Posted: October 27th, 2022
Topic: Rebellious women
I have attached the textbook and the outline down below.
The Gilded Age – Social/Personal Responsibility Research Paper
This assignment requires the student to read selected chapters from The Gilded Age: A History in
Documents. Students will analyze and interpret these primary and secondary sources to formulate a
short paper based on the social and personal responsibilities of various figures, why they are
writing these papers/journals/articles, and how we in modern America deal with those issues today.
The assignment is worth 50 points.
Social and Personal Responsibility Paper: Students will choose a selection from The Gilded
Age: A History in Documents to analyze and write a 1-2 page paper (Formatting requirements:
single-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1” margins, no headings except name and paper
title); Papers not meeting the stated formatting requirements will be docked 5 points). The
definition of “1-2 page” is 1 full page (not half a page or ¾ of a page), with no words on a third
page. This is meant to help students learn to write in a precise and concise manner. Citations
must be done in Chicago (Turabian) format. An example is at the bottom of this document.
Social responsibility is defined as a demonstration of civic responsibility and its engagement in
various larger communities. Personal responsibility is defined as an evaluation of choices and
actions of others or one’s own actions, and relate the consequences (good and/or bad) to decision-
making. Students must discuss these issues using critical thinking and effectively communicate
their views on these topics in their papers. The paper must discuss the social and personal
responsibility of both the writers of the documents and modern interpreters of the documents
(politicians, judges, media, American public).
The easiest way to do this is to analyze the primary documents (the sub-chapter of your choice) in
the first half of the paper and use primary and secondary sources to address how modern American
deal with or dealt with the same issues in their time. (For example, “Whitening” Indians discusses
Native American assimilation. Analyze how and why they are discussing that issue, using the
documents and lecture material. Then, in the second half of the paper, use secondary sources to
analyze and explain how modern Americans deal/have dealt with with Indian assimilation. Modern
America in this sense would go back to 1900, so you could use any exampled from that point to
present day). The secondary sources need to be books, articles, or comprehensive web sites.
Web pages like Bio.com, History.com, and others of that sort will not give students the
requisite information needed and are unacceptable. It should go without saying that
Wikipedia is also not an acceptable source. There will be points off for using unacceptable
The deadline for submission of the paper portion is listed on the link to turn in this
assignment. No late papers will be accepted, NO EXCEPTIONS. The students will turn 1
electronic copy to the class dropbox online, otherwise the student will be assigned a ZERO for
the paper assignment. Failure to turn in this assignment will adversely affect your final course
Students may choose any of the chapter sub-sections in The Gilded Age to write about for their
paper (e.g.: “Exodusters” or “From Rags to Riches” or “Sports” – These can be found in the Table
of Contents. If the section you want to do is not formatted like the examples given here, you cannot
do that section. Only chapter sub-headings are acceptable). Only one student per class can write on
a particular section and preference will be on a first come, first served basis. If a student writes
on the same section as another student who claimed it first, the second student will receive no
credit for their paper. A discussion board has been created to claim the paper numbers, so
look there to see which numbers other students have and have not taken. Dr. Smith does not
check the discussion board unless there is a problem (e.g.: two students do the same topic)
and is not responsible for making sure students pick their topic correctly. The board is for
students to check which papers are available. If you are confused or have question, please email
Dr. Smith! Claim your paper on the discussion board in the “Paper Assignment” tab.
1. Statements such as “I think…” “I feel…” “I believe…” “This showed personal/social
responsibility by…” and any other statement like these should not find their way into your paper.
You can express these sentiments without resorting to high school level writing.
2. You do not need to introduce the book, author, etc. It is a waste of time in such a concise paper.
Get to the point!
3. Do not use contractions in formal writing (don’t, won’t, can’t, etc.).
4. Use normal paragraphs, they are your friend! Giant walls of text are not!
5. Do not put an elaborate heading at the top (I know some of you are sneaky with that! haha). All
you need is your name and sub-chapter title. Any paper with 3-6 lines of heading will not meet the
6. If you would like help becoming a better writer, please ask Dr. Smith for assistance.
The Gilded Age
A History in Documents
Janette Thomas Greenwood
Oxford University Press
In memory of my mother, Feme E. Thomas
Oxford New York
Auckland Bangkok Buenos Aries Cape Town Chennai
Dar es Salaam Delhi Hong Kong Istanbul Karachi Kolkata
Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Mumbai Nairobi
Sao Paulo Singapore Taipei Tokyo Toronto
Copyright © 2000 by Janette Thomas Greenwood
First published as an Oxford paperback in 2003
Design: Sandy Kaufman
Layout: Loraine Machlin
Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.,
198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016
Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise,
without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Gilded Age: a history in documents
Janette Thomas Greenwood,
p. cm. – (Pages from history)
Includes bibliographical references (p.) and index.
Summary: Uses a wide variety of documents to show how Americans dealt
with an age of extremes from 1887 to 1900, including rapid industrializa-
tion, unemployment, unprecedented wealth, and immigration.
ISBN 0-19-510523-0 (hardcover) 0-19-516638-8 (paperback)
1. United States-History-1865-1898-Sources
2. United States-Social conditions-1865-1918-Sources
[1. United States-History-1865-1898-Sources.] I. Greenwood, Janette
Thomas. II. Series.
3 5 7 9 8 6 4
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper
Associate Professor of History
University of Arizona
Professor of History
University of Michigan
Robert G. Moeller
Professor of History
University of California, Irvine
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom
Associate Professor of History
Indiana University, Bloomington
Board of Advisors
Social Studies Supervisor
New Rochelle, N.Y., Public Schools
Social Studies Supervisor
WestMilford, N.J., Public Schools
Cover: On July 16, 1892, the Homestead
Riot made the cover of Harper’s Weekly.
The use of force against striking workers
at the Homestead Steelworks epitomized
the labor violence that marred the
Frontispiece: In Pennsylvania’s coalfields,
“breaker boys” sorted through processed
coal, picking out slate and other refuse,
for less than a dollar a day. Many miners
began their careers as breaker boys, often
before they were 10 years old.
Title page. In marked contrast to the many
Gilded Age Americans who suffered
extreme poverty, a few enjoyed fabulous
wealth. Cornelia Ward and her children,
depicted in this 1880 p a i n t i n g , led a
lifestyle very d i f f e r e n t from that of
working mothers and child laborers.
6 WHAT IS A DOCUMENT?
8 HOW TO READ A DOCUMENT
13 BIG BUSINESS, INDUSTRY,
AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
16 Captains of Industry
20 “Survival of the Fittest”
24 Responsibilities of the Rich
26 From Rags to Riches
29 IMMIGRATION TO A
49 THE SORROWS OF LABOR
51 The Knights of Labor
53 The Haymarket Affair
55 Trade Unions
57 Industrial Unions
59 Women in the Work Force
62 Child Labor
64 The Homestead Lockout
67 THE PERILS AND PROMISE OF
71 Social Activism
76 Social Darwinism
78 Ward Bosses
Chapter Five: Picture Essay
83 JACOB RIIS AND THE POWER
OF THE PHOTOGRAPH
91 THE NEW SOUTH
94 A Sharecropper’s Contract
96 “A Perfect Democracy”
99 Cotton Mill Workers
100 The Rise of “Jim Crow”
115 THE WEST
120 An Indian Victory
123 “Whitening” Indians
130 Mexican Americans Fight Back
133 THE FARMERS’ REVOLT
138 Farmers’ Alliances
143 The Populist Party
148 Election 1896
153 THE UNITED STATES BUILDS
157 The Spanish-American War
163 The Philippines
171 NEW WOMEN, STRENUOUS
MEN, AND LEISURE
173 “The Strenuous Life”
178 Rebellious Women
182 FURTHER READING
185 TEXT CREDITS
187 PICTURE CREDITS
6 T H E G I L D E D A G E
What Is a Document?
the historian, a document is,
quite simply, any sort of histori-
cal evidence. It is a primary
source, the raw material of his-
tory. A document may be more than the
expected government paperwork, such as a
treaty or passport. It is also a letter, diary,
will, grocery list, newspaper article, recipe,
memoir, oral history, school yearbook, map,
chart, architectural plan, poster, musical
score, play script, novel, political cartoon,
painting, photograph—even an object.
Using primary sources allows us not
just to read about history, but to read histo-
ry itself. It allows us to immerse ourselves
in the look and feel of an era gone by, to
understand its people and their language,
whether verbal or visual. And it allows us
to take an active, hands-on role in (re)con-
Using primary sources requires us to
use our powers of detection to ferret out
the relevant facts and to draw conclusions
from them,- just as Agatha Christie uses the
scores in a bridge game to determine the
identity of a murderer, the historian uses
facts from a variety of sources—some, per-
haps, seemingly inconsequential—to build
a historical case.
The poet W. H. Auden wrote that his-
tory was the study of questions. Primary
sources force us to ask questions—and
then, by answering them, to construct a
narrative or an argument that makes sense
to us. Moreover, as we draw on the many
sources from “the dust-bin of history,” we
can endow that narrative with character,
personality, and texture—all the elements
that make history so endlessly intriguing.
This political cartoon addresses the issue of church and
state. It illustrates the Supreme Court’s role in balancing
the demands of the First Amendment of the Constitution
and the desires of the religious population.
such as this
alphabet from the
Primer, tell us
how children were
also what the
moral values of
the time were.
W H A T I S A D O C U M E N T ? a
A 1788 British map of
India shows the region prior
to British colonization, an
indication of the kingdoms
and provinces whose ethnic
divisions would resurface
later in India’s history.
A government document such as this
1805 treaty can reveal not only the
details of government policy, hut
information ahout the people who
signed it. Here, the Indians’ names
were written in English translitera-
tion by U.S. o f f i c i a l s ; the Indians
added pictographs to the right of
The first written version of the Old English epic Beowulf,
Jrom the late 10th century, is physical evidence of the tran-
sition from oral to written history. Charred hyfire, it is
also a physical record of the wear and tear of history.
E l T H E G I L D E D A G E
How to Read a Document
hen reading any historical doc-
ument, it is crucial to place the
document in context. Every
document represents a point of
view, whether it be an essay, a newspaper
account, a diary entry, cartoon, or photograph.
We need to ask: Who was the author of the doc-
ument? What was his or her message? Who was
the intended audience?
The political cartoon of John D. Rocke-
feller and the photograph of the family in Kansas
on the facing page are examples of two important
types of Gilded Age documents. At the time,
political cartoons were an especially effective
means of shaping public opinion, as cheap mass-
produced and mass-circulated magazines and
newspapers became available to nearly all Ameri-
cans for the first time. Photography also grew in
importance as newspapers and magazines devel-
oped techniques to reproduce photographs on
their pages. Technological advances in film, cam-
eras, and the flash process made photographs
clearer and more lifelike.
Other types of documents also f i l l this book.
Pages from mail-order catalogs and house plans
show how people dressed and lived. Songs and
articles from popular magazines provide slices of
popular culture, some of which may seem surpris-
ingly familiar. Many of these documents reflect
public discussions that raged in the United States
during the Gilded Age. The nations dramatic eco-
nomic and social transformations sparked passion-
ate public debate. Americans struggled with the
meaning of justice and democracy in a new social
setting as their nation became more urbanized,
industrialized, and ethnically and culturally
diverse, in short, modern. Similar issues—albeit in
a different context—still consume the nation more
than a hundred years later: What is a just society?
What role should government and big business
play? What strategies should the powerless employ
to make change? How can Americans create a
sense of community in an increasingly impersonal
world? Who is an American?
In order to make a strong and clear statement, political cartoonists use
caricature, or exaggerated features. The author of this cartoon depicts
oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller as a giant, towering over Washington,
to represent his colossal power and influence. In contrast, President
William McKinley cowers under the building, suggesting that Rocke-
feller dominates even the highest office in the land.
Cartoonists communicate by using symbols that the reader can readily
identify. Here the Capitol has been turned into an oil refinery,
symbolizing Rockefeller’s “ownership” of both the House and Senate.
The moneybags surrounding McKinley imply that Rockefeller and
Standard Oil can easily buy the President. The federal government,
the cartoonist tells his audience, no longer represents the people, but
instead is the private domain of the nation’s most powerful company.
Even though a photograph might seem objective, as it captures “reali-
ty” within the camera’s lens, the photographer’s choice of subject con-
veys a particular message. The Shores family of Custer County,
Nebraska, migrated to Kansas to flee the Souths racial oppression.
Their prosperous homestead testifies to African-American success in
The family poses proudly, conveying strength and determination.
Each member looks directly at the camera, asserting his or her equali-
ty with the viewer.
Portraying all three generations of the Shores family before their sod
house, the photograph suggests the importance of family bonds and
unity to their success. In an age of virulent racism, the photograph
communicates the message that black Americans valued family and
home just as many white Americans did and that given a fair chance,
black people, too, could prosper in American society.
H O W T O R E A D A D O C U M E N T 9
Co-authored by Charles Dudley
Warner and Mark Twain, the
novel The Gilded Age—A Tale
of Today furnished the name for
an era in American history
marked by excess, corruption, and
An illustration from Warner and
Twain’s The Gilded Age,
showing huckster Colonel Sellers
enticing Washington Hawkins
with visions of fabulous riches:
“The colonel’s tongue was a magi-
cian’s wand that turned dried
apples into figs and water into
wine as easily as it could change a
hovel into a palace. . . . ”
ince 1873, when Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
published their satirical novel The Gilded Age, Americans have
used the term to designate a distinctive period, the last
quarter of the 19th century. The Gilded Age proved to be a
resilient designation because it seemed to fit so well. Twain and Warn-
er’s novel scathingly satirized post-Civil War America as a land of
craven materialism as well as hopelessly corrupt political practices.
The United States indeed seemed to be gilded—covered with gold—
in limitless moneymaking enterprises and business possibilities. But
the gold casing often proved to be a thin veneer, covering up an uglier
society—one of crass greed and excess.
For many years historians accepted Twain and Warner’s charac-
terization of the post-Civil War United States, an era dominated by
robber barons—industrial leaders who fleeced a vulnerable public
through questionable business practices—and fat cat political bosses
who dispensed favors while lining their pockets with payoffs.
But robber barons and political bosses are only part of the story
of the Gilded Age. As Twain and Warner suggested, it was indeed an
era of extremes—a time of rapid industrialization coupled with cycles
of crushing unemployment, of both unprecedented wealth and dire
poverty. It was also an era of opportunity for millions of European
immigrants who poured into the nation just as certain native-born
groups, particularly African Americans and Native Americans, bore
the brunt of racially motivated violence. It was also an era in which the
downtrodden fought back, demanding that the United States live up
to its ideals of equality before the law and justice for all, which had
been lost in a flurry of industrialization and unprecedented concen-
trations of wealth and power in the hands of a few. It was a time when
their loss kindled a blaze of social activism.
The steel industry emerged as one
of the Gilded Age’s hallmark “big
businesses.” Steel companies, such
as Carnegie Steel, engaged in cut-
throat competition in order to elim-
inate rivals, incorporating new
technology, inventing new man-
agerial methods, and keeping
wages low—all to produce the
best steel at the cheapest price.
n 1848, at the age of 13, Andrew Carnegie emigrated from
Scotland to the United States with his parents and younger broth-
er. The family settled near Pittsburgh, and young Carnegie quick-
ly found a job as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, working for
$1.20 a week to help support his family. Educating himself by reading
history and literature at a local library on weekends, Carnegie soon
secured a job as a telegraph messenger boy and then as a telegraph
operator for the Pittsburgh division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He
quickly rose to the position of office boy and then clerk; within sev-
eral years he headed the Pittsburgh division. In 1865, when he was 30,
Carnegie left the railroad to establish his own firm, Keystone Bridge
Co., which manufactured and built iron bridges. Keystone Bridge
soon expanded into iron and steel mills. By 1872 Carnegie, with the
aid of investment partners, established his first steel mill near
Pittsburgh. Twenty years later, Carnegie Steel had emerged as the
largest steel company in the world, and Andrew Carnegie as one of its
Carnegie’s success stemmed from his ability to cut production costs,
allowing him to sell steel at a lower price than his rivals. Yet Carnegie’s
workers often paid the price for his obsession with economy, working
long and dangerous 12-hour shifts for minimal wages.
In 1901 the former factory worker and immigrant sold Carnegie
Steel for $480 million to banker J. Pierpont Morgan, creating the first
1 4 T H E G I L D E D A G E
An Age of Invention
I nventions, which proliferated during theGilded Age, sometimes generated their
own corporations. Thomas Edison, who
invented the incandescent light bulb in
1879, founded the Edison Electric
Illuminating Company in 1882—the first
electric utility company—which supplied
electricity to customers throughout New
York City. By 1892 Edison Electric had
merged with several competitors to form
General Electric. Alexander Graham Bell
patented the telephone in 1876 and, with
several investors, formed the National
Bell Telephone Company, which, by
1885, had become the American
Telephone and Telegraph Company
(AT&T), a massive company that domi-
nated both local and long-distance tele-
phone service. Together electricity and
the telephone revolutionized American
life. Other Gilded Age inventions includ-
ed the phonograph and moving pictures,
both developed by Thomas Edison.
Thomas Edison patented 1,093 inventions
in bis lifetime, far more than any other
inventor in American history, including
195 for the phonograph alone. Edison
ascribed his achievement to hard work,
explaining, “Genius is 1 percent inspira-
tion and 99 percent perspiration.”
billion-dollar corporation in U.S. history, United States Steel.
Believing that no man should die wealthy, Carnegie spent the
remainder of his life giving away most of his fortune. He estab-
lished public libraries, museums, and pension funds for steelwork –
ers, railroad workers, and college professors as well as a founda-
tion dedicated to international peace.
Carnegie’s life story reflects many of the currents and cross-
currents of the Gilded Age. To some, he represented the self-made
man and the limitless possibilities of the age, when even an immi-
grant boy, through hard work and determination, could become a
powerful, world-famous millionaire, benefactor, and captain of
industry. To others, he epitomized the evils of the age, of power
and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, of cutthroat busi-
ness practices and the exploitation of workers. He was considered
a robber baron who actually limited opportunity for average
Whether judged a hero or villain, Andrew Carnegie can tell us
a great deal about the transformations in the U.S. economy that
defined the Gilded Age. Railroads, such as the
Pennsylvania, which employed Carnegie as a
young man, provided the foundation for the sec-
ond U.S. Industrial Revolution. By the mid-1860s
ribbons of steel rails tied the nation together. The
first big business in an era of massive industrial
growth, railroads led the way for the growth of
other big businesses. Keystone Bridge actually
manufactured and built iron railroad bridges that
spanned the Mississippi, allowing trains to cross
the continent by 1869 and opening up vast mar-
kets for U.S. industry. The telegraph, which
Carnegie mastered as a young man, provided a
communications network that coordinated rail
travel as well as the distribution of goods. A reliable transportation
and communication system provided the foundation for modern,
large-scale corporations, many of which produced a variety of
products, such as Carnegie Steel, as well as clothing, shoes, and
bicycles. All of these goods could be shipped by railroad to the
most remote regions of the country.
To establish large industries and factories required tremendous
amounts of money—more than one investor could provide. To
establish the Carnegie Steel Company, Carnegie formed a part-
nership with several other investors. Other capitalists founded
large, modern corporations that sold shares publicly to finance
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M 15
their massive enterprises/ shareholders, in turn, earned profits on
their investment if the corporation prospered. Railroads, such as
the Pennsylvania, were among the first to embrace corporate
organization, but this form of enterprise spread to other industries
following the Civil War, quickly dominating the American busi-
ness world. Ownership of industries by shareholders, rather than
an individual, became the modern enterprise structure.
Modern corporations were defined not only by their scale but
also by their organization. A big business, such as Carnegie Steel,
required an army of managers to oversee every aspect of the mak-
ing and distribution of steel. Carnegie employed managers with
specialized skills, who oversaw an array of divisions and depart-
ments. They monitored productivity, worked to increase efficien-
cy, and cut costs in order to maximize profits and eliminate rival
firms. Carnegie’s emergence as the nation’s leading steel maker was
attributable mainly to the fact that he and his managers mastered
the process of producing steel more cheaply than his competitors.
Cheap production depended largely on a corporation’s ability
to control all of its aspects. Known as vertical integration, this was
the hallmark of the modern corporation. Carnegie Steel, for
example, owned—in addition to steel mills—the mines that pro-
duced raw materials, such as coal, coke, and iron ore, needed for
the production of steel as well as railroads to distribute it.
Carnegie and his managers attempted to control every stage of
steel manufacturing, from raw materials, to production and distri-
bution, to the cost of labor itself.
Control of the manufacturing process alone did not account
for business success in the Gilded Age/ a competitive spirit often
also prevailed. Carnegie’s fierce competition with rival steel mak-
ers led him to enter into secret agreements with competitors,
known as pools, in which steel manufacturers fixed the price of
their products, allowing all to share in the market. But Carnegie,
always seeking ways to dominate the steel industry, soon got a
reputation for breaking pooling agreements and destroying his
rivals by selling his products at a lower price.
Firms like Carnegie Steel contributed to the emergence of the
United States as the world’s greatest industrial power by 1900. By
1892 Carnegie Steel—a single American company—manufac-
tured more than half of all the steel made by all the steel compa-
nies in Great Britain. Rapid industrialization and the emergence of
large enterprises shaped nearly every aspect of American life in
the Gilded Age—where Americans worked, the conditions of
their work, what they ate and wore, and where they lived.
Even after becoming the world’s richest
man, Andrew Carnegie liked to think of
himself as a workwoman and as a
champion of working people, although
his own workers frequently challenged
that view. Through most of the Gilded
Age, Carnegie managed to maintain a
positive public image. He frequently
contributed articles to popular maga-
zines and journals commenting on
pressing political and social issues.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Wages and Efficiency
A ndrew Carnegie’s quest to produce cheaper
o v s t e e l affected the wages he paid his work-
ers. At the turn of the century, most unskilled
steelworkers, especially recent immigrants,
earned from $1.50 to $2.00 per day. And while
a family in the Pittsburgh area needed $ 15 a
week to live, most workers made less than
In addition to minimizing wages to undersell
competitors, industrialists like Carnegie and
their managers constantly sought to maximize
the efficiency of their workers. They subscribed
to the methods of “scientific management,” as
formulated by Frederick Winslow Taylor, who
developed his ideas in relation to the steel
industry. “In the past,” he explained, “the man
has been first; in the future the system must be
first.” To get the most from workers, Taylor
insisted that managers investigate and observe,
with stopwatch in hand, every aspect of a
No job was too lowly to be subject to scien-
tific management. At Bethlehem Steel, for exam-
ple, Taylor and his staff made a detailed study of
coal shoveling that epitomized the principles of
Taylorism, as it was popularly called.
First. Find, say 10 to 15 different men . . .
who are especially skillful in doing the
particular work to be analyzed.
Second. Study the exact series of elemen-
tary operations or motions which each of
these men uses in doing the work which is
being investigated, as well as the imple-
ment each man uses.
Third. Study with a stopwatch the time
required to make each of these elementary
movements and then select the quickest
way of doing each element of work.
Fourth. Eliminate all false movements, slow
movements, and useless movements.
Fifth. After doing away with all unneces-
sary movements, collect into one series
the quickest and best movements as well
as the best implements. This new method,
involving the series of motions which can
be made quickest and best, is then substi-
tuted in place of the 10 or 15 inferior
series which were formerly in use.
While many industrialists in the Gilded Age
enthusiastically embraced the “science” of man-
agement, workers deeply resented Taylorism
and the stopwatch-wielding managers who
hovered over their every move.
Big business and rapid industrialization seemed to symbolize
progress and the emergence of the United States as a world
power, but the rise of big business also made many Americans
uneasy. They had never seen so much wealth and power concen-
trated in the hands of so few people. Some Americans asked prob-
ing questions about the consequences of big business and the rise
of big businessmen. Did the rich and powerful, like Carnegie,
rather than the people, now rule the United States? Did the rise
of big business mean the end of small enterprise? Did success in
business mean resorting to cutthroat competition and illegal prac-
tices? And did big business and industry mean more or less oppor-
tunity for the average American?
Captains of Industry
In his autobiography, published after his death in 1919,
Carnegie discussed several of the innovations he pioneered
in the iron and steel industry that allowed him to produce
steel at a cheaper cost than his rivals. Attention to detail and
an obsession with reducing production costs catapulted
Carnegie to the pinnacle of world steel making. Gilded Age
businessmen, like Carnegie, also revolutionized industry by
carefully controlling every stage of manufacturing—from
the raw materials needed to make their product to the pro-
duction and distribution of their goods.
As I became acquainted with the manufacture of iron I was greatly
surprised to find that the cost of each of the various processes was
unknown. … It was a lump business, and until stock was taken and
the books balanced at the end of the year, the manufacturers were
in total ignorance of results. … I felt as if we were moles burrow-
ing in the dark, and this to me was intolerable. I insisted upon such
a system of weighing and accounting being introduced throughout
our works as would enable us to know what our cost was for each
process and especially what each man was doing, who saved mate-
rial, who wasted it, and who produced the best results. . . .
The one vital lesson in iron and steel that I learned in Britain
was the necessity for owning raw materials and finishing the com-
pleted article ready for its purpose. . . . [We were] the first, and for
many years the only, firm in America that made ferro-manganese.
We had been dependent upon foreigners for a supply of this indis-
pensable article, paying as high as eighty dollars a ton for it. …
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M
The experiment was worth trying and the result was a great suc-
cess. We were able to supply the entire American demand, and
prices fell from eighty to fifty dollars per ton as a consequence.
One of Carnegie’s contemporaries, John D. Rockefeller,
founded the Standard Oil Company in 1869, with several
partners in Cleveland, Ohio. After careful observation of this
boom and bust industry. Rockefeller concluded that control
of railroads and pipelines to transport oil was the key to suc-
cess in the oil industry. Rockefeller struck deals with rail-
roads to offer lower rates to his company—known as
rebates—for oil shipped in large amounts over long dis-
tances. Because Standard Oil was such a large company and
provided the railroads with so much business. Rockefeller
demanded drawbacks from the railroads; that is, he insisted
that railroads hauling oil for other companies charge them
more, kicking some of the money back to Standard Oil.
Rebates and drawbacks, both secret practices, as well as out-
right intimidation, helped eliminate many of Rockefeller’s
competitors. Standard Oil soon monopolized the industry,
controlling more than 90 percent of oil refining in the United
States by the 1880s; by 1904, its profits reached a whopping
$57 million. In Random Reminiscences of Men and Events,
published in 1937, John D. Rockefeller credits his success to
innovative business practices.
It is a common thing to hear people say that this company has
crushed out its competitors. Only the uninformed could make
such an assertion. It has had, and always will have,
hundreds of active competitors; it has lived only
because it has managed its affairs well and eco-
nomically and with great vigor. . . .
I ascribe the success of the Standard Oil
Company to its consistent policy of making the
volume of its business large through the merit and
cheapness of its products. It has spared no expense
in utilizing the best and most efficient method of
manufacture. It has sought for the best superinten-
dents and workmen and paid the best wages. It has
not hesitated to sacrifice old machinery and old
plants for new and better ones. It has placed its
manufactories at the points where they could sup-
ply markets at the least expense. It has not only
In the Gilded Age, political
cartoons in newspapers and
magazines played a key role
in inciting public outrage
against trusts and the business
practices of industrialists such
Reflecting growing public outrage against
John D. Rockefeller and bis business
practices, the January 22, 1900, edition
of the Verdict ran this political cartoon.
In it Rockefeller remarks, “What a funny
T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Invention of the Trust
While he managed to eliminate many of hiscompetitors, John D. Rockefeller, like
other Gilded Age industrialists, still feared the
instability of competition. Seeking centralized
control through consolidation, he devised the
trust, in which stockholders in individual corpo-
rations turned over their stock to a small group
of trustees, including Rockefeller himself, who
ran the various parts of Standard Oil as one
company. In return the stockholders received
profits from the combination but had no direct
control over the decisions of the trustees.
Other American industries copied Rocke-
feller’s model, and trusts in beef, tobacco, and
sugar soon emerged. Referring to a specific
type of business organization, the term “trust,”
to the American public, denoted any large eco-
nomic combination. Whereas the trust repre-
sented the pinnacle of modern enterprise to
men like Rockefeller, to many Americans, it
meant monopoly, the end of competition, and
higher prices for products. Moreover, some
feared that trusts placed far too much power in
the hands of a few people who would
inevitably abuse their power, an anonymous
few who could not be held accountable.
John D. Rockefeller’s business practices
made him an especially notorious figure in
the Gilded Age. Rockefeller did little to dis-
pel his critics and once remarked, “The
Standard Oil Company’s business was
that of saying nothing and sawing wood.”
sought markets for its principal products, but for all possible by-
products, sparing no expense in introducing them to the public in
every nook and corner of the world. It has not hesitated to invest
millions of dollars in methods for cheapening the gathering and
distribution of oils by pipe-lines, special cars, tank-steamers, and
Henry Oemarest Lloyd provides a different interpretation of
Rockefeller’s success. Pioneering a new form of journalism,
known as muckraking, the forerunner of today’s investiga-
tive journalism, Lloyd exposed Rockefeller’s underhanded—
and often illegal—business practices to the nation. In this
excerpt from “Story of a Great Monopoly,” published in the
Atlantic Monthly in 1881, Lloyd explored the consequences
of monopolies, like Standard Oil, for average Americans.
Monopolies meant higher prices and fewer jobs, he
argued. Moreover, big business, through payoffs to politi-
cians, placed itself above the law, growing more powerful
than government itself. Lloyd claimed that Standard Oil even
bought off the Pennsylvania legislature to further its gains.
He called upon the American people to demand that the fed-
eral government intervene to curb the power of big business.
His disclosures about Standard Oil outraged the American
public and helped make Rockefeller and Standard Oil synony-
mous with corporate greed and corruption. Lloyd’s investiga-
tion and the public outcry it generated forced Congress to
take action against the trusts. In 1890 Congress passed the
Sherman Antitrust Act, which actually did little to eliminate
trusts. Standard Oil remained intact until 1911 when the
Supreme Court dissolved this infamous trust.
In the United States, in the cities as well as the country, petrole-
um is the general illuminator. We use more kerosene lamps than
Bibles. . . . Very few of the forty millions of people in the United
States who burn kerosene know that its production, manufacture,
and export, its price at home and abroad, have been controlled by
a single corporation—the Standard Oil Company. … It has
refineries at Cleveland, Baltimore, and New York. Its own acid
works, glue factories, hardware stores, and barrel shops supply it
with all the accessories it needs in its business. It has bought land
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M
at Indianapolis on which to erect the largest barrel factory in the
country. It has drawn its check for $1,000,000 to suppress a rival.
It buys 30,000 to 40,000 barrels of crude oil a day, at a price fixed
by itself, and makes special contracts with railroads for the trans-
portation of 13,000,000 to 14,000,000 barrels of oil a year. The
four quarters of the globe are partitioned among the members of
the Standard combinations. . . . Their great business capacity
would have insured the managers of the Standard success, but the
means by which they achieved monopoly was by conspiracy with
the railroads. . . . The Standard killed its rivals, in brief, by get-
ting the great trunk lines to refuse to give them transportation. .
. . The Standard has done everything with the Pennsylvania leg-
islature but refine it. … The contract is in print by which the
Pennsylvania Railroad agreed with the Standard, under the name
of the South Improvement Company, to double the freights on
oil to everybody, but to repay the Standard one dollar for every
barrel any of its competitors shipped. . . .
Hundreds and thousands of men have been ruined by these
acts of the Standard and the railroads; whole communities have
been rendered desperate, and the peace of Pennsylvania imperiled
more than once. . . . The Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce reported
Joseph Keppler’s 1889 political cartoon
“Bosses of the Senate,” published in
Puck, depicts the trusts as larger than
the government itself.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
“All is well since all
Autobiography of Andrew
April 3, 1876, that there were twenty-one oil refineries idle in that
city, owing to freight discriminations and combinations. There
were $2,000,000 invested in these refineries, and if in operation
they would have required the labor directly of 3,060 men, besides
the much larger number of carpenters, masons, bricklayers, boiler-
makers, pumpmakers, and other workingmen, who would have
employment if the oil refining business were prosperous. . . .
The time has come to face the fact that the forces of capital
and industry have outgrown the forces of our government. . . .
Our strong men are engaged in a headlong fight for fortune,
power, precedence, success. . . . The common people, the nation,
must take them in hand. The people can be successful only when
they are right. When monopolies succeed, the people fail,- when a
rich criminal escapes justice, the people are punished; when a leg-
islature is bribed, the people are cheated. . . . The nation is the
engine of the people. They must use it for their industrial life, as
they used it in 1861 for their political life. The States have failed.
The United States must succeed, or the people will perish.
“Survival of the Fittest”
Carnegie and other big businessmen believed that trusts and
large enterprises represented the natural evolution of busi-
ness. At the same time, he and other big businessmen attrib-
uted their success to their “fitness.” Carnegie and many other
businessmen of the Gilded Age embraced the theory of social
Darwinism, a philosophy popularized in America by British
theorist Herbert Spencer, who was a friend of Carnegie’s.
Spencer believed that the evolutionary theories of Charles
Darwin could be applied to humanity. Society evolved—and
inevitably improved—through a process of competition. In
Spencer’s terms, competition resulted in “survival of the
fittest,” ensuring the progress of the human race.
Not only did social Darwinism justify the massive for-
tunes amassed by Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others, as soci-
ety’s “fittest” members, it also implied that poor Americans
were simply unfit, and, as such, should not be aided through
charity. Moreover, social Darwinism demanded that the gov-
ernment not interfere with business—through legislation
like the Sherman Antitrust Law—allowing it to compete in a
natural way, unimpeded by regulations. In the following
excerpt from “Wealth.” an essay published in 1889, Carnegie
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M
acknowledges the widening gap between rich and poor but
argues that the accumulation of extreme wealth is part of
the natural evolutionary process, which, in the end, benefits
all of society.
The conditions of human life have not only been changed but
revolutionized within the past few hundred years. In former days
there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and
environment of the chief and those of his retainers. . . . The con-
trast between the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the
laborer with us to-day measures the change which has come with
This change, however, is not to be deplored but welcomed
as highly beneficial. It is well, nay, essential for the progress of
the race, that the houses of some should be homes for all that is
An armchair, an oven, a piano, a bicy-
cle, and some farm tools spill out of the
cornucopia of products available to
American consumers through the 1899
e “cheapening of articles” for mass con-
sumption—a positive effect of big busi-
ness, according to Carnegie—seemed evident
in the catalogs of mail-order houses, pioneered
by Aaron Montgomery Ward in the Gilded
Age. As railroads opened up new markets,
especially in rural America, and factories pro-
duced goods in massive quantities, Ward
founded his mail-order house in 1872. By
buying items directly from manufacturers and
selling his goods in massive volume, Ward
managed to offer items at much lower prices
than country merchants. Moreover, his cata-
logs offered a wide variety of goods unavail-
able in small country stores. His 1884 catalog
offered over 10,000 items, ranging from farm
equipment to clothing.
Sears, Roebuck, and Company, which start-
ed as a mail-order watch company in 1886,
soon competed with Montgomery Ward for
the rural market, calling its catalog “The
Farmer’s Friend.” By 1900 Sears processed
100,000 orders a day. Mail-order houses, such
as Ward and Sears, deeply damaged the sales
of small-town merchants, who fought back
by sponsoring bonfires of mail-order catalogs
and begging their customers not to send their
money off “to the Chicago millionaires.”
While Ward and Sears represented the evils of
big business to country merchants, to count-
less Americans the mail-order houses offered a
huge assortment of goods at affordable prices.
22 T H E G I L D E D A G E
highest and best in literature and the arts, and for all the refine-
ments of civilization, rather than none should be so. Much better
this great irregularity than universal squalor. . . . The “good old
times” were not good old times. Neither master nor servant was as
well situated then as to-day. A relapse to old conditions would be
disastrous to both—not the least so to him who serves—and
would sweep away civilization with it. But whether the change be
for good or ill, it is upon us, beyond our power to alter, and there-
fore to be accepted and made the best of. It is a waste of time to
criticise the inevitable.
It is easy to see how the change has come. … In the manufac-
ture of products we have the whole story. . . . Formerly articles
were manufactured at the domestic hearth or in small shops which
formed part of the household. The master and his apprentices
worked side by side, the latter living with the master and therefore
subject to the same conditions. . . . There was, substantially, social
equality and even political equality. . . . But the inevitable result of
such a mode of manufacture was crude articles at high prices. To-
day the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices
even the generation preceding this would have deemed incred-
ible. . . . The poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford.
What were the luxuries have become the necessaries of life. . . .
The price we pay for this salutary change is, no doubt, great.
We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, in the mine,
in the counting-house, of whom the employer can know little
or nothing and to whom the employer is little better than a
myth. . . . Rigid Castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance
breeds mutual distrust. . . . Under the law of competition, the
employer of thousands is forced into the strictest economies,
among which the rates paid to labor figure prominently, and often
there is friction between the employer and the employed, between
capital and labor, between rich and poor. Human society loses
The price which society pays for the law of competition, like
the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great, but
the advantages of this law are also greater still, for it is to this law
that we owe our wonderful material development, which brings
improved conditions in its train . . . and while the law may be
sometimes hard for the individual, it is the best for the race,
because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department.
We accept and welcome, therefore, as conditions to which we
must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment,
the concentration of business, industrial, and commercial, in the
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M 23
hands of a few, and the law of competition between these as being
not only beneficial but essential for the future progress of the race.
Henry Demarest Lloyd questioned Carnegie’s claims con-
cerning the social benefits and progress generated by the
growth of big business and competition. In this excerpt from
his book. Wealth Against Commonwealth, published in 1899,
Lloyd warned that the competitive business principles
espoused by men like Carnegie and Rockefeller created a
society at war with itself. An emphasis on individualism
and materialism, Lloyd argued, threatens the fabric of com-
The flames of a new economic evolution run around us, and we
turn to find that competition has killed competition, that corpora-
tions are grown greater than the State and have bred
individuals greater than themselves, and that the
naked issue of our time is with property becoming
the master instead of servant, property in many nec-
essaries of life becoming monopoly of the necessaries
of life. . . . Our industry is a fight of every man for
himself. The prize we give the fittest is monopoly of
the necessaries of life, and we leave these winners of
the powers of life and death to wield them over us by
the same “self-interest” with which they took them
from u s . . . .
The happiness, self-interest, or individuality of
the whole is not more sacred than that of each, but
it is greater. . . .
Where the self-interest of the individual is
allowed to be the rule both of social and personal
action, the level of all is forced down to that of the
lowest. Business excuses itself for the things it does—
cuts in wages, exactions in hours, tricks of competi-
tion—on the plea that the merciful are compelled to
follow the cruel. . . . When the self-interest of soci-
ety is made the standard, the lowest must rise to the
average. The one pulls down, the other up. . . .
We are very poor. The striking feature of our
economic condition is our poverty, not our wealth.
We make ourselves “rich” by appropriating the prop-
erty of others by methods which lessen the total
property of all. . . . What we call cheapness shows
Industrialists of the Gilded Age built opu-
lent bouses to display their wealth and
power. Social critic Thorstein Veblen
dubbed their ostentatious displays “con-
spicuous consumption.” The interior of
Marble House, built for the Vanderbilts in
1892 at Newport, Rhode Island, contrasts
sharply with the inside of a one-room
working-class home in New York City.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
“A man works, conies borne, eats,
and goes to bed, gets up, eats,
and goes to work.”
worker, 1902 interview
itself to be unnatural fortunes for a few, monstrous luxury for
them and proportionate deprivation for the people, judges
debauched, trustees dishonored, Congress and State legislatures
insulted and defied, when not seduced, multitudes of honest men
ruined and driven to despair. . . .
