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Demography and death in emergent industrial cities of New England

Susan Irene Hautaniemi, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the mortality experiences of two emerging industrial cities, Northampton and Holyoke, in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, during the period from 1850 through 1910, and the processes that delayed the transition to lower mortality levels in New England. This was a period in which these two towns, and many others in New England, grew rapidly due to early industrialization and urbanization. Death rates rose after the middle of the nineteenth century and stabilized at high levels, only falling again after the turn of the twentieth century. This work is an anthropological enquiry into why life seems to have been more precarious in the emergent cities of New England as mortality was declining throughout western Europe. Some characteristics of these towns, for example, changing occupational, ethnic and age composition, can be ascertained from decennial census data. However, in order to analyze the relationship of mortality to changing population characteristics I use linked individual-level census and death records from 1850 to 1912 to analyze mortality across panels defined by the timing of decennial censuses. I also look at how individuals might have attempted to mitigate the risks of mortality through strategies of household formation and household economies. The use of individual-level linked census-death data in these communities supports detailed analyses of the changing risks of mortality over the emergence and eventual maturation of these industrializing urban centers. I find that the mortality experiences of Holyoke and Northampton were shaped by the processes that formed these unique communities: a large population of young adults, influxes of poorly-paid immigrant labor, densely crowded living and working conditions, and delays in adequate infrastructure, particularly clean water and sanitary sewerage. During the period mortality rose and the most vulnerable groups experienced the worst life chances. Over time, the communities matured. The population aged, growth slowed, outlying areas became accessible to industrial workers through a regional trolley system, and public works were better able to keep pace with population. Death from infectious and parasitic disease became less frequent, and death from chronic or degenerative disease more prevalent.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Physical anthropology|Demographics|American history

Recommended Citation

Hautaniemi, Susan Irene, "Demography and death in emergent industrial cities of New England" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3039363.