Visa Heinonen: Talonpoikainen etiikka ja kulutuksen henki.
Kotitalousneuvonnasta kuluttajapolitiikkaan
1900-luvun Suomessa.

Bibliotheca Historica 33.
Nid. Kuv. 442 s.
ISBN 951-710-080-9.

From Household Advising to Consumer Policy in the 20th Century Finland

English Summary

Research Task, Sources and Methods of Study

The main subject of this study is the development of household advisory work carried out by different organizations in Finland. The focus is on the process that gradually turned household advising into consumer information following the development path of Finnish society from a traditional agrarian society with a strong self-sufficiency into a modern mass consumer society of highly differentiated division of labour and modern consumer goods market. In Finland the transition from a traditional agrarian society into a modern industrial and consumer society meant a structural change of economy and society, one of the most drastic in whole Europe.

The aim of this research is to examine the ideological elements of the world view and ethos on which the household advisory work was based. The household ideology resulted from a reaction of women’s organizations to the patriarchal society of the 19th century around the turn of the century when the organizations, parts of wider social movements in the Finnish civil society, turned and systematized traditional charity work into public enlightenment. One can speak of a general household movement realized by the different women’s organizations, agricultural organizations and the co-operative movement.

Another aim of the study is to describe the development of the Finnish household advising system that was formed after the civil war 1918 during the 1920’s and 1930’s. There was on the one hand the institutional level i.e. the organizations and, on the other hand, the practical level or the practices of the advisers. The important questions concerning household advising system are the following: What have been the roles of the state, of trade and of research in the development in addition to the organizations? Has there been a tension between women’s wage work and household work and how the problems were solved? To which extent did the influences of advisory work come from abroad and from which countries did they come?

Although the study is presented as an academic dissertation in economic and social history, it has a strong multidisciplinary character. The viewpoints of history, economic research, sociology, communication and cultural studies are used. The points of departure are, firstly, in household and consumer research, secondly, in the study of social movements, and, thirdly, in the history of mentality. Forthly, the sociological profession research is an important frame of reference. My aim is to create understanding and explanatory interpretation of the phenomena researched.

The sources of this study were: advisory publications and magazines, interviews and short movies besides conventional historical sources like documents, records and reports, and secondary sources such as scientific and other studies. The need of various methods is emphasized because of a variety of different type of sources. For example comparative interpretation of texts and motion pictures gave interesting and complementary insights into subjects studied. A synthesis of the main lines of Finnish historical economic and social development introduces the parts describing the advicing system and household movement. The dynamic interplay between social development and the transition of the advisory system is emphasized.

The Household Ideology

The household organizations, advising and public enlightenment work was based on a shared household ideology. The household ideology was originally a solution to the problems caused by women’s double role – housewife and wage earner – in social division of labour offered by the educated classes. The elite offered its own values and ideals to common people. The public enlightenment aimed at awakening of people’s own initiative.

The household ideology consisted of three elements: 1) household advising and public enlightenment, 2) rationalization and 3) the idea of housewifery as an occupation. These elements were supported by peasant ethos, in other words values inherited from the 19th century peasant society. Frugality was very important. Another aspect was self-sufficiency. The peasants were always at the mercy of the forces of nature. Agriculture in northern latitudes required good luck besides hard work. Food had to be stored up for the hard winter. The third supporting value was patriarchalism that characterized social relations between the estates, masters and servants and even between the husband, wife and children in the family.

The household ideology and the household movement broke through in the 1920’s and the 1930’s, when the advisory work of the organizations was organized, intensified and ultimately received public financing. Thus, an advising system originated. The success of the household ideology was based, firstly, on its compatibility with the ruling economic policy model which emphasized frugality, private initiative, self-sufficiency and liberalization of markets instead of state intervention. Secondly, the growth of the organizations effectively helped to spread the ideology. Thirdly, the expansion and professionalization of domestic science instruction were necessary prerequisites for a recognition of the household ideology. Fourthly, the household ideology suited well to the central values of the time: home, religion and fatherland.