If all will sacrifice themselves, none need be sacrificed. But if
one may sacrifice another, all are sacrificed. That is the difference
between self-interest and other interest. In industry we have been
substituting all the mean passions that can set man against man in
place of the irresistible power of brotherhood. To tell us of the
progressive sway of brotherhood in all human affairs is the sole
message of history. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is not the phrase
of a ritual sentiment for the unapplied emotion of pious hours; it
is the exact formula of the force to-day operating the greatest
institutions man has established. It is as secular as sacred. . . .
Responsibilities of the Rich
In an 1889 essay, Carnegie deflected some public criticism by
articulating a “Gospel of Wealth.” Claiming that it is a dis-
grace to die wealthy, Carnegie attempts to justify the mas-
sive fortunes of businessmen like himself by taking on the
role of public benefactor. Rejecting outright charitable con-
tributions, Carnegie preferred to create institutions, such as
libraries, to help people help themselves. Ironically, after
working exhausting 12-hour shifts in hot and dangerous con-
ditions, few steelworkers in Carnegie’s mills could take
advantage of the educational opportunities available at
Carnegie libraries. The following is an excerpt from
This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to
set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display
and extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants
of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all
surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which
he is called upon to administer and strictly bound as a matter of
duty to administer in the manner, which in his judgment is best
calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the commu-
nity—the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and
trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his supe-
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M
rior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them
better than they would or could do for themselves. . . .
In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help
those who will help themselves,- to provide part of the means by
which those who desire to improve may do so; to give those who
desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely
or never do all. Neither the individual nor the race is improved by
alms-giving. . . . The best means of benefiting the community is
to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can
rise—parks and means of recreation, by which men are helped in
body and mind; works of art, certain to give pleasure and improve
the public taste, and public institutions of various kinds, which
will improve the general condition of the people; in this manner
returning their surplus wealth to the mass of their fellows in the
forms best calculated to do them lasting good.
This is the problem of Rich and Poor to be solved. The laws of
accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Indi-
vidualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for
the poor; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased
wealth of the community, but administering it for the community
far better than it could or would have done for itself. . . .
Attempting to live up to his own principles, Carnegie gave
away more than $350 million by the time of his death in
1919—most of his fortune—while still guaranteeing that his
wife and child would live in luxury. Remembering the impor-
tance of libraries in his own education, Carnegie funded
more than 2,800 free libraries throughout the world. His
other contributions included generous gifts to colleges and
universities; pension funds for steelworkers and college pro-
fessors; and an institute for international peace. Oil million-
aire John D. Rockefeller gave millions of dollars away as
well, establishing the University of Chicago and funding
Despite the social benefits of Carnegie and Rockefeller’s
acts of charity, not all Americans praised their altruism. In
1905 the Reverend Washington Gladden, along with a num-
ber of other ministers, protested the acceptance of a $100,000
contribution that Rockefeller made to the American Board of
Commissioners for Foreign Missions, a Congregational group
in Boston. The church, according to Gladden, should refuse
“tainted money.” In a letter to The Outlook in April 1905,
In 1890, 73 percent of the
nation’s wealth was held by
the top 10 percent of the
population. In 1990, the top
10 percent of the population
accounted for 68 percent of
the nation’s wealth.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
“Gifts of ten millions
—New York Sun,
Even children’s games reflected thenation’s obsession with big business and
moneymaking. In 1883, at the age of 16,
George S. Parker, who would eventually
establish Parker Brothers, invented the
Game of Banking. Several years later, the
Montgomery Ward Catalog carried The
Game of Moneta: or Money Makes
Money, as well as the Game of Business.
Gladden explained his position (despite his vigorous protest,
the board decided to accept Rockefeller’s contribution).
Mr. Rockefeller is not simply a private person. He is the repre-
sentative of a great system that has become a public enemy. The
organization which he represents has been and now is a gigantic
oppressor of the people. … [It is] abundantly clear that this
great fortune has been built up by the transgression and the eva-
sion of law and by methods which are at war with the first princi-
ples of morality. Are we, as Christians, forbidden to judge this sort
of thing? I rather think it is our business to be swift witnesses
From Rags to Riches
Carnegie and Rockefeller captured the imaginations of many
Gilded Age Americans. They symbolized the opportunity and
the riches that could be made during the era. Horatio Alger
wrote numerous stories for boys that stressed the impor-
tance of individual effort, enterprise, respectability, and,
importantly, luck. This excerpt from Ragged Dick, published
in 1867, tells the tale of a spunky New York City shoeshine
boy and street urchin, Dick Hunter, who is befriended by a
wealthy child, Frank, and his uncle, Mr. Whitney, both of
whom teach Dick the secrets of success:
“Frank’s been very kind to me,” said Dick, who, rough street-boy
as he was, had a heart easily touched by kindness, of which he had
never experienced much. “He’s a tip-top fellow.”
“I believe he is a good boy,” said Mr. Whitney. “I hope, my lad,
you will prosper and rise in the world. You know in this free coun-
try poverty in early life is no bar to a man’s advancement. I haven’t
risen very high myself; he added, with a smile, “but have met with
moderate success in life; yet there was a time when I was as poor
“Were you, sir?” asked Dick, eagerly.
“Yes, my boy, I have known the time when I have been oblig-
ed to go without my dinner because I didn’t have enough money
to pay for it.”
“How did you get up in the world?” asked Dick, anxiously.
“I entered a printing-office as an apprentice and worked for
some years. Then my eyes gave out and I was obliged to give that
B I G B U S I N E S S , I N D U S T R Y , A N D T H E A M E R I C A N D R E A M 27
up. Not knowing what else to do, I went into
the country and worked on a farm. After a
while I was lucky enough to invent a
machine, which has brought me in a great
deal of money. But there was one thing I got
while I was in the printing-office which I
value more than money.”
“What was that, sir?”
“A taste for reading and study. During my
leisure hours I improved myself by study and
acquired a large part of the knowledge which
I now possess. Indeed, it was one of my
books that first put me on the track of the
invention, which I afterwards made. So you
see, my lad, that my studious habits paid me
in money, as well as in another way.”
“I’m awful ignorant,” said Dick, soberly.
“But you are young, and, I judge, a smart
boy. If you try to learn, you can, and if you
ever expect to do anything in the world, you
must know something of books.”
“I will,” said Dick, resolutely. “I ain’t
always goin’ to black boots for a livin’.”
“All labor is respectable, my lad, and you
have no cause to be ashamed of any honest
business; yet when you can get something to
do that promises better for your future
prospects, I advise you to do so. Till then earn
your living in the way you are accustomed to,
avoid extravagance, and save up a little
money if you can.”
‘Thank you for your advice,” said our hero. “There ain’t many
that takes an interest in Ragged Dick.”
“So that’s your name,” said Mr. Whitney. “If I judge you right-
ly, it won’t be long before you change it. Save your money, lad,
buy books, and determine to be somebody, and you may yet f i l l
an honorable position.”
“I’ll try,” said Dick. “Good-night, sir. . . .”
“Good-by, my lad,” said Mr. Whitney. “I hope to hear good
accounts of you sometime. Don’t forget what I have told you.
Remember that your future position depends mainly upon your-
self, and that it will be high or low as you choose to make it.”
As tbe nation’s factories produced a
variety of goods in the Gilded Age,
national advertising campaigns lured
Americans—both young and old—to
purchase them. This page of advertise-
ments from Harper’s Young People
[ 1 8 9 4 ] promoted products aimed at
both young people and their parents.
A lively, congested neighborhood,
the Lower East Side of Manhattan
served as the first home to many
Jewish immigrants arriving in
New York in the Gilded Age. Some
were shocked to discover that
America’s streets were not literally
paved with gold.
Chapter Tw o
to a “Promised
n the late spring of 1882 Abraham Cahan, a 22-year-old native of
Vilna, Russia, arrived in Philadelphia after a 13-day crossing of the
Atlantic Ocean. Jewish and a revolutionary, Cahan fled Russia in
the midst of the governments massive repression of Jews that cul-
minated in the cruel and bloody pogroms. Jews in Russia had long
been legally barred from owning land and were forced to live in
restricted areas, and the pogroms represented a horrific new level of
oppression, as Russian soldiers marched into Jewish settlements,
destroying homes, businesses, and synagogues and brutally murdering
Jewish men, women, and children.
Abraham Cahan was one of approximately 2 million eastern Euro-
pean Jews who arrived in the United States between 1880 and World
War I. Cahan made his way to New York City’s Lower East Side,
which during that period was a densely populated, lively neighbor-
hood of Jewish immigrants. Like many immigrants in the Gilded Age,
Cahan got his first job in one of America’s rapidly expanding indus-
tries, working in a cigar factory. Taking advantage of the nation’s free
public school system, Cahan studied at night, learning English well
enough to become an English tutor to fellow immigrants. Maintaining
his involvement in radical politics, Cahan became an editor of a Jew-
ish labor newspaper, and by 1903 served as editor of the Jewish Daily
Forward, a newspaper of national prominence and influence, which he
edited until 1946.
Even after he became a successful journalist and writer, Cahan never
forgot what it was like to be an immigrant. He remembered the con-
flicting emotions that he and other immigrants felt as they adjusted to life
T H E G I L D E D A G E
in a strange new land. Cahan spent much of his life writing about the
immigrant experience, in newspaper columns, short stories, and
novels, exposing native-born Americans to newcomers’ struggles.
Moreover, he aided the adjustment of countless fellow Jewish immi-
grants through a column called the “Bintel Brief” (Bundle of Letters),
which, like “Dear Abby” or “Ann Landers” many years later, offered
advice to those who wrote seeking guidance.
Not only part of a massive migration of eastern European Jews
to the United States, Cahan was also one of more than 13 million
immigrants who arrived in the United States in the Gilded Age.
The United States had always been a nation of immigrants, but
Gilded Age immigration was different in two ways: its enormous
volume and the immigrants’ region of origin. In the space of 24
years—from 1866 to 1900—more immigrants arrived in the Unit-
ed States than in the previous 250 years. In addition, whereas
western Europeans—particularly from the British Isles, Ireland,
and Scandinavia—made up the overwhelming majority of immi-
grants to the United States before the Civil War, eastern and
southern Europeans dominated in the Gilded Age, with Italians,
eastern European Jews, and Slavic peoples being the largest
groups. At the same time non-European immigrants also flocked
to the United States, albeit in smaller numbers than eastern and
southern Europeans. Chinese and Japanese arrived on the West
Coast, with Japanese immigrating to Hawaii as well; Mexicans
crossed the border into California and other parts of the South-
west, such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
The volume and origins of Gilded Age immigrants created a
backlash among some native-born Americans. The cultures, lan-
guages, and religions of southern and eastern Europeans seemed
too different to enable them to ever become “true Americans,” in
the opinion of some. Because most were Roman Catholic or Jew-
ish, arriving in an overwhelmingly Protestant nation, these immi-
grants were often viewed with suspicion. In Congress, colleges
and universities, churches, and the popular press, native-born
Americans discussed the “immigrant problem,” giving rise to anti-
immigrant and anti-Catholic organizations, such as the American
Protective League. Moreover, Congress passed the nation’s first
immigration restriction law, aimed at Chinese rather than Euro-
pean immigrants. Once the Chinese had been welcomed,- now
they, more than any other immigrant group in the United States
in the Gilded Age, were singled out as undesirable. In 1882, after
years of anti-Chinese agitation, the Chinese became the first eth-
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D
nic or racial group specifically barred
from immigrating to the United
As native-born Americans fretted
over the “immigrant problem,” new-
comers made invaluable contribu-
tions to the nation, enriching its cul-
ture and providing a cheap labor
force for the expanding industrial
economy. Some Gilded Age immi-
grants, like Abraham Cahan and
other eastern European Jews, came to
the United States largely to escape
religious persecution; others came to
work. Chronically underemployed
and suffering from land shortages,
Europeans responded enthusiastically
to labor agents from U.S. industries,
who aggressively recruited laborers,
promising high wages and steady work. Railroad companies, wish-
ing to sell lands granted them by the federal government as they
built their roads, flooded Europe with flyers advertising cheap
land and promising prosperity and a fresh beginning in the Amer-
ican West. While labor recruiters successfully encouraged immi-
gration, letters home, written by relatives and friends in the Unit-
ed States, promising a better life, sealed the decision of many to
risk a new life.
Chinese and Japanese laborers also sought a new beginning in
the West. The Chinese, who initially labored in gold and silver
mines, were recruited as railroad workers in the 1860s. The Cen-
tral Pacific Railroad imported approximately 10,000 Chinese work-
ers. Sugar plantation owners recruited Japanese men and women to
labor in Hawaii, while others worked on farms on the mainland.
Asian immigrants often worked dangerous and backbreaking jobs,
receiving wages far lower than those paid to white laborers.
Although many immigrants came to the United States with
the dream of owning land, most jobs were in cities and industrial
centers. Most immigrants crowded into urban areas of the United
States, creating Little Italys, Chinatowns, and other ethnic
enclaves. As many arrived with paltry sums of money and few
skills, they filled the ranks of unskilled labor in factories and
heavy industry. Some groups, like the Italians, Greeks, and Slavs,
Immigrants disembark at Ellis Island
for a new life in America. Many immi-
grants brought to the United States
only what they could carry with them
in suitcases, baskets, boxes, and sacks.
In addition to clothing, immigrants
often transported photographs, religious
objects, and family heirlooms.
3 2 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Immigrants had to undergo physical
examinations in order to determine
whether they were “fit” to enter the
United States. At Ellis Island, officials
carefully observed immigrants as they
lined up for inspection, hoping to catch
signs of any physical or mental prob-
lems. In this photo, medical examiners
check immigrants for trachoma, an eye
disease, by turning the eyelid inside out
with a buttonhook, an especially
consisted mostly of young men, often
referred to as “birds of passage” or
“sojourners.” These immigrants had
planned to come to the United States
only temporarily, hoping to make a lot of
money and return home wealthy. Nearly
50 percent of Slavs, Italians, and Greek
immigrants returned to their homelands
after laboring in grueling jobs in U.S.
industry. Two of every three Chinese
immigrants returned as well. While many
Mexicans settled permanently in the
United States, others stayed only tem-
porarily, moving back and forth across the
permeable Mexican-U.S. border as their
By contrast, Abraham Cahan and his
fellow Jews, as political and religious
refugees, did not have the option of
returning home. Unlike many other eth-
nic groups, Jews arrived as family units, planning to settle in the
United States permanently. Moreover, they were more highly
educated and skilled than many other immigrant groups. Many
Jews who were tailors and seamstresses in Europe successfully
transferred their skills to the United States, where they landed
jobs in the garment industry, centered in New York City.
The United States proved to be the “promised land” for many
immigrants in the Gilded Age, as the nation provided jobs, the
chance for an education, and religious freedom, but others were
left outside the “golden door.” A 1790 federal law made it impos-
sible for nonwhites to become naturalized, leaving Chinese and
Japanese immigrants permanent aliens, without the rights and
protections of U.S. citizens. Further, they and other nonwhite
immigrants, such as Mexicans, often faced racial discrimination.
The transition from the old world to the new often proved
painful and filled with tension. Letters from immigrants seeking
advice from Abraham Cahan, in his “Bintel Brief” column, summed
up the problems and concerns of many Gilded Age immigrants—
regardless of ethnicity: How much should one give up of the old
ways to become an American? Was it permissible to fall in love and
marry outside of one’s faith or ethnic background? How should an
immigrant fight back against mistreatment and discrimination?
33I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D ”
In his 1917 novel The Rise of David Levinsky, Abraham Cahan
traces the journey of David Levinsky from his days as a Tal-
mudic scholar in Russia to his rise as a millionaire cloak man-
ufacturer in New York City. Drawing on his own experience
as an immigrant, Cahan described Levinsky’s mixed emo-
tions upon his first sighting of New York City.
The immigrant’s arrival in his new home is like a second birth to
him. Imagine a new-born babe in possession of a fully developed
intellect. Would it ever forget its entry into the world? Neither
does the immigrant ever forget his entry into a country which
is, to him, a new world in the profoundest sense of the term and
in which he expects to pass the rest of his life. I conjure up the
A ship’s passenger list for the Iowa, which arrived in
Boston from Liverpool on November 6, 1890, provides
valuable information about the origin, backgrounds, des-
tinations, and family structure of Gilded Age immigrants.
Most, as this document shows, traveled in steerage, the
cheapest and least desirable section of the ship, usually
located below decks. Trans-Atlantic steerage was over-
crowded and lacked ventilation, and tickets cost as little
as $10 in the 1880s. Late-i9th-century advances in tech-
nology greatly reduced the duration of the ocean voyage.
In 1872, a sailing ship took 44 days on average to cross
the Atlantic/ by the turn of the 20th century, the slowest
steamships crossed the Atlantic in 8 days.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
I n 1892 the U.S. government opened EllisIsland in New York Harbor as the first feder-
al immigration station. Between 1892 and
1954, when the station closed, about 80 per-
cent of all European immigrants—an estimated
12 million people—first set foot on American
soil at Ellis Island. Historians have estimated
that approximately 40 percent of present-day
Americans have ancestors who passed through
At Ellis Island, immigrants were “processed”
by officials who determined whether they
were “fit” to enter the United States. Medical
officers examined immigrants for diseases,
physical defects, and mental illness. Then
immigration inspectors peppered arrivals with
questions about their place of origin, marital
status, how they had paid for their passage to
the United States, their plans for employment,
and their destination. Processing an average of
5,000 people per day, immigration officials
often felt overwhelmed and overworked, and
they sometimes handled people roughly.
Most immigrants approached Ellis Island
with both anticipation and dread. The island
represented the f i n a l hurdle in their long jour-
ney to the United States. What if the officials
rejected them? What if some family members
passed the inspection and others did not?
While for most immigrants Ellis Island symbol-
ized the gateway to a new life, some experi-
enced it as an island of heartbreak. But most
managed to pass the inspection in three or four
hours; only about 2 percent of those wishing to
enter the United States were turned away at
Ellis Island and had to return home. Those
who passed inspection were free to meet
friends or family, board ferries to New York or
barges to railroad stations in New Jersey, and
begin new lives.
For years after Ellis Island closed, it stood
in disrepair. But in the mid-1980s, several of
the island’s buildings, including the m a i n struc-
ture, were restored. The main building now
houses the Museum of American Immigration,
a monument to the millions who passed
through its gates.
gorgeousness of the spectacle as it appeared to me on that clear
June morning: the magnificent verdure of Staten Island, the ten-
der blue of sea and sky, the dignified bustle of passing craft—
above all, those floating, squatting, multitudinously windowed
palaces which I subsequently learned to call ferries. It was all so
utterly unlike anything I had ever seen or dreamed before. It
unfolded itself like a divine revelation. I was in a trance or in some-
thing closely resembling one.
‘This, then, is America!” I exclaimed, mutely. The notion of
something enchanted which the name had always evoked in me
now seemed fully borne out. . . .
My transport of admiration, however, only added to my sense
of helplessness and awe. Here, on shipboard, I was sure of my
shelter and food, at least. How was I going to procure my suste-
nance on those magic shores? I wished the remaining hour could
be prolonged indefinitely.
Whereas European and Asian immigrants to the United
States faced a grueling voyage across the ocean, many Mexi-
can immigrants could make the journey to America in a mat-
ter of days, on foot or by horseback. In an interview
conducted by a writer from the Federal Writers’ Project in the
1930s, Juanita Hermandes Garcia described her family’s trip
to the United States in 1876. She and her family did not face
an ocean crossing or processing at Ellis Island, but they con-
fronted other challenges on their way to Texas. (When tran-
scribing interviews, some writers exaggerated the dialect of
the people they interviewed.)
“Me was born in old Mexico, me have 67 years,” says Juanita Her-
mandes Garcia, of San Angelo, Texas.
“Me came with me father and mother to Texas when me have
6 years. Me family collected our possessions to make ready for
transport to Texas. We put a burro to a two wheel cart and had
one burro for the pack. This was one very good way to make the
trip, in that time many people no have the cart. Me family trans-
ported at Del Rio, make the travel two days and make the camp
for three weeks. The place make ideal for cook, scrub the clothes,
rest, and make ready to continue the trip. This was free country,
everything free, pecans, wood, water, wild meat,- make the trip
with no much money.
“Una dia (one day), heap muchos Indians make come to our
camp, fell from horses, brought meat from wild animals to make
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D
trade to me madre (my mother) for Mexican food. Me mother
been make the tortillas and tamales for one whole week, to finish
the trip, Indians take all and leave wild meat, she make afraid they
“All of me family had plenty light complexion pero me madre
y mio (except mother and I). Me father had all Spanish blood,
make the home in Spain when he baby, tienen ojos asule y palo
bianco (he had blue eyes and light hair). The big chief no like me
father, no talk with him. They say all time, me little Indian girl,
make me ride the back every day when come for trade, me make
scare most to die, some day make carry way me to live with Indi-
ans. All time Indians bring presents para me. One time make bring
a pair of moccasins very pretty; make the pretty little beads trim,
me save this little shoes long time, they all time make give present
to me, no like other ninos (little girls).
“Me family no make the know what to do, make scare of Indi-
an make kill if leave, make kill if stay, all family almost make die
of fright when see Indians. The big bunch Indians make fast ride
on wild horses by our camp, make show natural born riders, we
make scare and run and hide to save life. We no make the know
of the harm from Indians, they make plenty scare all time, no
make the fight.
“Well, me make the trip safe to this Concho County, look pret-
ty good to me family, all people work, make plenty money to buy
food. Many things make free, no need much money. We lived in
a little house down by the river where we make the Santa Fe park
today. We got some more scare for life, negro soldiers from Fort
Concho come near our house to make practice for shooting with
guns. They throw whisky and drinking bottles high in the air and
shoot them in pieces before the fall on the earth. We make run,
peep from little holes; they might shoot us. They no care for Mex-
ican people, shoot Mexican as shoot animal.”
Like Abraham Cahan, Mary Antin and her family fled Russia
during the pogroms. When she was 13 years old, she and her
mother and brothers and sisters reunited with her father—
who had emigrated three years earlier—in Boston. Antin
attended public school and went on to be a distinguished stu-
dent at Boston Girl’s Latin School and Barnard College. In 1912
she wrote her autobiography. The Promised Land, in which
she exuberantly celebrated America as a land of opportunity.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
In the following passage she described her Americanization
process, which she compared to a “second infancy,” in which,
she, as a “newborn,” learned the ways of a new world. As she
explains, “greenhorns”—newly arrived immigrants—often
received aid from more experienced immigrants in their
adjustment to American life.
Now I was not exactly an infant when I was set down, on a May
day some fifteen years ago, in this pleasant nursery of America. I
had long since acquired the use of my faculties and had collected
some bits of experience, practical and emotional, and had even
learned to give an account of them. Still, I had very little perspec-
tive, and my observations and comparisons were superficial. I was
too much carried away to analyze the forces that were moving me.
. . . America was bewilderingly strange, unimaginably complex,
delightfully unexplored. I rushed impetuously out of the cage of
my provincialism and looked eagerly about the brilliant universe. .
. . Plenty of maiden aunts were present during my second infancy,
in the guise of immigrant officials, school-teachers, settlement
workers, and sundry other unprejudiced and critical observers. . . .
Our initiation into American ways began with the first step on
the new soil. My father found occasion to instruct or correct us
even on the way from the pier to Wall Street, which journey we
made crowded together in a rickety cab. He told us not to lean out
of the windows, not to point, and explained the word “greenhorn.”
We did not want to be “greenhorns” and gave the strictest atten-
tion to my father’s instructions. . . .
The first meal was an object lesson of much variety. My father
produced several kinds of food, ready to eat, without any cooking,
from little tin cans that had printing all over them. He attempted
to introduce us to a queer, slippery kind of fruit, which he called a
“banana,” but had to give it up for the time being. After the meal,
he had better luck with a curious piece of furniture on runners,
which he called “rocking-chair.” There were five of us newcomers,
and we found five different ways of getting into the American
machine of perpetual motion and as many ways of getting out. . . .
We had to visit the stores and be dressed from head to foot in
American clothing,- we had to learn the mysteries of the iron
stove, the washboard, and the speaking-tube; we had to learn to
trade with the fruit peddler through the window and not to be
afraid of the policeman; and above all, we had to learn English.
The kind people who assisted us in these important matters
form a group by themselves in the gallery of my friends. . . . When
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D ”
I enumerate the long list of my American teachers, I
must begin with those who came to us on Wall Street
and taught us our first steps. To my mother, in her per-
plexity over the cookstove, the woman who showed her
how to make the fire was an angel of deliverance. A fairy
godmother to us children was she who led us to a won-
derful country, called “uptown,” where, in a dazzlingly
beautiful palace called a “department store,” we
exchanged our hateful homemade European costumes,
which pointed us out as “greenhorns” to the children on
the street, for real American machine-made garments,
and issued forth glorified in each others eyes.
With our despised immigrant clothing we shed also
our impossible Hebrew names. A committee of our
friends, several years ahead of us in American experi-
ence, put their heads together and concocted American names for
us all. Those of our real names that had no pleasing American
equivalents they ruthlessly discarded, content if they retained the
initials. My mother, possessing a name that was not easily trans-
latable, was punished with the undignified nickname of Annie.
Ftechke, Joseph, and Deborah issued as Frieda, Joseph, and Dora,
respectively. As for poor me, I was simply cheated. The name they
gave me was hardly new. My Hebrew name being Maryashe in
full, Mashke for short, Russianized into Marya (Mar-ya), my
friends said that it would be good in English as Mary, which was
very disappointing, as I longed to possess a strange-sounding
American name like the others.
I am forgetting the consolation I had, in this matter of names,
from the use of my surname, which I have had no occasion to men-
tion until now. I found on my arrival that my father was “Mr. Antin”
on the slightest provocation, and not, as in Polotzk, on state occa-
sions alone. And so I was “Mary Antin,” and I felt very important to
answer to such a dignified title. It was just like America that even
plain people should wear their surnames on weekdays.
Like many immigrants, Mary Antin and her family were astound-
ed that a free public education was available to all Americans,
immigrant or native born. Many immigrants viewed education,
as Antin explains, as the key to America’s golden door.
Education was free. That subject my father had written about
repeatedly, as comprising his chief hope for us children, the
essence of American opportunity, the treasure that no thief could
A Mexican-American family poses
in front of their modest homestead in
Texas in 1880. Like the Chinese in
the Gilded Age, people of Mexican
descent faced discrimination because
many white Americans viewed them
as racially inferior.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
“The Greenhorn Cousin”
Education often served as a gateway fora better job and a more comfortable
life, but not all immigrant children could
take advantage of educational opportuni-
ties in the United States. Low wages
meant that many children had to work to
support their families. Mary Antin herself
was able to attend school only because
her older sister, Frieda, labored in a facto-
ry. Thus while Mary celebrated the free-
doms and opportunities that America
offered, some immigrants sadly found
their hopes for a bright future sapped by
low-paying and dangerous jobs in Ameri-
ca’s shops and factories. This song, ‘The
Greenhorn Cousin,” originally appeared
in a Yiddish theater production and was
well-known to many Jewish immigrants.
Once a cousin came to me
Pretty as gold was she, the greenhorn,
Her cheeks were like red oranges,
Her tiny feet begging to dance.
She didn’t walk, she skipped along,
She didn’t talk, she sang,
Her manner was gay and cheerful,
That’s how my cousin used to be.
I found a place with my neighbor,
The one who has a millinery store,-
I got a job for my cousin,
Blessed be the golden land.
Since then many years have passed.
My cousin became a wreck
From many years of collecting wages
Till nothing was left of her.
Underneath her pretty blue eyes
Black lines are now drawn,
Her cheeks, once like red oranges,
Have now turned entirely green.
Today, when I meet my cousin
And ask her: “How are you, greenhorn?”
She answers with a grimace,
“To the devil with Columbus’s land!”
touch, not even misfortune or poverty. It was the one thing that
he was able to promise us when he sent for us; surer, safer than
bread or shelter. . . .
The apex of my civic pride and personal contentment was
reached on the bright September morning when I entered the
public school. That day I must always remember, even if I live to
be so old that I cannot tell my name. To most people their first day
of school is a memorable occasion. In my case the importance of
the day was a hundred times magnified, on account of the years I
had waited, the road I had come, and the conscious ambitions I
entertained. . . .
Father himself conducted us to school. He would not have del-
egated that mission to the President of the United States. He had
awaited the day with impatience equal to mine, and the visions he
saw as he hurried us over the sun-flecked pavements transcended
all my dreams. . . .
Unlike Mary Antin, who zealously shed her old name and
appearance to become American, other immigrants and
their American-born children retained their language and
culture while making a new life. Creating insular ethnic
neighborhoods, such as Little Italy and Chinatown, some
immigrants found little need to learn English or assimilate
American ways. Robert Ferrari, the child of Italian immi-
grants who arrived in New York City in the 1870s, recalls the
Italian-American world of his childhood.
[D]uring my childhood and early youth the Italian had not made
his way in America. My recollections go back clearly to the age of
seven, when we moved to Mott Street, near what is now China-
town, in Manhattan. … As a very small boy I used to accompany
my mother on her shopping trips through this crowded sidewalk
market, where every vendor waylaid us with loud and earnest
descriptions of his offerings. With the coming of the pushcart and
sidewalk market, the boundaries of the Italian community were
fixed more definitely than ever. All shopping could be done with-
in the immediate neighborhood, and my mother and her Italian
neighbors, who were increasing in numbers by the month, had
readily available many of the products of their native land.
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D
The household my parents established on Mott Street was
typical of those of Little Italy. We spoke only Italian in our home,
ate Italian food, celebrated Italian holidays, and on Sundays enter-
tained relatives and friends from the province of Basilicata who
had followed my father and mother to America. We knew noth-
ing of the Anglo-Saxon world which made up this country in that
day. Limited transportation facilities did not encourage travel very
far from home, even if the people had been so inclined, and these
communities of racial blocs were somewhat isolated. . . .
Like all Italian youth of my generation, I have always been bi-
lingual. My father of course had learned English at his work and
taught himself to read the newspapers; my mother picked up some
English, too, but we always spoke Italian in our home during my
childhood. As soon as I started to go to school, and earlier,
because my playmates were not Italian but chiefly Irish, Jewish,
and English, I learned English, but at such an early age that I can-
not remember acquiring a new language, different from the Italian
dialect we spoke at home.
Ferrari also recalls the sacrifices of the first generation of
There was no misery in Rocca Nova to compare with that which
my mother found in New York in the late 19th century. Many Ital-
ian women and children secured jobs in sweat shops near Little
Italy, where unscrupulous employers exacted all they could from
them for very low wages. . . .
Many of this earliest generation of Italians, and thousands
who came later, sacrificed their health and even their lives in the
building of America, a sacrifice for which most of them received
little material reward or appreciation, either from the writers of
history books or from succeeding generations who benefited
from their labors. Many of this first generation returned to Italy
as poor as they had left it, or remained here to live in the fast-
growing slums. The death rate among them, chiefly from tuber-
culosis, was high.
And much more than physical strength was involved in the
early Italians’ contribution to America. Everything dear to them
was far away, and they were exploited economically, as well as
physically. Only their indomitable courage, their high hopes for
the future, and their faith in this new country, now their country,
kept them going.
“And what value there was in
political freedom! Here, one was
a human being. My friend Alter,
who always worked hard but
barely made a living and consid-
ered himself to be a failure, once
said to me with a resigned smile,
‘Never mind. In the old country
I kept my head bowed and my
back bent. Here I keep my head
high and my back is straight!”
The Education of
Abraham Cahan, 1926
T H E G I L D E D A G E
An Immigrant’s Phrase Book
From the 1850s to 1882, approximately300,000 Chinese immigrated to the
United States. Most came as “sojourners”—
that is, migrants who expected to return to
their homelands after making money in the
United States, and thus had little incentive
to learn English, shed their native garb, or
learn American ways. Mostly male, they
left wives and children behind, traveling
thousands of miles to California, which
they called “Gold Mountain,” and other
West Coast destinations, where they
worked as miners and on the railroad.
When the mining boom and railroad con-
struction ended by the 1870s, many migrat-
ed to cities, such as San Francisco, to work
as tailors, cigar makers, and domestic ser-
vants. Some operated laundries and restau-
rants. After the Civil War, some planters in
Louisiana and Mississippi even recruited
Chinese workers to replace blacks who
once labored in their cotton fields. In 1875,
Wong Sam and Assistants in San Francisco
published An English-Chinese Phrase Book for
Chinese immigrants. These examples pro-
vide insight into their harsh new world and
ways that they tried to fight against dis-
The men are striking for wages.
He assaulted me without provocation.
He claimed my mine.
I will expel him if he don’t leave the place.
He tries to extort money from me.
He falsely accused me of stealing his watch.
You have violated the Constitution of this
He was choked to death with a lasso, by a
Can I sleep here tonight?
Have you any food for me?
Have you any grass for my horse?
The passage money is $50 from Hong
Kong to California.
The United States have many immigrants.
The immigration will soon stop.
Although small in number and once highly prized as work-
ers, the Chinese, more than any other immigrant group in
the Gilded Age, became a target of discrimination, bigotry,
and violence. Different racially than European immigrants
and Euro-Americans, the Chinese were viewed by some
native-born Americans as subhuman, as people so inferior
that they were simply incapable of ever becoming Ameri-
cans or good citizens. Many “old stock” Americans placed
the Chinese in the same “racially inferior” category as blacks
and Indians. Moreover, their dress, hairstyles, and physical
appearance made them easily distinguishable. They suffered
numerous violent attacks, and anti-Chinese riots erupted
periodically throughout the Gilded Age.
The Chinese had already suffered economic and legal dis-
crimination for years, when a severe economic depression in
the 1870s kindled a blaze of anti-Chinese sentiment. Many
white workingmen blamed the Chinese for their joblessness
and for driving down the wages of native-born workers.
Shouting the slogan “The Chinese Must Go,” California’s
Workingman’s Party demanded an end to Chinese immigra-
tion. By 1882 anti-Chinese sentiment had grown so great
that Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The first
exclusion act based on race or ethnicity in American history,
the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect until 1943. In 1876, in
the midst of the economic depression, as anti-Chinese senti-
ment was deepening on the West Coast, Thomas Vivien
wrote an article published in Scribner’s magazine entitled
“John Chinaman in San Francisco.” Vivien wished to
“enlighten” the rest of the nation about the Chinese
“threat” to the United States. The following excerpt sums up
the stereotypes and bigotry that the Chinese faced and sug-
gests how these attitudes led to their exclusion.
Individually, John Chinaman is a clean human; collectively he is a
beast. Ah Stue, the cook, keeps his coppers and pans clean and
bright, washes his hands in going from dish to dish, is orderly,
fresh in appearance, and ever arrayed in spotless white and blue.
Follow him home, and you will find this cleanly unit become one
of a herd of animals living in a state of squalor and filth, at which
even a Digger Indian would shudder. Fifteen Chinamen will live,
sleep, and cook, in a hovel or cellar twelve feet square, having
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D
only a door as admitting light and air.
Clouds of rancid smoke issue continually
from the common chimney, window, and
door, through which John and his fellows
may dimly be seen crawling, cooking,
smoking, and sleeping. . . .
John, as a domestic, is invaluable and
a nuisance, a perfect treasure and a horror.
. . . He is either passably honest, or steals
everything he can lay hands on, accord-
ing to his disposition. In fine, he would
resemble Bridget or Pete [Irish maid and
black male servant stereotypes] in many
ways, were it not for that strange, impen-
etrable reserve, inherent with the Orien-
tal, which is as distinctive as his expres-
sion is immobile, and which will keep
John Chinaman forever an alien.
As has already been hinted, the Chinaman is not a model
(American) law-abiding citizen. He gambles incessantly, smokes
opium continuously, keeps his women in a state of sinful and
abject bondage, and generally brings his quarrels to a conclusion
by chopping his antagonists head open. His favorite weapons of
assault and battery are iron bars, butcher-knives, and cleavers
ground sharp as razors. … To hack, to hew, to chop, and to cleave
are his greatest delights when on the war-path. . . .
While immigration is the life-blood of young nations, there is
such a thing as blood-poisoning, and this is frequently occasioned
by the presence of some particular foreign substance. John is that
substance, and is, moreover, utterly devoid of any quality of assim-
ilation. He is a heterogeneous element, and will always remain so.
Unlike the Japanese, he does not follow or care to follow our cus-
toms or our costumes; in fact he regards all western rules of life
with supreme contempt. . . .
In short, the Chinese have here a power with which white
labor can by no means cope, for a white man would starve on what
John thrives on. Few capitalists pay their employees more than is
necessary for their support, consequently, the workman who lives
more cheaply is the workman who is paid more cheaply; and here
it is that the Chinaman has greatly the advantage. Only by
degrading white labor to a bestial scale can the two compete on
equal grounds; that being impossible, the outlook for the poor
white man and woman in San Francisco turns but one way. . . . one
Chinese workers played a crucial role
in the successful completion of the
transcontinental railroad. Making up
90 percent of the entire workforce of the
Central Pacific Railroad, the Chinese
worked for $31 a month (wages signifi-
cantly lower than those paid to white
workers) and labored in extremely per-
ilous conditions as they built the road
from Sacramento east, crossing rugged
and hazardous mountains. Avalanches
killed countless workers. One railroad
official wrote that “many of them we
did not find until the next season when
the snow melted.”
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Japanese shopkeepers stand in front of
their store in Honolulu. Fleeing severe
economic hardship as Japan became
industrialized, approximately 200,000
Japanese immigrated to Hawaii and
180,000 to the American mainland
between 1885 and 1924.
of these results will certainly follow-. Either California will be bereft
of white labor, or such an exhibition of latent hostility will occur
as will somewhat startle those who pooh-pooh the possibility of
collision between races arising from a struggle for employment.
Either way lies a calamity. And this is no croaking, but the strong
uncolored logic of observation and facts.
At the same time that the U.S. government blocked Chinese
entrance to America’s “golden door,” newspaper owner
Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, appealed to
the American people—including Chinese immigrants—to
donate money to complete the pedestal for the Statue of Lib-
erty, so that the United States could accept this gift from
France. Saum Song Bo, a Chinese resident of New York, wrote
this response to Pulitzer’s request.
[T]he word liberty makes me think of the fact that this country is
the land of liberty for men of all nations except the Chinese. I
consider it an insult to us Chinese to call on us to contribute
toward building in this land a pedestal for a statue of Liberty. That
statue represents Liberty holding a torch which lights the passage
of those of all nations who come into this country. But are the
Chinese allowed to enjoy liberty as men of all other nationalities
enjoy it? Are they allowed to go about everywhere free from the
insults, abuse, assaults, wrongs and injuries from which men of
other nationalities are free?
If there be a Chinaman who . . . desires to make
his home in this land, and who, seeing that his coun-
trymen demand one of their own number to be their
legal adviser, representative, advocate and protector,
desires to study law, can he be a lawyer? By the law
of this nation, he, being a Chinaman, cannot
become a citizen, and consequently cannot be a
lawyer. . . .
Whether this statute against the Chinese [the
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882] or the statute of
Liberty will be the more lasting monument to tell
future ages of the liberty and greatness of this coun-
try, will be known only to future generations.
Liberty, we Chinese do love and adore thee,- but
let not those who deny thee to us make of thee a
graven image, and invite us to bow down to it.
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D ”
Not only were Asians a target of anti-immigrant sentiment,
but southern and eastern Europeans, many of whom were
Roman Catholic, also were singled out by native-born Ameri-
cans who opposed immigration. The American Protective
Association (A.P.A.) was a secret society founded in Clinton,
Iowa, in 1887, by Henry F. Bowers as an anti-Catholic, anti-
immigrant organization. Members swore never to vote for a
Catholic or employ one if a Protestant could be found. The
A.P.A. also demanded immigration restriction. Originally
gaining support in the Midwest, the association influenced a
number of local elections. The A. P. A. reached its peak in
1894, during a severe economic depression, gaining national
prominence with as many as half a million members. Spread-
ing wild tales of Catholic conspiracies, the A.P.A. blamed the
economic collapse on a papal plot and blamed immigrant
laborers—sent by the pope, they claimed—for taking their
jobs and serving as the pope’s soldiers in a plan to over-
throw the U.S. government. Although gaining a large mem-
bership during the Depression, the A.P.A. collapsed through
internal division. The following is an excerpt from an 1896
WHAT ARE THE POLITICAL PRINCIPLES OF THE A.P.A.?
