Relieving the Housewife: Gender and the Promise of Geothermal District Heating in Reykjavík, 1930s–1970s

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Between 1939 and 1944, the City of Reykjavík in Iceland built a geothermal district heating utility that enabled the inhabitants to transition from coal to geothermal heating. One of the promises that geothermal proponents made to the inhabitants was that the utility would relieve the housewives of their coal stoking duties. In this article, I examine the gender and energy justice implications of the changes in residential energy use in Reykjavík between the 1930s and 1970s. In particular, the role of women in the use of local biofuels and imported coal for household energy needs, the use of hot springs for laundry, and how the introduction of geothermal heating changed the lives of the inhabitants. Housewives mattered for the geothermal transition, which improved their work and lives. Yet the geothermal transition also created new challenges, new injustices among connected and unconnected households, and did not necessarily reduce the workload for women or revolutionize their societal roles.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Energy History
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2021

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