that automobiles were good for the environment.)  Today, cattle are under fire for the methane in their you-know-whats. Oh, boy, I can only imagine how that would have gone over with those old-time ranch owners.

We have Coronavirus, but that’s nothing compared to what our ancestors battled.  The 1894 Hong Kong plague was a major outbreak and became the third pandemic in the world. The rapid outbreak and spread of the plague was caused by infected fleas. Repressive government actions to control the plague led the Pune nationalists to criticize the Chinese publicly. Sound familiar?  The plague killed more than 10 million people in India, alone. 

As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Reading how people in the past survived and, yes, even prospered during tough times inspires me and gives me hope for the future.  I hope it does the same to my readers.

This list is nowhere near complete, but what did you find the most surprising?

Attorney Ben Heywood didn’t expect to get shot on his wedding day–and certainly not by his mail order bride.—Pistol-Packin’ Bride/Mail Order Standoff collection.

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Margaret Brownley
Margaret has published more than 46 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set--where else?--in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don't ask her to diagram a sentence.
Updated: February 27, 2020 — 10:30 am

30 Comments

  1. I missed the theory of automobiles being good for the environment. Surprising, because I grew up when all the dads were out of work because the local auto plants closed for a year because of the energy crisis. Both reopened and stayed open for about twenty more years, but consolidation, competition, and retooling the plants made the WWII era plants obsolete.

    1. Hi Denise, the thinking that automobiles would be good for the environment occurred around the turn of the century, way before World War II. Here’s why: “At a rate of 22 pounds per horse per day, equine manure added up to millions of pounds each day and over a 100,000 tons per year (not to mention around 10 million gallons of urine). Per one observer at the time, the streets were “literally carpeted with a warm, brown matting.” – https://99percentinvisible.org/article/cities-paved-dung-urban-design-great-horse-manure-crisis-1894/

      Hope this clarifies.

      1. I think you misunderstood me.

        The plant where my dad worked made tanks during WWII and the Korean War. A lot of the tanks were assembled by “Rosie the Riveters.”

        Knowing what I know about the auto industry, they were never environmentally-friendly when I was growing up. Hence the major shutdown in the auto industry in the early 1970s. That’s why it was *surprising*.

        I have the history of the plant my dad worked in on a DVD from a documentary made by my alma mater. That plant didn’t exist during the late 1800s.

  2. I too would say autos being a good thing for the enviroment. I had to laugh at the Woman Wanted sign. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Carol, I laughed, too, at that sign. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Oh WoW Margaret this a great blog. I think how Women worry about fashion and the latest clothing is still the same Women today worry about it as some of the well to do from that era did

    1. Hi Glenda, so true. I could have picked any era and found similar situations. Thank you for your comment.

  4. I enjoyed the blog. It was wonderful

  5. It’s always interesting to see how life really hasn’t changed all that much. I had to shake my head about the tomato cans. While we laugh now, I have to wonder how much of our science will be laughed at 100 years from now.

    1. Hi Jess, you’re so right. I’m sure future generations will laugh at us!

  6. You are right. The more things change the more they stay the same. My mom had one of the old Sears catalogs that was passed down from her grandmother. Look at fashion. It just keeps going in circles as to what is popular.

    1. Hi Lori,
      Fashion is a good example how things keep circling. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Great post I really enjoyed it. We worry about things today just like that did back then. I guess that is just a part of life.

    1. Hi Quilt Lady, it reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

      Thank you for sharing.

  8. I had no clue a woman ran for President in 1884 and 1888. Hum! I love your blog Margaret. No matter what changes there are, God is still in control. Your collection of stories in your new book look inviting. I love mail order Bride stories. Thank you for enlightening us today.

  9. Hi Kathy, I’m always amazed to learn the amazing things women have done throughout history, and I’m willing to bet we know the least of it. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I think most surprising is exactly how little things have changed. They worried about the same things we do, just in slightly different ways. You’d have thought the concerns would have been different.

    1. Hi Trudy, yes, you would have thought concerns would be different. I think we could pretty much go back to any time in history and find the human condition similar. Thank you for your comment.

  11. I definitely agree with your overall assessment – the more things change, the more they stay the same”! We all worry about the same things in every generation, just in different ways! Thanks for your delightful post!

  12. Thank you, Valri! Have a great day.

  13. Fun post, Margaret! Thank you for sharing.

  14. This is a very interesting post, and oh how true about things just being the same but in a different time and just a bit different. I thought the car one was pretty interesting. I loved the mail order bride sign, I chuckled to myself. Have a Great rest of the day! I really enjoyed reading this post.

    1. Hi Alicia, yes,I found the car one interesting, too. You can understand why the car was thought to be cleaner when you consider all the muck on the streets from horses. Thank you for stopping by.

  15. I love your comparisons between the past and current events. I studied history in college and knowing what our ancestors overcame gives me hope for the future. I enjoyed reading about the past environmental concerns as those were new information to me. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Hi Carrie, you’re so right. It does give us hope in the future and that’s the message I try to give readers. Thank you for your comments.

  16. I would like to know how the German scientist decided careless tin can disposal would cause the earth to crash into the sun. Maybe he was worried about the magnetic pull, but the tin had been in the earth before, so nothing had changed.
    I had not heard about the 1894 Hong Kong plague. You hear about the Spanish flu pandemic of the 1918-1919. That one gets all the press. The Hong Kong Plague was a bubonic plague outbreak. When I looked it up, I was amazed to discover that that pandemic was considered active until 1960 when worldwide cases dropped to about 200. That is 105 years!
    The issues always seem to be the same, the form they take is just a bit different. You are so right – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

  17. Hi Patricia, interesting stuff. Thank you for sharing. Stay well!

  18. Interesting!

    (You can order houses off of Amazon … I was bored one day and found out that they have mini houses on there. It’s a lot of money to ship but you can order one.)

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