1st. Restriction of Immigration, so as to prevent the landing on
our shores of paupers, criminals and anarchists.
2nd. Extension of the time for naturalization, to the end that
foreigners may become familiar with our free institutions and our
laws, before they take part in our political affairs.
3rd. Educational qualifications for every voter, to enable him
to understand the duties of citizenship and not
become merely a tool of politicians.
4th. One general, non-sectarian, free public
school system, supported by public funds and
sufficient for the primary education of all
5th. No public funds or public property
to be used for sectarian purposes, directly or
6th. Taxation of all property not owned and
controlled by the government.
7th. All private schools, convents, nunneries,
monasteries, seminaries, hospitals, asylums and
“The Pests of Our Pacific
and Atlantic Coasts”
In this anti-immigration cartoon a
beleaguered Uncle Sam declares to both
a Chinese and an Eastern European
immigrant, “There shall be no discrimi-
nation. I will shut you both out.”
4 4 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The creator of this late 19th-century
cartoon criticized American working-
men, including the once-despised Irish,
black laborers, and native-born labor-
ers, for their participation in anti-Chi-
other educational or charitable institutions to be open to
public inspection and under governmental control.
8th. No person who recognizes allegiance to any for-
eign of ecclesiastical potentate as superior to that of our
general government, or any subdivision thereof, shall be
supported for any official position whatever.
9th. American lands for actual settlers only. . . .
It is not safe to elect or appoint Roman Catholics to any
important positions as servants of a free people under a
republican form of government, for they are the avowed
servants of a foreign despot (the Pope), and “no man can
serve two masters.” Suppose a Roman Catholic should
be elected governor of the State of New York, he could
not be inaugurated without taking the prescribed oath to
support the Constitution of that State, which contains
recent amendments which are radically opposed to the
interests of his church, and which he in common with all
members of that church were advised by their clergy to
vote against, and undoubtedly did vote against. Accord-
ing to all Roman Catholic authorities, he cannot take such an oath
without committing perjury.
Not all Americans accepted the A.P.A.’s theories concerning
the immigrant and Catholic threat to the United States.
“The Mischief of the A.P.A.,” an editorial from the May 1896
Century Magazine, questions the patriotism and “American-
ism” of the A.P.A.
The bigot is generally devoid of that saving sense of humor which
greatly helps to make life worth living. If it were not so those
secret societies, like the so-called American Protective Associa-
tion, which are engaged in deadly warfare against all that is most
significant and precious in American institutions, would not insist
on parading themselves as “the patriotic orders.” Strange patrio-
tism is this, which begins by denying the first tenet of American
liberty—freedom to worship God—and proposes to punish reli-
gious beliefs which it does not share by depriving those who hold
them, not only of their political rights, but, if possible, of the
means of livelihood. The very enormity of the sworn purposes
of these orders seems to be what gives them their opportunity/
for the majority of honorable men find themselves incapable of
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D 45
believing that such purposes can be cherished by civilized human
beings, and therefore fail to make any effective resistance to them.
Thus they have the field to themselves,- and with scarcely a
protest, they creep in and intrench themselves in one community
after another, gathering together a large mass of the ignorant and
intolerant, and by their secret methods and their compact military
organization making themselves a power in the local elections.
Many communities have awakened when it was too late to find
the grip of these secret orders firmly fastened upon their munici-
pal machinery. There should be no need of warning intelligent cit-
izens against the dangers of such organizations. They are the
deadly enemies of democratic institutions.
Abraham Cahan began publishing a column called “Bintel
Brief” in the Jewish Daily Forward in 1906. In this column
immigrants sought advice about a range of issues and prob-
lems. These letters, published in 1907 and 1908, provide
insight into the world of Jewish immigrants and some of the
problems they faced.
I have been in America almost three years. I came from Russia
where I studied at a yesbiva. My parents were proud and happy at
the thought that I would become a rabbi. But at the age of twen-
ty I had to go to America. Before I left I gave my father my word
that I would walk the righteous path and be good and pious. But
America makes one forget everything.
Here I became an operator, and at night I went to school. In a
few months I entered a preparatory school, where for two subjects
I had a Gentile girl as a teacher. I began to notice that the teacher
paid more attention to me than to the others in the class, and in
time she told me I would be better off taking private lessons from
her for the same price I paid to the school.
I agreed and soon realized that her lessons with me were not
ordinary. . . .
In short, I began to feel at home in her house and not only she
but also her parents welcomed me warmly. I ate there often, and
they also lent me money when I was in need. I used to ask myself,
‘What am I doing?’ but I couldn’t help myself. There was a depres-
sion at the time. I had no job and had to accept their aid.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
A gifted journalist, novelist, and politi-
cal radical, Abraham Caban made bis
Yiddish-language newspaper, the Jew-
ish Daily Forward, an influential
and powerful voice for social justice, as
it helped generations of Jewish immi-
grants adjust to American life.
I don’t know what I would have done without her help. I began
to love her but with mixed feelings of respect and anguish. I was
afraid to look her in the eyes. I looked at her like a Russian soldier
looks at his superior officer and never imagined she thought of
marrying me. . . .
Many times upon leaving her house, I would decide not to
return, but my heart drew me to her, and I spent three weeks at her
house. Meanwhile I received the report on my examinations,
which showed that I had passed with the highest grades. I went
directly to her to show her the report and she asked me what I
planned to do. I answered that I didn’t know yet, because I had no
money for college. ‘That’s a minor problem,” she said and asked if
I didn’t know that she was not indifferent toward me. Then she
spoke frankly of her love for me and her hope that I would love her.
“If you are not against it, my parents and I will support you
while you study. The fact that I am a Gentile and you are a Jew
should not bother us. We are both, first of all, human beings and
we will live as such.” She told me she believed all men and all
nations were equal.
I was confused and I couldn’t answer her immediately. … I do
agree with her that we are first of all human beings, and she is a
human being in the fullest sense of the word. She is pretty, intel-
ligent, educated, and has a good character. But I am in despair
when I think of my parents. What heartaches they will have when
they learn of this!
I asked her to give me a few days to think it over. I go around
confused and yet I am drawn to her. I must see her every day, but
when I am there I think of my parents, and I am torn with doubt.
I wait impatiently for your answer.
Skeptic from Philadelphia
We can only say that some mixed marriages are happy, others
unhappy. But then many marriages between Jew and Jew, Christ-
ian and Christian, are not successful either. It is true, however, that
in some mixed marriages the differences between man and wife
create unhappiness. Therefore we cannot take it upon ourselves to
advise the young man regarding this marriage. This he must
decide for himself.
I M M I G R A T I O N T O A ” P R O M I S E D L A N D ”
Another letter dealt with sexual harassment at work.
I am one of those unfortunate girls thrown by fate into a dark and
dismal shop, and I need your counsel.
Along with my parents, sisters, and brothers, I came from Russ-
ian Poland, where I had been well educated. But because of the
terrible things going on in Russia we were forced to emigrate to
America. I am now seventeen years old, but I look younger and
they say I am attractive.
A relative talked us into moving to Vineland, New Jersey, and
here in this small town I went to work in a shop. In this shop there
is a foreman who is an exploiter, and he sets prices on the work.
He figures it out so the wages are very low, he insults and reviles
the workers, he fires them and then takes them back. And worse
than all of this, in spite of the fact that he has a wife and several
children, he often allows himself to “have fun” with some of the
working girls. It was my bad luck to be one of the girls that he
tried to make advances to. And woe to any girl who doesn’t will-
ingly accept them.
Though my few hard-earned dollars mean a lot to my family
of eight souls, I didn’t want to accept the foreman’s vulgar
advances. He started to pick on me, said my work was no good,
and when I proved to him he was wrong, he started to shout at me
in the vilest language. He insulted me in Yiddish and then in Eng-
lish, so the American workers could understand, too. Then, as if
the Devil were after me, I ran home.
I am left without a job. Can you imagine my circumstances and
that of my parents who depend on my earnings? The girls in my
shop were very upset over the foreman’s vulgarity, but they don’t
want him to throw them out, so they are afraid to be witnesses
against him. What can be done about this? I beg you to answer me.
Such a scoundrel should be taught a lesson that could be an exam-
ple to others. The girl is advised to bring out into the open the
whole story about the foreman because there in the small town it
shouldn’t be difficult to have him thrown out of the shop and for
her to get her job back.
Protesting severe wage cuts, rail-
road workers initiated a strike that
disrupted the nation for several
months in the summer of 1877.
Marked by riots and the destruc-
tion of railroad cars and tracks
from Maryland to Ohio, the strike
came to an end only after President
Rutherford B. Hayes dispatched
federal troops to restore order.
or much of her early life, Mary Harris Jones must have felt
cursed with bad luck. Born in Cork, Ireland, in 1830, Jones
immigrated to the United States as a child. Trained as both a
teacher and dressmaker, she taught in both Monroe, Michigan
and Memphis, Tennessee. In 1861 she married an iron molder, and
they had four children. But only six years after her marriage, tragedy
struck. A yellow fever epidemic swept though Memphis. “One by
one,” she recalled, “each of my four little children sickened and died.”
Then Jones’s husband succumbed to the disease as well.
Alone and consumed with grief, Mary Harris Jones settled in
Chicago, where she set up shop as a partner in a dressmaking firm. But
tragedy again struck. In the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Jones lost her
shop and all of her possessions. Homeless, she camped along with fel-
low refugees of the fire in a Catholic church.
Near the church the Knights of Labor, a rapidly growing national
labor union, held regular meetings. Jones found herself drawn to the
gatherings and the union’s vision of a more just and equitable society
through worker cooperation and organization. During the yellow
fever epidemic and her stint as a dressmaker, Jones had been struck
by the growing gap between rich and poor as well as by the suffering
of working people. The victims of yellow fever, she noted, “were
mainly among the poor and the workers,” as wealthier people could
afford to flee disease-ridden Memphis or hire nurses to care for them.
The poor were left to suffer and die. As a dressmaker in Chicago,
Jones had seen a similar dynamic at work. She had worked for some
of the city’s richest families and had “ample opportunity to observe
the luxury and extravagance of their lives.” While “sewing for the
lords and barons who lived on Lake Shore Drive,” Jones “would look
out of the plate glass windows and see the poor, shivering wretches,
jobless and hungry, walking along the frozen lake front. The contrast
50 T H E G I L D E D A G E
of their condition with that of the tropical comfort of the people
for whom I sewed was painful for me.”
The words she heard from the Knights of Labor inspired
Jones. She dedicated her life to improving the lot of America’s
workers as a union organizer. Organization, Jones believed, was
the only way that workers could gather strength to offset the
power of their employers. Moreover, unionization was, she
thought, the only way workers could achieve better pay, work
shorter hours, and labor in safer working conditions.
An inspiring speaker and brilliant strategist, Jones crisscrossed
the nation, rallying workers most in need of union organization.
By the 1890s she worked closely with coal miners and she served
as an organizer for the United Mine Workers (UMW). She was
loved by the miners and despised and feared by mine owners. Her
faithful and devoted followers soon dubbed her “Mother” Jones.
One writer who witnessed her work firsthand recalled, “With one
speech she often threw a whole community on strike, and she
could keep the strikers loyal month after month on empty stom-
achs and behind prison bars.”
Labor organizers like Mother Jones, along with the men and
women she rallied into labor unions, faced formidable challenges
in the Gilded Age. For the first time in its history, the United
States became a nation of employees. As early as 1870 a majority
of the population worked for somebody else. The age of inde-
pendent, self-employed Americans was passing, as most workers
labored for others, working for a wage.
In the age of big business and cutthroat industrial competition,
employers often kept wages at the lowest possible level to under-
cut their rivals and to maximize profits. As employers adopted
technological innovations, they reduced the numbers of skilled
employees they needed in their factories. Unskilled laborers, if
they organized into unions for better wages or conditions, could
be fired and replaced easily, as desperate immigrants flooded the
nation seeking jobs. Moreover state and federal governments
often sided with employers in labor disputes. As Mother Jones
explained, “Hand in hand with the growth of factories and the
expansion of railroads, with the accumulation of capital and the
rise of banks, came anti-labor legislation. Came strikes. Came vio-
lence. Came the belief in the hearts and minds of the workers that
legislatures but carry out the will of the industrialists.” Neither
state nor federal governments recognized the right of workers to
organize, and throughout the Gilded Age government officials
seldom hesitated to send state militias and federal troops to quell
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R 51
labor unrest. In addition, ethnic and religious differences among
American workers often proved to be a barrier to labor organiz-
ing. Ethnic tensions, rivalries, and mistrust often kept workers
from joining forces to work collectively for common goals.
Although organized labor could claim few victories in the
Gilded Age, the efforts of organizers like Mother Jones and labor
unions, such as the Knights of Labor and the UMW, reflect the
fact that many American workers refused to accept passively the
new industrial order. The fight of workers in the Gilded Age for
just treatment and respect also reveals that from the perspective of
many working men and women the period was not one of abun-
dance and opportunity but one of scarcity, destitution, and
Mother Jones continued to fight for America’s working men
and women until she was well into her 90s. She lived to be 100
years old, dying in 1930, just five years before the enactment
of the Wagner Act during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New
Deal, which guaranteed the right of workers to organize into
The Knights of Labor
The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, the organi-
zation that inspired Mother Jones, was founded in Philadel-
phia in 1869. The Knights hoped to organize all working
people into one large, national union and opened member-
ship to all workers, regardless of color, gender, or national
origin; only bankers, lawyers, professional gamblers, and
liquor dealers could not join. By the mid-1880s the Knights
were the largest, most inclusive labor organization in U.S.
history. In January 1878 the Knights convened at Reading,
Pennsylvania, established a general assembly, and adopted
the following platform. Not only did the platform provide a
scathing critique of industrial capitalism, it also blended con-
crete, short-term goals with a long-term vision of a coopera-
The recent alarming development and aggression of aggregated
wealth, which, unless checked, will inevitably lead to the pauper-
ization and hopeless degradation of the toiling masses, render it
imperative, if we desire to enjoy the blessings of life, that a check
should be placed upon its power and upon unjust accumulation,
and a system adopted which will secure to the laborer the fruits of
The Knights of Labor’s major emphasis
on equal rights for women attracted
many working women to its ranks.
These women served as delegates to the
1886 Knights convention in Richmond,
Virginia. Posing with a baby, they
emphasized their dual role as mothers
and union leaders—and that these roles
did not conflict.
his toil; and as this much-desired object
can only be accomplished by the thor-
ough unification of labor and the united
efforts of those who obey the divine
injunction that “In the sweat of thy brow
shall thou eat bread,” we have formed the
Industrial Brotherhood with a view of
securing the organization and direction,
by co-operative effort, of the power of
the industrial classes; and we submit to
the world the objects sought to be
accomplished by our organization, call-
ing upon all who believe in securing “the
greatest good to the greatest number” to
aid and assist us:
I. To bring within the folds of organi-
zation every department of productive
industry, making knowledge a standpoint for action, and industri-
al and moral worth, not wealth, the true standard of individual and
II. To secure to the toilers a proper share of the wealth that
they create,- more of the leisure that rightfully belongs to them;
more societary advantages; more of the benefits, privileges, and
emoluments of the world; in a word, all those rights and privileges
necessary to make them capable of enjoying, appreciating,
defending and perpetuating the blessings of good government.
III. To arrive at the true condition of the producing masses in
their educational, moral, and financial condition, by demanding
from the various governments the establishment of Bureaus of
IV. The establishment of cooperative institutions, productive
V. The reserving of the public lands—the heritage of the peo-
ple—for the actual settler, not another acre for railroads or specu-
VI. The abrogation of all laws that do not bear equally upon
capital and labor, the removal of unjust technicalities, delays, and
discriminations in the administration of justice, and the adopting
of measures providing for the health and safety of those engaged
in mining, manufacturing, or building pursuits.
VII. The enactment of laws to compel chartered corporations
to pay their employees weekly, in full, for labor performed during
the preceding week, in the lawful money of the country.
T H E G I L D E D A G E52
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R
VIII. The enactment of laws giving mechanics and laborers a
first lien on their work for their full wages.
IX. The abolishment of the contract system on national, state,
and municipal work.
X. The substitution of arbitration for strikes, whenever and
wherever employers and employees are willing to meet on equi-
XI. The prohibition of the employment of children on work-
shops, mines, and factories before attaining their fourteenth year.
XII. To abolish the system of letting out by contract the labor
of convicts in our prisons and reformatory institutions.
XIII. To secure for both sexes equal pay for equal work.
XIV. The reduction of the hours of labor to eight per day, so
that the laborers may have more time for social enjoyment and
intellectual improvement and be enabled to reap the advantages
conferred by the labor-saving machinery which their brains have
XV. To prevail upon governments to establish a purely nation-
al circulating medium, based upon the faith and resources of the
nation, and issued directly to the people, without the intervention
of any system of banking corporations, which money shall be a
legal tender in payment of all debts, public or private.
The Haymarket Affair
At the height of its influence in 1886, the Knights of Labor
boasted a membership of more than 700,000. But that year
the organization suffered a major blow from which it never
recovered: the Haymarket Affair. In May 1886 socialist and
anarchist leaders organized a meeting in Chicago’s Haymar-
ket Square to protest the death of a striker killed at the
city’s International Harvester plant. A bomb thrown at a
policeman set off a commotion; the police then fired into
the crowd of workers attending the rally. Although the iden-
tity of the bomb-thrower was never established, seven anar-
chist leaders were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death,
despite the lack of any evidence linking them to the crime.
One of the anarchists belonged to the Knights of Labor.
Notwithstanding attempts by union leadership to disavow
any connection to the Haymarket riot, the Knights’ reputa-
tion was ruined.
The Haymarket Affair not only hurt the Knights but in the
minds of many Americans tarred all labor activists as radicals
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Songs such as this were used to recruit
and rally workers to the cause of orga-
nized labor and to describe the vision of
the Knights of Labor.
and set off a Red scare. In the aftermath
of the Haymarket Affair, journalist
George Frederic Parsons wrote a piece
for the Atlantic Monthly that reflected
the fears of middle-class Americans
concerning labor radicalism and the
belief that workers had only them-
selves to blame for their troubles.
The organization of labor has hitherto been in
the hands of unfit men, with too few excep-
tions. The leaders have been selfish, narrow-
minded, or ignorant. The true way to utilize
the strength of united labor is to develop the
individual power of the members. By no other
means have great nations been formed. An
association, the effective strength of which
depends on the surrender of the rights and lib-
erties of its members, may be a dangerous
instrument for the use of adventurers and dem-
agogues, but it cannot advance the interests of
the men themselves. The most urgent want of
labor to-day is self-control. In this free country
no man endowed with average abilities need
remain all his l i f e poor. If he has thrift, self-
restraint, perseverance, he will pass from the
ranks of labor to the ranks of capital. It is the
saving man who becomes the capitalist—the
man who has force to deny himself indul-
gences. What a lesson lies in the drink-bill of
the American workingman, for instance! …
At present the workingman can hardly
make both ends meet. Is it not because he
insists on creating capitalists out of the saloon-
keepers. . . . There may be no bread at home,
but there is always beer and whiskey at the bar,
and the men who consider themselves the victims of circum-
stances or the “thralls” of capital squander their earnings, spend
their savings in these dens. Can there be a serious labor question
while this state of things continues? Can workingmen talk grave-
ly of their wrongs while it is plain to all the world that if they only
saved the capital they earn they would be comfortable?
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R
Even before Haymarket, the Knights had come under attack
by some craft unions that opposed their strategy of organiz-
ing one big union. Craft unions, made up of skilled workers,
such as cigar makers and iron puddlers (highly skilled work-
ers who made iron bars), believed that they would lose their
bargaining power—as skilled, hard-to-replace workers—by
uniting with unskilled workers who had little leverage with
employers. Unskilled workers easily could be replaced by the
waves of desperate immigrants who provided employers
with a cheap labor supply. As a result, while most Americans
experienced a rising standard of living during the Gilded
Age, skilled workers benefited far more than their unskilled
In 1886 craft unions organized the American Federation
of Labor (AFL). Headed by Samuel Gompers, the AFL embod-
ied “bread and butter” unionism. Embracing the capitalist
order and rejecting the long-term, Utopian goals of the
Knights of Labor, the AFL eschewed politics and focused only
on short-term, concrete aims, such as the eight-hour day and
better wages. Unlike the Knights, the AFL did not hesitate to
strike to achieve its ends. Moreover, the AFL, unlike the inclu-
sive Knights, limited its membership.
The AFL under Gompers’s leadership
made considerable gains for its craft-based
members, and its membership grew to
about 500,000 by the turn of the century. Yet
the AFL represented only a fraction of Amer-
ican workers, as craft unions excluded
women and some immigrants, whom were
viewed as “cheap” competition that would
lower wages and the “dignity” of the union.
Despite his rejection of radicalism and
utopianism, Gompers had been well-
schooled in these ideas as a cigar maker in
New York City. A teenaged immigrant from
England, Gompers became a cigar maker at
the age of 14 and soon joined the Cigarmak-
ers Union. In his memoirs, he described his
labor education, received from his fellow
cigar makers on the shop floor.
This depiction of the bombing at
Haymarket Square, published in
Harper’s Weekly in 1886, exacer-
bated the fears of many middle-class
Americans that labor agitation
inevitably led to chaos and violence
The drawing depicts workers shooting
at police and orator Samuel Fielden
rabble-rousing as the bomb exploded—
neither of which occurred.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Critics on the left attacked Samuel
Gompersfor the AfL’s conservative goals
and its exclusive membership: those on
the right regarded him as a foreign-born
radical whose organization would
destroy individual initiative and proper-
ty rights. Gompers himself remarked:”We
have no ultimate ends. We are going
from day to day. We are fighting only
for immediate objects—objects that can
be realized in a few years.”
In 1873 came one of the most important changes in my life. I left
my old job and found employment with David Hirsch &
Company at 122 Chambers Street, then the only union shop in
the city. It was also a high-class shop, where only the most skilled
workmen were employed. . . . When I went to this shop, Hirsch
was employing between fifty and sixty men. . . . There a new
world opened to me. The cigarmakers employed at Hirsch’s were
practically all Germans—men of keener mentality and wider
thought than any I had met before. They talked and read in
German, but there was enough English spoken to enable me to
understand that the trade union movement meant to those men
something vastly bigger than anything I had ever conceived.
Many of them were men who had learned the labor movement in
Europe and who were refugees because they were active for the
struggle for political as well as economic freedom.
With all the energy and confidence born of my young
strength, I talked from my limited experiences. . . . On labor mat-
ters my thought was wild. I had been feeling profoundly the injus-
tice that society meted out to wage earners. I was familiar with the
vocabulary of revolutionists, but 1 had not yet attained a practical
understanding of the scope and the power of economic organiza-
tion. In truth, neither had the others. We were all groping our
way, trying to develop the language, the methods, and the funda-
mentals of trade unionism. Some had a better understanding—
fortunately they were to become my teachers. . . .
Anyone who does not know the cigarmaking trade will find it
difficult to appreciate the educational value of the little forum
existing in each shop. It gave education in such a way as to devel-
op personality, for in no other place were we so wholly natural.
The nature of our work developed a camaraderie of the shop such
as few workers enjoy. It was a world in itself—a cosmopolitan
world. Shopmates came from everywhere—some had been near-
ly everywhere. When they told us of strange lands and peoples,
we listened eagerly. . . .
Shop l i f e stimulated my mental development. … In the shop
there was also reading. It was the custom of the cigarmakers to
chip in to create a fund for purchasing papers, magazines, and
books. Then while the rest worked, one of our members would
read to us perhaps for an hour at a time, sometimes longer. … In
fact, these discussions in the shops were more like public debating
societies or what we call these days “labor forums.” This practice
had a great deal to do with developing the interest of cigarmakers
in leading economic questions. . . .
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R
Gompers was an eyewitness to New York’s Tompkins Square
Riot of 1874, in which demonstrating workers were attacked
by police. He drew the following lessons from that event.
I was in no way connected with the arrangement of this demon-
stration and was present as an intensely interested workingman,
and the import of the situation bore in upon me. As the funda-
mentals came to me, they became guide-posts for my understand-
ing of the labor movement for years to come. I saw how profes-
sions of radicalism and sensationalism concentrated all of the
forces of organized society against a labor movement and nullified
in advance normal, necessary activity. I saw that leadership in the
labor movement could be safely entrusted only to those into
whose hearts and minds had been woven the experiences of earn-
ing their bread by daily labor. I saw that betterment for working-
men must come primarily through workingmen. I saw the danger
of entangling alliances with intellectuals who did not understand
that to experiment with the labor movement was to experiment
with human life.
While Gompers and the AFL made some gains through trade
unionism, other American workers attempted to organize
along industrial lines; that is, they organized workers accord-
ing to industry rather than trade or skill. The United Mine
Workers (UMW), founded in 1890, was an industrial union
known for its militancy, which often led to bitter strikes
marred by violence. Mother Jones devoted most of her
career to organizing for the UMW. In this excerpt from her
autobiography, she described the especially difficult lot of
coal miners and related the story of a successful organizing
drive—won by the commitment of miners’ wives—in the
Pennsylvania coalfields at the turn of the century.
Before 1899 the coal fields of Pennsylvania were not organized.
Immigrants poured into the country, and they worked cheap.
There was always a surplus of immigrant labor, solicited in Europe
by the coal companies, so as to keep wages down to barest living.
Hours of work down under ground were cruelly long. Fourteen
hours a day was not uncommon, thirteen, twelve. The life or
limb of the miner was unprotected by any laws. Families lived in
company-owned shacks that were not fit for their pigs. Children
Around 1900, the average
wage for workers in manufac-
turing was 21.6 cents an hour,
and the workweek lasted six
ten-hour days. Average annual
earnings were $490, with no
compensation for time off.
58 T H E G I L D E D A G E
“You pity yourselves, but you
do not pity your brothers, or
you would stand together to help
—Mother Jones, 1897
speech to miners
in West Virginia
died by the hundreds due to the ignorance and poverty of their
parents. . . .
The United Mine Workers decided to organize these fields
and work for human conditions for human beings. Organizers
were put to work. Whenever the spirit of the men in the mines
grew strong enough a strike was called.
In Arnot, Pennsylvania, a strike had been going on for four or
five months. The men were becoming discouraged. . . .
Sunday afternoon I held a meeting. It was not as large a gath-
ering as those we had later but I stirred up the poor wretches that
“You’ve got to take the pledge,” I said. “Rise and pledge to stick
to your brothers and the union till the strike’s won!”
The men shuffled their feet, but the women rose, their babies
in their arms, and pledged themselves to see that no one went to
work in the morning. . . .
The company tried to bring in the scabs. I told the men to stay
home with the children for a change and let the women attend to
the scabs. I organized an army of women housekeepers. On a
given day they were to bring their mops and brooms, and “the
army” would charge the scabs up at the mines. The general man-
ager, the sheriff, and the corporation hirelings heard of our plans
and were on hand. The day came, and the women came with the
mops and brooms and pails of water.
I decided not to go up to the Drip Mouth myself, for I knew
they would arrest me and that might rout the army. I selected as
leader an Irish woman who had a most picturesque appearance.
She had slept late and her husband had told her to hurry up and
get into the army. She had grabbed a red petticoat and slipped it
over a thick cotton nightgown. She wore a black stocking and a
white one. She had tied a little red fringed shawl over her wild red
hair. Her face was red, and her eyes were mad. I looked at her and
felt she could raise a rumpus.
I said, “You lead the army up to the Drip Mouth. Take that tin
dishpan you have with you and your hammer, and when the scabs
and the mules come up, begin to hammer and howl. Then all of
you hammer and howl and be ready to chase the scabs with your
mops and brooms. Don’t be afraid of anyone.”
Up the mountainside, yelling and hollering, she led the
women, and when the mules came up with the scabs and the coal,
she began beating on the dishpan and hollering and all the army
joined in with her. The sheriff tapped her on the shoulder.
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R 59
“My dear lady,” said he, “remember the mules. Don’t frighten
She took the old tin pan, and she hit him with it, and she
hollered, “To hell with you and the mules!”
He fell over and dropped into the creek. Then the mules began
to rebel against scabbing. They bucked and kicked the scab drivers
and started off for the barn. The scabs started running down the
hill, followed by the army of women with their mops and pails and
brooms. . . . There was a great big doctor in the crowd, a compa-
ny lapdog. He had a little satchel in his hand, and he said to me,
impudent like, “Mrs. Jones, I have a warrant for you.”
“All right,” said I. “Keep it in your pill bag until I come for it. I
am going to hold a meeting now.”
From that day on the women kept continual watch of the
mines to see that the company did not bring in scabs. Every day
women with brooms or mops in one hand and babies in the other
arm wrapped in little blankets went to the mines and watched that
no one went in. And all night long they kept watch. They were
heroic women. In the long years to come the nation will pay them
high tribute for they were fighting for the advancement of a great
country. . . .
The last of February the company put up a notice that all
demands were conceded. . . .
There had been no bloodshed. There had been no riots. And
the victory was due to the army of women with their mops and
Women in the Work Force
The number of women in the American work force grew con-
siderably in the Gilded Age, making up roughly 20 percent of
those gainfully employed. Because of low wages of male
workers and severe economic instability, many women con-
tributed to the family economy by seeking employment.
Women employed in industry concentrated in textile and gar-
ment production. Young, single women made up the bulk of
the female labor force in the garment trades. Married women
often took in piecework, in which they were paid by the num-
ber of garments they completed, so that they could work in
their homes as they also cared for their children.
In the following passage Marie Ganz described the piece-
work that her mother took in after the death of Marie’s father.
Danger on the Job
I ndustrial accidents took a devastating toll onAmerican workers during the Gilded Age. As
late as 1907, 500,000 workers were killed or
injured each year. Workers in heavy indus-
try—such as steelmaking, mining, and rail-
roads—were especially susceptible.
Approximately 2,000 coal miners died every
year from mine explosions and cave-ins. In
1893 alone, 433 men died while attempting to
couple railway cars. Workers had little
recourse for being compensated by negligent
companies. Liability laws limited the responsi-
bility of companies to such an extent that
workers rarely received restitution. While
industrialized nations in western Europe, such
as Germany and Great Britain, provided state-
funded accident insurance for workers, the
United States lagged far behind. Not until
1917, at the behest of trade unions, did work-
ers’ compensation for industrial accidents
become established in all of the nation’s indus-
While ethnic differences could divideworkers, making it d i f f i c u l t to organize
into unions, some managed to transcend eth-
nic lines and cooperate in strikes. In 1903
Mexican and Japanese farm workers in the
sugar beet fields of Oxnard, California, formed
the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association
(JMLA) and went on strike to improve the
wages of beet thinners. Their solidarity forced
concessions from employers, who agreed to
pay union workers $5 per acre.
After their victory, the JMLA petitioned the
American Federation of Labor (AFL) to charter
their organization as the Sugar Beet Farm
Laborer’s Union of Oxnard. But Samuel
Gompers, head of the AFL, refused to charter
the union unless it barred Chinese and
Japanese workers. The JMLA’s Mexican secre-
tary wrote the following response to Gompers.
We beg to say in reply that our Japanese
brothers here were the first to recognize
the importance of cooperating and unit-
ing in demanding a fair wage scale
They were not only just with us, but
they were generous when one of our
men was murdered by hired assassins of
the oppressor of labor, they gave expres-
sion to their sympathy in a very substan-
tial form. In the past we have counseled,
fought, and lived on very short rations
with our Japanese brothers and toiled
with them in the fields, and they have
been uniformly kind and considerate. We
would be false to them and to ourselves
and to the cause of unionism if we now
accepted privileges for ourselves which
are not accorded to them We are
going to stand by men who stood by us
in the long, hard fight which ended in a
victory over the enemy. We therefore
respectfully petition the A.F. of L. to
grant us a charter under which we can
unite all the sugar beet and field laborers
in Oxnard, without regard to their color
or race. We will refuse any other kind of
charter, except one which will wipe out
race prejudice and recognize our fellow
workers as being as good as ourselves.
Without the support of the AFL, the JMLA
dissolved after several years.
Ganz detailed the innovative ways that she and her mother
managed to make ends meet with only a tiny income.
Forty or fifty men and women sat hunched up, their heads bent
low over as many foot-power sewing machines. Pale, heavy-eyed
folk they were, some of whom I had seen in the streets, where
their bent backs and rounded shoulders proclaimed their means of
livelihood. As I recall it, the shop was about sixty feet long, twen-
ty-five feet wide and perhaps eight feet from floor to ceiling.
Besides the machine hands there were ten or twelve pressers, some
women sewing by hand, three or four small boys and girls who
were carrying piles of work from one part of the shop to the other,
and, over all, in the centre of the room stood a man who, I imme-
diately realized, was the boss. He did not look approachable.
There was a surly expression in his eyes, and his face was cold and
hard. I stood staring at him, and at last he noticed me.
“What you want?” he snarled.
It was too late to retreat. I spoke up bravely and to the point.
“Work. Work for mine mader.”
‘Tell her to come to-morrow.”
“She won’t come. She told me to get work I should take along
home. . . . ”
We struck a bargain after I had explained to him the circum-
stances at home. He told me that my mother could get one and a
half cents per skirt for sewing up bottoms by hand. 1 was to take
a batch of skirts, and I should have to return them with the bot-
toms sewed before I could get more.
Forty skirts he gave me, a huge bundle, so heavy and cumber-
some that I staggered under it, and it was a nerve-shaking experi-
ence carrying it down the steep stairs that hung dizzily from the
outer wall. But, though my body ached under the burden, my spir-
its were high—higher than those heaven-aspiring steps—for an
income was in sight. No longer would the fear of being put into
the street keep us awake through the night. . . .
Oh, how hard mother worked at the skirts. Very late into the
night she continued her sewing, and when I awoke at six in the
morning every one of them was ready for me to take back to the
shop before going to school. The boss was satisfied, and I carried
another bundle of them home. The bundle was always twice as big
as I was. Just the bundle and a pair of legs were all the neighbours
could see as I passed their windows. . . . Twice every day I went to
the shop to return completed skirts and to get more, and after
school hours I helped my mother with the sewing. Often when
T H E G I L D E D A G E60
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R
the sewing of the day before had been left unfinished 1 would get
up at four o’clock in the morning, and together we would sit by
candlelight hemming the wide edges of the broad skirts then in
fashion. . . .
We managed to keep the home together, mother and I, though
at no time did our combined earnings amount to more than nine-
ty cents a day. Though we worked from early morning until late
at night, we could earn no more. Our weekly income was about
five dollars besides the four dollars a month the boarder paid. The
money from the boarder was set aside to make up the rent, besides
about two dollars a week from our earnings. The remaining three
dollars a week had to meet all our other expenses. As a matter of
fact it was only enough to pay for our food. I know just how it
went, because I did the buying, and the figures were fixed firmly
in my memory. For a week when we really had enough to eat our
account stood as follows:
Four rolls a day (two for a penny) $. 14
Butter (one and a half pounds) .48
Meat (half a pound a day for soup) .49
Milk (a quart a day) .49
Bread (an eight-cent loaf a day) .56
Coffee and tea . 18
Women garment workers labor in a
men’s clothing factory. The supervisors,
standing in the background, are men.
“A family of workers can live
well, but the man with a family
of small children to support,
unless his wife works also, has a
small chance of living properly.”
—Carroll D. Wright,
Chief of Bureau of Labor
Statistics, Massachusetts, 1882
T H E G I L D E D A G E
At the start of the 20th centu-
ry, one quarter of all Southern
male mill workers and more
than one third of all female
mill workers were under 15.
How were the other expenses met? I hardly know myself. As a
problem in arithmetic, it was impossible to solve. According to
what I had been taught at Public School No. 92, two dollars and
ninety-nine cents from three dollars left one cent, no matter how
often it might be figured or worried over. But I learned through
hard experience that there were ways other than by arithmetic of
solving that problem—ways that teacher knew nothing about.
Two minus two didn’t always equal nothing in the tenements. . . .
Besides food, shoes were the principal expense item. We sim-
ply had to buy a two-dollar pair sometimes, though other clothes
were hardly ever bought. There was also the weekly installment of
twenty-five cents to the sewing-machine man. He didn’t get it
every week; he thought himself lucky when he got twenty-five
cents a month. Sometimes we made drastic reductions in our food
purchases, sometimes—alas! I should say very often—we bor-
rowed a dollar from a relative, sometimes we managed to hold Mr.
Zalkin [the landlord] off for two or three days. We paid back the
money we borrowed, but usually we borrowed a dollar some-
where else to do it. I was old enough to discover that the more
intricate one’s finances became the easier it was, by tangling them
up a little more, to squeeze something out of nothing.
So it was that we kept our souls and bodies together.
In 1890 approximately 18 percent of children between the
ages of 10 and 14 were employed in nonagricultural work.
Employers in some industries, such as textiles, sought out
child workers because they could pay them less than adults.
In addition, because of mechaniiation, even children could
run machines, and their small hands were well-suited to par-
ticular tasks in textile factories. Although several Northern
states passed laws setting minimum age requirements and
maximum workdays for child laborers, the laws were diffi-
cult to enforce. Moreover, the parents of working children,
who depended on their children’s income to support the
family, often opposed such laws. Some Gilded Age reformers
protested child labor, but no major improvements took place
until the 1910s, when nearly every state passed minimum
age and maximum hour legislation.
This article by Emma Brown, published in the Atlantic
Monthly in 1880, points out the difficulties in enforcing child
labor laws and the toll that factory work took on children.
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R
Among the many excellent laws of Massachusetts
there have stood for a number of years certain statutes
to the effect that—
“No child, under ten years of age shall be
employed in any manufacturing, mechanical, or mer-
cantile establishment in this commonwealth.
“No child under fourteen shall be so employed
except during the vacations of the public schools,
unless during the year next preceding such employ-
ment he has attended some public or private school at
least twenty weeks . . . .
“Every owner, superintendent, or overseer who
employs or permits to be employed any child in viola-
tion of this act, and every parent or guardian who per-
mits such employment, shall forfeit a sum of not less
than twenty nor more than fifty dollars for the use of
the public schools.”
From these carefully worded statutes it would seem
as if every precaution had been taken by the State of
Massachusetts to prevent the overworking of children
in the commonwealth and the neglect of their proper
schooling. It is one thing, however, to make wise laws,
and quite another to enforce them, as may be seen
from the following statistics.
During the past year some hundred and sixty factories in the
State that have been inspected give an average of only two per
cent, where strict compliance was found with the enactments
quoted above. In one factory the inspector was shown a file of cer-
tificates which gave the names of thirteen children employed in
the mills, but no data of their ages. . . .
In still another factory, the very first child interviewed was
under ten years of age,- and a truant officer who visited some thir-
ty factories in and about Boston reports that he found in every one
of them children kept at work in open violation of the law. . . .
An overseer in one of the print works in the State says-. “There
seems to be a growing disposition on the part of parents to put
their children to work before they are of the legal age, and to
avoid sending them to school the length of time required by law.
Scarcely a day passes but mothers come to the mills and beg us to
use our influence in procuring employment for their children.”. . .
“Please, sir, could Denise have a permit to stay in the mills a
month longer? It’s time she was in school, I know, but the father is
all drawn up with rheumatis’, and they’ve took him to the ‘ospital,
Southern cotton m i l l s were notorious for
employing children, whose nimble fin-
gers changed bobbins on textile looms.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
In this 1892 cartoon, a crate of bullets,
a keg of gunpowder, a cauldron of melt-
ed pitch, and a hot-water hose in the
hands of Andrew Camegie symbolize
the violence at Homestead. Carnegie’s
ruthless tactics at the infamous steel-
works seriously damaged his reputation.
and I don’t know how ever in the world we’re goin’
to git along if Denise has to leave the mills!”
