Staying Modern in Middle Georgia

Although Andalusia a somewhat secluded property, Flannery and Regina O’Connor led a modern household. The farmhouse gathered quite the collection of technology, including a telephone, portable television, and an electric typewriter that Flannery occasionally used. Though the telephone was not a new invention, the use of landline rotary phones increased from 36% of homes having a phone in 1940 to 61% in 1950.[1] The first portable television was developed in 1959 and entered households in 1960, including rural farmhouses such as Andalusia.[2] The typewriter, unlike the phone or television, was not a particularly new invention for Flannery. However, the electric typewriter became a modern commodity for many authors after its invention in 1930.[3] Though technology was advancing, Flannery had different opinions and experiences with the various devices added to the farm.

The telephone Flannery and Regina received was a standard rotary-style landline in July of 1956. Flannery would mention in a letter that she was “all for the telephone,” calling it a “great mother-saver.”[4] Flannery used the telephone, but not as much as her mother, who was the head of the dairy operation in business during Flannery and Regina’s time at Andalusia. With the telephone, many errands into town were averted and made more manageable. Regina was able to use the phone to handle business on the farm instead of “running herself ragged going to town four times a day in the burning down heat”.[5] 

The portable television mentioned in Flannery’s letters is probably one of the most modern devices on the farm. The television was invented in the early 1900s but added to many households in the 1950s. The Sony Corporation patented the portable television in 1959. Shortly after, Flannery and Regina were given one from the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne in 1961. Flannery had aided the sisters in writing a memoir of a young girl who passed away from a form of facial cancer. In return, the sisters wanted to give the young author something to remember them. Even though Flannery had not wanted anything, they generously gifted the portable television to the farmhouse. Flannery would mention in a letter that she enjoyed the commercials that would play and which “Regina cannot see without comment.”[6]

As a full-time fiction author, Flannery made it a part of her daily routine to write at her desk for approximately three hours every day. She mentions in a letter, “on the basis that you use ten fingers to work a typewriter and only three to push a pen, I hold the typewriter to be more personal instrument.”[7] The typewriter has been in use since the late 1800s but was improved continuously over the next century. The electric typewriter’s power-driven method, introduced in 1923, was a severe handicap for this product, as it eliminated the device’s portability. By 1930, a more convenient electric machine made its way many households, including that of Flannery.[8] She expresses that while it was nice, she was not used to the electronic typewriter as a daily amenity. The sound could be a distraction, mentioning,“I keep thinking about all the electricity that is being wasted while I think what I am going to say next. I can see the value of it when you have a manuscript to type but for the ordinary grind, I’m not so sure.”[9]

The Andalusia collection does not have the electric typewriter or portable television mentioned in Flannery’s letters, the presence of these technological devices shows how Flannery and Regina kept a modern lifestyle even in rural middle Georgia. The rotary style phone on display in Regina’s office is one of two telephones in the collection that Flannery mentioned in her letters. While not as modern as other devices, the telephone was a game-changer in terms of how Regina conducted business on the family’s dairy farm. 

Andalusia Collection: 2018.1.516

[1] “Percentage of housing units with telephones in the United States from 1920 to 2008,” Statista online, accessed May 8 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/189959/housing-units-with-telephones-in-the-united-states-since-1920/.

[2] “TV8-301 Portable Television, 1959,” Cooper Hewitt online, accessed May 8 2020, https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18796291/.

[3] “The History of IBM electric typewriters,” IBM online, accessed May 8, 2020, https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/modelb/modelb_history.html.

[4] Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988), 170.

[5] Ibid.

[6]  Ibid., 443

[7] Ibid., 492.

[8] “The History of IBM electric typewriters.”

[9] O’Connor, 326.

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