The Food Crisis as a Factor behind the Strengthening of Household Advising

Households have been the most flexible ones among Finnish economic institutions. They take care of the bringing up and recreation of the labour force, providing the means of everyday life and creating the possibilities to well-being of every individual. In the peasant economy production and consumption were closely intertwined. At the turn of the century the Finnish society was still mostly agrarian but the process of structural change and modernization started slowly to speed up. Industrialization brought with it a period of transition with rising real wages and increasing consumption, although agriculture was very clearly the main source of livelihood. However, social problems emerged as well when commercialization penetrated agriculture. The number of the landless poor grew, and the relative living conditions of the crofters were worsened. Social movements were an important part in the shaping of the Finnish civil society, political parties were founded and a parliamentary reform was carried out in 1905.

The rationing of consumption was introduced during the First World War. The availability of food was gradually becoming more difficult. A special public organ, the State Household Commission (Valtion Kotitaloustoimikunta), was founded in the summer 1917 to alleviate the worsening shortage of food that culminated during the civil war in the winter and spring of 1918. The social democrat Miina Sillanpää and one of the founders of the Finnish cooperative movement, Hedvig Gebhard, were members of the new organ and important advocates of the household issues. The body organized meetings, published leaflets and booklets and employed advisers to help the public.

The most dramatic manifestation of food shortage after the sanguinary civil war were the deaths of the imprisoned loosers of the war in the concentration camps as a result of malnutrition and diseases besides executions. The shortage of food and rationing continued until spring 1919 when it only concerned sugar and corn products. The rationing system was finally abolished in 1921. The State Household Commission organized household advising until it finally was displaced in 1923 by the advisory organizations which received state funding for their advisory work. The first experiment of public advisory system terminated. However, the first municipal household board was founded in Tampere in 1922. A similar board was established in Helsinki in the beginning of the 1930’s and in some other cities later.

The Organizations and the Advisory System

In the 1920’s and 1930’s Finland still was an agricultural society with an over 60 per cent of population earning their living in agriculture. A modern consumer society was already a reality in the United States. In Sweden the social democrats became to power in the beginning of the 1930’s and they very much emphasized citizens’ consumption as a driving force in society. No such emphasis was visible in Finland. Instead, the advisory organizations stood in for missing social policy.

The advisory organizations originated in the activity of women’s organizations founded in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The Martha Organization was founded in 1899 as a sister organization of the Women’s Organization Union (Naisasialiitto Unioni) founded seven years earlier. The Martha Organization later became the most important advisory organization besides the Agricultural Women (Maatalousnaiset) that was originally composed of the female members of the agricultural societies and adopted its name in 1933. Also, the social democratic women’s organization founded in 1900 was active in addressing household issues relevant to women.

The Martha Organization and the Agricultural Women were competing for members. Their membership and activities increased fairly steadily during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Social democratic women carried on their activities and emphasized household advising during the 1930’s. Two peasant organizations, the Smallfarmers League (Pienviljelijäin Liitto), founded in 1910, and the Smallfarmers Central League (Pienviljelijäin Keskusliitto), founded in 1922, had subdivisions for women and organized advising as well. Thus, during the inter-war period there were altogether five citizens’ organizations engaged in household advising. Face-to-face advising, household courses, contests, social evenings and celebrations were organized all over Finland by the hard-working consultants and advisers of the organizations. They circulated booklets, leaflets and journals among the public and began to use short movies as instruments of enlightenment.

The Finnish cooperative movement, founded like the Martha Organization in 1899, started its advisory work after the split within the movement in 1916 between left-wing and more bourgeois fractions. Both fractions had journals of their own which were important channels of information. Especially the left-wing consumer cooperatives and their organization the Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives (Kulutusosuuskuntien Keskusliitto), were prominent advocates of the consumers’ interests. Special women’s commissions were established in the late 1920’s to carry out and intensify the advisory work. Besides ideological purposes the cooperative movement had commercial goals as well.

The training of household economics was also organized and intensified during the inter-war period based on the work of Household Economics Teaching Committee 1915. New institutions were founded and household economics was integrated in girls’ school education.

Laura Harmaja as an Advocate of Household Economics

Laura Harmaja was a female economist who imported the ideas of household economics to Finland, acted as a teacher and wrote several books on the household economy. She was an early proponent of public household policy who proposed the founding of an independent ministry for the household issues. She was an active journalist too. Laura Harmaja gained attention from Sweden besides Finland. She even published some articles in German and American journals of household economics. She can be considered as the only theorist of household economics in Finland. Her work prepared the ground for the establishing of the university chair in household economics at the University of Helsinki later in the 1940’s.