It was all said in one breath, and the superinten-
dent of the schools, glancing up from his books, saw
a woman of thirty-five or thereabouts . . . .
He answered, not unkindly, “We cannot give any
such permit. Besides, you are liable to a fine of fifty
dollars, if the child is kept out of school. How old
did you say she was?”
“Eleven years, sir.”
“How many children have you?”
“Four, with Denise.”
“Is she the eldest?”
“No, sir. I have one fourteen year old, but she’s
nervous and daft-like. I keep her at home to mind
“So Denise is the only one at work. Has she ever
been to school?”
“Oh, yes, sir. Tell the gentleman, Denise, what
reader you were in last.”
“T’was the First Reader, the primer, you know,”
whispered the little girl, hanging down her head.
“A child of eleven years ought to be farther
advanced than that!” remarked the superintendent.
“I suppose so,” acknowledged the mother, with a
sigh; “but I couldn’t spare her to go to school when she was a
earnin’ twenty cents a day.”
The Homestead Lockout
The Gilded Age saw numerous strikes and many incidents of
labor violence, and the Homestead Lockout of 1892 epito-
mized the overwhelming power of big businessmen—who
had the cooperation of the state—to crush the burgeoning
labor movement. The Homestead Lockout pitted one of the
nation’s most powerful industrialists, Andrew Carnegie,
against one of the country’s most successful craft unions, the
Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Carnegie
viewed the powerful union as an obstacle to efficiency and,
therefore, his ability to undercut his rivals and maximize his
profits. Wishing to crush the union once and for all, Carnegie
and his right-hand man, Henry Clay Frick, hatched a plan.
Carnegie offered a new contract to the union workers, which
T H E S O R R O W S O F L A B O R 65
would have cut their pay by as much as 26 percent. As
Carnegie anticipated, the union rejected the contract.
Expecting a violent showdown, Carnegie left for Scot-
land, putting Frick in charge. On June 10, 1892, Frick locked
out the workers, placing three miles of barbed-wire fencing
around the Homestead Steelworks. A private army of Pinker-
ton detectives arrived on the scene to execute Carnegie’s
plans; Homestead workers immediately attacked them as
they arrived on river barges. This 1892 drawing, “The Battle
at the Landing. Homestead, Pennsylvania,” depicts the
exchange of gunfire between the Pinkertons, aboard the
river barges, and steelworkers, which resulted in the deaths
of seven workers and three Pinkertons.
At Frick’s request, the governor of Pennsylvania sent
8,000 members of the state militia to restore order in Home-
stead and end worker resistance. Carnegie succeeded in
breaking the steelworker’s union once and for all; no obsta-
cles remained to reducing wages and increasing hours, even
extending the standard 12-hour shift. Another 40 years
would pass before steelworkers once again organized into
an effective union.
Photographer Jacob Riis captured
the squalor of tenement life in Bax-
ter Street Court in New York City
around 1890. Riis wrote that “in
the tenements all the influences
make for evil,” calling them “the
nurseries of pauperism and crime”
as well as “the hot-beds of epi-
demics that carry disease to rich
and poor alike.”
of Urban Life
ike most Americans of her generation, Jane Addams grew
up in a rural community. She was born in the village of
Cedarville, Illinois, in 1860. But like many young Americans
who came of age after the Civil War, she realized that her
future lay not in the pastoral countryside of Illinois but in one of the
nation’s burgeoning cities.
After graduating from Rockford Seminary, a women’s college, in
1879, Addams struggled to find a meaningful career. As members of
the first generation of college-educated women, Addams and others
like her found their career options seriously limited. She tried medical
school but dropped out after suffering health problems. Then a trip to
Europe opened her eyes to the possibilities of a new career. On a tour
of the East End of London, Addams witnessed what she called the
“hideous human need and suffering” of that city’s underprivileged. In a
formative moment, she watched as “myriads of hands, empty pathet-
ic, nerveless and workworn” clutched for rotten vegetables and fruit
distributed to the poor.
Try as she might, Addams could not shake this troubling image.
Though she had traveled to Europe to absorb its rich culture—its
music, art, and literature—Addams found no comfort in such pursuits.
Overwhelmed with a sense of “uselessness,” she questioned “the
assumption that the sheltered, educated girl has nothing to do with
the bitter poverty and the social maladjustment which is all about her.”
On a second trip to Europe, Addams spent time at London’s Toynbee
Hall, a settlement house established by middle-class reformers to bet-
ter the lot of the underclass.
6 8 T H E G I L D E D A G E
As cities and their inhabi-
tants gained influence, new
words were incorporated
into American English. A
“hayseed” lived in the coun-
tryside. Anything old-fash-
ioned was “country.”
Inspired by her stay in London, Addams returned to the Unit-
ed States and set out for Chicago on a mission. Using Toynbee
Hall as a model, Addams and her friend Ellen Starr purchased a
dilapidated mansion in a poor, run-down section of Chicago and
established the nation’s first settlement house, which became
known as Hull House. Settlement houses offered a plethora of
programs and activities for their poor neighbors, many of whom
were recent immigrants. One of Addams’s first programs at Hull
House introduced the neighborhood’s Italian immigrants to Flo-
rentine art, but immigrant women quickly made it clear that they
needed more practical assistance, particularly a kindergarten and
nursery school for their children. Hull House also organized
sewing and cooking classes, clubs for children, and programs and
lectures by local university professors. Labor unions also met
there. Addams’s Hull House was replicated in numerous U.S.
cities,- by 1900 approximately 100 settlement houses had been
established throughout the nation.
Not only did Hull House aim to better the lives of the city’s
poor and aid immigrants in their transition to urban l i f e in the
United States, but, in accordance with Addams’s vision, it also
served to reconnect the privileged with the poor. As Addams
explained, the settlement was “an experimental effort to aid in the
solution of the social and industrial problems which are engen-
dered by the modern conditions of life in a great city. It is the
attempt to relieve, at the same time, the overaccumulation at one
end of society and the destitution at the other.” The privileged
and underprivileged, Addams believed, had much to learn from
Cities like Jane Addams’s Chicago exploded during the Gilded
Age. Their rapid growth, as Addams noted, generated a profusion
of problems for city dwellers, especially the poor. Between 1860,
when Jane Addams was born, and 1900, when Hull House was in
full operation, the urban population of the United States grew
fivefold. The northeastern United States became the most urban
region of the country, and the South remained the least urban, yet
cities and towns of all sizes throughout the nation grew signifi-
cantly during the period. Cities attracted native-born migrants
from the countryside—such as Addams—as well as European
immigrants who flooded urban centers seeking employment.
Many African Americans also left the rural South, seeking great-
er opportunity in both Southern and Northern towns and cities.
In Addams’s Chicago, three of every four inhabitants were foreign
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E 69
born or had foreign-born parents. Moreover, Chicago’s black pop-
ulation had grown nearly tenfold—from 3,600 in 1870 to more
than 30,000 by 1900.
Whereas cities offered more economic opportunities, they
were also attractive because of the cultural amenities they offered,
such as concert halls, museums, and theaters. Department stores,
restaurants, saloons, and cafes also appealed to the urban populace
during the Gilded Age. City dwellers viewed themselves as the
most modern and up-to-date Americans.
Although cities represented opportunity, they were also filthy,
crowded, disease-ridden, and often badly governed. Rapid popula-
tion growth severely strained housing and municipal services, such
as garbage collection. The construction of multifamily housing,
such as tenements, attempted to relieve housing shortages. Yet ten-
ements were usually unhealthy, dark, and dangerous firetraps.
Homelessness also abounded, and children, many of whom had
been abused and abandoned, were a common sight in U.S. cities.
As cities teemed with both possibilities and problems, they
underwent significant physical transformations. With the intro-
duction of electric streetcars in the 1880s came the development
of “streetcar suburbs.” Middle-class Americans escaped the noise,
While the great metropolitan areas of NewYork and Chicago—with their mix of
commerce, manufacturing, and banking—
symbolized the Gilded Age, smaller American
cities also underwent major transformations.
Reflecting larger economic trends, many
towns and cities specialized in manufacturing
or processing particular products, many of
them regional in character, for the growing
national market. Denver specialized in slaugh-
tering and packing western beef; Portland
became a center for the northwestern lumber
industry. Youngstown, Ohio, and Johnstown,
Pennsylvania, near rich coal and coke fields,
specialized in steel production. Charlotte,
North Carolina, emerged as the hub of the
Souths cotton textile industry.
As the urban poor crowded into
tenements, many members of the
middle and upper classes fled
cities for the suburbs to escape
the scjualor and problems of
urban life. The advent of elec-
tric streetcars made it possible
for them to live in suburban
areas and commute to urban
centers to work and shop.
Denver, Colorado, 1889. Although the
American West usually invokes images of
prairies and open plains, it was, in fact,
the second most urbanized region of the
nation in the Gilded Age, after the North-
east. Denver, the West’s third-largest city
[after San Francisco and Omaha] in the
Gilded Age, tripled its population between
1880 and 1890, claiming a total of near-
ly 107,000 people by i 890.
dirt, and disease of cities by moving to the outskirts of urban areas
and commuting to work by streetcar. The “walking city” of the
preindustrial United States, where rich and poor alike lived with-
in walking distance of shops and factories, gave way to cities
increasingly partitioned by class, race, and ethnicity.
The fragmentation of U.S. cities and society deeply concerned
social reformers like Jane Addams. She and others feared that the
social separation and isolation of various urban groups threatened
to destroy democracy in the United States. She hoped that Hull
House and other settlement houses would establish an organic
relationship between rich and poor, native-born and immigrant,
educated and uneducated, in an attempt to reconstruct in an urban
setting the connectedness of small-town America.
Just as Hull House shaped the lives of its neighborhood par-
ticipants, it also transformed Addams and the many middle-class
men and women who worked with her. Addams’s close associa-
tion with the destitute thrust her into Chicago politics. As a
woman she could not vote or hold office. Nevertheless she fear-
lessly and relentlessly worked for better schools, housing, city ser-
vices, and working conditions. Addams’s work among Chicago’s
70 T H E G I L D E D A G E
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E
poor ultimately led her to international affairs. In the aftermath of
the Spanish-American War, she became an avid anti-imperialist,
taking a strong stand against the United States establishing
colonies abroad. During World War I, she founded the Women’s
International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1931, four years
before her death in her beloved Chicago, Addams was awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize.
More than any symbol, the teeming, bustling, ethnically and
racially diverse city exemplified the United States of the Gilded
Age. Full of both peril and promise, cities not only physically
reconfigured the U.S. landscape but also transformed society and
culture. The urbanization and suburbanization begun during the
period continues to this day,- in 1920, for the first time in U.S. his-
tory, more people lived in the city than the country. And although
U.S. cities have changed in many ways since then, issues raised by
middle-class urban reformers, such as Jane Addams, remain rele-
vant: What, if any, responsibility do privileged Americans have for
the poor? What are the best methods for reducing poverty? How
can the rich and poor bridge the chasm that separates them? Can
the United States be both a highly diverse and, at the same time,
In her autobiography. Twenty Years at Hull House, published
in 1910, Jane Addams discusses the evolution of her idea to
found a settlement house and the challenges she faced in the
early years of Hull House.
It is hard to tell just when the very simple plan which afterward
developed into the Settlement began to form itself in my mind. It
may have been even before I went to Europe for the second time,
but I gradually became convinced that it would be a good thing to
rent a house in a part of the city where many primitive and actual
needs are found, in which young women who had been given over
too exclusively to study might restore a balance of activity along
traditional lines and learn of life from life itself. . . .
It was not until years afterward that I came upon Tolstoy’s
phrase, “the snare of preparation,” which he insists we spread
before the feet of young people, hopelessly entangling them in a
curious inactivity at the very period when they are longing to con-
struct the world anew and to conform to their own ideals. . . .
On presenting Jane Addams with the
Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931, Profes-
sor Halvdan Kobt stated, “Even when
her views were at odds with public
opinion, she never gave in, and in the
end she regained the place of honor she
had had before in the hearts of her peo-
ple.” Social critic Walter Lippman said
of Addams, “she was not only good,
T H E G I L D E D A G E
The emblem of the National Association of
Colored Women incorporates the organiza-
tion’s motto “Lifting As We Climb.” Made
up largely of elite and middle-class women,
the clubs hoped to gain respect for black
women in general while improving the lot of
those less fortunate than themselves.
From the first it seemed understood that we were ready to per-
form the humblest neighborhood services. We were asked to wash
the newborn babies, and to prepare the dead for burial, to nurse
the sick, and to “mind the children.”
Occasionally these neighborly offices unexpectedly uncov-
ered ugly human traits. For six weeks after an operation we kept
in one of our three bedrooms a forlorn little baby who, because he
was born with a cleft palate, was most unwelcome even to his
mother, and we were horrified when he died a week after he was
returned to his home,- a little Italian bride of fifteen sought shelter
with us one November evening, to escape her husband who had
beaten her every night for a week when he returned home from
work, because she had lost her wedding ring,- two of us officiated
quite alone at the birth of an illegitimate child because the doctor
was late in arriving. . . .
But in spite of some untoward experiences, we were constant-
ly impressed with the uniform kindness and courtesy we received.
Perhaps these first days laid the simple human foundations which
are certainly essential for continuous living among the poor: first,
genuine preference for residence in an industrial quarter to any
other part of the city, because it is interesting and makes the
human appeal; and second, the conviction . . . that the things
which make men alike are finer and better than the things that
keep them apart, and that these basic likenesses, if they are prop-
erly accentuated, easily transcend the less essential differences of
race, language, creed, and tradition.
With a tradition of black organization and activism, Chicago
hosted the second convention of the National Association of
Colored Women (NACW), held at Quinn Chapel. The NACW,
founded in 1895 by elite and middle-class African-American
women, addressed social reform through its local clubs.
Establishing hospitals, orphanages, kindergartens, and
social services for black Americans—whose needs were often
ignored by white urban reformers and politicians—club-
women played a vital role in their communities. The NACW
also addressed national racial issues in the Gilded Age, espe-
cially in segregation and lynching, in which blacks (usually
men) were murdered by white mobs.
The following excerpts from the minutes of the 1899 con-
vention reveal the national scope of the black women’s club
movement as well as its agenda and strategies.
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E 73
MINUTES OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION
OF COLORED WOMEN, 1899.
Chicago, 111., August 14, 1899
MONDAY MORNING SESSION.
A large number of women assembled in Quinn Chapel, corner of
24th St. and Wabash Ave., to be present at the opening of the First
Biennial Convention of the National Association of Colored
Women. The meeting was called to order by the President, Mrs.
Mary Church-Terrell. After singing, “Praise God from whom All
Blessings Flow,.” prayer was offered by 2nd Vice-President, Mrs.
Lucy Thurman. . . .
Reports from the following Clubs were read by the following
persons: I. B. W Club of Chicago, Mrs. S. Taylor; Woman’s Civic
League, Chicago, Mrs. Minnie Roach,- Ideal Club, Chicago, Mrs.
Ophelia Clark; Women’s Era Club, Boston, Mrs. J. St.P. Ruffin,;
Phillis Wheatley Club, New Orleans, Mrs. Sylvania F. Williams;
Commercial Reciprocity Club, Indianapolis, Ind., Mrs. Lillian
Thomas-Fox; Peoria Women’s Aid, Peoria, 111., Mrs. Sydney Wag-
oner; Woman’s Home Improvement Club, Louisville, Ky., Mrs.
Fannie B. Williams,- Woman’s Loyal Unions, N.Y. City, Mrs. Imo-
gene Howard; Colterie Migratory Assembly, Memphis, Tenn.,
Mrs. Annie Whitlow; Sojourner Truth Club, Memphis, Tenn.,
Mrs. Robert Freeman. . . .
MONDAY AFTERNOON SESSION.
. . . Mrs. Harvey of Memphis, Tenn., reported for the Orphan’s
Home of said city, stating that twenty-five acres of land had been
purchased. . . .
Mrs. Corine Brown, a woman of great worth who is noted for
her success as a worker in the city of Chicago, was invited forward
to be introduced to the Association. Mrs. Brown in her usual
agreeable and winning way made some very choice remarks.
Among other things she said that she believed that ability depend-
ed neither upon race nor upon sex. She advised work for legisla-
tion, saying the time would soon be when the two races would
work together, as one cannot get along without the other. She
warned the Southland to keep their children out of the factories
before they are 14 years of age.
TUESDAY AFTERNOON SESSION.
Mrs. Haydee Campbell of St. Louis, Mo., was called and intro-
duced to the Association. Her subject was “Why the National
The Chicago of Jane Addams’s day was akaleidoscope of European ethnicities. But
the city also had an important black communi-
ty. Between 1870 and 1900, Chicago’s black
population exploded, from roughly 3,600 to
over 30,000. Black migrants from the upper
South, seeking a better life in the North,
accounted for most of the city’s massive black
Chicago proved to be a mixed experience
for the migrants. Blacks could vote and attend
school with whites—forbidden in the South—
but they also faced harsh discrimination in
jobs, housing, and public accommodations. In
the industrial cauldron of Chicago, blacks
worked chiefly in domestic and service jobs,
ignored by labor organizers and social reform-
ers alike. White Chicagoans viewed blacks as
peripheral, unlike the city’s European immi-
grants on whom Addams and many other
social reformers focused.
As a separate community, Chicago’s blacks
established their own institutions and churches
during the Gilded Age. Black Chicago boasted
a plethora of women’s clubs and youth organi-
zations. Yet many black leaders clung to a
vision of integration and fiercely fought racial
separatism. They battled to secure their voting
rights and ensure integrated schools. More-
over, they established a Vigilance Committee,
which guarded against civil rights violations
The integrationist vision of many black
Chicagoans vanished in the racially charged
era of World War I. As Southern blacks
flocked to Chicago to work in the city’s facto-
ries and mills—with the black population
reaching 109,000 by 1920—racial tensions
flared. Feared by whites, blacks found them-
selves systematically excluded from certain
neighborhoods, jobs, and even public accom-
modations. Whereas white European immi-
grants could work their way up the economic
ladder and move out of the dilapidated neigh-
borhoods if they chose, most of Chicago’s
blacks found themselves confined to ghettos
and limited to low-paying, unskilled jobs.
74 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Dumb-Bel I Tenement
J acob Riis and many other urban reformersfocused much of their attention on the
problem of urban housing. Believing that a
sound environment produced healthy children
and families, urban reformers hoped to banish
the evils of tenement life, as poor families
huddled in crowded, dark, and badly ventilat-
ed buildings. In 1879 reformers sponsored a
contest in which architects submitted designs
for the best tenement that could be reason-
ably constructed on a city lot. Architect James
E. Ware won the contest for his “dumb-bell”
tenement, named for its tapered shape.
Dumb-bell tenements blossomed across
America’s urban landscape as cheap, multifam-
ily housing that could accommodate the
booming population. But urban reformers
soon criticized the shortcomings of these ten-
ements as well, citing their dark, tiny rooms
and inadequate ventilation.
This floor plan shows
bow the dumb-bell ten-
ement’s shape created
space for a courtyard
on both sides of the
building This type of
tenement seemed to be a
vast improvement over
those built side by side,
without yard space or
Association should devise means to establish Kindergartens.” Too
much cannot be said of this paper. To say it was carefully prepared
and well read are feeble words. . . . The subject was then open to
all the delegates for general discussion. . . . Mrs. Will was present
and spoke in interest of the Kindergarten. She advised working
through the Legislatures of States and in that way have Kinder-
gartens established. A motion to adjourn was carried. . . .
Mrs. Ruffin read a paper and Mr. Brown of Boston made stirring
remarks concerning the Lynch Law and read resolutions which he
asked all to endorse
THURSDAY AFTERNOON SESSION
The officers had been invited by Miss Jane Addams of the Hull
House to visit and to lunch. Led by Mrs. Ida B. Wells Barnett,
the[y?] accordingly went forth at 12:30 P.M. . . .
FRIDAY, AUGUST 18th.
Mrs. Lottie Wilson Jackson spoke on the action taken in reference
to the separate coach law. … It was moved and seconded that we
endorse the work by Mrs. Jackson in connection with the separate
coach law and give her our hearty support. Carried. . . .
Like Jane Addams, Jacob Riis was one of the Gilded Age’s
leading social reformers. A Danish immigrant who arrived in
New York City in 1870, as a newspaper reporter, Riis became
intimately acquainted with the city’s teeming slums and its
people. Appalled by the poverty he witnessed, Riis wrote
shocking articles about the lives of slum dwellers. But more
importantly, he seized upon photography as a means of
revealing the urban squalor that words could scarcely
describe. In 1890 Riis published his landmark work, based on
his lectures. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the
Tenements of New York, which combined written descrip-
tions and photographs to tell the story of the underside of
life in the United States.
Riis’s observations of slum life convinced him of the
importance of environment in shaping behavior. Rejecting
popular assumptions that crime and poverty were the result
of character defects or inherited traits, Riis argued instead
that a positive environment shaped healthy, moral individu-
als, whereas an unhealthy environment—as found in urban
slums—only encouraged destructive behavior. Riis was on
75T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E
the cutting edge of thought about the links among environ-
ment, poverty, and crime, an idea that hardly seems contro-
versial today. In an age when comfortable Americans were
suspicious and disdainful of—as well as removed from—the
urban poor, Riis’s startling, human portraits of slum life
spurred them to consider their personal responsibility
toward the less fortunate. The following excerpt from How
the Other Half Lives focuses on the plight of poor children in
New York City, many of whom lived in overcrowded and
unhealthy tenements or on the streets.
The problem of the children becomes, in these swarms, to
the last degree perplexing. Their very number make one
stand aghast. … I counted the other day the little ones, up
to ten years or so, in a Bayard Street tenement that for a
yard has a triangular space in the centre with sides fourteen
or fifteen feet long, just room enough for a row of ill-
smelling closets at the base of the triangle and a hydrant at
the apex. There was about as much light in this “yard” as in
the average cellar. I gave up my self-imposed task in despair
when I had counted one hundred and twenty-eight in forty
families. . . . Bodies of drowned children turn up in the
rivers . . . whom no one seems to know anything about.
When last spring some workmen, while moving a pile of
lumber on a North River pier, found under the last plank
the body of a little lad crushed to death, no one missed a
boy, though his parents afterward turned up. …
A little fellow who seemed clad in but a single rag was
among the flotsam and jetsam stranded at Police Head-
quarters one day last summer. No one knew where he
came from or where he belonged. The boy himself knew
as little about it as anybody, and was the least anxious to
have light shed on the subject after he had spent a night
in the matrons nursery. . . . He sang “McGinty” all through, with
Tenth Avenue variations, for the police, then settled down to the
serious business of giving an account of himself. The examination
went on after this fashion:
“Where do you go to church, my boy?”
“We don’t have no clothes to go to church.” And indeed his
appearance, as he was, in the door of any New York church would
have caused a sensation.
‘”Well, where do you go to school, then?”
“I don’t go to school,” with a snort of contempt.
Suburbs in the Gilded Age aspired to a
country ideal, promising a healthy,
clean, and picturesque environment.
This is an example of a suburban
“country” house, from the best-selling
plan books of George Palliser, whose
house plans could be purchased by mail
order. Unlike the dumb-bell tenement
plan, this house provides for bright,
airy rooms and a healthy environment.
76 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Street Children and Orphan Trains
The predicament of urban children was ofparticular concern to Gilded Age reformers.
In New York City alone, thousands of chil-
dren—some runaways, others abandoned and
neglected, still others working to support their
families—roamed the streets, eking out a living
by selling newspapers, matches, or their bodies.
In the 1850s Charles Loring Brace, appalled by
the miserable lives of the street children, formu-
lated a plan to aid them. Rejecting workhouses
and orphan asylums, Brace maintained that “the
best of all asylums for the outcast child is the
farmer’s home. The great beauty is to get these
children of unhappy future utterly out of their
surroundings and to send them away to kind,
Christian homes in the country.”
In 1853 Brace founded the Children’s Aid
Society, which relocated street and orphan chil-
dren to farms, mostly in the West. Boarding
“orphan trains,” tens of thousands of children
left the congested streets of the city for new
lives and families. The Children’s Aid Society
and the orphan trains were especially active
during the Gilded Age, as the social and eco-
nomic upheaval of the era took its toll on fami-
lies. In the first 25 years of the Society alone,
50,000 children were relocated.
Although praised by many for aiding New
York’s street children, Brace and the orphan
trains came under criticism, spurring an investi-
gation in 1883. The investigation revealed that
the society did not properly screen foster par-
ents, that supervision was m i n i m a l , and that
many older children had run away from their
new homes. Although foster families were
expected to house, feed, and educate children,
some saw them only as a form of cheap labor
and abused them. Despite these problems,
investigators concluded that the program gener-
ally was successful in providing a new beginning
for children with bleak futures in New York.
The 1883 investigation cast light on some of
the problems of Brace’s relocation program. The
society often disregarded the rights of parents,
assuming that any child on the streets was aban-
doned, the victim of “unfit” parents, when, in
fact, some did have homes and families. Immi-
grant parents also often misunderstood the
placement process, granting permission for their
children to be taken West for what they
believed was temporary work. Catholics feared
that Brace’s agenda included converting their
children to the Protestant f a i t h , as Catholic
children were often placed in Protestant homes.
In the end, although many children h a p p i l y
resettled in loving, supportive f a m i l i e s , others
found themselves once again exploited, mis-
treated, and overworked in slavelike conditions,
cut off from friends and f a m i l y in the East.
“Where do you buy your bread?”
“We don’t buy bread,- we buy beer,” said the boy, and it was
eventually the saloon that led the police as a landmark to his
“home.” It was worthy of the boy. As he had said, his only bed was
a heap of dirty straw on the floor, his daily diet a crust in the
morning, nothing else. . . .
Riis, Addams, and other urban social reformers faced a great
deal of criticism in the Gilded Age. Some critics of social
reform believed the movement was really about social con-
trol, with middle-class workers, such as Addams, forcing the
urban poor, particularly immigrants, to live according to
Protestant ideals, which emphasized hard work, thrift, and
sobriety. Others worried that charitable efforts, such as
those at Hull House, did not distinguish between the “wor-
thy poor” and those who were simply lazy or unwilling to
help themselves. Similarly, social Darwinists criticized social
reformers, arguing that in aiding the poor, reformers tam-
pered with “natural laws” of selection: the weak were
meant to perish, and the strong survivors would inevitably
improve the human race. William Graham Sumner, a profes-
sor of political and social science at Yale University and one
of the nation’s leading social Darwinists, dismissed social
reform as wrongheaded, harmful to society, and a relic of a
preindustrial era. This is an excerpt from What Social Classes
Owe to Each Other, a book he published in 1883.
It is very popular to pose as a “friend of humanity,” or a “friend of
the working classes.” . . . Anything which has a charitable sound
and a kind-hearted tone generally passes without investigation,
because it is disagreeable to assail it. Sermons, essays, and orations
assume a conventional standpoint with regard to the poor, the weak,
etc.; and it is allowed to pass as an unquestioned doctrine in regard
to social classes that “the rich” ought to “care for the poor;”. . .
Certain ills belong to the hardships of human life. They are
natural. They are part of the struggle with Nature for existence.
We cannot blame our fellow-men for our share of these. . . .
The humanitarians, philanthropists, and reformers, looking at
the facts of l i f e as they present themselves, f i n d enough which is
sad and unpromising in the condition of many members of soci-
ety. They see wealth and poverty side by side. They note great
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E 77
inequality of social position and social chances. They eagerly set
about the attempt to account for what they see and to devise
schemes for remedying what they do not like. In their eagerness
to recommend the less fortunate classes to pity and consideration
they forget all about the rights of other classes/ they gloss over all
the faults of the classes in question, and they exaggerate their mis-
fortunes and their virtues. . . . When 1 have read certain of these
discussions I have thought it must be quite disreputable to be
respectable, quite dishonest to own property, quite unjust to go
one’s way and earn one’s own living, and that the only really
admirable person was the good-for-nothing. The man who by his
own effort raises himself above poverty appears, in these discus-
sions, to be of no account. The man who has done nothing to raise
himself above poverty finds that the social doctors flock about
him, bringing the capital which they have collected from the
other class and promising the aid of the State to give him what the
other had to work for. . . .
Whether social philosophers think it desirable or not, it is out
of the question to go back to status or the sentimental relations
which once united baron and retainer, master and servant, teacher
and pupil, comrade and comrade. That we have lost some grace
and elegance is undeniable. That life once held more poetry and
romance is true enough. But it seems impossible that any one who
has studied the matter should doubt that we have gained immea-
surably and that our farther gains lie in going forward, not in going
backward. … It follows . . . that one man, in a free state, cannot
claim help from, and cannot be charged to give help to, another. . . .
Immigrant children study at the
Essex Market School in New York
City, around 1890. Public schools
played a crucial role in the process
of “Americanizing” immigrant
children. Not only did they learn
English, but they also absorbed
lessons in citizenship, which often
stressed rejecting ethnic culture. An
educator in 1906 explained: “For
the immigrant children the public
schools are the sluiceways into
Americanism. When the stream of
alien children flows through them,
it will issue into the reservoirs of
national life with the Old World
taints filtered out, and the qualities
retained that make for loyalty and
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Whereas urban social reformers like Addams and Riis
undoubtedly helped improve the lives of poor city dwellers,
the ward boss had a far greater direct impact on the poor. A
ward boss was a local politician in charge of delivering votes
for his party from his “ward,” a section of the city. Ward
bosses were vital cogs in the political machines that
emerged in many American cities in the late 19th century.
Political machines were a product of the growth of massive,
impersonal cities that offered few social services. In return
for votes, the political machines—through ward bosses—dis-
pensed all kinds of favors to their constituents, including
jobs, Christmas turkeys, food, and shelter. As William L. Rior-
don, a New York journalist, wrote of the ward boss, “Every-
body in the district knows him. Everybody knows where to
find him, and nearly everybody goes to him for assistance of
one sort or another, especially the poor of the tenements.”
In an age of limited charities and social services, ward bosses
and political machines undoubtedly alleviated the suffering
of many poor city dwellers. In the following excerpt from
Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, Riordon describes “a record of a
day’s work” for boss George Washington Plunkitt.
2 A.M.: Aroused from sleep by the ringing of his doorbell;
went to the door and found a bartender, who asked him to go to
the police station and bail out a saloonkeeper who had been
arrested for violating the excise law. Furnished bail and returned
to bed at three o’clock.
6 A.M.: Awakened by fire engines passing his house. Hastened
to the scene of the fire, according to the custom of Tammany dis-
trict leaders, to give assistance to the fire sufferers, if needed. Met
several of his election district captains who are always under
orders to look out for fires, which are considered great vote-get-
ters. Found several tenants who had been burned out, took them
to a hotel, supplied them with clothes, fed them, and arranged
temporary quarters for them until they could rent and furnish new
8:30 A.M.: Went to the police court to look after his con-
stituents. Found six “drunks.” Secured the discharge of four by a
timely word with the judge and paid the fines of two.
9 A.M.: Appeared in the Municipal District Court. Directed
one of his district captains to act as counsel for a widow against
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E
whom dispossess proceedings had been instituted and obtained an
extension of time. Paid the rent of a poor family about to be dis-
possessed and gave them a dollar for food.
11 A. M.: At home again. Found four men waiting for him. One
had been discharged by the Metropolitan Railway Company for
neglect of duty, and wanted the district leader to fix things. Anoth-
er wanted a job on the road. The third sought a place on the Sub-
way and the fourth, a plumber, was looking for work with the Con-
solidated Gas Company. The district leader spent nearly three
hours fixing things for the four men and succeeded in each case.
3 P. M.: Attended the funeral of an Italian as far as the ferry.
Hurried back to make his appearance at the funeral of a Hebrew
constituent. Went conspicuously to the front both in the Catholic
church and the synagogue and later attended the Hebrew confir-
mation ceremonies in the synagogue.
7 P.M.: Went to district headquarters and presided over a
meeting of election district captains. Each captain submitted a list
of all the voters in his district, reported on their attitude toward
Tammany, suggested who might be won over and how they could
be won, told who were in need, and who were in trouble of any
kind and the best way to reach them. District leader took notes
and gave orders.
8 P.M.: Went to a church fair. Took chances on everything,
bought ice cream for the young girls and the children. Kissed the
little ones, flattered their mothers and took their fathers out for
something down at the corner.
9 P.M.: At the clubhouse again. Spent $10 on tickets for a
church excursion and promised a subscription for a new church
bell. Bought tickets for a baseball game to be played by two nines
from the district. Listened to the complaints of a dozen pushcart
peddlers who said they were persecuted by the police and assured
them he would go to Police Headquarters in the morning and see
10:30 P.M.: Attended a Hebrew wedding reception and dance.
Had previously sent a handsome wedding present to the bride.
12 P.M.: In bed.
For the growing middle class in the United States of the Gild-
ed Age, home was considered to be woman’s proper sphere.
Middle-class women were expected to devote their lives to
creating a comfortable and nurturing environment for their
In 1880 New York
became the first American
city to reach a population
of 1 million.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Many working-class urban residents resent-ed the attempts by middle-class prohibi-
tionists to ban liquor. Whereas reformers
viewed the saloon as the source of family dis-
order, violence against women and children,
and corruption, workingmen saw the saloon as
a haven from their grueling jobs. Saloons
served as social clubs, union halls, and even
political headquarters. But prohibitionists were
correct in their assessment that the nation was,
in fact, saturated in alcohol. In 1898 there
were 215,000 licensed liquor dealers and
approximately 50,000 “blind pigs,” unregulated
saloons. Beer sold for a nickel, affordable even
to low-wage laborers.
This 1888 photograph of the Dennis B.
Nye family in their parlor in Min-
neapolis reflects the middle-class ideal of
family life in the Gilded Age, with
mother taking care of the children,
father relaxing at home after a hard
day’s work, and children listening to
their sister’s piano playing.
husbands and children. Nevertheless, many women stepped
outside of the domestic sphere and became involved in the
political issues of the day, particularly Prohibition. A ban on
the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Prohibition was one of
the most important and controversial reforms of the Gilded
Age. Middle-class women embraced the cause as a defense
of their homes. They viewed alcohol as the root cause of
many social and urban ills as well as the source of domestic
violence and unstable home lives. Unable to vote, Prohibi-
tionist women nonetheless did what they could to influence
men voting to ban alcohol. Political involvement in Prohibi-
tion also led many women to fight for the right to vote.
Under the leadership of Frances Willard, the Women’s Christ-
ian Temperance Union, one of the nation’s largest women’s
organizations, began to advocate woman suffrage in the
late 1870s. This appeal to male voters in Mecklenburg Coun-
ty, North Carolina, from the Ladies Prohibitory Society of
Charlotte, published in 1881, provides insight into how mid-
dle-class women justified their move from the home into the
Before another week shall pass away your votes will determine
whether the traffic in intoxicants shall close forever in Mecklen-
burg county or not. Recognizing that our true sphere is not the
T H E P E R I L S A N D P R O M I S E O F U R B A N L I F E
political arena or public places, but the
home, the fireside, and the privacy of the
domestic circle, yet we cannot be insen-
sible to the fact that the issue of this elec-
tion is freighted with vital interest to our-
selves and those most dear to us.
We have, therefore, not deemed it
improper to make a last appeal to the
manhood of our dear old county to deliv-
er us from the evils of the whiskey traffic.
If we are deeply moved in this matter,
it is because the poisoned shafts of the
great enemy of our race have entered our
If unusual earnestness has marked our
efforts in this behalf, it is because we are
fully sensible that a treacherous foe stalks
in our midst, ever seeking an opportunity
to strike a blow at the peace and happi-
ness of the inner circle of our homes.
Constrained by the impulse of holy
love, which God has planted in the
maternal bosom of animals as well as
woman, we appeal to the true manhood
of the men of Mecklenburg, to shield and
protect the innocent boys and untried
youth of our county from the baleful
influence of strong drink by banishing
from our midst the licensed bar. In the
presence of this great question, the issue
of which involves so much of happiness
or woe in this sorrowing world of ours,
we beseech you, men of Mecklenburg, to
sink all personal differences, all objec-
tions to the law, and forgetting the bitterness and unkind feelings
engendered in the heat of the campaign, let every one who seeks
the good of his fellow man unite in this effort to banish from our
fair land this plague of strong drink.
Brave men of Mecklenburg, it is the cry of woman, suffering
woman, that bids you to the contest with the evil which has
brought this suffering upon us. Be but true to yourselves and the
generous emotions of your own hearts, and our appeal shall not
be in vain.
The crusade against alcohol was so per-
vasive in the late i 9th century that pop-
ular music commemorated the struggle.
This song from 1875 praised “that noble
band” of women willing to enter “the dens
of want and shame,” so that “men may
not die.” The chorus of the song implored,
“Teach us all that woman’s love, O’er
earth can yet have sway.”
In a Sweatshop
Concerned about the exploitation of children, Riis photographed this young boy at
work pulling threads in a New York City sweatshop. The boy appears to interrupt his
work only long enough to look at the camera before returning to his task, for which
he was probably paid by the piece. The men of the shop, towering over the boy, seem
especially threatening. Riis also contrasts the ragtag, unsmiling boy with the beam-
ing, well-dressed shop foreman, standing behind him to the left.
C h a p t e r F i v e – . Picture Essay
Power of the
ewspaper reporter Jacob Riis knew the swarming slums of
Gilded Age New York City as well as anyone. Unlike
most police reporters of his day, who merely rewrote lurid
pieces for the consumption of newspaper readers, Riis
actually investigated the crimes he reported. His investigations gave
him firsthand knowledge of the underside of New York City: a world
of saloons, gambling dens, houses of prostitution, overcrowded, filthy
tenements, and street children.
Riis did not flinch at the shocking world of the slums. Instead, he
found himself drawn to it, to the men, women, and children who lived
their lives in New York’s congested, constricted neighborhoods.
An immigrant himself, Riis had arrived in New York from
Denmark in 1870, and he knew what it was like to struggle. He, too,
had known hunger and poverty, had been swindled, and had seen
some of his dreams wither in the harsh light of the United States in
the Gilded Age. As a result, he empathized with the city’s poor in ways
that few others did. Despite embracing some of the prejudices of
native-born, middle-class Americans in his attitudes toward southern
and eastern Europeans, Riis remained sympathetic to their plight.
Rather than blame them for their own problems, as did most of his
contemporaries, he concluded that environment played a crucial role
in shaping people. In his view the key to ameliorating urban problems,
such as crime and poverty, was to create a more hospitable urban set-
84 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Danish-born Jacob Riis helped
revolutionize the way that Americans
thought about poverty and the urban
poor: “I have aimed to tell the truth
as I saw it.”
ting, a more nurturing and healthy environment. But the first step,
he realized, was to make the rest of society aware of the depth of
New York’s social problems.
As a reporter, Riis began to publish vivid stories about life in
New York’s slums. But words, he soon realized, proved inadequate
in communicating the squalid lives of the city’s poor. He recalled,
“It was upon my midnight trips with the sanitary police that the
wish kept cropping up in me that there were some way of putting
before the people what I saw there. … A drawing might have done
it, but it would not have been evidence of the kind I wanted.”
While scanning a newspaper one morning, he spied a notice
announcing a major advance in the field of photography.- a new
chemical made it possible to take flash photos in even the darkest
rooms. Riis seized upon the idea of photographing the slums and
its people about whom he had been writing. Not trained in pho-
tography, he hired two photographers but found their approach
unsatisfactory. The trained professionals seemed to worry more
about the technical aspects of their photographs than the subjects
themselves—Riis’s key concern.
