Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Social Sciences, Room 415
Borrowing to Buy is No Disgrace: The Social Marketing of Mortgages in 1920s America
Abstract: This study provides new historical insight into the development of housing finance by analyzing the activities of the Better Homes in America (BHA), a massive, quasi-private public relations operation in collaboration with federal drives to promote home ownership during the 1920s. Using archival evidence, we document the emergence of a federally coordinated housing field under the leadership of Herbert Hoover during his tenure as Secretary of Commerce. Our analysis reveals a time when the public still needed convincing that mortgages were both realistic and prudent. Campaign leaders provided education on the virtues of owning, while also framing the mortgage as a savings device that would promote thrift by directing family earnings away from “wasteful” consumer spending toward the joint investment/consumption endeavor of homeownership. The mortgage was positioned as a financial product for both consumption and investment, thereby resolving the Victorian tension between productive and unproductive debt. Women were also assigned a special role in campaigns that empowered them as financial stewards while also reinforcing their true place as in the home. Although the BHA failed along with Hoover’s presidency during the Depression, the BHA put amortized mortgages on the nation’s mental map of what a mortgage could and should be. In so doing, it helped to establish a cultural template for interpreting and legitimizing mortgages that would survive the Great Depression..
Workshop format: 15 minute presentation of the paper by authosr, followed by constructive feedback by author-chosen discussants, then floor will be open for commentary during the remainder of the one-hour session. Lunch provided.