Plain Folk: The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans

Request Book Kit

Book & Author


What was life like for ordinary working Americans at the turn of the century…the last century that is, 1900?  Here a variety of peope–from a Swedish homesteader to a Street Car Conductor–tell their stories in their own words

The Authors: David M. Katzman and William M. Tuttle are both affiliated with the American Studies program at Kansas University.

Read an interview with the authors from the November 29, 1981 Lawrence Journal World Newspaper clipping with a picture of the authors


“Oh! how I long that my husband may have the chance to study under somebody, with some one of his own or greater education and intelligence!”

-From the chapter “College Professor’s Wife” in Plain Folk


  • How life in the 1900’s compares to life today
  • How industrilization, particularly the “discipline of the clock”, affected people’s everyday lives.  Is life better or worse as a result?
  • Which person profiled was your favorite?
  • Did you gain any  insights into race, ethnicity, class, and/or gender from these stories.


Learn more about life in America around the year 1900 by checking out America 1900, From the “American Experience” series that airs on PBS.  Their companion website has links to further reading and primary sources about this time period.


If you were asked to write or speak about your experiences with work by an interviewer, what would you share?   Write your answer in the comments section.