Anne Morrow Lindbergh on “the curtain of mechanization”

Surrealist Clock

Surrealist Clock
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Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost. In other times, women had in their lives more forces which centered them whether or not they realized it; sources which nourished them whether or not they consciously went to these springs. Their very seclusion in the home gave them time alone. Many of their duties were conducive to a quiet contemplative drawing together of the self. They had more creative tasks to perform. Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work, even humble kinds like cooking and sewing. Baking bread, weaving cloth, putting up preserves, teaching and singing to children, must have been far more nourishing than being the family chauffeur or shopping at supermarkets, or doing housework with mechanical aids. The art and craft of housework has diminished, much of the time-consuming drudgery remains. In housework, as in the rest of life, the curtain of mechanization has come down between the mind and hand.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1991), p. 52. Originally published (New York: Pantheon, 1955).

Anne Morrow Lindbergh Posted on behalf of on Wednesday, January 27th, 2010 under Quotations.


  1. I can’t imagine how I could disagree more with this post. Mechanization has given women the option to pursue greater creative pursuits than they ever could in the past. Now that we don’t have to worry about the time taken to sew or bake, we can pursue other interests. The reduced social pressure to have and care for children also relieves much of this burden. Also, we can still bake if we want to!

  2. Hi @Faith, nice to see you here and thanks for writing. As I put together this post this morning, I knew this quotation was ripe for controversy. So I’m glad you spoke up as it’s given me a chance to gather my thoughts.

    As I read it, this quotation (as I have extracted it from the always crucial surrounding text) is about three primary themes, in this order:

    1. The simultaneous amplification/amputation of human capacities through adoption of technologies (mechanization).
    2. Solitude as conducive to nourishing the soul.
    3. The history of Womens’ Movement(s).

    I’ll focus on the latter as that is most relevant to your comment.

    One glaring omission from my post, which I have since corrected, is to specify the original publication date of Morrow Lindbergh’s text: 1955. I think that context is very important because it can soften the critical gaze somewhat by observing that Morrow Lindbergh was writing on the cusp of the Second Wave of the U.S. Women’s Movement.

    Situated in that surely confusing borderland territory, Morrow Lindbergh writes earlier in this book:

    Mechanically, woman has gained in the past generation. Certainly in America, our lives are easier, freer, more open to opportunities, thanks—among other things—to the Feminist battles. The room of one’s own, the hour alone are now more possible in a wider economic class than ever before. But these hard-won prizes are insufficient because we have not yet learned how to use them. The Feminists did not look that far ahead; they laid down no rules of conduct. For them it was enough to demand the privileges. The exploration of their use, as in all pioneer movements, was left open to the women who would follow. And woman today is still searching.
    — Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea, (Random House, Inc., 1997), p. 51-2.

    Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a complicated human being. I know a little bit about her history, and even though I know it’s dangerous to read creatively into anyone’s life story, I’ll provide two elements for context.

    The Lindberghs are widely regarded as one of the first internationally lionized and victimized mass media couples. Following the tragic kidnapping of their firstborn child and the media circus surrounding the trial and execution of the kidnapper, the Lindberghs sought out seclusion from the relentless media gaze. I think that experience should inform readings of this quotation.

    Anne Morrow Lindbergh was also a pioneering woman aviator. In 1930, “…she became the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot’s license” and logged over 40,000 miles of exploratory flying throughout her career ranging over five continents.

    For these reasons, I think her observations, such as we see in this quotation, are unusual and worthy of closer examination. What is it that she learned up there amidst the clouds, or washed out by the flashing bulbs of the nascent paparazzi, and subject to the voracious objectifications of the public?

    I have yet to read what she can tell about those things. But I can tell you that Anne Morrow Lindbergh relays what she learned in and around an isolated beach house where she wrote Gift from the Sea, where she called the book by that name. It’s one of the better books I’ve ever read, so much so that I gifted my mother with a copy. I can’t recommend it enough.

  3. Thank you for that clarifying comment. The statement makes much more sense now that I see it was originally written in 1955. I thought it sounded jarring for 1997. In context, it’s much clearer.

    I’ve been reading these just about every day; I almost always agree with the quotes presented. Of course the first one I comment on is one I’d gotten out of context!

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