“There was at last but one way out of it,” Riis concluded,
“namely, for me to get a camera myself.” He took his camera into
the slums and documented the lives of the “other half,” a side of
New York rarely glimpsed by its more fortunate inhabitants. An
amateur, he sometimes set fires with his flashpan and once nearly
blinded himself with flash powder. But his stunning photographs
captured the human casualties of the Gilded Age city/ the haunt-
ed faces of his subjects and their destitute surroundings could not
be easily dismissed.
Riis was especially concerned with the children of the slums.
A disciple of Charles Loring Brace, he made startling photographs
capturing children denied a childhood, of street urchins and
sweatshop workers aged by their harsh labor.
Riis made his photos into lantern slides (early projected
images) to show to middle-class church groups and civic organi-
zations, as he lectured on the lives of the urban poor. Audiences
were horrified by what they saw. Some cried, others fainted. No
one had ever taken photographs like these. As scholar Peter Hales
explains, Riis’s photos provided an “apparently irrefutable medium
of proof” to buttress his demands for social reform. His photos
“meant to demand of his middle-class Victorian audience a com-
plete and active commitment to the cause of social justice and
85J A C O B R M S A N D T H E P O W E R O F T H E P H O T O G R A P H
By 1890 Riis had translated his lectures and photographs into
a book, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York,
which achieved instant acclaim. This pathbreaking work, like his
lectures, used powerful photographs to substantiate his descrip-
tions of tenement life. Riis’s photos proved to be a mighty weapon
for social reform. Because of his pioneering efforts, social reform-
ers would use photographs to publicize the plight of those they
wished to aid, and urban photographers would capture images
that revealed a side of city life often hidden from middle- and
upper-class observers. Through Riis’s efforts, some of New York’s
worst tenements were destroyed, and child labor laws were
enforced more effectively.
Riis aimed to provide objective evidence of the horrors of slum
life, but his photographs—by nature—are not unbiased. As a
social reformer seeking to shock people into action, Riis chose his
subjects carefully, often posing them and arranging their sur-
roundings for maximum impact. Artistic concerns rarely informed
Riis’s photographs: His social agenda did, and they should be
interpreted from their partisan perspective. At the same time, they
document fascinating details about slum life and dwellers, includ-
ing the kinds of clothes they wore, their personal belongings, and
how they furnished and arranged their homes.
Lodgers in a Crowded Bayard
Street Tenement—5 Cents a
Riis documented cheap lodging
available to those who could afford
nothing more than “5 cents a spot.”
By packing as much as he can of the
lodging room within the frame of
his camera, Riis gives a sense of the
crowded conditions, the lack of pri-
vacy, and the filth and clutter of the
room, which includes pots and pans
for cooking, trunks, dirty shoes and
socks, and chamberpots. The room
appears to be a breeding ground for
both disease and immorality. For
Americans who valued cleanliness,
order, and privacy, this scene would
have been especially troubling.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
A Flat in Poverty Gap, the
Home of an English Coal-
Heaver and His Family (c. 1890)
Jacob Riis chose subjects that would
both shock and inform his audience.
This photograph, capturing an impov-
erished immigrant family at mealtime,
challenges many ideals about home
that most Americans held dear. Instead
of home as a comfortable haven of
domesticity, this room is dark, dirty,
and spare, without a single decoration
or object to uplift the spirit. Plaster
peels from the wall and the floors are
stained. A broom on the left seems to
indicate the family’s desire to keep
their home clean. But their surround-
ings are so run down that the broom
seems a symbol of futility. The meager
possessions of this family stand in
stark contrast to the “conspicuous con-
sumption” of more fortunate Gilded
Age Americans. While the gazes of
the father and the child on his lap
meet our eye, drawing us into the
scene, the mother and second child
look away, with expressions of resig-
nation and despair.
Minding Baby—Cherry Hill
Children were one of Riis’s favorite
subjects. In an age in which middle
and upper-class Americans celebrated
childhood as an age of innocence and
indulgence, Riis captured the lives of
less fortunate children. In this photo-
graph, Riis shows a child placed in
charge of a small baby. The children
huddle alone in a rundown room, bar-
ren except for a few basic household
items. The pose of the children sug-
gests their vulnerability, no adults are
present to protect them, and they are
left to fend for themselves. Their
imploring eyes seem to ask us for help.
Riis’s photograph provokes the observ-
er to imagine the children’s impover-
ished lives and their bleak futures.
J A C O B R M S A N D T H E P O W E R O F T H E P H O T O G R A P H 87
Like the children in “Minding Baby,” Katie challenges
widely held conventions about childhood in the Gilded
Age. Riis captures a diminutive girl with the haggard
face of an old woman; her passive, aged face seems
incongruous with her small body. Here is a child, Riis
shows us, who never experienced the joys of childhood
but instead has prematurely aged as she makes her liv-
ing by scrubbing. Her hands, those of a worker and not
a child, seem outsized and emphasize her position as a
working “woman.” Photographed on the street, she
seems especially alone; we are not sure whether she has
a home or parents, or any adult, to care for her.
Katie:I Scrubs (c.1890)
8 T H E G I L D E D A G E
This portrait of an Italian mother and child is often cited as Jacob Riis’s finest
photograph. Posing the mother and child as he does, Riis alludes to
Renaissance paintings depicting the Madonna and Child. Instead of the
beatific smile of the Virgin Mary, this careworn I t a l i a n mother manages only
an expression of grim determination. Looking up, she seems weary, her eyes
hard. And rather than being surrounded by angels and adoring shepherds
and kings, this mother and child are encircled instead by their few posses-
sions, including washtubs and dirty and worn bedding. Like the broom in
“A Flat in Poverty Gap,” the dustpan on the left indicates the mother’s wish
to keep her surroundings clean,- the paper next to the dustpan suggests the
impossibility of doing so in her slum home. In an age when motherhood
like childhood—was often sentimentalized, this scene, like so many others
that Riis photographed in New York’s slums, shocked contemporary view-
ers by showing a domestic reality far from the Gilded Age ideal.
Ragpicker, Italian Mother and Her Baby (1888)
J A C O B R M S A N D T H E P O W E R O F T H E P H O T 0 6 R A P I 89
Bohemian Cigarmakers at Work
in Their Tenement (1890)
Home had a very different purpose and
function for poor immigrants, com-
pared to the middle and upper classes.
Rather than providing a sanctuary from
work and the world, the home of these
Bohemian cigarmakers also served as
their workplace. According to Riis,
who used this photograph in How the
Other Half Lives, the husband and wife
“work at the bench from six in the
morning until nine at night.” Working
as a team to make cigars, they received
$3.75 for every 1,000 cigars they made
and could turn out 3,000 per week.
Given Riis’s concern for the children of
the slums, it is not surprising that the
oldest child, who is shown helping his
parents, is the focal point in this photo-
graph. He is barefoot, his feet filthy.
He faces the camera seemingly con-
signed to the same future of drudgery
as his parents.
Men’s Lodging Room (c. 1892)
As he did in “Lodgers in a Crowded
Bayard Street Tenement—’5 Cents a
Spot/” Riis captures the grim reality of
cheap lodging in New York City. By
centering this photo on the room’s
wood stove, Riis forces the viewer to
seek out human forms amidst what
seem at first to be inanimate objects—
perhaps piles of wood like those
stacked on the left side of the frame.
Riis shows only one face—perhaps to
remind the reader that these are
indeed human beings strewn across
the floor and tables and chairs. Riis
might also be suggesting that this
unhealthy environment reduced its
h u m a n inhabitants to a n i m a l s or
objects. Riis clearly portrays the room
as u n f i t for human habitation in its
filth and disarray.
Founded in 1 8 8 4 , the Tuskegee
Institute, Alabama, emphasized
industrial training for African-
American students. Tuskegee
became famous under the leader-
ship of Booker T. Washington,
who believed that blacks would
benefit more from learning practi-
cal trades rather than professional
skills. Tuskegee’s students erected
their own campus buildings—even
making the bricks—to learn build-
ing skills as well as self-reliance.
June 1882, 26-year-old William C. Smith published the premier
edition of the Charlotte Messenger, the North Carolina city’s first
black newspaper. According to Smith, the newspaper represented
“an honest effort on our part to promote the moral, intellectual,
and material standing of our people.” Over the next several years,
Smith used his newspaper to articulate his vision of a New South—a
South of racial equality, a place of opportunity and advancement for
all of its inhabitants, regardless of race.
Smith was a young man when he started his newspaper. Yet by the
1880s he and many Southern black men and women had already trav-
eled a long road from slavery to freedom. Smith had been born a slave
in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 1856; he was nine years old when
the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished. During Reconstruc-
tion, Smith, like many former slaves, managed to take advantage of
the educational opportunities available in Freedman’s Bureau schools.
Like others of his generation, he learned reading and writing from
Northern teachers who had come South to educate ex-slaves and help
ease their transition to freedom.
Smith was such an apt student that he not only earned a teaching
certificate but also learned the printing trade. He embarked on a
career as a newspaperman. At the age of 18, he started his first news-
paper in eastern North Carolina. But, like other young people in the
Gilded Age, he migrated to the city, believing that urban life offered
more to a young man or woman seeking advancement. By the early
1880s Smith had settled in Charlotte, North Carolina, a rapidly grow-
ing business and upcoming industrial center.
In 1882, when he first published the Charlotte Messenger, Smith and
many young Southerners—both black and white—saw themselves as
builders of a New South. From the ruins of the slave-holding Old
92 T H E G I L D E D A G E
In 1900 approximately one out
of every six Southerners lived
in a village, city, or town.
William C. Smith, publisher and editor
of the Charlotte Messenger, envi-
sioned a New South offering former
slaves and their descendants equal rights
and opportunities. But white suprema-
cists, intent on keeping blacks in an
inferior position, crushed that dream by
enacting Jim Crow laws, denying them
the right to vote, and lynching.
South, they hoped to construct a new and better South. The New
South they envisioned would be a region of prosperity, economi-
cally sound and diverse, and every bit as modern and up-to-date
as the rest of the nation.
Most Southerners agreed that the Old South died in the Civil
War, but they held a wide range of opinions about exactly what
the New South should be. William C. Smith envisioned a New
South of racial equality and justice, a world in which black men
and women would have the chance to prove their worth and pros-
per—just like any white person. By contrast, Henry Grady, the
young, white, influential editor of the Atlanta Constitution, imagined
a New South of extensive industry and economic diversity like the
North, but with blacks clearly subordinate to whites. Others, such
as plantation owners, wanted a New South as similar as possible
to the Old South, with themselves in control and a cheap, depen-
dent black labor force working their fields. In the meantime, small
farmers dreamed of independence, prosperity, and respect, watch-
ing in horror as the price of cotton dropped so drastically over the
course of the period that it cost more to plant cotton than it could
ever bring on the market. Struggles over competing visions of the
New South defined the region in the Gilded Age.
With the end of Reconstruction in 1877, Southerners were left
to determine the future of their region with little concern about
interference from the federal government. The South, in many
ways a distinctive region of the nation with a distinctive history,
nonetheless followed many of the same patterns as the rest of the
United States during the Gilded Age. Railroads not only bound
the region together but also tied the South more tightly to the rest
of the nation. The South, as did the rest of the nation, became
more urbanized and industrialized. Southerners bought goods
from mail-order houses like Sears, Roebuck as did other Ameri-
cans, read the same magazines and books, and suffered the same
Yet in several crucial ways the South also remained outside the
mainstream of U.S. life and differed in important ways from the
rest of the nation. It remained the poorest, least urban section of
the United States. Relatively few Southerners benefited from the
prosperity of the Gilded Age. Henry Grady and other New South
boosters did lure some Northern investors to the South to build
up Southern industry. Andrew Carnegie, for example, expanded
his steel empire to Birmingham, Alabama, and some New England
textile magnates invested in Southern cotton mills. Yet the New
South never fulfilled the industrial potential imagined by Grady
93T H E N E W S O U T H
and others. The region was hindered by a shortage of skilled
workers, investment capital, and a lack of managerial expertise.
Moreover, few European immigrants settled in the region, and
90 percent of the nation’s blacks resided there. The white South
regulated racial interaction and legally separated blacks and
whites by passing Jim Crow laws, which established a distinctive
social system and largely defined Southern life until the Civil
Rights movement dismantled them in the 1950s and 60s.
When William C. Smith started his newspaper in the 1880s,
he believed that the South—even more than the North—would
be a land of opportunity, especially for blacks. But before the end
of the decade some ominous developments suggested otherwise.
Several states had passed laws separating the races in railroad cars.
Lynching, in which white mobs hanged, tortured, and mutilated
blacks, mostly men, exploded in the late 1880s. White political
leaders openly discussed ways to keep black men from voting, as
their political activism sometimes barred white candidates from
By the 1890s Smiths vision of the New South, and that of many
other black Southerners, had been destroyed. Beginning in 1890
with the state of Mississippi and ending in 1908 with Georgia,
every Southern state passed laws, or added requirements—such as
poll taxes and literacy tests—that kept blacks from voting. In 1896,
in Plessyv. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Louisiana’s Jim
Crow railroad car law, which forced blacks to sit in a separate, “col-
ored,” section, ruling seven to one that segregation did not violate
A textile worker labors in the Great
Olympian Cotton Mill in Georgia in
the 1880s. Textile mills in the South
often attracted poor farm families, who
had either lost their land or simply
could not support themselves due to
falling cotton prices.
Our Opera House
“Tt is a source of regret to see that so many of
lour better class of citizens are prevented
from going to operas on account of their color.
Free American citizens and many of them are
free born, educated and as refined as they may
be, they are compelled to take back seats or
none at all. . . . But think of our sitting on back
seats—straight, hard benches—and in front of
us a lot of rude, noisy boys. There were seats
in the gallery,- they are also back seats of the
same class, and then we would be crowded by
all manner of male and female roughs. … It is
dangerous for a lady to wear decent dress to
such a place.
“Our people are fond of amusements, and
as they are becoming more intelligent, take
great interest in the theatre, especially those
plays which take them back to Roman history.
Under the circumstances we could not advise
our people to go where they must take back
seats and be l e f t at the mercy of the worst
classes of both races. . . .
“We do not wish to push ourselves upon
our good white friends. We only want good
accommodations apart from noisy, bad boys
and bad women, and we are willing to pay for
the same. . . .”
—William C. Smith,
Charlotte Messenger, 1883
9 4 T H E G I L D E D A G E
A Corrupt System
At first, sharecropping seemed to offerblacks autonomy from white supervision,
the opportunity to work together as families,
and a way to earn money and own land. But
some planters regularly cheated sharecroppers,
keeping them in debt, so that they were
unable to escape the plantation or system.
Sharecropping ultimately became synonymous
with exploitation and corruption.
the constitutional rights of black Americans. In Smiths home state
of North Carolina, racial hatred stirred up by white Democrats in
a violent anti-black political campaign in 1898 led to the Wilm-
ington Riot in November. After a white mob killed and injured 36
blacks and destroyed the office and press of black newspaperman
Alexander Manly, thousands of blacks fled the city, many aban-
doning the South and their dream of a truly New South.
Thus for black Southerners like Smith, the Gilded Age dawned
with great promise but ended with their hopes and expectations
crushed. Despite the potential that Smith and others saw in the
New South—the possibility that men and women of a new gen-
eration might redefine race relations and fashion a truly new soci-
ety—the legacies of slavery weighed heavily, evident in white
supremacy, black subordination, and economic underdevelop-
ment that defined the region well into the 20th century.
A Sharecroppers Contract
In the aftermath of the Civil War, sharecropping emerged as
a labor system negotiated between planters and former
slaves. With the abolition of slavery, planters desperately
needed a cheap and dependable labor force to work their
fields but had little or no money to pay workers. Former
slaves wishing to have their own property and to labor inde-
pendently of white supervision usually lacked money to pur-
chase land. Sharecropping allowed them to reside on and
work a piece of a planter’s land for a share of the yield.
Planters provided seed and supplies and expected anywhere
from one third to one half of the crop in return. There were
many variations of sharecropping contracts. The following
contract is an example of the kind of agreement reached
between tenants and planters and reveals the many ways
that planters maintained control over sharecroppers.
To every 30 or 35 acres, I agree to furnish the team, plow, and farm-
ing implements, except cotton planters, and 1 do not agree to furnish
a cart to every cropper. The croppers are to have half of the cot-
ton, corn, and fodder (and peas and pumpkins and potatoes if any
are planted) if the following conditions are complied with, but—if
not—they are to have only two-fifths (1/5). Croppers are to have
no part or interest in the cotton seed raised from the crop planted
and worked by them. No vine crops of any description, that is, no
T H E N E W S O U T H 95
watermelons, muskmelons, . . . squashes or anything of that kind,
except peas and pumpkins, and potatoes, are to be planted in the
cotton or corn. All must work under my direction. All plantation
work to be done by the croppers. My part of the crop to be housed
by them, and the fodder and oats to be hauled and put in the
house. All the cotton must be topped about 1st August. . . .
For every mule or horse furnished by me there must be 1,000
good sized rails . . . hauled, and the fence repaired as far as they
will go, the fence to be torn down and put up from the bottom if
I so direct. All croppers to haul rails and work on fence whenever
I may order. Rails to be split when I say. Each cropper to clean out
every ditch in his crop, and where a ditch runs between two crop-
pers, the cleaning out of that ditch is to be divided equally
between them. . . . The cleaning out of all ditches must be done
by the first of October. The rails must be split and the fence
repaired before corn is planted
These maps of the Barrow Plantation,
Oglethorpe, Georgia, show the physical
transformations that sharecropping
brought to the plantation landscape
from 1860 (left) to 1881 (right), as
freed people moved out of slave Quarters,
beyond their former masters’ view, into
their own independent households.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
“Fellow citizens: I am not indif-
ferent to the claims of a gener-
ous fore) etfulness, but whatever
else I may forget, I shall never
forget the difference between
those who fought for liberty
and those who fought for slav-
ery; between those who fought
to save the Republic and those
who fought to destroy it.”
If any cotton is planted on the land outside the plantation
fence, I am to have three fourths of all the cotton made in those
patches, that is to say, no cotton must be planted by croppers in
their home patches. . . .
No cropper to work off the plantation when there is any work
to be done on the land he has rented, or when his work is needed
by me or other croppers. . . .
Croppers must sow & plow in oats and haul them to the crib,
but must have no part of them. Nothing to be sold from their crops, nor
fodder nor corn to be carried out of the fields until my rent is all
paid, and all amounts they owe me and for which I am responsi-
ble are paid in full.
I am to gin & pack all the cotton and charge every cropper an
eighteenth of his part, the cropper to furnish his part of the bag-
ging, ties, & twine.
The sale of every cropper’s part of the cotton to be made by
me when and where I choose to sell, and after deducting all they
owe me and all sums that I may be responsible for on their
accounts, to pay them their half of the net proceeds. Work of
every description, particularly the work on fences and ditches, to
be done to my satisfaction, and must be done over until I am sat-
isfied that it is done as it should be. …
“A Perfect Democracy”
Although most Gilded Age Southerners—black and white—
remained in the countryside, the South’s towns and cities—
like those of the rest of the United States—experienced
explosive growth, especially in the Piedmont crescent that
stretched from Richmond to Atlanta. The Piedmont boasted
some of the region’s fastest growing cities, including Char-
lotte and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Geor-
gia. Atlanta emerged as the premier city of the New South,
symbolically rising from the ashes of the Civil War, when it
had been burned down by Union forces, to emerge as a trans-
portation, commercial, and industrial center.
Henry Grady, the young editor of the Atlanta Constitu-
tion, articulated a vision of the New South that reflected the
energy and self-promotion of Atlanta and other New South
cities. He envisioned a thriving New South reconciled to the
North and a full participant in the prosperity of the Gilded
Age. Grady made the following speech in 1886 before the
New England Society of New York, an elite social club. The
speech launched him to national prominence as a spokesman
for the New South.
There was a South of slavery and secession—that South is dead.
There is a South of union and freedom—that South, thank God, is
living, breathing, growing every hour.” These words, delivered
in 1866, true then and truer now, I shall make my text tonight
Dr. Talmage [an earlier speaker that evening] has drawn for
you, with a master’s hand, the picture of your returning armies
. . . . Will you bear with me while I tell you of another army that
sought its home at the close of the late war—an army that
marched home in defeat and not in victory What does he find
. . . when, having followed the battle-stained cross against over-
whelming odds, dreading death not half so much as surrender, he
reaches the home he left so prosperous and beautiful? He finds his
house in ruins, his farm devastated, his slaves free, his stock killed,
his barns empty, his trade destroyed, his money worthless, his
social system . . . swept away.
Atlanta epitomized the spirit oj the Neu?
South: an energetic, sprawling, rapidly
industrializing urban center emerging
from the ashes of the old Slave South.
T H E N E W S O U T H 9 7
98 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Industrialist D. A. Tompkins designed
this building as a model mill worker’s
bouse. Housing like this could be found
in mill villages throughout the Souths
What does he do—this hero in gray with a heart of
gold? Does he sit down in sullenness and despair? Not for
a day. . . . The soldiers stepped from the trenches into the
furrow/ . . . women reared in luxury cut up their dresses
and made breeches for their husbands and . . . gave their
hands to work. . . .
But what is the sum of our work? We have found out
that in the summing up the free negro counts more than
he did as a slave. We have planted the schoolhouse on the
hilltop and made it free to white and black. We have
sowed towns and cities in the place of theories and put
business above politics. . . . We have established thrift in
city and country. We have fallen in love with work. . . .
Above all, we know that we have achieved in these “pip-
ing times of peace” a fuller independence for the South
than which our fathers sought to win in the forum by their
eloquence or compel in the field by their swords. . . .
But what of the negro? Have we solved the problem he
presents or progressed in honor and equity toward solu-
tion? Let the record speak to the point. No section shows
a more prosperous laboring population than the negroes
of the South, none in fuller sympathy with the employing
and land-owning class.
But have we kept faith with you? In the fullest sense,
yes. When Lee surrendered . . . the South became, and has
since been, loyal to this Union. We fought hard enough
to know that we were whipped and in perfect frankness
accept as final the arbitrament of the sword to which we
had appealed. The South found her jewel in the toad’s
head of defeat. The shackles that had held her in narrow
limitations fell forever when the shackles of the negro
slave were broken. Under the old regime the negroes were slaves
to the South,- the South was a slave to the system. . . .
The old South rested everything on slavery and agriculture,
unconscious that these could neither give nor maintain healthy
growth. The new South presents a perfect democracy, … a social
system compact and closely knitted, less splendid on the surface,
but stronger at the core—a hundred farms for every plantation,
fifty homes for every palace—and a diversified industry that meets
the complex needs of this complex age. . . .
This is said in no spirit of time-serving or apology. The South
has nothing for which to apologize. She believes that the late
struggle between the States was war and not rebellion,- revolution
99T H E N E W S O U T H
and not conspiracy, and that her convictions were as honest as
yours. . . . The South has nothing to take back. . . .
Now, what answer has New England to this message? Will
she permit the prejudice of war to remain in the hearts of the
conquerors, when it has died in the hearts of the conquered? Will
she transmit this prejudice to the next generation? . .
Cotton Mill Workers
Despite overall shortcomings, several New South industries
prospered in the Gilded Age—cigarettes, centered in Rich-
mond, Winston-Salem, and Durham; lumber and turpentine
on the coastal plains; and textiles in the Piedmont. Rural
families, squeezed by low cotton prices and the overpopula-
tion of the countryside, left their homes in the mountains
and foothills, desperately seeking economic security in the
cotton mills of the Piedmont. They provided the labor force
for the South’s booming textile industry. But mill work was
available to whites only.
Farm families were used to hard labor, but work in the
cotton mills was brutal. In the 1890s workers averaged 72
hours per week. And wages were so low that entire families
often worked in the mills where child labor was especially
common. The following selection is an excerpt from an inter-
view with a mill worker named Kate Brumby conducted at
her home during the 1930s by the Federal Writers’ Project.
She first labored as a child in the South’s textile mills and
continued working in the mills for the rest of her life.
“Have you lived very long at the Spring Road Mill?” I asked.
“Since it were first started,” Kate said. “The Brumbys was up
there on opening day to help break in the machinery. Old Mr.
Hall owned the Alberta Mill where we worked and he got us to
move here. He wanted families that he knowed was good workers
to start his new mill. . . .
“As I told you, I w’an’t but nine when I went to work in the
mill, and when I’d come home of a night I never felt much like
learnin’. Sometimes Pa’d make me do a little spellin’ but I never
done so well at it. Then Pa died when I was twelve, and after that
they weren’t nobody to try to learn me. Ma never had a day’s
schoolin’ in her life but she worked as hard fer her family as any
woman I knowed. . . .
I n 1899 industrialist D. A. Tompkins, whoowned several cotton mills in Charlotte,
wrote Cotton Mills, Commercial Features, a hand-
book for aspiring Southern cotton mill owners.
The book suggested cost-cutting measures,
such as building mill villages outside of the
city limits. Not only would manufacturers
avoid paying city taxes, but mill workers could
be kept from the “bad influences” of lawyers
who might—in the case of industrial acci-
dents—promote lawsuits that could be costly
to mill owners.
Nearly all cotton mill workers resided in
mill villages, constructed by mill owners, to
whom they paid monthly rent. Although many
mill owners, like Tompkins, boasted about the
comfortable living conditions of their villages,
unsanitary conditions led to regular epidemics,
such as measles, which ravaged them. Mill
children also commonly suffered from hook-
worm and pellagra, a vitamin deficiency. Poor
and propertyless, mill workers also had to
endure abuse from wealthier townspeople who
called them “lintheads.”
1 0 0 T H E G I L D E D A G E
“This oppression of women
and children is not only a
shame to the State but a burn-
ing sin against God and weak
—The Reverend H. L
Atkins, on Charlotte’s
mill workers, 1895
“The mills are not run as
charitable institutions, but to
—Cotton mill owner
W. S. Mallory, in response to
the Reverend Atkins, 1895
“Granny died just before we moved to the mill—the Carona
Cotton Mill down on the river. Ma had already got jobs fer me and
her and Alice. She drawed 25 cents a day and we drawed 10 cents
apiece a day. Pa stayed at home with the children. It was winter
time when we first went there and we started to work by lantern
light and quit by lantern light, the kerosene lanterns swinging
down from the ceiling. I never seen no electric lights until we
moved to Hopsonville two year later. The first mornin’ 1 went in
the mill I kept alookin’ up wonderin’ what on earth them things
was. I walked over to the woman I was to work with and I asked
her, ‘What sort of bugs is them up there on the ceilin’?’ That sure
tickled her and she never let me forget it long as I stayed there.
“Pa died the first year we was at Hopsonville. His death was
jest the beginnin’ of a long, hard time. Clarence had growed big
enough to go in the mill, makin’ four of us to draw money. Come
summer, Alice tuk the typhoid. Then Clarence. Ma had to stay
outa the mill to wait on ’em. That left lone me makin’ 10 cents a
day fer the family to live on. But the neighbors was awful good to
us, and they brought in rashins. If they hadner we woulder
starved, I reckin. Alice was still awful puny when she went back to
the mill. And the very day she went to work I tuk down with the
fever. It was hard times fer us and hard on poor Ma.
“I must’ve been around fourteen when we left Hopsonville fer
Alberta. But before we left Hopsonville I’d learnt that a little grit’ll
help a body along. I hadn’t been back to work long after the
typhoid when I went to my boss and done straight talkin’. ‘I think
I’m wurth more than 10 cents a day,’ I said to him. And he raised
me to 20 cents. Ma had got up to 50 cents and he raised Alice same
as he did me. I was around 15 when Mr. Hall got us to move here
to Spring Road to help open up. I’ve been here off and on ever
since. I’ve been in this one house nigh on to 20 year. Hit oughter
be mine by now.”
The Rise of “Jim Crow”
Beginning in the 1880s some Southern states began to for-
malize and legalize racial segregation on railroad cars. In 1890
Louisiana passed a Jim Crow railroad car law, which required
that blacks and whites ride separately in cars. With the sup-
port of the African-American “Citizens’ Committee to Test the
Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law,” Homer Plessy
decided to challenge the legality of this segregationist law.
T H E N E W S O U T H 101
He and the Committee believed that those who purchased a
first-class ticket had the right to ride in the first-class car—
regardless of race. Plessy boarded a train in New Orleans,
taking a seat in the first-class “whites only” section of the
car. The conductor asked Plessy to move to the “colored
only” section of the coach. When Plessy refused, he was
immediately arrested and charged with violating the state’s
Jim Crow Car Act of 1890.
Plessy’s case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although
his lawyer argued that Louisiana’s railroad car law violated
the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, by denying Plessy
equal protection under the laws, the Supreme Court found
otherwise. In a seven-to-one decision, the Court upheld
Louisiana’s Jim Crow railroad law, sanctioning Jim Crow laws
Plessy v. Ferguson had profound consequences for black
Americans. The decision upheld segregation—and the doc-
trine of “separate but equal”—as legal and constitutional for
nearly 60 years, until the landmark Brown v. Board of Educa-
tion of Topeka, Kansas case in 1954. Segregation applied to
nearly all aspects of Southern life, including public accom-
modations, such as streetcars, parks, neighborhoods, and
even water fountains; and—as Southern blacks could testi-
fy—separate “colored” facilities were never equal to those
for “white” facilities.
Notably, all seven justices who voted against Plessy were
from the North; the single dissenting justice. Justice John
Marshall Harlan, was a white Southerner from Kentucky. Jus-
tice Henry Billings Brown wrote the majority opinion, an
excerpt from which follows.
This case turns upon the constitutionality of an act of the general
assembly of the state of Louisiana, passed in 1890, providing for
separate railway carriages for the white and colored races. . . .
The constitutionality of this act is attacked upon the ground
that it conflicts both with the 13th Amendment of the Constitu-
tion, abolishing slavery, and the 14th Amendment, which pro-
hibits certain restrictive legislation on the part of the states.
1. That it does not conflict with the 13th Amendment, which
abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment
for crimes, is too clear for argument. . . .
The object of the amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the
absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Education proved to be far from “separatebut equal” in the aftermath of the Plessy v.
Ferguson decision. Local and state governments,
controlled by white voters, spent little money
on black schools and their pupils. In 1898, the
state of Florida spent an average of $5.92 for
every white student and $2.27 for each black
student. In 1900, Adams County, Mississippi,
spent $22.25 to educate each white child and
$2.00 for each black student.
of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions
based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from polit-
ical, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsat-
isfactory to either. . . .
So far, then, as a conflict with the 14th Amendment is con-
cerned, the case reduces itself to the question whether the statute
of Louisiana is a reasonable regulation. … In determining the ques-
tion of reasonableness, it is at liberty to act with reference to the
established usages, customs, and traditions of the people, and with
a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of
the public peace and good order. Gauged by this standard, we can-
not say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation
of the two races in public conveyances is unreasonable or more
obnoxious to the 14th Amendment than the acts of Congress
requiring separate schools for colored children in the District of
Columbia, the constitutionality of which does not seem to have
been questioned, or the corresponding acts of state legislatures.
We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument
to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the
two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If
this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act but sole-
ly because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon
it. … If the two races are to meet on terms of social equality, it
must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each
others merits and a voluntary consent of individuals. . . . Legislation
is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions
based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only
result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. … If
one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the
United States cannot put them upon the same plane.
In his dissent, Justice Harlan argued that the Court’s ruling
abridged the rights guaranteed black citizens in the 13th and
In respect of civil rights, common to all citizens, the Constitution
of the United States does not, I think, permit any public authori-
ty to know the race of those entitled to be protected in enjoyment
of such rights. . .
In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time,
prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tri-
bunal in the Dred Scott Case. . . . The present decision, it may
T H E N E W S O U T H
well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or
less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citi-
zens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of
state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the
people of the United States had in view when they adopted the
recent amendments to the Constitution, by one of which the
blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States,
and the states in which they reside and whose privileges and
immunities, as citizens, the states are forbidden to abridge. Sixty
million whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight
million blacks. The destinies of the two races in this country are
indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that
the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race
hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more cer-
tainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate
a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments
which in fact proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so
inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public
coaches occupied by white citizens? . . .
I am of the opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent
with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that state,
and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the
W. F. Fonvielle was a junior at Livingstone College, in Salis-
bury, North Carolina, when he first experienced “Jim Crow,”
as he traveled to New Orleans by train in the summer of
1893. Appalled by the Jim Crow world he encountered, Fon-
vielle wrote an article about his experiences which was pub-
lished in the A.M.E. Zion Quarterly Review. His article offers a
rare personal perspective on the developing Jim Crow South
of the 1890s, as seen through the eyes of a well-educated
and sophisticated black man.
When I arrived in Spartanburg [South Carolina]—which is a
pretty town—I was reminded that I was in the South by the
appearance of two sign boards at the station, which told me that
“This room is for colored people.” “This room is for white people.”
I stood there and gazed at those two signs, all the time wondering
what did “colored” waiting room mean? And what did “white”
waiting room mean? Was one of the rooms painted in colors—
done up in prismatics, just as the blue room is at the White House,
T H E G I L D E D A G E
This booklet, published by the Republican
party in 1901, aimed to convince black
voters of the many ways that the Repub-
lican party advocated their rights. But by
1901, support of the party was a moot
point for many black Southerners, who
could no longer vote due to disenfran-
chisement laws. Despite the claims made in
this booklet, President McKinley turned a
deaf ear to Southern blacks who pleaded
with him to defend their voting rights.
and the other draped in white? Those signs per-
plexed me, for I had never seen anything like
them before. Then the whole thing burst upon
me at once, and I interpreted it to mean: The
Negroes must stay in here and not in the other
room, and the superior civilization goes where
it pleases. I visited several other places in South
Carolina, but nowhere else did those ominous
sign boards face me. . . .
The depot at Atlanta is a dirty, smoky affair
with two apartments, with sign board accompa-
niment, which, like its sister at Spartanburg, tells
you where you belong. There is a restaurant
attached to this building; but a Negro need not
apply. If he wends his way up Wall Street for a
short distance, he may purchase a ham sand-
wich and a piece of coconut pie and walk along
the street and eat it from a paper bag. . . .
In street vernacular, Atlanta is a “mean hole.”
It gets on its knees, and in fact stands on its all-
fours, but couldn’t stand erect because it is
chained down with prejudice, in fact, it would
be a great city did not the monster hold it so
tightly by the throat. The white citizens are not
anxious for the colored citizens to ride on the
street cars; and if they do ride, they like them
to take back seats; and in case the car is crowd-
ed they want our women to surrender their
seats to their women when they enter. A col-
ored woman riding on one of the cars hoisted
an umbrella to keep out the sunshine; a white
citizen commanded her to put it down. She was
not swift in executing the order, whereupon
this same citizen gave her a sound thrashing
and quietly sat down and read . . . . The Negroes are taxed to help
keep up the city parks, but the council will not permit them nor
the dogs to enter. . . .
Did you ever see a “Jim Crow” car? If you haven’t, let me
describe it to you. I shall speak particularly of the one in which I
traveled through Alabama over the L. & N. R. R. It is a third-class
car, (if there is any such thing), divided into two compartments.
The end next to the baggage car is the “Crow” car, or “where de
T H E N E W S O U T H
cullard folks rides.” The other end is used for a “smoker.” The car
behind this kitchen arrangement is the one in which the white
folks lay back on cushioned seats, and . . . read the news, and
enjoy the scenery. They have but one fare down there, conse-
quently you pay as much as anybody else, notwithstanding the
fact that you have to put up with this pig-sty arrangement. On the
way down, very frequently, as with the case in this instance, the
train stops on the way and takes on from 10 to 20 greasy, smutty
railroad hands, and as they are generally colored, they come in as
a matter of course and share the “Jim Crow” with you. They
monopolize the seats, expectorate on the floor, crack hard jokes,
smoke pipes, cigars and the modern cigarette. No matter how
intelligent and refined a lady may be, she has to sit here and
endure all this.
Not only did the New South enforce the daily humiliation of
African Americans through Jim Crow laws, but Southern
states also made it nearly impossible for black men to exer-
cise their right to vote, which after the Civil War was sup-
posed to have been guaranteed by the 14th and 15th
Amendments to the Constitution. In 1890, Mississippi
became the first Southern state to pass a disfranchisement
amendment, eliminating black voters from the electorate,
and by 1908 every other Southern state had implemented
ways of keeping blacks from voting. The following excerpt
from North Carolina’s 1899 disfranchisement law mandated
both a literacy test and poll tax to diminish the black vote. It
also provided a “grandfather clause”—a massive loophole—
that exempted males from the literacy test if they could
show that they, their father, or one of their grandfathers had
been qualified to vote in 1867 or before. This was a near
impossibility for black voters in 1899 since in most cases they
or their ancestors had been slaves. Even those who had been
free or had free ancestors could not vote in North Carolina
after 1835. Race is never mentioned in this law, so as not to
violate the 14th and 15th Amendments explicitly.
(Sec. 4.) Every person presenting himself for registration shall
be able to read and write any section of the constitution in the Eng-
lish language and before he shall be entitled to vote he shall have
paid on or before the first day of March of the year in which
Ida B. Wells: “To Tell the Truth Freely”
Born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in1862, Ida B. Wells grew up to become one
of the nation’s best-known black women. In
May 1884, while traveling by train to teach in
Tennessee, Wells confronted the ugly face of
Jim Crow. The conductor demanded that she
leave the first-class car, for which she had
bought a ticket, and move to a second-class
smoking car, a f i l t h y car designated for work-
ing men and black passengers. She refused to
move, and, after a physical struggle, the con-
ductor threw her off the train. Appalled at
her treatment, Wells successfully sued the
Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad on the grounds
that she had paid for a first-class ticket, and
the railroad provided no separate and equal
accommodations for blacks. She won damages
of $500, but her victory was short-lived. Three
years later the Tennessee Supreme Court over-
turned the decision.
The Tennessee Supreme Court’s reversal
would not be the last setback in Wells’s l i f e ,
and it did not stifle her fight for justice. By
1887 she became an editor and part owner of
a small newspaper, the Free Speech, in Memphis.
In 1892, three black businessmen who owned
and operated a Memphis grocery store were
lynched by a mob of whites. Wells concluded
that the only “crime” the black men had com-
mitted was to have successfully competed
against a white-owned grocery store. Reveal-
ing the truth in her newspaper, Wells soon
became the target of white hysteria. While she
was out of town covering a story, an angry
mob wrecked her o ffice and destroyed her
p r i n t i n g press.
Warned that she would be killed if she
returned to Memphis, Wells spent the rest of
her life in the North, but she refused to be
muzzled. As a writer for the New York Age, she
crusaded against lynching in the North and
abroad. Wells also urged black women to
become more involved in community a f f a i r s
and helped found the black clubwomen’s
movement, a national i n i t i a t i v e of women ded-
icated to a broad agenda, including bettering
housing, education, and health care in black
communities as well as waging an ongoing
battle against lynching, Jim Crow, and nega-
tive depictions of black women.
Wells settled in Chicago and married news-
paperman Ferdinand L. Barnett. She fought
against racial discrimination nationwide. In
1909, along with Jane Addams, W E. B. Du
Bois, and others, she attended a conference of
the Niagara Movement, which helped lay the
foundation for the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
he proposes to vote his poll tax as prescribed by law for the previ-
ous year. Poll taxes shall be a lien only on assessed property, and
no process shall issue to enforce the collection of the same except
against assessed property.
(Sec.5) No male person who was on January one, eighteen
hundred and sixty-seven, or at any time prior thereto entitled to
vote under the laws of any state in the United States wherein he
then resided, and no lineal descendant of any such person, shall
be denied the right to register to vote at any election in this state
by reason of his failure to possess the educational qualification
prescribed in section four of this article: Provided, he shall have reg-
istered in accordance with the terms of this section prior to
December one, nineteen hundred and eight. . . .
To ensure white supremacy and black subordination, some
white Southerners resorted to methods outside the law.
