Visa Heinonen: Talonpoikainen etiikka ja kulutuksen henki.
Bibliotheca Historica 33.
Nid. Kuv. 442 s.
PEASANT ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CONSUMPTION
From Household Advising to Consumer
Policy in the 20th Century Finland
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
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
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.