Journal of Policy History


Building for Babbitt: The State and the Suburban Home Ideal

Janet Hutchisona1

a1 National Museum of American History

In his 1922 novel Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis introduced his main character, George Follansbee Babbitt, a realtor and member of the local planning board, by describing Babbitt's suburban residence. Paraphrasing contemporary house-plan publications, Lewis characterized the Dutch Colonial dwelling as at once “competent and glossy.” Babbitt's yard, “was perfection … his bathroom … porcelain and glazed tile and metal sleek as silver … and his bedroom … right out of Cheerful Modern Homes for Medium Incomes.” Indeed, his house “had the best of taste, the best of inexpensive rugs, a simple and laudable architecture, and the latest conveniences.”

Janet Hutchison is currently a 1997 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and a Smithsonian Institutional Research Associate at the National Museum of American History. Her monograph which concentrates on the Better Homes in America Movement is forthcoming with the Johns Hopkins University Press.