Beginning in the 1880s and continuing through the 1890s,
lynchings of blacks increased dramatically. Whites often jus-
tified the brutal torture, hangings, and burnings of black
men by claiming that the men had raped white women and
deserved a horrible death. Ida B. Wells, a black newspaper-
woman, questioned this claim. In the following excerpt
from her autobiography. Wells explains how the lynchings
of three black grocers opened her eyes to the truth. The
grocers, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Lee Stewart,
had successfully competed with a white-owned grocery
store in Memphis.
Like many another person who had read of lynching in the South,
I had accepted the idea meant to be conveyed—that although
lynching was irregular and contrary to law and order, unreasoning
anger over the terrible crime of rape led to the lynching,- that per-
haps the brute deserved death anyhow and the mob was justified
in taking his life.
But Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Lee Stewart had
been lynched in Memphis, one of the leading cities of the South,
in which no lynching had taken place before, with just as much
brutality as other victims of the mob; and they had committed no
crime against white women. This is what opened my eyes to what
lynching really was. An excuse to get rid of Negroes who were
acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized
and “keep the nigger down.” I then began an investigation of every
lynching I read about. I stumbled on the a m a z i n g record that
THE GILED AGE
T H E N E W S O U T H
every case of rape reported in that three months became such only
when it became public. . . . No torture of helpless victims by hea-
then savages or cruel red Indians ever exceeded the cold-blooded
savagery of white devils under lynch law. None of the hideous
murders by butchers of Nero to make a Roman holiday exceeded
these burnings alive of black human beings. This was done by
white men who controlled all the forces of law and order in their
communities and who could have legally punished rapists and mur-
derers, especially black men who had neither political power nor
financial strength with which to evade any justly deserved fate.
The more I studied the situation, the more I was convinced
that the Southerner had never gotten over his resentment that the
Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of
income. The federal laws for Negro protection passed during
Reconstruction times had been made a mockery by the white
South where it had not secured their repeal. This same white
South had secured political control of its several states, and as
soon as white southerners came into power they began to make
playthings of Negro lives and property. This still seemed not
enough to “keep the nigger down.”
Hence came lynch law to stifle Negro manhood. . . .
In the midst of the establishment of Jim Crow laws, disfran-
chisement laws, and lynchings, African Americans struggled
with the question of how to halt worsening race relations.
Blacks in the South embraced different strategies. Booker T.
Washington rose to national prominence by articulating a
strategy of economic development for blacks, who, he
argued, should for the time being forgo politics and integra-
tion. His emphasis on material gain perfectly fit with the
period’s emphasis on economic development. A believer in
self-help, Washington, born a slave in Virginia in 1856, had
worked his way through Hampton Institute, a school estab-
lished by Northern whites after the Civil War. He was named
head of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881. At the
Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Washington made the following
speech, in which he argued that blacks should not press for
political or social equality but slowly gain their rights by
earning the respect of white Southerners through hard
work, frugality, and economic advancement.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and Citi-
Lynching in the South increased dra-
matically in the early 1880s and
then again around 1890, as some
white Southerners attempted to assert
their racial mastery over blacks.
Between 1889 and 1899
nearly 1,200 reported
lynchings of African
Americans occurred in
108 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Behind the Scenes
Historians have discovered that Booker T.Washington’s public statements were
only part of his story. Whereas publicly he
seemed to accept segregation and the disfran-
chisement of black voters, privately he was
involved in a lawsuit challenging the constitu-
tionality of “grandfather clauses,” which
allowed many illiterate whites to vote yet
barred all black voters because their grand-
fathers had not been qualified to vote.
“My experience is that there is some-
thing in human nature which
always makes an individual recog-
nize and reward merit, no matter
under what colour of skin merit is
found,” wrote Booker T. Washington
in Up from Slavery (i90l).
One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race.
No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of this
section can disregard this element of our population and reach the
highest success. . . .
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly
vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal,
“Water, water, we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly ves-
sel at once came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A
second time the signal, “Water, water,- send us water!” ran up from
the distressed vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket
where you are.” And a third and fourth signal for water was
answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of
the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his
bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the
mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race who depend
on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underesti-
mate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the
Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbour, I would
say: “Cast down your bucket where you are”—cast it down in
making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by
whom we are surrounded.
Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in
domestic service, and in the professions. And in this connection it
is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be
called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in
the South that the Negro is given a man’s chance in the commer-
cial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent than
in emphasizing this chance. Our greatest danger is that in the
great leap from slavery to freedom we may overlook the fact that
the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands, and
fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper in proportion as we learn
to dignify and glorify common labour and put brains and skill into
the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we
learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial,
the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. No race can pros-
per till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in
writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not
at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow
To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those
of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of
the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own
T H E N E W S O U T H 109
race, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down among
the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fideli-
ty and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacher-
ous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among
these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your
fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and
brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped
make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of
the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping
and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to
education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy
your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields,
and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the
future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surround-
ed by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful peo-
ple that the world has seen. . . .
Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the
load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward.
We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and
crime of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress,- we
shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosper-
ity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death,
stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the
body politic. . . .
The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of
questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that
progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us
must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of
artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the
markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is impor-
tant and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly
more important that we be prepared for the exercises of these
privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now
is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in
In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has
given us more hope and encouragement, and drawn us so near to
you of the white race, as this opportunity offered by the Exposi-
tion; and here bending, as it were, over the altar that represents
the results of the struggles of your race and mine, both starting
practically empty-handed three decades ago, I pledge that in your
effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has
T H E G I L D E D A G E
laid at the doors of the South, you shall have at all times the
patient, sympathetic help of my race . . . .
Booker T. Washington’s conservative strategy won the
acclaim of many prominent white Americans, including busi-
nessmen Andrew Carnegie and John O. Rockefeller, who lav-
ished Washington’s Tuskegee Institute with financial
support. But some blacks—especially in the North—ques-
tioned Washington’s approach as well as his legitimacy as
spokesman for the black race. W. E. B. Du Bois emerged as
one of Washington’s most scathing critics. Born in Great Bar-
ring ton, Massachusetts, in 1868, Du Bois graduated from Fisk
University in Nashville, studied at the University of Berlin,
and in 1895 became the first African American to earn a doc-
torate at Harvard. He later helped found the National Associ-
ation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in
1909. Du Bois was a professor at Atlanta University when he
wrote a scathing critique of Washington titled, “Of Mr.
Booker T. Washington and Others,” in which Du Bois offered
an alternative strategy for racial progress advocating that
blacks press for the full citizenship rights granted them in
the Constitution. The following is an excerpt.
Mr. Washington represents in Negro thought the old attitude of
adjustment and submission; but adjustment at such a peculiar time
as to make his programme unique. This is an age of unusual eco-
nomic development, and Mr. Washington’s programme naturally
takes an economic cast, becoming a gospel of Work and Money
to such an extent as apparently almost completely to overshadow
the higher aims of life. Moreover, this is an age when the more
advanced races are coming in closer contact with the less devel-
oped races, and the race-feeling is therefore intensified,- and Mr.
Washington’s programme practically accepts the alleged inferior-
ity of the Negro races. . . .
Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at
least for the present, three things—
First, political power,
Second, insistence on civil rights,
Third, higher education of Negro youth—and concentrate all
their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth,
and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been coura-
geously and insistently advocated for over f i f t e e n years and has
T H E N E W S O U T H
been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of
the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there
1. The disfranchisement of the Negro.
2. The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for
3. The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the high-
er training of the Negro.
These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr.
Washington’s teachings/ but his propaganda has, without a shad-
ow of doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment. The question
then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men
can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived
of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most
meagre chance for developing their exceptional men? If history
and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an
emphatic No. And Mr. Washington thus faces the triple paradox
of his career;
1. He is striving nobly to make Negro artisans business men
and property-owners; but it is utterly impossible, under modern
competitive methods, for workingmen and property-owners to
defend their rights and exist without the right of suffrage.
2. He insists on thrift and self-respect but at the same time
counsels a silent submission to civic inferiority such as is bound to
sap the manhood of any race in the long run.
W E. B. Du Boi’s, then a professor
at Wi’Iberforce University in Ohio,
initially praised Booker T. Washing-
ton’s speech al the Atlanta Exposi-
tion in 1895, as this letter indicates.
But both personal and ideological
differences separated the two men by
1903, when Du Bois wrote his
scathing attack on Washington in
“The Souls of Black Folk.”
T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Ragtime Rage
I n the 1890s a new kind of music—ragtime—took the nation by storm. Featuring the syn-
copated rhythms integral to African music,
ragtime (sometimes called “ragged” music
because of its unusual beat) had its roots in the
black South and was popularized by a black
Southerner born in Texarkana, Scott Joplin.
Joplin’s mother taught him to play the banjo;
his father, who had performed as a slave musi-
cian in his master’s house, taught him the
music of elite whites. Joplin also mastered the
piano. Transposing the syncopated banjo
rhythms he had learned as a child to the
piano, he concocted a new kind of music.
With his own band, at the age of 16, Joplin
traveled across east Texas performing ragtime.
By the late 1880s he made St. Louis his home
base and performed extensively in the Mid-
west and North.
Like jazz in the 1920s and rock and roll in
the 1950s, ragtime began as black music but
was soon embraced by white musicians and
audiences as well. Even as segregation laws
separated blacks and whites in public settings
in the 1890s, ragtime music—like rock and
roll in the segregated South of the 1950s—
crossed racial lines, a testament to the interra-
cial nature of American culture.
3. He advocates common-school and industrial training, and
depreciates institutions of higher learning; but neither the Negro
common-schools, nor Tuskegee itself, could remain open a day
were it not for teachers trained in Negro colleges, or trained by
their graduates. . . .
It would be unjust to Mr. Washington not to acknowledge that
in several instances he has opposed movements in the South
which were unjust to the Negro; he sent memorials to the
Louisiana and Alabama constitutional conventions, he has spoken
against lynching, and in other ways has openly or silently set his
influence against sinister schemes and unfortunate happenings.
Notwithstanding this, it is equally true to assert that on the whole
the distinct impression left by Mr. Washington’s propaganda is,
first, that the South is justified in its present attitude toward the
Negro because of the Negro’s degradation; secondly, that the
prime cause of the Negro’s failure to rise more quickly is his wrong
education in the past; and thirdly, that his future rise depends pri-
marily on his own efforts. Each of these propositions is a danger-
ous half-truth. The supplementary truths must never be lost sight
of: first, slavery and race-prejudice are potent if not sufficient
causes of the Negro’s position; second, industrial and common-
school training were necessarily slow in planting because they had
to await the black teachers trained by higher institutions; . . and,
third, while it is a great truth to say that the Negro must strive and
strive mightily to help himself, it is equally true that unless his
striving be not simply seconded, but rather aroused and encour-
aged, by the initiative of the richer and wiser environing group, he
cannot hope for great success.
In his failure to realize and impress this last point, Mr. Wash-
ington is especially to be criticised. His doctrine has tended to
make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro
problem to the Negro’s shoulders and stand aside as critical and
rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to
the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not
our energies to righting these great wrongs. . . .
The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern
and delicate—a forward movement to oppose a part of the work
of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift,
Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up
his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glory-
ing in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead
the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for
T H E N E W S O U T H
injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and
duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinc-
tions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our
brighter minds—so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does
this—we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them. By every civ-
ilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the
world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those great words
which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: “We hold these
truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal,- that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,- that
among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In 1 8 9 9 Scott Joplin wrote his
“Maple Leaf Rag.” Named after a
black social club, the song became a
national hit and ragtime a national
These contrasting images of the
Western homestead reveal the differ-
ence between a Currier and Ives
ideal (above) and reality. Many
settlers started out in sod houses,
built of prairie earth, or dugouts,
such as this Nebraska home built
out of a hillside that provided nat-
ural insulation (left).
rom the time of his birth in the 1830s until
his tragic death in 1890, the gre
Hunkpapa chief Sitting Bull saw his world,
and that of all the Plains Indians, over-
turned. At the time of Sitting Bull’s birth, the
Hunkpapa, one of seven tribes of Lakota peo-
ple—as well as other Native Americans of the
Great Plains—lived as they had for hundreds of
years. Their lives were dictated by the hunt. The
open plains teemed with wildlife. Deer, antelope,
bear, elk, and most importantly, buffalo provided
their food, clothing, and shelter. By the end of his
life, Sitting Bull had been hunted down by the
U.S. government and nearly all Plains Indians rel-
egated to impoverished reservations, their lands
stolen and their sources of food decimated.
Displaying qualities of bravery, spirituality, wisdom, and kindness,
Sitting Bull rose to the position of a tribal chieftain in his early 20s. By
the time he became a chief, he and his people—and all Plains I n d i –
ans—faced a formidable challenge. The wasicbus (white people) began
to move into the West in greater numbers than ever before. Whereas
Plains Indians had dealt with the occasional white trader for years, set-
tlers in the 1850s and 1860s seemed to flood the prairies in waves,
gobbling up Western lands that seemed empty in their eyes.
In 1862 the federal government encouraged migration to the West
when Congress passed the Homestead Act. The act offered free land
to anyone who staked a claim and lived on the land for five years. In
addition, Western settlers could purchase land for only $1.25 per acre
after living on the land for six months. Railroads, funded by the fed-
eral as well as state and local governments, extended their tentacles
from the East and West coasts, and accelerated migration. In 1869 the
transcontinental railroad linked the nation, making the Great Plains
more accessible than ever. As a result migration into the West quick-
ened to an astonishing pace.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Sitting Bull Asks
treaty that the whites have kept
has the red man broken? Not one.
What treaty that the whites ever made with us
red men have they kept? Not one. When I was
a boy the Sioux owned the world. The sun
rose and set on their lands. They sent 10,000
horsemen to battle. Where are the warriors to-
day? Who slew them? Where are our lands?
Who owns them? What white man can say I
ever stole his lands or a penny of his money?
Yet they say I am a thief. What white woman,
however lonely, was ever when a captive
insulted by me? Yet they say 1 am a bad Indi-
an. What white man has ever seen me drunk?
Who has ever come to me hungry and gone
unfed? Who has ever seen me beat my wives
or abuse my children? What law have I bro-
ken? Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it
wicked in me because my skin is red, because I
am a Sioux, because I was born where my
fathers lived, because I would die for my peo-
ple and my country?”
—From Life of Sitting Bull and History
of the Indian War, i 890-9 i
Sitting Bull recognized early on the need to
respect a diversity of cultures when be
remarked: “If the Great Spirit had desired
me to be a white man he would have made
me so in the first place. He put in your
heart certain wishes and plans, and in my
heart he put other and different desires. It is
not necessary for eagles to be crows.”
With its lure of free land and the promise of a new start and
greater opportunity, the West attracted a diverse group of
migrants. In addition to native-born whites who abandoned the
cities, villages, and farms of the East for a fresh beginning in the
West, blacks from the South hoped to escape the racial discrimi-
nation and second-class citizenship that marked their lives in the
South. European immigrants also found the West particularly
attractive. Ethnic enclaves of Norwegians, Swedes, and Germans
sprang up in the towns and villages of the prairies. Moreover,
there was a large Hispanic presence in the West, as the United
States, in 1848, annexed half of Mexico’s territory in the aftermath
of the Mexican-American War. And even though the Chinese
were barred from immigrating after 1882, they contributed to a
considerable Asian population in the West, supplemented by
Japanese immigrants to the West Coast.
As settlers eyed Western lands and the region’s rich natural
resources, they increasingly viewed the Plains Indians as relics
from the past who stood in the way of progress, “civilization,” and
the development of the West.
Sitting Bull, from the beginning, believed that Native Ameri-
cans needed to resist the incursion of settlers on their lands,- this,
he thought, was the only way that they could preserve their cul-
ture and way of life. Some tribes—faced with the overwhelming
number of settlers and tired of conflict with U.S. troops sent West
to protect them—agreed to give up their lands and live on gov-
ernment reservations. Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa refused to do
so. “Indian wars,” as whites called them, raged in the 1860s and
early 1870s. The War Department deployed, on average, 16,000
soldiers in the West in an attempt to subdue “hostile” peoples like
Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa.
By the early 1870s the Indian wars seemed to quiet down. Many
Americans believed that the West was now “won” and the Indian
threat eliminated. But in 1873 news of the discovery of gold in the
Black Hills sparked a rush of would-be millionaires to Dakota Ter-
ritory. Only five years before, the government had signed a treaty
promising Native Americans that the Black Hills would remain Indi-
an territory, off-limits to whites. Greedy miners, with little regard
for the treaty, swarmed into the Black Hills anyway.
Sitting Bull and his people were outraged by the miners’ arro-
gance and blatant disregard of the treaty. The Black Hills, consid-
ered sacred by the Lakota, also served as a food store for the
natives. Sitting Bull formed an alliance with the Cheyenne that
bound the Hunkpapa and Cheyenne to fight the white men
T H E W E S T
who stole their precious lands. By 1876, under pressure from busi-
ness interests and miners, President Ulysses S. Grant declared war
In June 1876, as the U.S. Army tramped through Lakota Ter-
ritory hoping to crush native resistance, Sitting Bull had a vision.
He saw soldiers and horses swarming onto the plains, as abundant
as grasshoppers, attacking Indian villages. But they appeared
upside down on their horses, and the soldiers in the vision had no
ears. Sitting Bull interpreted this vision as a sign of a great Indian
victory to come.
The great victory came on June 25, 1876, when Sitting Bull and
his allies, backed by the largest force of native warriors ever assem-
bled, routed the outnumbered Seventh Cavalry, led by Gen.
George Armstrong Custer, near the Little Big Horn River in south-
ern Montana, killing every soldier of the regiment. Sitting Bull and
his people escaped into Canada, as white Americans and the fed-
eral government, shocked by Custer’s defeat, demanded Sitting
Bull’s head. Demonized in the popular press, Sitting Bull became a
household name, a symbol of Indian resistance and “savagery.”
After five years, in 1881, starving and without adequate cloth-
ing or shelter, Sitting Bull gave himself up to government author-
ities. But he insisted that he did not surrender, only that he expect-
ed the government to return him and his people to their lands in
Dakota Territory, where they could live peacefully. But in the five
years of his exile, Sitting Bull’s world had changed dramatically.
The life that he and his peoples had led in 1876 no longer exist-
ed. Railroads now laced Lakota lands, discharging thousands of
migrants caught up in the Great Dakota Boom of the late 1870s.
Farmsteads and small towns now dotted the prairies once roamed
by the Hunkpapa.
Sitting Bull and his people had few options by 1881. They
could accept reservation life or perish. Reduced to dependency at
the Standing Rock Reservation, Sitting Bull occasionally escaped
the monotony of the reservation by performing with Buffalo Bill’s
Wild West Show before Eastern audiences fascinated with the
romance of the West. The once-powerful chief of the Hunkpapa
was now reduced to playing an Indian for curious audiences who
turned out to see the famous warrior in person.
Despite the indignities he and his people endured, Sitting Bull
still exhibited the streak of resistance that had characterized his
earlier life. In 1887 the federal government undertook a policy of
“Americanizing” Native Americans, hoping to alleviate the “Indian
problem” by integrating native peoples into mainstream society.
An Indian messiah promised the destruction of
whites and a return to the Indians’ lost world
through ghost dancing and the chanting of
songs like these, which were popular in the
late 1880s and 1890s.
We shall live again,
We shall live again.
The sun’s beams are spreading out—He’e’yo’l
The sun’s yellow rays are spreading out—
This is my work—Yo’yoyo’!
All that grows upon the earth is mine—
Says the Father—Yo’yoyo’!
Mother, come home; mother, come home.
My little brother goes about always crying,
My little brother goes about always crying.
Mother, come home; mother come home.
He! They have come back racing,
Why, they say there is to be a buffalo hunt
Why, they say there is to be a buffalo hunt
Make arrows! Make arrows!
Says the father, says the father.
The whole world is coming,
A nation is coming, a nation is coming,
The eagle has brought the message to the
Over the whole earth they are coming;
The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming,
The crow has brought the message to the tribe.
T H E G I L D E D A G E
Most people are familiar only
with the tepee of the Plains
Indians; however, native
peoples built many types of
housing and meeting places in
Blackfeet gather for a sun dance on the
northern plains in 1896. They erected
hundreds of tepees in large circles up to
a mile in circumference.
This plan included the Dawes Act, which attempted to turn Indi-
ans into small farmers and citizens by breaking up tribal lands into
160-acre individual plots. But Sitting Bull vehemently opposed
this policy and encouraged Native Americans to resist this plan.
Sitting Bull and many Plains Indians displayed another burst of
resistance by 1890. Many embraced a messiah who promised that
if natives danced the ghost dance, white people would be
destroyed and the natives’ world would be restored to what it had
been before the whites came. The ghost dance swept across the
prairies. It is unclear whether Sitting Bull was a follower of the
messiah and ghost dance; nevertheless he encouraged his people
to participate in this religious experience. Frightened government
officials, who feared that the ghost dance indicated impending
violence, asked Sitting Bull to call it o f f ; he refused. Indian police-
men working for the U.S. government arrested Sitting Bull in his
tepee on December 14, 1890. Quickly alerted, Sitting Bull’s peo-
ple surrounded him, in an attempt to avert his arrest. In a flurry of
shooting and fighting, Bull Head, an Indian policeman, shot and
killed Sitting Bull.
Only days later, the 19th-century Indian wars ended symboli-
cally at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Alarmed by the news of
Sitting Bull’s murder, a group of several hundred Lakota, led by Big
Foot, fled from their reservation. Intercepted by federal troops
attempting to force them back to their reservation, approximate-
ly 200 Native Americans—mostly women, children, and the
elderly—died in yet another flurry of gunfire.
This walled pueblo in Taos,
New Mexico, around 1880 shows
a block five stories high.
Sitting Bull’s story illustrates many of the tensions and conflicts
that characterized the West in the Gilded Age. Like the South, the
West remained a distinctive region even as a site of the major cur-
rents of the United States in the Gilded Age. Peopled with Native
Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics, native-born whites, and
a variety of European immigrants, the West was the most ethni-
cally diverse section of the nation. Romanticized as a land of indi-
vidualism, opportunity, and refuge, it also was a land of violent
racial and cultural conflict and exploitation. Just as social Darwin-
ism was used in the East to justify the economic exploitation of
European immigrants and the amassing of huge fortunes, the the-
ory was invoked to rationalize the conquering of “unfit,” “primi-
tive” natives, as the “fittest” and most “advanced” peoples contin-
ued their “inevitable” march of progress across the prairies.
Not only did Native Americans continue to lose their lands in
the Gilded Age, but Hispanics in the Southwest also lost millions
of acres of land through fraud and an unsympathetic legal system.
When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, thousands of
Mexicans found themselves living as foreigners in their own land.
With the American victory, Mexico ceded half of its territory to
the United States, including what would become the states of Cal-
ifornia, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. As borders drastical-
ly shifted, most Mexicans remained on their lands.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-
American War in 1848, promised all Mexicans who stayed in the
Southwest “all the rights of citizens of the United States,” includ-
ing protection of their property. But in the Gilded Age, these peo-
ple and their descendants lost millions of acres through deceit and
This earth lodge, which stood
near lone, California, was the site
of community ceremonies.
T H E W E S T 119
Serving in the U.S. Army provided opportu-nity for black men in the West. Dubbed
“Buffalo Soldiers” by Native Americans who
likened the soldiers’ short, curly hair to that of
their beloved buffalo, black soldiers, like their
white counterparts, participated in wars
against the Indians, served as couriers, and
guarded forts and Western outposts. The black
Ninth and Tenth Cavalry comprised 20 per-
cent of all U.S. Cavalry in the West.
In an era of intense racial discrimination
and violence, the army provided security and a
steady income. One black army chaplain
encouraged recruitment by arguing that the
army “is a good chance for our folks—a better
chance than they have almost anywhere, much
better than they have in the South.” Yet even
the army failed to provide a safe haven for
black soldiers/ they regularly faced racial
attacks and indignities—even from the people
they risked their lives to protect. In Jacksboro,
Texas, for example, a white murdered a black
soldier and then killed two more black soldiers
who came to arrest him. He was then found
not guilty. Blacks also were not allowed to
become officers, and black regiments were
issued secondhand and broken-down equip-
ment, often cast off from white units.
Despite second-class treatment, the Buffalo
Soldiers repeatedly distinguished themselves.
Eleven black soldiers earned the Medal of
Honor for their service in the West. Black units
also had exceptionally high reenlistment rates
and unusually low desertion rates, especially
when compared to white units in the West.
While assigned to Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, in the early 1980s, Gen. Colin Powell
became curious about the Buffalo Soldiers who
had, 100 years before, served at the Kansas
outpost. After researching their invaluable con-
tributions, Powell recalled, “I believed I had a
duty to those black troops who had eased my
way. Building a memorial to the Buffalo Sol-
diers became my personal crusade. . . . Those
troops had suffered second-class treatment
after serving as first-class fighting men.” Powell
was “determined that the Buffalo Soldiers were
finally going to go first class.” In July 1992
thousands of people, including General Powell
and a handful of elderly veteran Buffalo Sol-
diers, gathered at Fort Leavenworth to dedicate
an 18-foot statue of a Buffalo Soldier on horse-
back, a permanent memorial to the black sol-
diers of the West.
unsympathetic courts. Mexican-owned lands were sometimes sold
fraudulently or claimed by squatters, sparking years of legal battles.
The burden for proving land ownership fell on Hispanic claimants,
who soon found out that Spanish land grants and deeds often did
not contain the precise and accurate descriptions demanded in
U.S. courts as proof of legitimate titles. Moreover, courts and the
state officials in charge of processing land claims, almost always
Anglos, were seldom sympathetic to the cause of the Hispanic
claimants. Even if Hispanic landowners successfully navigated an
unsympathetic legal system, they often lost their land anyway, as
they were forced to sell it to pay exorbitant legal fees.
Big business, the hallmark of the period, flourished in the
West, in the form of powerful railroads, and in massive cattle and
mining interests—all of which connected the regional economy
to that of the East as well as the growing international economy.
Technology, in the form of mechanized farm equipment like the
McCormick reaper and the refrigerated railroad car, transformed
the West as it did the rest of the nation. In addition, just as the
nation became increasingly urban, so did the West. Despite the
region’s image as a land of open spaces, almost 40 percent of
Westerners lived in an urban setting by 1900.
Sitting Bull and native peoples lost their world in the Gilded
Age, but Native Americans did not disappear. In 1890, the year of
Sitting Bull’s death, only about 250,000 Native Americans
remained. But 100 years later, in 1990, the federal government
recognized 2 million of its citizens as Native Americans. Despite
governmental policies and social and economic transformations
aimed at obliterating them during the Gilded Age, Native Ameri-
cans survived, their culture resilient even in a hostile era.
An Indian Victory
News of George Armstrong Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn
and the demise of the entire Seventh Cavalry caught the
nation by surprise. Most Americans assumed in 1876 that the
Indian wars were over and the Native Americans were suc-
cessfully subdued. Moreover news of Custer’s crushing
defeat filtered back around July 4, 1876, just as Americans
celebrated the nation’s centennial. The following is a com-
ment on Little Big Horn from the July 7, 1876, New York
Times, which stressed the “savagery” and “cunning” of
“wild Indians” like Sitting Bull.
120 THE GILDED AGE
T H E W E S T
[The] overwhelming defeat of Custer’s command and the butch-
ery of this gallant commander and his men, will produce both
astonishment and alarm. We have latterly fallen into the habit of
regarding the Indians yet remaining in a wild or semi-subdued
state as practically of very little account. It is only now and then
when some such outburst . . . comes like a shock, that we realize
the character of the Indian and the difficulties of the situation. Sit-
ting Bull’s band of Sioux left their reservation with hostile intent.
They refused negotiations for peace. They defied the power and
authority of the United States. They invited war. A force was sent
against them. This force became divided, and Gen. Custer, with
five companies, coming up to the main body of the Sioux,
attacked them impetuously, without waiting for the support of the
remainder of the column. The result was that the entire body of
men, numbering between three and four hundred, and including
Gen. Custer and several other commissioned officers fell into a
death-trap,- they were overwhelmed by superior numbers, and
were all slaughtered. The precise particulars of that horrible cata-
strophe will never be known. There are no survivors. The course
of the detachment, after it began the attack, is traced only by the
bodies of the slain. How gallantly these poor fellows fought can
only be surmised. The Indians carried off some of their dead and
wounded/ others were concealed . . .with Indian cunning, in order
that the white man should not know how much damage they had
suffered. . . .
. . .The Indians who have just wrought this bloody revenge are
nominally on reservations. They have refused to stay there, and
the expedition intended to chastise them and compel them to
return has met with frightful disaster. The victory of the savages
will inflame the border, and restless tribes will be impatient to
share in the glory suddenly achieved by Sitting Bull and his
braves. Year after year, the wild Indians have been hemmed in,-
they fight with no less desperation for that; and, now that we have
been defeated in a considerable engagement, defensive tactics
must precede the operations necessary for the chastisement of so
dangerous and determined a foe.
The New York Times and other newspapers romanticized
Custer—called “Long Hair” by Native Americans—and the
Seventh Cavalry, and demonized Sitting Bull and other Native
American warriors. But Two Moons, who participated in the
Battle of Little Big Horn, offered a different perspective. In
1898 he told his story to a reporter from McClure’s Magazine.
Black soldiers, serving in segregated
units, played a major role in military
actions in the American West. Some
whites Questioned the abilities of black
soldiers, but Western artist Frederic
Remington, who observed them in
action, had nothing but praise: “As to
their bravery, he wrote, “I am often
asked, ‘Will theyfight7’ That is easi-
ly answered. They have fought many,
many times. . . . ”
T H E G I L D E D A G E
About May, when the grass was tall and the horses strong, we
broke camp and started across the country to the mouth of the
Tongue River. . . .
From there we all went over the divide, and camped in the val-
ley of Little Horn. Everybody thought, “Now we are out of the
white man’s country. He can live there, we will live here. . . . ” We
were very glad to think we were far away from the white man.
I went to water my horses at the creek, and washed them off
with cool water, then took a swim myself. I came back to the camp
afoot. When I got near my lodge, I looked up the Little Horn
towards Sitting Bull’s camp. I saw a great dust rising. It looked like
a whirlwind. Soon Sioux horseman came rushing into camp shout-
ing: “Soldiers come! Plenty white soldiers.” . . .
I said, “All right, I am ready.”
I got on my horse, and rode out into my camp. I called out to
the people all running about: “I am Two Moon, your chief. Don’t
run away. Stay here and fight. You must stay and fight the white
soldiers. I shall stay even if I am to be killed.”
1 rode swiftly toward Sitting Bull’s camp. There I saw the white
soldiers fighting in a line [Reno’s men]. Indians covered the f l a t .
They began to drive the soldiers—all mixed up—Sioux, then sol-
diers, then more Sioux, and all shooting. The air was full of smoke
and dust. I saw the soldiers fall back and drop into the river-bed
like buffalo fleeing. They had no time to look for a crossing. The
Sioux chased them up the h i l l , where they met more soldiers in
wagons, and then messengers came saying more soldiers were
going to kill the women, and the Sioux turned back. . . .
While I was sitting on my horse I saw flags come up over the
hill to the east like that [he raised his finger-tips]. Then the sol-
diers rose all at once, all on horses, like this [he put his fingers
behind each other to indicate that Custer appeared marching in
columns of fours]. . . .
Then the Sioux rode up the ridge on all sides, riding very fast.
The Cheyennes went up the left way. Then the shooting was
quick, quick. Pop-pop-pop—very fast. Some of the soldiers were
down on their knees, some standing. Officers all in front. The
smoke was like a great cloud, and everywhere the Sioux went the
dust rose like smoke. We circled all round him—swirling like
water round a stone. We shoot, we ride fast, we shoot again. . . .
Indians keep swirling round and round, and the soldiers killed
only a few. Many soldiers f e l l . At last all horses killed but five. Once
in a while some man would break out and run toward the river, but
he would f a l l . At last about a hundred men and five horsemen
T H E W E S T 123
stood on the hill all bunched together. All along the bugler kept
blowing his commands. He was very brave too. Then a chief was
killed. I hear it was Long Hair [Custer], I don’t know …. One man
all alone ran far down toward the river, then round up over the
hill. I thought he was going to escape, but a Sioux fired and hit
him in the head. He was the last man. He wore braid on his arms
All the soldiers were now killed, and the bodies were stripped.
After that no one could tell which were officers. The bodies were
left where they fell. We had no dance that night. We were sor-
Next day four Sioux chiefs and two Cheyennes and I, Two
Moon, went upon the battlefield to count the dead. One man car-
ried a little bundle of sticks. When we came to dead men, we took
a little stick and gave it to another man, so we counted the dead.
There were 388. There were thirty-nine Sioux and seven
Cheyennes killed, and about a hundred wounded. . . .
The eruption of Indian resistance in the mid-1870s provoked
a reassessment of the U.S. government’s Indian policy.
Friends of the Indian, an organization of Eastern middle-
class reformers, lobbied for what they believed was a more
humane policy. Hoping to save Indians from what they
feared would be certain extermination, reformers called for
a program of assimilation, to “Americanize” them. The fed-
eral government, at the behest of reformers, established
boarding schools for Indian children. Taken from reserva-
tions at an early age, Indian children were to be educated in
the ways of white society. They were expected to cast off all
trappings of their culture—including their long hair, cloth-
ing, language, and name—and to learn English, a trade, and
white society’s ways.
The process of whitening Indian children was often cruel
and painful. Some resisted the process, refusing to cooper-
ate with their teachers. Others ran away, and many died of
diseases caught from whites. Zitkala-Sa (Redbird; also
known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin), was born at the Yank-
ton, South Dakota, Sioux Agency to an Indian mother and a
white father who deserted his family. She left her reserva-
tion at the age of eight for a boarding school in Indiana. A
writer and activist, she returned to her home as an adult and
E ducator and former military officer RichardHenry Pratt established the first Indian
boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School in
Pennsylvania, in 1879. It served as the model
for an additional 25 government-sponsored
schools established as part of the Americani-
zation program. Pratt described the process of
Americanizing native children as a means to
“kill the Indian and save the man.”
“Before” and “after” photos of Tom Torleno, a
Navajo who attended the Carlisle Indian
School in Pennsylvania. Richard Henry
Pratt, head of the school, took many such
photographs, which he used to garner support
for his efforts. After their experience at
schools like Carlisle, many Native Americans
felt that they belonged in neither the native
nor the white world. They faced rejection on
their reservations because of their white ways
and found a lack of acceptance in white soci-
ety—even after the Americanization process.
124 T H E G I L D E D A G E
To many settlers, the resources ofthe West seemed limitless. In the
Gilded Age, the buffalo (American
bison) nearly became extinct. Buffalo
were destroyed by hunters on shoot-
ing expeditions, who often let carcass-
es rot in the sun, and by soldiers, who
saw its destruction as a means to
exterminate Plains Indians, who
depended on the animal for food,
clothing, and shelter. Railroad owners
also encouraged destruction of buffalo
to increase agricultural production, so
that farmers would buy railroad lands.
This photograph, taken in 1878,
shows 40,000 buffalo hides in
Rath & Wright’s hide yard, Dodge
City, Kansas. Historians estimate
that in 1 8 6 5 , 10 million buffalo
freely roamed the p l a i n s , by 1890,
the buffalo population had been
reduced to 1,000.
devoted her life to bettering the conditions of reservation
Indians. She was the author of numerous essays, short sto-
ries, and musical compositions. In this excerpted article, pub-
lished in the Atlantic Monthly in 1900, she describes the
decision to attend a boarding school and the Americanizing
process she underwent.
From some of my playmates I heard that two paleface missionar-
ies were in our village. They were from that class of white men
who wore big hats and carried large hearts, they said. Running
direct to my mother, I began to question her why these two
strangers were among us. She told me, after I had teased much,
that they had come to take away Indian
boys and girls to the East. My mother did
not seem to want me to talk about them.
Thus my mother discouraged my
curiosity about the lands beyond our east-
ern horizon. . . . But on the following day
the missionaries did come to our very
house. . . .
Judewin had told me of the great tree
where grew red, red apples and how we
could reach out our hands and pick all the
red apples we could eat. I had never tasted
more than a dozen red apples in my life;
and when I heard of the orchards of the
East, I was eager to roam among them. The missionaries smiled
into my eye and patted my head. I wondered how Mother could
say such hard words against them.
“Mother, ask them if little girls may have all the red apples they
want, when they go East,” I whispered aloud, in my excitement.
The interpreter heard me and answered: “Yes, little girl, the
nice red apples are for those who pick them, and you will have a
ride on the iron horse if you go with these good people.”
I had never seen a train, and he knew it.
“Mother, I’m going East! I like big red apples, and I want to ride
on the iron horse! Mother, say yes!” I pleaded.
My mother said nothing. The missionaries waited in silence;
and my eyes began to blur with tears, though I struggled to choke
them back. The corners of my mouth twitched, and my mother
“I am not ready to give you any word,” she said to them. ‘To-
morrow I shall send you my answer by my son. . . . ”
T H E W E S T 125
The next morning came, and my mother called me to her side.
“My daughter, do you still persist in wishing to leave your moth-
er?” she asked.
“Oh, mother, it is not that I wish to leave you, but I want to see
the wonderful Eastern land,” I answered.
My dear old aunt came to our house that morning, and I heard
her say, “Let her try it.”
I hoped that, as usual, my aunt was pleading on my side. My
brother Dawee came for mother’s decision. I dropped my play and
crept close to my aunt.
“Yes, Dawee, my daughter, though she does not understand
what it all means, is anxious to go. She will need an education
when she is grown, for then there will be fewer real Dakotas, and
many more palefaces. This tearing her away, so young, from her
mother is necessary, if I would have her an educated woman. The
palefaces, who owe us a large debt for stolen lands, have begun to
pay a tardy justice in offering some education to our children. But
I know my daughter must suffer keenly in this experiment. For her
sake, I dread to tell you my reply to the missionaries. Go, tell them
that they may take my little daughter, and that the Great Spirit
shall not fail to reward them according to their hearts. . . . ”
Upon her arrival to the white man’s school, Zitkala-Sa found
her experience to be very different from what she expected.
I had arrived in the wonderful land of rosy skies, but I was not
happy, as I had thought I should be. My long travel and bewilder-
ing sights had exhausted me. I fell asleep, heaving deep, tired sobs.
My tears were left to dry themselves in streaks, because neither
my aunt nor my mother was near to wipe them away. . . .
Late in the morning, my friend Judewin gave me a terrible
warning. Judewin knew a few words of English; and she had over-
heard the paleface woman talk about cutting our long, heavy hair.
Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were
captured had their hair shingled by the enemy. Among our people,
short hair was worn by mourners and shingled hair by cowards!
We discussed our fate some moments, and when Judewin said,
“We have to submit, because they are strong,” I rebelled.
“No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!” I answered.
I watched my chance, and when no one noticed I disappeared.
I crept up the stairs as quietly as I could in my squeaking shoes—
my moccasins had been exchanged for shoes. Along the hall I
passed, without knowing whither I was going. Turning aside to an
John Muir and the
Naturalists such as John Muir helped sparkinterest in preserving what was left of the
nation’s precious wilderness. Muir published
300 articles and 10 major books describing his
travels in the U.S. wilderness. Seizing the
imagination of many Americans, his writings
generated massive public support for the estab-
lishment of national parks and the conservation
of America’s forests. In 1892, John Muir and his
supporters established the Sierra Club, which
aimed, in Muir’s words, to “do something for
wildness and make the mountains glad.” Muir
helped establish Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petri-
fied Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks.
He also played a key role in the establishment
of national forests.
Loggers showed little concern for the
trees they felled, in this case, an ancient
sequoia. This kind of thoughtless
destruction of massive redwoods led con-
servationists like John Muir to demand
federal action to protect some of Ameri-
ca’s ancient forests and wilderness in the
126 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The construction of railroads trans-
formed the American West, discharging
settlers, creating towns and villages,
and linking the West to eastern markets.