Laura Harmaja emphasized the neglect of consumption in general economics. She pointed out the importance of the work of a housewife, which in Finland of the 1920’s was of a considerable importance for the national economy. Harmaja made several reform proposals concerning housing, health care and agriculture. Her proposal concerning the shortening of the working day of family fathers was especially radical in the inter-war period in Finland. Harmaja’s most important starting points were the ideas of rationalization and scientific planning of the household. With the idea of rationalization she aimed at the increasing efficiency of the entire national economy.

Laura Harmaja emphasized the contribution of women and of consumption in modern national economy. She had received an economist’s training and thus she mastered the use of economic concepts. Influences from household economics, social reform and public englightenment were integrated in her thought and found a remarkable manifestation in her life work.

The War Period and the Intensification of Household Advising

The war years 1939–1945 signified an intensification of household advising, because the organizations worked in cooperation with the public sector and founded, together, a new cooperative organization, the Household Centre (Kotitalouskeskus), in 1941. The Agricultural Women (Maatalousnaiset) were the only ones who did not join the new organization. Another important new organization was the department of Household Economics of the Work Efficiency Association (Työtehoseura), founded in 1943. Both new organizations cooperated in advising and did research as well.

The Ministry of Supply cooperated closely with the household advising organizations which arranged voluntary work in the home front. This voluntary work was in urgent need in the time of rationing and scarce food supply. The role of the public sector increased significantly in the Finnish economy and society during the war period as it did in all the other coutries as well. The state control affected both production and consumption. Rationalization, scarcity and a centrally controlled fight against shortage were the central features of the advisory work during the 1940’s. All the organizations with their army of advisers and the cooperative retail trade movement worked very hard to help people to survive the hard times. The advisers emphasized very much the use of substitute raw materials both in prepairing food and in repairing clothes. There was a shortage of everything, and the women really had to be inventive in order to solve the everyday problems of survival.

After the wars the role of the state that increased during the war remained important in Finland like in many Western European countries. The public rationing system and the extreme scarcity continued still after the war operations had ceased. According to the peace terms Finland had to pay significant war indemnities to the Soviet Union, which was a hard trial after the years of struggle. However, the rationing system was gradually abandoned, and the Finnish economy joined the European speed of recovery in the 1950’s. In the late 1940’s university chairs were founded in food chemistry and in household economics at the University of Helsinki.

From Recovery to Mass Consumption

Finland was gradually connected with the international economic system that was created after the Second World War. This fact offered favourable conditions to recovery during the 1950’s. The world economy was rapidly growing. Europe was built up partly with the Marshall Aid which Finland, however, refused. Keynesian macroeconomic policy was adopted and many countries were building wellfare systems according to British and Swedish model. Finnish economic policy followed a pragmatic growth oriented supply-side emphasizing line, where large industrial investment projects were materialized out by export industry and the state as well. The important decisions concerning wellfare policy were done in the 1960’s.

The 1950’s was in many ways the golden age for household advising although its state funding was relatively decreasing. The opening of the consumer goods market brought available a lot of new items including household machines and equipment. Refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, electric stoves and washing machines were fairly unknown to the wide public. Besides the household advising organizations the cooperative trade movement informed its members on novelties and helped house wives in their problems of choice. The Household Centre (Kotitalouskeskus) and the Work Efficiency Association (Työtehoseura) were also very active in developing their research and testing missions. On the initiative of the Martha Organization, a cooperation committee between industry and households was founded in 1953. The committee continued its work until the end of the 1970’s.

Public consumer policy was established in the next decade when the Consumer Council (Kuluttajaneuvosto) was founded in 1965. Finland followed the Swedish model in creating a public organ and developing consumer protection in the 1970’s. However, the advisory organizations still played a role in organizing household advising and consumer information. The consumer gradully gained more attention than previously in the reformatory social athmosphere and growth oriented economic policy of the 1960’s.

The continued success of the household advisory organizations was based on the fact that the advisors worked in the field and were informed of the everyday problems of the people. Another factor behind the success was the strategy of the organizations in which they reacted to the growing success of advising by increasing the supply of advising and developing it. That was an effective way to recruit members as well. A third reason of the success was the ability to cooperate between organizations. Although the organizations had temporary disagreements, they managed to cooperate when required and maintained their independence in spite of repeated attempts to merge them with one another.

