#Museumfromhome Exploring Greenbelt's Tenant Manual


In our archives, the Museum has several copies of a Tenant’s Manual that was created by the Farm Security Administration and the town's management and distributed to new residents when they moved in. The contents offer a fascinating look at what life was like in Greenbelt in its early years. Each manual has heavier green paper as the cover, with a total of 23 white pages inside, stapled together. The copies were likely mimeographed (check out this cool footage of a mimeograph machine!). The copies we have are not dated, but refer to Greenbelt's Defense homes which opened in 1941, so we know the manuals we have were produced after that time. Additionally, an article in the January 30, 1942 issue of the Cooperator refers to the manual as a "definite improvement" over the old one and references the "cute illustrations done by Leroy Smith," so it's likely that our manuals date to 1942.


As you scroll through, note the extensive instructions for use of the refrigerator, cleaning of floors, and laundry rules. Greenbelt is famous for its early restrictions about laundry - all of it off the line before 4pm and no laundry hung on lines on Sundays. We get many questions from visitors about these rules. We think there are two main reasons. One - Greenbelt and the other Green towns (Greendale, WI and Greenhills, OH) were supposed to be the answer to overcrowded chaotic living conditions in cities. Imagine photographs of laundry lines between tenement housing, trashcans scattered along sidewalks, and children playing near gutters. In Greenbelt, there was a place for everything: laundry, trash cans, playgrounds, cars, etc. Second, Greenbelt was intended to be a “demonstration in town planning” - it was experimental and as such attracted a lot of attention from the press, the public, and from government officials both here and abroad. It was important that its appearance project a sense of order and tidiness. There are additional sections in the Manual about the Greenbelt Health Association and Greenbelt's Cooperative Stores. What surprises you the most about the manual? What surprises you the least?


Extra credit: for a fascinating and somewhat alternative discussion of tenement laundry lines check out this blog from the Museum of the City of New York!



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