Here the citizens of Anthony, Kansas,
celebrate the start of construction of the
Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient
Railroad in May 1901.
open door, I found a large room with three white beds in it. The
windows were covered with dark green curtains, which made the
room very dim. Thankful that no one was there, I directed my steps
toward the corner farthest from the door. On my hands and knees
I crawled under the bed, and cuddled myself in the dark corner.
From my hiding place I peered out, shuddering with fear when-
ever I heard footsteps nearby. Though in the hall loud voices were
calling my name, and 1 knew that even Judewin was searching for
me, I did not open my mouth to answer. Then the steps were
quickened and the voices became excited. The sounds came near-
er and nearer. Women and girls entered the room. I held my
breath, and watched them open closet doors and peep behind
large trunks. Some one threw up the curtains, and the room was
filled with sudden light. What caused them to stoop and look
under the bed I do not know. I remember being dragged out,
though I resisted by kicking and scratching wildly. In spite of
myself, I was carried downstairs and tied fast in a chair.
I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until I felt the cold
blades of the scissors against my neck, and heard them gnaw off
one of my thick braids. Then I lost my spirit. Since the day 1 was
taken from my mother I had suffered extreme indignities. People
had stared at me. I had been tossed about in the air like a wooden
puppet. And now my long hair was shingled like a coward’s! In my
anguish I moaned for my mother, but no one came to comfort
me. Not a soul reasoned quietly with me, as my own mother
used to do; for now I was only one of many little animals driven
by a herder.
T H E W E S T 127
In 1853 Phoebe Judson left her home in Ohio and traveled
west to Oregon Territory with her husband. By the 1870s they
had settled in the remote Nooksack Valley in Washington
Territory. Judson published a memoir in 1925 titled A Pio-
neer’s Search for an Ideal Home. The following excerpt
reveals the chronic loneliness and special challenges faced
by pioneer women.
No one but those who have spent years isolated from the outside
world, debarred from frequent mail privileges, can understand the
peculiar excitement produced by the arrival of long delayed mail.
When an Indian made his appearance with the much coveted
treasure, some one would wind the old “ox horn,” and soon I
would see Mr. Judson come tumbling over the fence, for no mat-
ter how pressing the work, when the mail signal reached his ears,
it was dropped right then and there. Everything else was forgot-
ten in the intellectual enjoyment, from which we could scarcely
tear ourselves away to attend to pressing duties, or to secure nec-
essary repose. . . .
When living in our Chehalis home, I thought a mile a long dis-
tance to be separated for my nearest neighbor; but now I was
twenty miles away from any white woman. I never could have
endured the wearing loneliness without the diversion of our good
literature. My dreams were filled with visions of old friends and
visits to familiar scenes. . . .
I so often longed for the companionship of womankind that I
often took my sewing and sat by old Sally’s campfire, trying to
imagine I was visiting some old friend, talking to her to the limit-
ed extent of my “Chinook” vocabulary and taking notes of the
Indian method of family government. . . .
Annie wrote that she and her husband were going to attend
the state fair at Salem, Oregon, and invited me to accompany
them, which I decided to do, and visit my mother who had, after
my father’s death, moved to Forest Grove, Oregon, to educate her
boys. . .
My heart was filled with conflicting emotions as I viewed the
familiar scenes I had left so reluctantly three years before. I loved
Olympia — my life there had been very pleasant. . . .
I looked across to Swantown, dear Lucretia’s home. Sweet
memories of bygone days were before me, mingled with dark
This broadside promotes railroad
lands for purchase in the West.
Blacks and whites alike took
advantage of such opportunities.
128 T H E G I L D E D A G E
clouds of sorrow and pain. Standing on the steamer’s deck, my
overcharged heart found relief in a flood of tears. With the scene
of so many pleasant recollections lying before me, I realized with
painful intensity the utter loneliness of my life on the river.
Western states were the first to grant women the right to
vote long before women nationally gained voting rights in
1920. Wyoming Territory granted full suffrage to women in
1869 (a right preserved when the territory became a state in
1890). Colorado, Utah, and Idaho also allowed women to
vote by the mid-1890s. In the following excerpt, Judson
recounts how the political activism of women in Washing-
ton—as they cast their ballots for local option to shut down
saloons—eventually led to their loss of the ballot.
For four years, from 1883 to 1887, the territory of Washington
enjoyed impartial suffrage. I took my turn on petit and grand
jury, served on election boards, walked in perfect harmony to
the polls by the side of my staunch Democratic husband, and
voted the Republican ticket—not feeling any more out of my
sphere than when assisting my husband to develop the resources
of our country.
At the polls, men were respectful,- voting places were kept clean
and free from loafers. The women, as a rule, allowed character,
rather than party, to influence their votes. Party spirit ran high, but
the women worked nobly, leaving no stone unturned, and during
the four years local option carried in Lynden. It was not because of
failure, by any means, that we were deprived of equal rights, for it
was a grand success/ in so much that a prominent politician
remarked that if the women were allowed the ballot they would be
compelled to nominate good, competent men for office, and so we
were disenfranchised, except in menial service. . . .
Oh, yes, Uncle Sam was very liberal in allowing us equal rights
with the sterner sex in taking up land, paying taxes, and sharing in
their perils and labors,- but when it comes to covering this fair land
(which we have so dearly purchased and helped to make blossom
like the rose) with licensed saloons, we have no voice in the mat-
ter. He would have us bear the disgrace, poverty, and heartrend-
ing sorrow in silent tears, without protest.
Better far a log cabin in the primeval forests, surrounded by
savages and wild animals, than a palace with all its luxuries, shad-
owed by this dreadful “hydra-headed monster, rum.”
129T H E W E S T
In 1879 alone, roughly 6,000 Southern blacks, largely from
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, migrated west, to Kansas.
Called Exodusters, these migrants, like their white counter-
parts, hoped to purchase land and own farmsteads in the
West. But unlike whites they were also escaping the second-
class citizenship and racial terrorism that defined their lives
in the South.
In 1880 Col. Frank H. Fletcher, a representative of the
Executive Committee of the Freedmen’s State Central Orga-
nization, traveled to Kansas to investigate the black exodus.
The following are excerpts from his report, which included
these interviews with migrants Nancy Guptil, Mrs. William
Ray, and Richard Coutcher. Their stories reveal how and why
they left the South and provide insight into the new lives
they created in the West.
Nancy Guptil “Came from Middle Tennessee. Heard neighbors
talking of Kansas two or three years. We received two or three cir-
culars that told about Kansas. I lived with a white man who took
Kansas papers. There are not many such white men in the South.
I find things here a heap better than I expected. We have forty
acres. We came last May. We built our house in the fall. My hus-
band finds enough work around here to sup-
port us. We had plenty of supplies to live on
through the winter. We got them by working
for white neighbors. Politics never pestered us
at the South, but the people took all we made.
People treats us better here than they did there
because they is willing to pay us what we work
for. Before I came we had letters about this
country from a son-in-law at Topeka. We have
a prayer-meeting every Wednesday night, and
every two weeks of a Sunday in my house. Am
a Baptist. I wouldn’t go back for nothing. . . . All
my people are mighty well satisfied here.” . . .
Mrs. William Ray: “Came from Texas in a
wagon of our own,- stopped a while at Fort
Scott. We left Texas because they treated us so
bad. They took out my husbands brother-in-
law and shot him three times in the face. They
The Shores family of Custer County,
Nebraska, pose before their sod house in
the late i880s, a proud example of
strength, determination, and the fulfilled
promise of a new life in the West.
130 T H E G I L D E D A G E
As they lost ground economi-
cally, Mexican Americans saw
their political influence decline
in the Gilded Age. Poll taxes
and other legal obstacles
meant to keep black men from
voting also barred Mexican-
American men from voting in
came after my husband one night and made him give up his pistol.
They took out my aunt and cut her because she would not tell
them where her son was. We have been on this place between four
and five years. We have a hundred and sixty acres. My husband
hires help.” At this point the husband, who had been ploughing in
an adjoining field with two other men, came up and continued the
narration,- “Last year I raised five hundred and sixty bushels of corn,
fifty bushels of wheat, one hundred and sixty bushels of oats, and
two hundred and fifty bushels of potatoes. … I have now seven
horses, twenty hogs, and eight head of cattle. My children are
learning to read and write. They go to the same school with the
whites. We have church and Sunday-school in the schoolhouse.
We are Baptists. … I came here with only one pair of horses and
a wagon. I had no tools. I arrived in Kansas with fifty cents. I made
a horse trade after I got to the State, and got fifteen dollars boot.
That was my start. . . . ”
Richard Coutcber: “I came from Hines County, Miss. I think we
can raise as good crops here as we can down South. I have a claim
of forty acres: four of us have a hundred and sixty acres. I think
this is a very fine country. If colored people can only get here and
get started they can do well. … All are well and have been late-
ly. Those who were sick when they started have got well. Some
have taken colds, but none have colds now. There is just as fine a
people here, so far as I have experienced, as I could hope to see. I
would not go back South unless I was forced to. … The colored
people have got so that they are afraid for their lives to live there.
They have come away from there because they can’t live there.
The white people have sworn they will kill the last one of us if we
don’t vote with them, and they are killing us so fast, I thought I
would get away while I could. . . . ”
Mexican Americans Fight Back
After the Mexican-American War ended, conflicts over land
rights were especially fierce in New Mexico. Courts there
handed over to whites four-fifths (over 35 million acres) of
land once owned by Mexicans or Mexican Americans. Hispanic
land titles granted property to both large and small landhold-
ers; in addition, the titles granted the right to share range
lands with adjacent property owners, crucial to small land-
holders for grazing animals. To fight this subversion of their
rights, Mexican Americans formed a secret organization.
T H E W E S T 131
known as Las Gorras Blancas (The White Caps). They attempted
to protect their lands and traditional land rights through guer-
rilla warfare. They cut fences and telegraph lines, destroyed
railroad ties, and set fire to ranches. The following is a plat-
form of The White Caps, detailing their grievances concerning
land claims in San Miguel County, New Mexico. It first appeared
in the Las Vegas Optic on March 12,1890.
Our purpose is to protect the rights and interests of the people in
general and especially those of the helpless classes.
We want the Las Vegas Grant settled to the benefit of all con-
cerned, and this we hold is the entire community within the Grant.
We want no “land grabbers” or obstructionists of any sort to
We will watch them.
We are not down on lawyers as a class, but the usual knavery
and unfair treatment of the people must be stopped.
Our judiciary hereafter must understand that we will sustain it
only when “Justice” is its watchword.
We are down on race issues, and we will watch race agitators.
We favor irrigation enterprises but will fight any scheme that
tends to monopolize the supply of water sources to the detriment
of residents living on lands watered by the same streams.
The people are suffering from the effects of partisan “bossism,”
and these bosses had better quietly hold their peace. The people
have been persecuted and hauled about in every which way to sat-
isfy their caprices.
We must have a free ballot and fair
court, and the will of the Majority
shall be respected.
We have no grudge against any
person in particular, but we are the
enemies of bulldozers and tyrants.
If the old system should continue,
death would be a relief to our suffer-
ing. And for our rights our lives are
the least we can pledge.
If the fact that we are law-abiding
citizens is questioned, come out to
our houses and see the hunger and
desolation we are suffering,- and “this”
is the result of the deceitful and cor-
rupt methods of “bossism.”
Job Status Lost
The loss of land to whites in the Southwesthad dire economic and social conse-
quences for Hispanic peoples. This chart
reflects a downturn in the employment status
of Texas’s rural Mexican population from
1850 to 1900.
These miners of Mexican descent
worked in Arizona. Without land,
many Mexican Americans found them-
selves reduced to wage work, as day
laborers, farm laborers, miners, and
In this political cartoon from 1896,
William Jennings Bryan straddles
the three parties that nominated him
as their candidate for President: the
People’s Party (Populists), the
Democratic Party, and the Free
Silver Party. Bryan’s candidacy
reflected the deep discontent of
farmers and their faith in the
unlimited coinage of silver as a
solution to their economic problems.
n 1889 Tom Watson, a lawyer and owner of a large amount of land
in Georgia, summed up the quandary of many American farmers.
“We are told,” he wrote, “in the splendid phraseology of silver-
tongued orators from the city that our country is absolutely
smothered under the plenteous flow of milk and honey of another
Canaan.” Yet, noted Watson, “our newspapers are absolutely crowded
with advertisements of sheriff’s sales.” As many as 200 farms went on
the auction block in a single day, as farmers lost their land to pay their
debts. “There is no romance in having twenty-five per cent upon our
money,” Watson wearily explained, “no romance in being fleeced by a
fifty per cent t a r i f f , no romance in seeing other classes and other prop-
erties exempted from taxation, and realizing fabulous dividends upon
their investments, when the lands are taxed to their uttermost dollar
and farming has paid no dividend since the war.”
Many Americans criticized the injustices of the Gilded Age,
including urban reformers and industrial laborers who voiced their
concerns about a United States that seemed increasingly removed
from the principles of its founding. But the most thorough and pow-
erful critique came not from the nation’s teeming cities but from the
countryside, not from urban radicals but from farmers, often consid-
ered to be among the most conservative Americans.
In the 1880s and 1890s, in response to their worsening economic
condition and declining status, America’s farmers mounted a nation-
wide political movement aimed at establishing economic justice. They
argued that they, as producers, had the right to the fruits of their labor.
Bankers, merchants, the railroads, and “middlemen,” farmers main-
tained, benefited from their hard work, leaving them destitute. By
organizing collectively, farmers hoped to seize the inordinate power
wielded by bankers and industrialists and restore it to “the people.”
Tom Watson personally experienced and witnessed a dramatic
decline in the status and independence of Southern farmers. The son
of a wealthy antebellum planter, Watson had seen his own family’s for-
134 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Colored Alliance of farmers aimed to
alleviate problems specific to its member-
ship, individuals and families such as
these sharecroppers. In 1891 the Alliance
initiated a strike of cotton pickers in an
attempt to increase their wages from 50
cents to a dollar a day. Violence flared on
several plantations in East Texas; 17 cot-
ton pickers and a white plantation man-
ager died. The strike’s failure irreparably
damaged the Colored Alliance in the
South, as membership fell sharply.
tunes plummet dramatically after the Civil War.
Though he managed to attend college for sever-
al years, establish a prosperous law practice, and
eventually accumulate 3,000 acres of Georgia
farmland, Watson nonetheless felt deeply trou-
bled by the hard times he observed in the coun-
tryside. As New South cities, like Atlanta,
crowed about progress and prosperity, Watson
saw little but desperation and suffering among
Southern farmers, once proud and indepen-
dent, found themselves entangled in the web of
the crop lien system, which emerged after the
Civil War. The crop lien system, in the words of
one Southern historian, “converted the Southern
economy into a vast pawnshop.” Cash poor after
the war, farmers depended upon local merchants
to extend them credit for tools, seed, and fertil-
izer—and even food—as they planted their
fields in cotton, the crop that had brought them
prosperity before the war. In return, as security
for the farmers’ credit, merchants placed a lien on
the upcoming crop. If cotton brought the antici-
pated price on the market, the farmer simply
paid off his loan to the merchant. But cotton
prices dropped precipitously after the Civil War,
owing to overproduction in the South and for-
eign competition. Cotton brought $1 a pound
after the war. In the 1880s a farmer could expect to receive nine
cents a pound,- by the 1890s, seven-cent cotton was the norm. Year
after year—as cotton prices plunged—farmers found themselves
increasingly indebted to merchants. And until he paid his debt, the
farmer remained dependent upon the merchant for all of his pur-
chases, including food and clothing. Throughout the South mer-
chants acquired notorious reputations for gouging farmers, charg-
ing them exorbitant prices, and exploiting their suffering. Unable
to pay their debts, farmers lost their land.
In the West, the farmers’ situation was hardly better. Wheat
prices, like those of Southern cotton, declined in the Gilded Age.
While a bushel of wheat in 1866 sold for $ 1.45, by the mid-1880s,
it sold for 80 cents and by the 1890s, 49 cents. Mechanization and
the cultivation of additional Western land led to overproduction.
Foreign competition also conspired to drive down prices. As
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 135
prices dropped, other costs—such as storage and transportation—
remained the same or even increased. Like farmers in the South,
Westerners found their hard work repaid with foreclosures and the
loss of their independence. Railroads, monopolies that charged
exorbitant prices to ship goods to market, bankers, who charged
high interest rates for loans, and middlemen, who profited hand-
somely for selling farmers’ products, all became the targets of frus-
trated Western farmers.
In both the South and West, farmers looked for answers.
Something was desperately wrong. Once considered the back-
bone of the nation, farmers now struggled to feed and clothe
their families. At the same time they saw other Americans accu-
mulating fortunes. The United States was becoming, as politi-
cized farmers would contend by 1896, “a nation of tramps and
millionaires.” And—most frustrating of all—no one beyond the
countryside seemed to care. Politicians ignored farmers’ pleas for
reform. City people dismissed country people as “hayseeds” and
“rubes,” laughable and quaint, the antithesis of Gilded Age moder-
nity and progress.
By the 1880s, when Tom Watson began to speak out about the
plight of farmers and demand change, an organization known as
the Farmers’ Alliance was spreading like wildfire across the Cotton
Belt and into the West. Started in Texas, the Alliance stressed that
the only way for embattled farmers to challenge successfully the
power of merchants and monopolies was to unite and work coop-
eratively. Farmers established cooperative stores and cotton-buy-
ing houses as well as cotton gins and warehouses. The Alliance
drew on a rich tradition of farmer organizations and protest. Revi-
talizing the message of Greenbackers and Grangers from the
1870s, members of the Alliance railed against merchants, rail-
roads, and bankers, whom they blamed for their problems and for
depriving them of the fruits of their labor.
In addition to bettering the economic conditions of farmers,
the Alliance also hoped to enrich the lives of its members, “men-
tally, morally, [and] socially.” Mining a deep seam of bitterness
toward town merchants, the Alliance in the South and West
claimed 1.5 million members by 1890.
Because he was a lawyer, Tom Watson could not officially join
the Alliance. Membership was limited to the “farmer and farm
laborer, mechanic, country schoolteacher, country physician, or
minister of the gospel.” Watson later recalled, “I did not lead the
Alliance. I followed the Alliance. . . . ” But he also shaped the
Alliance and propelled the farmers’ movement into politics. While
ach year the plunge into debt is deeper;
each year the burden is heavier. The
struggle is woe-begone. Cares are many,
smiles are few, and the comforts of life are
scantier. . . . Anxious days, sleepless nights,
deep wrinkles, gray hairs, wan faces, cheerless
old age, and perhaps abject poverty make up
in part the melancholy story. . . . Independence!
It is gone. Humiliation and dependence bow
the head of the proud spirit.”
—C. H. Otken, The Ills of the South, 1894
136 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
The story upon which the classic 1939 Hol-lywood movie The Wizard of Oz is based is
actually a parable about Populism. L. Frank
Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
lived in South Dakota from 1887 to 1891, just
as the farmers’ revolt began. In 1896 he
staunchly supported William Jennings Bryan
for President. A few years later, wanting to
fashion tales that “bear the stamp of our times
and depict the progressive fairies of today,”
Baum tried his hand at writing children’s litera-
ture. In 1900 a Chicago publisher printed The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
A tornado carries Dorothy, Baum’s
everyperson, to Oz—a colorful, magical place,
in contrast with the bleakness of Kansas. “Oz”
was a well-known abbreviation for silver advo-
cates, who called for the coinage of silver and
gold in a ratio of 16 ounces (abbreviated “oz.”)
to 1. By destroying the Wicked Witch of the
East (symbol of Eastern bankers and support-
ers of the gold standard), Dorothy frees the
Munchkins (the common people) held in
bondage by the moneyed establishment. To
return to Kansas she must travel to the Emer-
ald City (Washington, the color of money),
wearing silver shoes (Hollywood would substi-
tute ruby slippers) as she walks the yellow
brick road, which represents the gold and sil-
ver monetary standard of the Populists.
Dorothy, like most Americans, does not at first
understand the power of her silver shoes, but,
after a kiss from the Good Witch of the North
(Northern voters), she travels the dangerous
yellow brick road with protection.
Along her way she meets the Scarecrow (a
symbol of the farmer), the Tin Woodman (the
industrial worker), and the Cowardly Lion
(William Jennings Bryan). The Scarecrow is
convinced that he is inferior, a “hayseed” with
no brain, but soon demonstrates that he
indeed can t h i n k for himself. The Tin Wood-
man has rusted and believes that he is no
longer capable of love. But he rediscovers his
passion and the power of cooperation. The
Cowardly Lion, who at first claws the Tin
Woodman, f i n d s that he “could make no
impression on the tin,” (a reference to the fact
that Bryan garnered little support from indus-
trial workers in 1896) and seems incapable of
scaring anyone. But he turns out not to be
cowardly at all.
technically nonpartisan, the Alliance quickly realized its political
power. By 1889, in the West, some Alliance members created their
own third party, the People’s (Populist) Party,- in the South, in
1890, the Alliance successfully elected a number of members to
state legislatures and even to Congress. Watson won a seat in the
House of Representatives in 1890 as an Alliance candidate.
Convinced that the two major parties would never pay atten-
tion to the needs of farmers, Watson embraced the People’s Party
in 1891 and started the People’s Party Paper that year. Many white
Southern Alliance members followed his lead, leaving the Demo-
cratic Party for the People’s Party. He helped create strong bonds
between Southern and Western Populists, and together they
worked to establish a political voice for the forgotten and suffer-
ing Americans in rural areas.
Not only did Watson break ranks with the “white man’s party”
of the South, he also challenged racial divisions. He appealed to
black farmers and tenants to join forces with white farmers and
cast their lot with the People’s Party. He called for a revolutionary
order in the South, for an end to the race-based politics of white
Democrats and black Republicans, demanding that exploited
farmers—regardless of race—recognize their common interests
and oppressors and work together to get what was rightly theirs.
Similarly, in the West, Populists built alliances of the exploited
across the color line. In New Mexico, for example, Las Gorras
Blancas fused with the People’s Party.
Watson’s appeal provoked the anger of white Democrats.
When he ran for reelection to Congress in 1892 as a Populist,
Democrats stole the election through ballot-box stuffing and a
campaign of fraud and terror.
Despite his defeat, Watson was heartened that year by the
showing of the Populists nationally. In 1892 the Populists met in
Omaha, devised a national platform, and ran their first candidate
for President, Gen. James B. Weaver of Iowa. While not a very
popular candidate in the South—he was a Union army veteran—
Weaver nonetheless garnered more than a million votes nation-
wide, an auspicious national debut for the party.
As the nation plunged into a severe economic depression in
1893, the People’s Party strengthened. Massive unemployment,
bank failures, and countless mortgage foreclosures signaled to
many Americans the need for radical change and set the stage for
the crucial Presidential election of 1896.
The year 1896 found the Populists at a crossroads. The Democ-
rats—in many states the nemesis of the Populists—nominated
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 137
William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska for the presidency. Sympa-
thetic to the plight of farmers, Bryan advocated the free coinage of
silver as a way to improve their economic plight. Farmers had long
attributed many of their problems to what they believed was an
inadequate money supply. As the nation grew, they argued, the
money supply had not kept pace, leading to falling prices and tight
credit. Both the Northern and Southern Alliances had called for
the coining of silver and a rejection of the strict gold standard to
remedy the situation; however, the silver issue had always been far
more popular in the West than in the South.
Some Populists argued that the party should support Bryan,-
endorsing the Democrat could mean electing a compassionate
President in touch with the needs of farmers. Tom Watson, how-
ever, and other Populists disagreed. By supporting Bryan and
adopting silver coinage as its platform, the party would compro-
mise its cherished ideals, be swallowed up, and lose its identity.
Muckraker Henry Demarest Lloyd, famous for his attack on Rock-
efeller and Standard Oil, and a staunch Populist, summed up the
dilemma of the Populists in 1896: “If we fuse, we are sunk,- if we
don’t fuse, all the silver men we have will leave us for more pow-
In the end the Populists cast their lot with Bryan. However,
they also ran Tom Watson as their Vice Presidential candidate.
Bryan, with his own Democratic running mate, Arthur Sewall of
Maine, awkwardly ignored Watson as he crisscrossed the country
campaigning. Despite the alliance of Populists and Democrats,
Bryan lost overwhelmingly to Republican William McKinley.
Although the Populist Party managed to survive the crushing
defeat of 1896, the party was a shadow of its former self. Tom
Watson retreated to his rural Georgia home, heartbroken over the
demise of the farmers’ revolt. Watson immersed himself in writing
and his law practice. Embittered and disillusioned, the one-time
advocate of interracial political alliances and reform spent the last
decade of his life as a race-baiting, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic
journalist who helped reestablish the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in
1915. Watson died in 1922, in the midst of the Klan’s nationwide
Despite the demise of the People’s Party, many reforms it advo-
cated—rejected by critics as too radical in the 1890s—were taken up
by Progressive reformers and enacted in the early 20th century. The
Populist demand that the federal government intervene on behalf of
the common person to offset powerful business interests gained
widespread support under the Progressives,- specific proposals, such
Brother farmers let us hold on to our organi-zation, for if we fail this time, the farmers’
doom is fixed, the merchants will then have us
where they will hold us forever. The mer-
chants are laughing, but it is only from their
lips out, it don’t come from the heart at all.
Brethren, have you thought of it; when we
farmers are in the fields working hard in the
summer, with the drops of sweat falling from
our brow, go to the village and see the mer-
chants sitting around the store doors with
their linen shirts and black neckties on, wait-
ing for us to bring in our first bale of cotton.
—”A Member of the Davidson Bethel
Alliance (North Carolina)” in a letter
to the Progressive Farmer, 1888
138 T H E G I L D E D A G E
A Dull, Gray World
This excerpt from the opening paragraphsof The Wonderful Wizard of Oz vividly
depicts the merciless, colorless lives of West-
ern farm people.
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas
prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer,
Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife. Their
house was small, for the lumber to build it had
to be carried by wagon many miles. . . .
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and
looked around, she could see nothing but the
great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor
a house broke the broad sweep of flat country
that reached to the edge of the sky in all
directions. The sun had baked the plowed
land into a gray mass, with little cracks run-
ning through it. Even the grass was not green,
for the sun had burned the tops of the long
blades until they were the same gray color to
be seen everywhere. Once the house had been
painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the
rains washed it away, and now the house was
as dull and gray as everything else.
When Aunt Em came there to live she was
a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had
changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle
from her eyes and left them a sober gray,- they
had taken the red from her cheeks and lips,
and they were gray also. She was thin and
gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy,
who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt
Em had been so startled by the child’s laughter
that she would scream and press her hand
upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry
voice reached her ears; and she still looked at
the little girl with wonder that she could find
anything to laugh at.
as a graduated federal income tax and the direct election of sena-
tors, were also enacted within the next 20 years.
Stressing self-improvement, morality, and neighborliness,
the Farmers’ Alliance provided a much-needed sense of
community for isolated, embattled farm men and women.
Meetings and encampments often took on a religious tone
as people gathered to hear lectures, enjoy entertainment,
and visit with neighbors, seeking salvation from their prob-
lems in the policies of the Alliance. Lectures were especially
important in explaining to farmers the sources of the agri-
cultural crisis and providing specific proposals for change
through cooperation. In 1890 the Farmers’ Alliance held a
national meeting at Ocala, Florida, and expressed the follow-
I.a. We demand the abolition of national banks.
b. We demand that the government shall establish sub-treasuries
or depositories in the several states, which shall loan money
direct to the people at a low rate of interest, not to exceed two
per cent per annum, on nonperishable farm products, and also
upon real estate, with proper limitations upon the quantity of
land and amount of money.
c. We demand that the amount of the circulating medium be
speedily increased to not less than $50 per capita.
2. We demand that Congress shall pass such laws as will effectu-
ally prevent the dealing in futures of all agricultural and
mechanical productions,- providing a stringent system of pro-
cedure in trials that will secure the prompt conviction and
imposing such penalties as shall secure the most perfect com-
pliance with the law.
3. We condemn the silver bill recently passed by Congress [The
Sherman Silver Purchase Act], and demand in lieu thereof the
free and unlimited coinage of silver.
4. We demand the passage of laws prohibiting alien ownership of
land and that Congress take prompt action to devise some plan
to obtain all lands now owned by aliens and foreign syndicates,-
and that all lands now held by railroads and other corporations
in excess of such as is actually used and needed by them be
reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 139
5. Believing in the doctrine of equal rights to all and special priv-
ileges to none, we demand—
a. That our national legislation shall be so framed in the future
as not to build up one industry at the expense of another.
b. We further demand a removal of the existing heavy tariff tax
from the necessities of life, that the poor of our land must
c. We further demand a just and equitable system of graduated
tax on incomes.
d. We believe that the money of the country should be kept as
much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we
demand that all national and state revenues shall be limited
to necessary expenses of the government economically and
In this illustration for The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
Dorothy scolds the Cowardly
Lion, representing William
Jennings Bryan, who overcomes
his fear while travelling down the
yellow brick road and comes to
protect the weaker creatures in
“a grand old forest.”
140 T H E G I L D E D A G E
“Raise Less Corn and More Hell”
The most prominent female member of theFarmers’ Alliance, and later a Populist, was
Mary Elizabeth Lease. Lease was famous for her
challenge to prairie farmers to “raise less corn
and more hell.” Born Mary Elizabeth Clyens to
Irish parents in Pennsylvania in 1850, she made
her way to Kansas in 1871, seeking better
wages as a teacher. There she married druggist
Charles L. Lease. They later moved to Texas,
where she became active in the Women’s Chris-
tian Temperance Union. Returning to Kansas,
she devoted herself to the fight for woman suf-
frage and became a professional lecturer. She
also joined the Knights of Labor at the height
of its popularity in 1886. Lease eventually
devoted herself almost entirely to the Farmers’
Alliance, in which, as a woman, she was treated
as an equal. She soon emerged as one of the
Kansas Alliance’s most popular speakers and
campaigned incessantly for Alliance candidates
in state elections.
Standing almost six feet tall, she spoke pas-
sionately on behalf of the nation’s downtrodden
farmers and challenged them to unite to
improve their condition. Her legendary speech-
es could mesmerize an audience for two or
three hours. By 1890 she backed the Populist
Party and traveled in the West and South, stir-
ring up support for the third party. “Let the old
political parties know that the raid is over,” she
exhorted, “and that monopolies, trusts, and
combines shall be relegated to Hades.”
Lease received a great deal of criticism from
her political opponents. Questioning her femi-
ninity, detractors described her as “raw-boned”
and “ugly as a mud hen.” Her views were
described as “un-American and villainous.” But
such criticism only made her more heroic in the
eyes of her Populist supporters.
As the Populists surged as a national party in
the 1890s, Lease was in the center of the whirl-
wind. Even though as a woman she could not
vote for President, she seconded the Presiden-
tial nominations of both Weaver in 1892 and
Bryan in 1896 at the national Populist conven-
tions. And she made thousands of speeches in
support of the party’s Presidential candidates,
sometimes speaking as many as eight times a
As the People’s Party declined after 1896,
Lease left Kansas and settled in New York. Like
her Southern counterpart, Tom Watson, she was
embittered by the party’s collapse and, by 1900,
wrote articles denouncing both Bryan and the
Populists. But she never cut her ties with the
countryside, spending the last years of her l i f e
on a farm in upstate New York.
6. We demand the most rigid, honest, and just state and national
government control and supervision of the means of public
transportation, and if this control and supervision does not
remove the abuse now existing, we demand the government
ownership of such means of communication and transportation.
7. We demand that the Congress of the United States submit an
amendment to the Constitution providing for the election
of United States Senators by the direct vote of the people of
Women played a particularly important role in the Alliance,
making up about one fourth of the membership. Treated as
equals in an age of second-class citizenship for women,
female members of the Alliance held office, served as lectur-
ers, and wrote innumerable columns and letters for Alliance
newspapers. The following article by Annie L. Diggs, pub-
lished in the Arena in July 1892, explains the appeal of the
Farmers’ Alliance to farm women and their many contribu-
tions to the movement.
The women prominent in the great farmer manifesto of this pre-
sent time were long preparing for their part; not consciously, not
by any manner of means even divining that there would be a part
to play. In the many thousands of isolated farm homes the early
morning, the noonday, and the evening-time work went on with
a dreary monotony which resulted in that startling report of the
physicians that American farms were recruiting stations from
whence more women went to insane asylums than from any other
walk in life.
Farm life for women is a treadmill. The eternal climb must be
kept up though the altitude never heightens. For more than a
quarter of a century these churning, washing, ironing, baking,
darning, sewing, cooking, scrubbing, drudging women, whose
toilsome, dreary lives were unrelieved by the slight incident or by-
play of town life, felt that their treadmills slipped cogs. Climb as
they would, they slipped down two steps while they climbed one.
They were not keeping pace with the women of the towns and
cities. The industry which once led in the march toward indepen-
dence and prosperity, was steadily falling behind as to remunera-
tion. Something was wrong. . . .
Politics for the farmer had been recreation, relaxation, or even
exhilaration, according to the varying degree of his interest, or of
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 141
honor flatteringly bestowed by town committeemen upon a “solid
yeoman” at caucus or convention. . . .
But the farmers’ wives participated in no such ecstasies. Hence
for them no blinding party ties. And therefore when investigation
turned on the light, the women spoke right out in meeting,
demanding explanation for the non-appearance of the home mar-
ket for the farm products, which their good husbands had been
prophesying and promising would follow the upbuilding of pro-
tected industries. These women in the Alliance, grown apt in
keeping close accounts from long economy, cast eyes over the
long account of promises of officials managing public business,
and said, “Promise and performance do not balance.” “Of what
value are convention honors, or even elected eloquence in nation-
al Capitol, if homelessness must be our children’s heritage?” . . .
Strangely enough, the women of the South, where women,
and men’s thought about women, are most conservative, were first
to go into the Alliance, and in many instances were most clear of
thought and vigorous of speech. Though never venturing upon
the platform, they contributed much to the inspiration and tenac-
ity of the Alliance.
In several states, notably Texas, Georgia, Michigan, California,
Colorado, and Nebraska, women have been useful and prominent
in the farmer movement, which indeed is now widened and blend-
ed with the cause of labor other than that of the farm.
Kansas, however, furnished by far the largest quota of active,
aggressive women, inasmuch as Kansas was the theatre where the
initial act of the great labor drama was played. . . .
The great political victory of the people of Kansas would not
have been won without the help of the women of the Alliance.
Women who never dreamed of becoming public speakers, grew
eloquent in their zeal and fervor. Farmers’ wives and daughters
rose earlier and worked later to gain time to cook the picnic din-
ners, to paint the mottos on the banners, to practice with the glee
clubs, to march in procession. . . .
Kansas politics was no longer a “dirty pool.” That marvelous
campaign was a great thrilling crusade. It was religious to the core.
Instinctively the women knew that the salvation of their homes,
and more even, the salvation of the republic, depended upon the
outcome of that test struggle. Every word, every thought, every
act, was a prayer for victory, and for the triumph of right. Victory
was compelled to come.
Narrow ignoramuses long ago stumbled upon the truth. “The
home is woman’s sphere.” Ignoramus said, “Women should cook
“You may call me an anarchist,
a socialist, or a communist, I
care not, but I hold to the theory
that if one man has not enough to
eat three times a day and another
man has $25 million, that last
man has something that belongs
to the first.”
—Mary Elizabeth Lease,
William Allen White, a vociferous
opponent of the Populist movement who
once called Mary Elizabeth Lease a
“harpy,” wrote upon her death-. “She
was an honest, competent woman who
felt deeply and wielded great power
unselfishly. Peace to her ashes.”
142 T H E G I L D E D A G E
and gossip, and rock cradles, and darn socks”—merely these and
nothing more. Whereas the whole truth is, women should watch
and work in all things which shape and mould the home, whether
“money,” “land,” or “transportation.” So now Alliance women look
at politics and trace the swift relation to the home—their special
sphere. They say, “Our homes are threatened by the dirty pool.
The pool must go.”
Before this question of the salvation of the imperilled homes of
the nation, all other questions, whether of “prohibition” or “suf-
frage,” pale into relative inconsequence. . . . Upon such great eth-
ical foundation is the labor movement of to-day building itself.
How could women do otherwise than be in and of it?
African-American farmers and tenants, squeezed in the same
economic vise as white farmers, also found the Farmers’
Alliance especially attractive. Barred from membership in
the Southern Alliance, which admitted only whites, black
farmers formed their own organization, the Colored Farm-
ers’ Alliance, as a separate but parallel organization that
espoused the same principles as the white Farmers’ Alliance.
By 1890 the Colored Farmers’ Alliance claimed more than a
million members. Some whites viewed the Colored Alliance
with trepidation, fearing any organization that might mobi-
lize blacks to political action and challenge the status quo.
The following editorial and letter on July 10,1888, to the Pro-
gressive Farmer, the official newspaper of the North Carolina
Farmers’ Alliance, reflects white concerns about the Colored
Farmers’ Alliance as well as the ambivalent attitude of the
white Alliance toward its black counterpart.
It has been said, heretofore, that no one but white men were
allowed to join the Alliance concern. How is it now about orga-
For our esteemed contemporary the Democrat, we refer him to Sec-
tion 1, Article IV of the Constitution of the Alliance concern.
Section I. No person shall be admitted as a member unless he
has been a citizen of the State of North Carolina for six months
past, and not then unless he be a farmer, farm laborer, mechanic,
country schoolteacher, country physician, or a minister of the
gospel, be of good moral character, believe in the existence of a
Supreme Being, be of industrious habits, is a white person and
over the age of sixteen years. . . .
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 143
We repeat what “has been said heretofore that no one but
white people are allowed to join (our) Alliance concern. . . . ”
We understand that the negroes in Louisiana, Texas, and Mis-
sissippi have an organization regularly chartered and, which, in
its general features, is somewhat similar to the Farmers’ Alliance,
and that this organization is rapidly spreading among the negroes
of the South. We learn that it is being introduced into this State.
But it is a separate and distinct organization from our “Alliance
concern.” It is a different “concern” altogether, but if it shall make
them more industrious, more frugal, more reliable, more thought-
ful, more faithful, and a better people and better citizens, our “con-
cern” and all other good people will bid them God-speed.
In response, J. J. Rogers, a member of the Colored Alliance,
wrote this letter, which was published in the Progressive
Farmer on July 31,1888. In it, he explained his organization’s
purpose and pointed out that it posed no threat to the
South’s racial hierarchy.
The article in your paper of last week . . . explains itself to some
extent, especially with your information but not fully. The features
you speak of as possibly or probably existing need confirmation.
If you will allow me space. . . . The colored Farmers’ Alliance is a
separate and distinct organization from the white Alliance. It is
regularly chartered, and according to its Constitution is composed
of colored members alone. Its principal objects are: to educate the
colored race, to make them more industrious, more frugal, more
reliable, more thoughtful, more faithful, better people, better citi-
zens, and to better their condition financially. . . .
It is true that the colored Alliance is organized with good
intentions and with the hope of accomplishing much good to the
race for which it is organized. And, too, if kept separate as it is
organized, and only aided by the members of the white Alliance
and all other good people, it will work out great good to both
white and colored.
The Populist Party
The Populist Party met on July 4,1892, in Omaha, Nebraska,
to nominate its first candidate for President, James B.
Weaver. Mary Elizabeth Lease seconded his nomination. The
party also adopted the following platform. The preamble.
I t is quite true that society cannot be main-tained without food-producers. Neither can
it be maintained without millers and butchers
and grocers and cooks and the whole round of
purveyors and workers. Nor can American
agriculture be carried on without the help of
wheelwrights and blacksmiths and tailors and
milliners and others who work in the service
of civilization. . . .