The Channels of Enlightenment

Besides immediate advising in face-to-face interaction between the advisor and the public, mass meetings or exhibitions, written texts like booklets, leaflets and especially magazines were important channels of information. Chapters six and seven of this book are devoted to magazines and short films. Chapter six is a case study where the presentation of Christmas celebration  is examined in magazines dealing with household issues. Special Christmas issue of every magazine during 1919–1970 was analyzed from different points of view. Special attention was paid to the nostalgic conceptions of the authenticity of traditional Christmas on the one hand and the strong image of the ‘true’ Christmas in the countryside on the other hand. Attention was paid to Christmas advertising, division of labour in preparations and Christmas dinner as well.

The strong predomination of religiousness and piety of Finnish Christmas until the 1960’s was clearly shown in the research material. In this respect Finnish Christmas was similar to Swedish Christmas examined by the ethnologist Orvar Löfgren. Urbanization was gradually gaining ground, but the longing for a true Christmas in the countryside dominated. Tradition was created and emphasized in cover designs of the magazines, in the propoposed Christmas decoration and dishes, in the division of labour concerning Christmas preparations in families and in the choice of articles’ themes in the Christmas issues.

Besides written channels like magazines and booklets the motion picture was another important channel of popular education in Finland. The motion picture enabled very effective repeated advising of the public wider than ever before. The citizens’ organizations noticed the possibilities of motion pictures fairly early. A special tax reduction system concerning educational short films was established in the beginning of the 1930’s to intensify popular education by simultaneuously strengthening the national film production which faced a crisis because of the international economic depression and the coming of sound movies. According to a new law short educational, scientific and art movies allowed an exemption from the stamp duty for the cinema theatres. The reform resulted in a significant increase in the production of short films. In the 1930’s most of the educational short films were presentations of Finnish industry, its production plants and processes. Also, the first advertising films were produced. The household advisory organizations began to use films in their advisory work. They bought projectors and advisory groups travelled around Finland showing movies to the public.

During the war period 1939–1945 the motion picture was an important channel of propaganda. Advisory films and newsreels were manufactured and shown to wide audiences. As a matter of fact the popularity of movies even increased, because public dancing was prohibited and there were only few other forms of public entertainment available. In 1945 as many as 36 millions of movie tickets were sold which was an all-time record in Finland. The advisory short films guided people how to survive the extreme shortage by repairing old clothing items and turning them to quite new ones, e.g.

The Finnish film industry flourished until the mid-1950’s and was caught in a crisis thereafter. The film industry even attained a record in film production compared to the population. Different organizations ordered advisory films from movie companies and they produced short films industriously until the abolition of the tax allowance system in 1964. The difference between advisory and advertising films became increasingly blurred in the mid-1950’s, and the authorities were forced to clarify the legislation. Besides sex, nakedness and foreign policy reasons advertising were central reasons of cutting films because of the issued orders of state film censors in the 1950’s. The television became an important rival of the movies as entertainment in the beginning of the 1960’s.

Modern Consumer Policy and the Long Line of Household Advising

Modern public consumer policy was gradually formulated during the 1960’s and 1970’s as a reaction to the development of modern consumer markets and system of wage labour. The structural change of Finnish society in the sense of a transformation of the occupational structure and a migration to cities accelerated considerably and a modern Finnish society arose. The trade union movement became an important pressure group in society. In this respect the Finnish society began to bear resemblance to the corporatist model common in the Nordic countries and especially in Sweden. In consumer policy, the model came from Sweden as well. The Consumer Council (Kuluttajaneuvosto) was established in 1965 as a state organ devoted to consumer affairs, and in the end of the 1960’s the advisory organizations were reorganized. In the next decade a consumer ombudsman was appointed and consumer protection laws were enacted.

The long line of household advising work is the background of modern consumer policy. The advisory work practised by the organizations received gradually more and more features of pressure group activity, although in Finland they still were too weak and heterogenous to gain real importance before an established public consumer policy. The American economist Tibor Scitovsky has written: 'Puritanism is dead, but its ghost still haunts us'. This is very true concerning peasant ethic and the spirit of consumption. The peasant ethic emphasizing values of peasant society was shared by the household organizations and had a continued influence in Finnish society and in peoples’ attitudes to consumption.