A Nation of Realtors (R) A Cultural History of the Twentieth-Century American Middle Class Synopsis
How is it that in the twentieth century virtually all Americans came to think of themselves as middle class ? In this cultural history of real estate brokerage, Jeffrey M. Hornstein argues that the rise of the Realtors as dealers in both domestic space and the ideology of home ownership provides tremendous insight into this critical question. At the dawn of the twentieth century, a group of prominent real estate brokers attempted to transform their occupation into a profession. Drawing on traditional notions of the learned professions, they developed a new identity-the professional entrepreneur-and a brand name, Realtor. The Realtors worked doggedly to make home ownership a central element of what became known as the American dream. Hornstein analyzes the internal evolution of the occupation, particularly the gender dynamics culminating in the rise of women brokers to predominance after the Second World War. At the same time, he examines the ways organized real estate brokers influenced American housing policy throughout the century.Hornstein draws on trade journals, government documents on housing policy, material from the archives of the National Association of Realtors and local real estate boards, demographic data, and fictional accounts of real estate agents. He chronicles the early efforts of real estate brokers to establish their profession by creating local and national boards, business practices, ethical codes, and educational programs and by working to influence laws from local zoning ordinances to national housing policy. A rich and original work of American history, A Nation of Realtors (R) illuminates class, gender, and business through a look at the development of a profession and its enormously successful effort to make the owner-occupied, single-family home a key element of twentieth-century American identity.
A Nation of Realtors (R) A Cultural History of the Twentieth-Century American Middle Class Press Reviews
The family home is a touchstone of U.S. identity. Yet as Hornstein shows in his remarkable book, its very ordinariness and desirability is a product of canny real estate professionals, who worked closely with state authorities to define and delimit the possibilities of domicile. . . . A Nation of Realtors (R) offers a detailed institutional history of the real estate profession from around 1900 to the 1950s, but the real strength of the book lies in Hornstein's analysis of the gender and racial tensions that circulated through the profession and the countless `homes' it helped build. -- Joe Perry * Journal of Women's History * [A] highly readable narrative. . . . The book is a valuable tool for the classroom in a variety of fields. Although clearly a study of the professionalization of the realtor, it provides insight into the context of the process. Hornstein's treatment of the reform movements and the concomitant rise of a new middle class during the Progressive era provides the student with an easily accessible model for studying the cultural history of the twentieth century as well as the history of one American business. -- Barbara M. Kelly * American Historical Review * A Nation of Realtors (R) tells the institutional story of the limited success of this largely male trade movement until the 1960s and lays out the dynamics of women realtors becoming the driving force for the American dream in residential home ownership in the second half of the century. . . . Realtors become a paradigmatic example of a relentless and comprehensive American ideology. The content of this study is useful and convincing. . . . -- Burton J. Bledstein * Journal of American History * An ingenious and illuminating interpretation of a topic that is at the center of middle-class life in the twentieth-century United States but that historians have somehow managed to overlook until now. The `American dream' will never look quite the same in the light of Jeffrey M. Hornstein's fine book. -Jackson Lears, author of Something for Nothing: Luck in America and editor in chief of Raritan A Nation of Realtors (R) will be an instant classic. It is a brilliant window into the cultural politics of the real estate industry, the best study we have of Realtors, and an incisive analysis of the making of the modern American middle class. Jeffrey M. Hornstein's writing sparkles with an unusually sophisticated and accessible theoretical engagement of his archival sources. --Daniel J. Walkowitz, coeditor of Memory and the Impact of Political Transformation in Public Space