The fact that those in one industry out-
number those in another does not give them a
greater claim to consideration. A farmer is not
a farmer because farming is the basis of soci-
ety,- he is a farmer because his circumstances,
his tastes, or his capacity indicates that farm-
ing is the business or the labor by which he
can best make his way in the world. If his
neighbor selects another occupation, he fol-
lows it without the least obligation to do more
for the farmer, nor need the farmer do more
for him than ordinary business considerations
suggest. Both are free men, and both are enti-
tled to what they can fairly get in the struggle
for existence. If either has made a mistake, he
suffers the consequences. . . . The shiftless and
the incompetent fail in farming as they fail
elsewhere, but thrift and industry and intelli-
gent adjustment to conditions succeed there,
perhaps to a less degree, but with more cer-
tainty, than elsewhere. It is a question, not of
class, but personal equation. . . .
—George E. Waring, Jr.
North American Review, 1891
144 T H E G I L D E D A G E
This diagram from Tom Watson’s Peo-
ple’s Party Paper graphically dis-
played the worsening plight of Southern
cotton farmers as cotton prices dropped
from 1870 to 1894. In 1870, a farmer
earned $120 from a single bale of cot-
ton, by 1894 he needed to sell 4.8 bales
to make the same profit.
Mr. Weaver is the candidate of the People’sParty for President. It mattered very little
what candidate was nominated by the conven-
tion at Omaha after the adoption of the plat-
form with its extraordinary preamble. That
strange document put the People’s Party on the
same level with the “third parties” of the past
and made it impossible for it to win support
from sane and sober men. It made ridiculous its
claim of carrying States and getting Electoral
votes. On such a platform it can carry no State
whose population is not made up of “cranks.”
We do not believe there is any State peopled
with believers in these wild vagaries. . . . On
such a platform a man of standing and character
would be made ridiculous and would lose the
respect of all men of sense. His acceptance of
its declarations would be evidence of an
impaired intellect and a loss of moral sense and
self-respect. . . .
The proposed remedies for the alleged evils
are as crazy as the statement of the evils. . . .
—Mew York Times, July 5, 1892
written by Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, remains one of
the most powerful and eloquent critiques of the United
States in the Gilded Age. In it, Donnelly calls for a regenera-
tion of the corrupt nation through cooperation and use of
the power of the federal government on behalf of the peo-
ple. The following is an excerpt of the party platform as pub-
lished in Tom Watson’s People’s Party Paper in August 1892.
Assembled upon the one hundred and sixteenth anniversary of the
declaration of independence, the Peoples Party of America, in their
first national convention, invoking upon their action the blessing
of the Almighty God, put forth in the name of the people of this
country, the following preamble and declaration of principles:
The conditions which surround us best justify our co-opera-
tion,- we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of
moral, political and material ruin. Corruption dominates the bal-
lot box, legislatures, congress, and touches even the ermine of the
The people are demoralized. . . . Newspapers are largely sub-
sidized or muzzled,- public opinion silenced, business prostrated;
our homes covered with mortgages,- labor impoverished; and the
land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen
are denied the right of organization for self-protection; imported
pauperized labor beats down their wages. . . . The fruits of the toil
of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few,
unprecedented in the history of mankind,- and the possessors of
these in turn despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the
same prolific womb of governmental injustice, we breed two great
classes—tramps and millionaires. . . .
We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 145
struggles of two great political parties for power and plunder,
while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering peo-
ple. We charge that the controlling influence dominating both
these parties has permitted the existing dreadful conditions to
develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither
do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed
together to ignore in the coming campaign every issue but one.
They propose to drown out the cries of the plundered people with
the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, cor-
porations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, demoneti-
zation of silver and the oppression of the usurers may all be lost
sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives and children
on the altar of mammon,- to destroy the multitude in order to
secure corruption funds from millionaires. . . .
We pledge ourselves that if given power we will labor to cor-
rect these evils by wise and reasonable legislation in accordance
with the terms of our platform. . . .
We declare, therefore:
1. That the union of the Labor forces of the United States this
day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual. May its spir-
it enter into all hearts for the salvation of the republic and the
uplifting of mankind.
1. Wealth belongs to him who creates it, and every dollar
taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery. “If any will
not work, neither shall he eat.” The interests of rural and civic
labor are the same; their enemies are identical.
3. We believe that the time has come when railroad corpora-
tions will either own the people or the people must own the rail-
roads. . . .
We demand a national currency, safe sound and flexible, issued
by the general governments only, a full legal tender for all debts,
public and private, and that without the use of banking corpora-
tions; a just, equitable and efficient means of distribution direct to
the people at a tax not to exceed 1 percent per annum be provid-
ed as set forth in the sub-treasury plan of the Farmers’ Alliance, or
some better system. . . .
We demand the free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold
at the present legal ratio of 16 to 1.
We demand that the amount of the circulating medium be
speedily increased to not less than fifty dollars per capita.
We demand a graduated income tax.
We believe that the money of the country should be kept as
much as possible in the hands of the people, and hence we
“Leaving the Party”
Leaving the Democratic or Republican Partyfor the Populist Party was often an agoniz-
ing decision. Political parties were an impor-
tant source of identity for men in the Gilded
Age, and party loyalty was considered to be a
positive masculine trait. Moreover, in the
South, the Democratic Party was traditionally
the white man’s party. To leave the party not
only meant being branded a “race traitor,” but
many white Southerners also feared that a
third party would split the ranks of white vot-
ers and open up the way for black Republicans
to be elected and rule the South. The follow-
ing Populist song “Leaving the Party” explains
why—despite tradition and previous loyalty—
many turned their backs on the “old party.”
I’ve worked for my old party,
I’ve toiled for many an hour,
I used to say we’d have good times
Whenever we got in power;
But now I’ve been taught better,
They’ve but increased the fetter,
They’ve broken every promise,
And I will go.
I’m going to leave the party,
I’ll stay with it no longer.
I’ll help the money power to overthrow,
I’ll join the People’s Party,
Support it true and hearty,
It labors for the people,
And I will, too.
Old party politicians
Are faithless, drunk or sober;
It took them nearly thirty years
To learn the war is over.
They rave about the t a r i f f ,
But little do they care if
They only get the offices,
High or low.
They both submit to Wall street,
And do just as they plan it.
And then aver they had no hand
In bringing on a panic.
No cash in circulation,
And still they tell the nation
The law which made the money
Must be no more.
They work so well together,
We’re going now to leave them.
There’s nothing the old parties have
That ever can retrieve them.
The court house rings control them
Their party leaders sold them
They’re rotten to the core,
We’ll let them go.
146 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Why does a Southern Democrat leave hisparty and come to ours? Because his
industrial condition is pitiably bad; because he
struggles against a system of laws which have
almost filled him with despair, because he is
told that he is without clothing because he
produces too much cotton and without food
because he is too plentiful, because he sees
everybody growing rich off the products of
labor except the laborer, because the million-
aires who manage the Democratic Party have
contemptuously ignored his plea for a redress
of grievances and have nothing to say to him
beyond the cheerful advice to “work harder
and live closer.”
—Tom Watson, “The Negro Question
in the South,” 1892
demand, that all state and national revenues shall be limited to the
necessary expenses of the government economically and honest-
ly administered. . . .
Transportation being a means of exchange and a public neces-
sity, the government should own and operate the railroads in the
interest of the people. The telegraph and the telephone, like the
postal system, being a necessity for the transmission of news,
should be owned and operated by the government in the interest
of the people.
The land, including all the natural sources of wealth, is the her-
itage of all the people and should not be monopolized for specu-
lative purposes, and alien ownership of land should be prohibited.
All lands now held by railroads and other corporations in excess
of their actual needs, and all lands now owned by aliens should be
reclaimed by the government and held for actual settlers only.
Populist Tom Watson suggested a new answer to the peren-
nial “Negro Question” of the Gilded Age South. In this con-
troversial piece he demanded a rejection of race-based
politics, which divided black and white farmers, and force-
fully argued instead the common economic concerns that
bound black and white farmers in a struggle against
The white people of the South will never support the Republican
Party. This much is certain. The black people of the South will
never support the Democratic Party. This is equally certain.
Hence, at the very beginning, we are met by the necessity of
new political alliances. As long as the whites remain solidly
Democratic, the blacks will remain solidly Republican.
As long as there was no choice, except as between the Democ-
rats and the Republicans, the situation of the two races was bound
to be one of antagonism. . . .
The two races can never act together permanently, harmo-
niously, beneficially, till each race demonstrates to the other a
readiness to leave old party affiliations and to form new ones,
based upon the profound conviction that, in acting together, both
races are seeking new laws which will benefit both. On no other
basis under heaven can the “Negro Question” be solved.
Now, suppose the colored man were educated upon these ques-
tions just as the whites have been; suppose he were shown that his
poverty and distress came from the same source as ours; suppose
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 147
we should convince him that our platform principles assure him an
escape from the ills he now suffers and guarantee him the fair mea-
sure of prosperity his labor entitles him to receive—would he not
act just as the white Democrat who joined us did? . . .
Now let us illustrate: Suppose two tenants on my farm,- one of
them white, the other black. They cultivate their crops precisely
by the same conditions. Their labors, discouragements, burdens,
grievances are the same.
The white tenant is driven by cruel necessity to examine into
the causes of his continued destitution. He reaches certain con-
clusions which are not complimentary to either of the old parties.
He leaves the Democracy in angry disgust. He joins the People’s
Party. Why? Simply because its platform recognizes that he is
badly treated and proposes to fight his battle. Necessity drives
him from the old party, and hope leads him into the new. . . .
Now go back to the colored tenant. His surroundings being
the same and his interests the same, why is it impossible for him
to reach the same conclusions? Why is it unnatural for him to go
into the new party at the same time and with the same motives?
Cannot these two men act together in peace when the ballot
of one is a vital benefit to the other? Will not political friendship
be born of the necessity and the hope which is common to both?
Will not race bitterness disappear before this common suffering
and this mutual desire to escape it? Will not each of these citizens
feel more kindly for the other when the vote of each defends the
home of both? If the white man becomes convinced that the
Democratic Party has played upon his prejudices and has used his
quiescence to the benefit of interests adverse to his own, will he
not despise the leaders who seek to perpetuate the system? . . .
The question of social equality does not enter into the calcu-
lation at all. That is a thing each citizen decides for himself. . . .
The conclusion then, seems to me to be this: the crushing bur-
dens which now oppress both races in the South will cause each to
make an effort to cast them off. They will see a similarity of cause
and a similarity of remedy. They will recognize that each should
help the other in the work of repealing bad laws and enacting good
ones. They will become political allies, and neither can injure the
other without weakening both. It will be to the interest of both
that each should have justice. And on these broad lines of mutual
interest, mutual forbearance, and mutual support the present will
be made the stepping-stone to future peace and prosperity.
Populists in the West enthusiastically sup-ported the right of women to vote. Pop-
ulist state conventions in Idaho, Kansas,
Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington
included woman suffrage in their party plat-
forms. As Populists were elected to state leg-
islatures, they attempted to pass measures
granting the vote to women. But in every
state except Colorado, which passed woman
suffrage in 1893, Republican and Democratic
legislators stymied the efforts of Populists to
give women the vote.
148 I T H E G I L D E D A G E
In 1896 the People’s Party Paper
offered Bryan and Watson campaign
buttons for a dime as well as a minia-
ture silver farmer’s pitchfork for 15 cents
that skewered “goldbucjs,” such as
William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska was a staunch Silverite,
who believed that the farmers’ economic problems could be
solved with an unlimited coinage of silver to expand the
money supply. Sympathetic to the plight of America’s farm-
ers, he won the nomination for President on the Democratic
ticket in 1896. Two weeks later, the Populists met to nomi-
nate their Presidential ticket. After fervent debate, the Pop-
ulists chose to back Bryan, forming an alliance with the
Democrats, but ran their own candidate for Vice President,
Bryan won the Democratic nomination after giving a stir-
ring address, known as “The Cross of Gold Speech,” named
after a famous line in the speech. The following is an excerpt
in which Bryan passionately defends downtrodden Western-
ers and farmers against those in the party who viewed Bryan
and the Silverite Democrats as dangerous.
Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon
the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the
dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom
as the rose—the pioneers away out there (pointing to the West),
who rear their children near to Nature’s heart, where they can
mingle their voices with the voices of the birds—out there where
they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young,
churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where
rest the ashes of their dead—these people, we say, are as deserv-
ing of the consideration of our party as any people in this coun-
try. It is for these that we speak. We do not come as aggressors.
Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense
of our homes, our families, and posterity. We have petitioned, and
our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our
entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have
mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat
no more; we petition no more. We defy them. . . .
They tell us that this platform was made to catch votes. We
reply to them that changing conditions make new issues; that
the principles upon which Democracy rests are as everlasting
as the hills, but that they must be applied to new conditions as
they arise. Conditions have arisen, and we are here to meet these
conditions. . . .
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 149
And now, my friends, let me come to the paramount issue. If
they ask us why it is that we say more on the money question than
we say upon the tariff question, I reply that, if protection has slain
its thousands, the gold standard has slain tens of thousands. If they
ask us why we do not embody in our platform all the things that
we believe in, we reply that when we have restored the money of
the Constitution all other necessary reforms will be possible; but
that until this is done there is no other reform that can be accom-
plished. . . .
We go forth confident that we shall win. Why? Because upon
the paramount issue of this campaign there is not a spot of ground
upon which the enemy will dare to challenge battle. . . .
You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of
the gold standard; we reply that the great cities rest upon our
broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our
farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but
destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every
city in the country.
My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for
its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or
consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we
expect to carry every State in the Union. … It is the issue of 1776
over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had
the courage to declare their political independence of every other
nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to sev-
enty millions, declare that we are less independent than our fore-
fathers? No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our peo-
ple. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If
they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until
other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold stan-
dard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then
let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If
they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold stan-
dard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having
behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, sup-
ported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the
toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold stan-
dard by saying to them: “You shall not press down upon the brow
of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon
a cross of gold.”
Despite the confusion and the painful splits within the Pop-
ulist Party, the Presidential election of 1896 still stands as
150 T H E G I L D E D A G E
one of the most significant in U.S. history, a contest of two
distinctive visions for the nation. William Jennings Bryan,
Democrat/Populist candidate, represented the rural popula-
tion of farmers and small towns. Republican candidate
William McKinley, a former congressman and governor of
Ohio, represented the interests of big business and industry.
Backed by many of the nation’s banks, businessmen, and
industrialists, McKinley and the Republicans spent as much
as $7 million on the campaign. “Dollar Mark” Hanna, a Cleve-
land industrialist and chairman of the Republican National
Committee, raised millions from fellow moneyed men who
feared Bryan and the Silverite challenge. John D. Rocke-
feller’s Standard Oil alone contributed $250,000 to McKin-
The campaign, according to journalist William Allen
White, “took the form of religious frenzy.” Bryan launched
the first modern Presidential campaign, crisscrossing the
country by train. He logged more than 18,000 miles, deliver-
ing approximately 600 speeches, sometimes making as many
as 20 per day. In the meantime McKinley conducted a tradi-
tional campaign, sitting on his front porch in Canton, Ohio,
meeting with his powerful supporters and promising them
stability and prosperity. Republicans branded Bryan a dan-
gerous revolutionary whose silver scheme would sabotage
McKinley defeated Bryan by more than 600,000 popular
votes and overwhelmingly carried the electoral vote, 271 to
176, the most lopsided election since 1872. Nearly all of
Bryan’s support came from the South and West. Despite its
platform of reform, neither Democrats nor Populists man-
aged to build bridges with industrial workers or small farm-
ers in the Northeast; the silver issue simply did not appeal to
them as much as McKinley’s promise of a “full dinner pail.”
The 1896 Presidential election provided endless fodder
for political cartoonists. The first cartoon was titled “Politi-
cal Pirates.” This anti-Bryan, anti-Populist cartoon depicts
the Populist and Silverite “pirates” taking over the Democra-
tic Party ship. Bryan plays the fiddle while populist organizer
Mary Elizabeth Lease appears on the right. She seems to be
using her hands to keep the pirates—Populists, who have
“hijacked” the Democratic ship—under control. The cartoon-
ist is probably suggesting that the Populist pirates may not
T H E F A R M E R S ‘ R E V O L T 151
be controllable, and that the alliance between the Populists
and Democrats is tenuous and temporary.
This anti-McKinley cartoon entitled “A Man of Mark”
shows Republican candidate William McKinley under the
thumb of millionaire industrialist Mark Hanna.
Newspapers all over the United
States reported the explosion of the
Maine with banner headlines.
This headline from the Worces-
ter Evening Gazette strongly
suggests that Spain was responsi-
ble for the disaster. Even though
the next month a naval court of
inquiry found that no evidence
existed implicating the Spanish,
the American public insisted on
blaming them and used the explo-
sion as a justification for declaring
war on Spain.
n late February 1898, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore
Roosevelt felt restless and frustrated. Ten days before, on February
15, the American battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of
Havana, Cuba, killing 260 men aboard. Roosevelt, like many star-
tled Americans, blamed the disaster on Spain, calling the explosion
“an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spanish.” Cuban revolu-
tionaries had been locked in a bitter struggle for independence from
Spain, a nation unwilling to cede the last significant possession of its
once great empire. For three years Spain had responded with the bru-
tal repression of Cuban rebels. Most Americans sympathized with the
plight of the Cuban revolutionaries, comparing it to their own fight
for independence from Great Britain. Moreover, American business-
men had invested $50 million in Cuba, much of it in the island’s sugar
industry. In addition, newspaper rivals William Randolph Hearst and
Joseph Pulitzer provoked widespread public sympathy for the
Cubans, publishing sensational stories about Spanish atrocities, each
attempting to outdo the other.
To the chagrin of Roosevelt, President William McKinley insisted
on maintaining a neutral position. Despite massive public pressure to
intervene on behalf of the Cuban revolutionaries and to retaliate for
the explosion of the Maine, McKinley hesitated. A veteran of the Civil
War, McKinley told an aide, “I have been through one war. I have seen
the dead piled up, and 1 do not want to see another.”
Theodore Roosevelt, a child during the Civil War, severely criti-
cized the President, declaring that McKinley had “no more backbone
than a chocolate eclair.” For years Roosevelt had happily anticipated
an American war, especially one that would expand the nation’s glob-
al power. To Roosevelt and many other men of his generation, war
I 154 T H E G I L D E D A G E
provided a long-awaited sense of f u l f i l l m e n t . Deeply influenced
by social Darwinism and careful observation of the growing world
empires of Great Britain, Germany, and Japan, Roosevelt and
many of his compatriots believed that without a willingness to
compete and fight with other nations to build an empire, the
United States would decline. Additionally, by the 1890s,
Roosevelt and many other social critics believed that Americans
seemed to be getting “soft” and “over-civilized,” and the country
might be deteriorating. They stressed strenuous activity to
counter this apparent degeneration. Roosevelt argued that “if we
lose the virile, manly qualities and sink into a nation of mere huck-
sters, putting gain above everything to mere ease of life; then we
shall indeed reach a condition worse than that of the ancient civ-
ilizations in the years of their decay.”
War with Spain would not only provide an antidote to a U.S.
decline but would also firmly establish the young nation as a world
power. In the aftermath of the Maine disaster, Roosevelt pleaded for
war. He even suggested that McKinley refuse to have the explo-
sion investigated just in case the Spanish were not responsible. In
the meantime, in April 1898, the Spanish, fearful of the growing
belligerence of the United States, announced a cease-fire and sent
a message to the State Department in which Spain, for all intents
and purposes, surrendered. The United States would be allowed to
determine the terms of the settlement, and Cuba would be grant-
Unfortunately Spain’s offer came too late. The following day
President McKinley asked Congress’s approval to commit U.S.
troops to Cuba. Having managed to resist public pressure for two
months after the Maine disaster, McKinley, fearing disastrous elec-
tions in the f a l l , finally bowed to the overwhelming outcry for
war. He also succumbed to pressure from business interests seek-
ing a quick end to the conflict in Cuba. McKinley and Congress
chose to engage in a war rather than pursue the peaceful settle-
ment at hand.
Theodore Roosevelt enthusiastically jumped at the chance to
go to war, an opportunity for which he had been preparing his
entire life. He later admitted, “I now know that I would have turned
from my wife’s deathbed to have answered the call.” Roosevelt
organized the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, soon to be known
as the “Rough Riders,” made up of several hundred cowboys—and
even some Indians—from the West, several New York City police-
men, and Ivy League athletes. The Rough Riders and other
American soldiers embarked for Cuba in mid-June 1898.
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 155
In Cuba Theodore Roosevelt would
win his long-sought military honor. He
led the Rough Riders, who were on foot,
along with several black cavalry units, to
glory near San Juan Hill in Santiago in
July 1898. The Rough Riders’ exploits
were reported widely in the American
press. Not humbled by the experience of
combat, Roosevelt bragged that he had
“doubled up” a Spaniard and enthusiasti-
cally guided visitors after the battle to
“look at those damned Spanish dead.”
The Spanish-American War ended on
August 12, 1898, less than four months
after it began. Though nearly 275,000
Americans served during the war, only
379 died in battle; however, an addition-
al 5,462 perished from tropical diseases
and eating rancid meat.
On one hand, the episode to many
Americans did indeed seem to be, in the
words of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain John Hay, “a splendid
little war.” A dramatic show of U.S. might, the war provided a
stunning debut for the nation as a world power. But the war, on
the other hand, created a troubling new issue: What should the
United States do with the empire it won from Spain? While the
conflict was ostensibly about Cuban liberation—which the
United States had promised even before entering the war—the
victor proved unwilling to liberate Cuba immediately or com-
pletely. A U.S. military government ruled Cuba for several years.
Then the Platt Amendment, passed by Congress in 1901 and
added as an appendix to the new Cuban constitution, restricted
Cuba’s freedom in several ways: the United States maintained the
right to intervene to preserve Cuban independence and required
Cuba to sell or lease land for use as U.S. naval stations and coal-
The treaty with Spain also ceded to the United States the for-
mer Spanish possessions of Puerto Rico and Guam as well as the
Philippines. Puerto Rico, valuable as an American outpost in the
Caribbean, and Guam, strategically located in the Pacific, are
still U.S. possessions. Their ambiguous and often complicated
relationships with the United States are still a source of political
Theodore Roosevelt and bis volunteer
regiment, the Rough Riders, became
instant American heroes in July 1898
after the American press publicized
their charge up Kettle Hill, as part of
the battle for nearby San Juan Hill
in the Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt called the battle “the great
day of my life.”
156 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Spanish-American War provided thefirst opportunity since the Civil War for
Northerners and Southerners to fight side by
side as a united nation. The first soldier to die
in battle was a white Southerner, Worth
Bagley of North Carolina. Both Northern and
Southern newspapers extolled Bagley’s death
as a symbol of a reconciled nation.
The Philippines—on the other side of the globe—did not
even enter in the debate over war with Spain in the spring of
1898. But these islands would become one of the war’s most trou-
bling and divisive legacies—largely because of the actions of
Roosevelt. Ten days after the Maine blew up in Havana harbor,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt sent a telegram to
Commodore George Dewey in Hong Kong, ordering him to
engage the Spanish in the Philippines if and when the United
States declared war on Spain. In a typically bold and independent
move, Roosevelt sent these orders without consulting his boss, the
secretary of the navy—who had taken the day off— or the
President. In late April, after the United States declared war on
Spain, Dewey’s fleet destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay,- by
mid-August, with the aid of Filipino rebels who, like their Cuban
counterparts, sought independence from Spain, American forces
entered Manila, just after the United States agreed to an armistice
Even though President McKinley admitted that initially he
could not even f i n d the Philippines on a map, he concluded that
the islands should be made a colony of the United States. He jus-
tified the colonization of the Philippines with an elaborate ratio-
nale that combined the “responsibility” and “Christian duty” of the
United States with economic self-interest. While Spanish nego-
tiators protested that U.S. forces did not even enter Manila until
after Spain had surrendered, McKinley stood firm. Attempting to
placate the Spanish, U.S. negotiators offered them $20 million in
compensation as part of the f i n a l settlement.
The value of the Philippines as an American colony seemed
clear to expansionists such as McKinley and Roosevelt. The
islands provided a base of operations in the Pacific and access to
new markets for American goods—a special concern after the dis-
astrous depression of the 1890s. In addition the acquisition of this
strategically located colony also enhanced the position of the
United States as a world power. Other Americans, however, were
deeply troubled by the idea of the United States having colonies.
How could a nation, they asked, founded on ideals of indepen-
dence and self-determination become an imperial power without
undermining its own principles? Why did the United States free
Cuba but maintain a colonial grip on the Philippines? What were
the financial and moral costs of m a i n t a i n i n g an empire on the
other side of the world?
After bitter debate the Senate r a t i f i e d a treaty with Spain in
1899 that imposed colonial status on the P h i l i p p i n e s . But the
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 157
United States was already enmeshed in an ugly war with Filipinos
who, under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, fought to free
themselves of American domination. This war of attrition, which
lasted for four years and cost well over 100,000 lives, symbolized
the steep price of empire building.
Theodore Roosevelt used the Spanish-American War as a
springboard to an illustrious career largely devoted to the expan-
sion of U.S. global power. His highly publicized exploits as a
Rough Rider and war hero led him to the governorship of New
York and eventually to the Vice Presidency and Presidency of the
United States. As President, Roosevelt’s philosophy, “Speak softly
and carry a big stick,” defined the nation’s new role as “the world’s
policeman,” establishing at the dawn of the 20th century a com-
mitment to interventionism with which Americans still struggle.
The Spanish-American War
In his autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt explained his en-
thusiastic support for the war with Spain.
Soon after I began work as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I
became convinced that the war would come. The revolt in Cuba
had dragged its weary length until conditions had become so
dreadful as to be a standing disgrace to us for permitting them to
exist. There is much that I sincerely admire about the Spanish
character,- and there are few men for whom I have felt greater
respect than for certain gentlemen of Spain whom I have known.
But Spain attempted to govern her colonies on archaic principles
which rendered her control of them incompatible with the
advance of humanity and intolerable to the conscience of
mankind. In 1898 the so-called war in Cuba had dragged along for
years with unspeakable horror, degradation, and misery. It was not
“war” at all, but murderous oppression. Cuba was devastated.
During those years, while we continued at “peace,” several
hundred times as many lives were lost, lives of men, women, and
children, as were lost during the three months’ “war” which put an
end to this slaughter and opened a career of peaceful progress to
the Cubans. Yet there were misguided professional philanthropists
who cared so much more for names than for facts that they pre-
ferred a “peace” of continuous murder to a “war” which stopped
the murder and brought real peace. Spain’s humiliation was certain,
anyhow; indeed, it was more certain without war than with it, for
Theodore Roosevelt poses before a globe,
symbolically representing bis—and
America’s—entry upon the world stage
by the turn of the century.
158 T H E G I L D E D A G E
she could not permanently keep the island, and she minded yield-
ing to the Cubans more than yielding to us. Our own direct inter-
ests were great, because of the Cuban tobacco and sugar, and
especially because of Cuba’s relation to the projected Isthmian
canal. But even greater were our interests from the standpoint of
humanity. Cuba was at our very doors. It was a dreadful thing for
us to sit supinely and watch her death agony. It was our duty, even
more from the standpoint of National honor than from the stand-
point of National interest, to stop the devastation and destruction.
Because of these considerations I favored war; and to-day, when in
retrospect it is easier to see things clearly, there are few humane
and honorable men who do not believe that the war was both just
Many African Americans supported U.S. intervention to lib-
erate Cuba. They identified the Cuban struggle against Spain
as the fight of people of color against white European domi-
nation. Some black Americans even viewed Cuba as a racial
Utopia, especially when compared to the South in the 189Os,
and they dreamed of emigrating to a free Cuba. Others, how-
ever, questioned whether—in an age of deteriorating race
relations in the United States—blacks should fight for a gov-
ernment that seemed unconcerned about their rights as citi-
zens. The Reverend H. H. Proctor delivered this sermon in
Atlanta on May 1,1898, soon after the United States declared
war on Spain. He responds to black critics of the war and
encourages African Americans to seize the opportunity it
might afford to improve their status at home.
Let me state plainly the position I take. In answering the question
what attitude the Negro should take in this crisis, I say it should
be that of loyalty to the Stars and Stripes. . . .
It is said that this is a white man’s war, and, therefore, let the
white fight it out. I reject the conclusion because I cannot accept
the premise. This is not a white man’s war, it is the nation’s war. . . .
If you say this is a white man’s war, then you are bound to accept
the doctrine that this is a white man’s country. If it is a white man’s
country, then the black man has no place in it, and consequently
no rights that a white man is bound to respect. This is God’s coun-
try, and it belongs to the people in it, be they black or white, red
It is said that we are wrongly treated and therefore should sulk
in our tents. I admit that we are wronged. God knows that. Call
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 159
over the catalogue of wrongs and which if them are we not heir
to? But in my mind this constitutes a reason why we should be
loyal. If in this critical hour we should be disloyal, would that not
serve as a justification in the eyes of our enemies for all the wrongs
inflicted upon us? “We told you these people were unworthy of
better treatment,” would be the cry. On the other hand, have we
not fine opportunity to show the world that we deserve better
than we receive? And would not such action tell on public senti-
ment in the future? . . .
It is said that we have fought for this country, and it treats us
no better now; let the white man fight it out themselves. It is true
we have fought in every war; but has the motive of our action
been beyond cavil? Is it not said that we fought in 1776 with the
hope of freedom? In 1812 under the inspiration of the lash? In
1863 under the impulse of emancipation? . . For the first time in
our American experience we should fight, not as slaves, not as
freed men, but as freemen. . . .
The real reason why the duty of the hour demands our loyalty
is in this. Our country is engaged in a righteous war. It is a war for
larger liberty. The freedom of manhood, the purity of womanhood,
the future of childhood—these are in the womb of this struggle. It
is an appeal to the highest sentiments. Our country is responding
to the call. We are a real part of this country, and nothing that con-
cerns her is without interest to us. We are not Afro-Americans, but
Americans to the manor born. There should be no hyphen in
American citizenship. If we do not co-operate with our country in
this humanitarian movement, will it not indicate that we have not
caught the American spirit? Will it not show that those finer feel-
ings and nobler instincts that move others, that are moving this
whole nation, do not appeal to us? I know there are no people rich-
er in feeling and finer in instincts than the culture of the race I
speak to tonight. The remembrance of our sad past and the Mighty
Hand that delivered us but adds to our natural fitness to sympa-
thize with the people of Cuba and their struggle to throw off the
yoke that galls and dash in pieces the cup that is bitter.
We must not overlook our splendid opportunities in this
crisis . . . . Shall we nurse our wrongs, treasure our resentments,
exercise our vengeance, and thus lose our venture? I cannot
believe that we shall permit our grievance to overshadow our
opportunities. . . .
As the United States and Spain negotiated a treaty with Spain
in the fall of 1898, Sen. Albert J. Beveridge, along with many
Black Soldiers in the
Although African Americans debatedwhether they should support the war
with Spain, more than 10,000 black men vol-
unteered for military service, and 5 were
awarded the Medal of Honor. Among the
first troops to be mobilized for the war were
the Buffalo Soldiers stationed in the western
Participation in the war did not shield
black soldiers from racial incidents and sec-
ond-class treatment. In early June 1898, as
black and white troops assembled in Tampa,
preparing to embark for Cuba, a riot broke
out when some intoxicated white soldiers
grabbed a two-year-old black child from his
mother and held him up for target practice.
One white soldier shot a bullet through the
child’s sleeve. Black soldiers of the 24th and
25th Infantries, already frustrated and angry
over their treatment in the Jim Crow South,
responded by clashing with white civilians
At San Juan Hill, the battle that catapulted
Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders to
national fame, the Buffalo Soldiers played a
key role. One Rough Rider stated, “If it had
not been for the Negro cavalry the Rough
Riders would have been exterminated.”
Roosevelt himself initially acknowledged the
valor of the black soldiers. But they never
received the same publicity as the Rough
Riders. Moreover, several years later, the
black cavalrymen suffered further humiliation
when Roosevelt, as President, denied that
black troops had played any part in saving his
regiment in Cuba.
160 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Like black Americans, Mexican Americanswere divided over impending war with
Spain. Some Spanish-language newspaper edi-
tors openly supported Spain,- others warned
Cubans of American designs to dominate their
country. But most Mexican Americans support-
ed the United States once war was declared.
Hundreds of Mexican-American men served in
the war, among them Maximiliano Luna of
New Mexico, a member of the Rough Riders.
Albert Beveridge, senator from Indiana
from 1899 to 49 n, became a key
spokesperson for American imperialism
after be gave bis speech “Tbe March
of the Flag” in September 1898, to
kick off his campaign for the Senate.
Tbe speech, enthusiastically cheered
by those who first heard it, was wide-
ly published and was one of the best-
known orations of the era.
Americans, enthusiastically embraced the idea of an Ameri-
can empire as the fulfillment of the nation’s God-given des-
tiny. While the United States—on the eve of war with
Spain—passed the Teller Amendment, denying any claims to
Cuba and promising Cuban independence, it was not bound
by any promises of freedom for the Philippines and other
Spanish possessions taken in the war. In this speech, first
given before a political gathering in Indianapolis in Septem-
ber 1898, a month after the end of the Spanish-American War,
Beveridge spells out justifications for and visions of an Amer-
ican empire with the Philippines as its centerpiece.
Fellow Citizens: It is a noble land that God has given us; a land
that can feed and clothe the world/ a land whose coast lines would
inclose half the country of Europe,- a land set like a sentinel
between the two imperial oceans of the globe, a greater England
with a nobler destiny. It is a mighty people that He has planted on
this soil/ a people sprung from the most masterful blood of histo-
ry/ a people perpetually revitalized by the virile, man-producing
working folk of all the earth,- a people imperial by virtue of their
power, by right of their institutions, by authority of their heaven-
directed purposes—the propagandists and not the misers of liber-
ty. It is a glorious history our God has bestowed upon His chosen
people/ a history whose keynote was struck by the Liberty Bell/ a
history heroic with faith in our mission and our future/ a history
of statesmen who flung the boundaries of the republic out in unex-
plored lands and savage wildernesses/ a history of soldiers who
carried the flag across the blazing deserts and through the ranks
of hostile mountains, even to the gates of sunset/ a history of a
multiplying people who overran a continent in half a century/ a
history of prophets who saw the consequences of evils inherited
from the past, and of martyrs who died to save us from them/ a
history divinely logical, in the process of whose tremendous rea-
soning we find ourselves today.
Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party
question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall
the American people continue their resistless march toward the
commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broad-
en their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength,
until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of
Have we no mission to perform, no duty to discharge to our
fellow men? Has the Almighty Father endowed us with gifts
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E
beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar
favor, merely to rot in our own selfishness, as men and nations
must who take cowardice for their companion and self for their
deity—as China has, as India has, as Egypt has?
Shall we be as the man who had one talent and hid it, or as he
who had ten talents and used them until they grew to riches? And
shall we reap the reward that awaits on our discharge of our high
duty as the sovereign power of earth,- shall we occupy new mar-
kets for what our farmers raise, new markets for what our factories
make, new markets for what our merchants sell—aye, and, please
God, new markets for what our ships shall carry? . . .
What are the great facts of this administration? Not a failure of
revenue,- not a perpetual battle between the executive and legisla-
tive departments of government. . . .
But a war has marked it, the most holy ever waged by one
nation against another—a war of civilization, a war for a perma-
nent peace, a war which, under God, although we knew it not,
swung open to the republic the portals of the commerce of the
world. And the first question you must answer with your vote is
whether you indorse that war. . . .
And the burning question of this campaign is, whether the
American people will accept the gifts of events,- whether they will
rise as lofts their soaring destiny,- whether they will proceed upon
the lines of national development surveyed by the statesmen of
our past,- or whether, for the first time, the American people doubt
their mission, question fate, prove apostate to the spirit of their
race, and halt the ceaseless march of free institutions.
The opposition tells us that we ought not to govern a people
without their consent. I answer: The rule of liberty, that all just
government derives its authority from the consent of the gov-
erned, applies only to those who are capable of self-government.
1 answer-. We govern the Indians without their consent, we govern
our children without their consent. I answer-. How do you assume
that our government would be without their consent? Would not
the people of the Philippines prefer the just, humane, civilizing
government of this republic to the savage, bloody rule of pillage
and extortion from which we have rescued them? . . .
And, regardless of this formula of words, made only for
enlightened, self-governing peoples, do we owe no duty to the
world? Shall we turn these people back to the reeking hands from
which we have taken them? Shall we abandon them to their fate,
with the wolves of conquest all about them—with Germany,
Russia, France, even Japan, hungering for them? Shall we save
Puerto Rico: A Legacy
of American Empire
Unlike Cuba and the Philippines, whicheventually became free of U.S. control,
Puerto Rico remains bound to the United
States as a commonwealth—neither indepen-
dent nor fully integrated as a state. U.S. mili-
tary forces invaded Puerto Rico in July 1898,
during the Spanish-American War. After Spain
ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Guam,
and the Philippines, American military author-
ities ruled Puerto Rico for 18 months, until
May 1900. At that time, the U.S. government
replaced military rule with a civilian govern-
ment, dominated by Washington appointees.
Unhappy with their lack of political power
and U.S. control, many Puerto Ricans peti-
tioned for statehood or some form of self-rule.
In 1917, with passage of the Jones Act,
Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizen-
ship—but not full political rights. The island’s
government continued to consist largely of
Washington appointees, and the U.S.
President retained ultimate veto power over
Control of Puerto Rico by the United
States spawned a vigorous independence
movement that escalated in the 1930s and 40s.
In 1947, in response to unrest in Puerto Rico,
Congress passed an amendment to the Jones
Act, granting Puerto Ricans permission to
elect their government and appoint depart-
ment heads. In 1948 Luis Munoz Marin
became the first elected governor in Puerto
Rico’s history. Despite the U.S. government’s
concessions, the Puerto Rican nationalist
movement continued to grow. In 1952 the
United States granted Puerto Rico common-
wealth status, and Puerto Rico adopted a new
constitution. Commonwealth status provided a
final measure of internal self-government. It
also stipulated that Puerto Rican laws must be
consistent with the U.S. Constitution. Puerto
Rico immediately adopted its own flag (long a
symbol of Puerto Rican nationalism) and its
own national anthem.
When Puerto Rico became a common-
wealth in 1952, Governor Munoz Marin sug-
gested that this status was not permanent but a
pause on the road to either statehood or inde-
pendence—a matter that Puerto Ricans would
decide. But nearly half a century later, Puerto
Rico remains a commonwealth, both connect-
ed to and distinct from the United States.
162 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The Philippine Colony
After considering various alternatives,
President William McKinley finally concluded
that the Philippines should be an American
colony. He explained his decision as follows.
And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1)
that we could not give them back to Spain—
that would be cowardly and dishonorable,- (2)
that we could not turn them over to France or
Germany—our commercial rivals in the
Orient—that would be bad business and dis-
creditable,- (3) that we could not leave them to
themselves—they were unfit for self-govern-
ment—and they would soon have anarchy
and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was,-
and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do
but civilize and Christianize them, and by
God’s grace do the very best we could by
them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ also
died. And then I went to bed and went to
sleep and slept soundly. . . .
them from those nations, to give them a self-rule of tragedy? It
would be like giving a razor to a babe and telling it to shave itself.
It would be like giving a typewriter to an Eskimo and telling him
to publish one of the great dailies of the world. . . .
Many Americans vigorously protested the creation of an
empire as inconsistent with the nation’s history and values.
November 19, 1898, saw the founding of the Anti-Imperial
League, which soon boasted 25,000 members. The league
included some of the nation’s most prominent citizens,
including W. E. B. Du Bois, Jane Addams, Grover Cleveland,
Samuel Gompers, Mark Twain, and Andrew Carnegie, who
was one of the leading opponents of building an empire.
Because women were not allowed to hold office in the
branch offices of the Anti-Imperial League, they formed
their own organization, the Women’s Auxiliary of the Anti-
Imperialist League. In May 1899 they circulated the follow-
We, women of the United States, earnestly protest against the war
of conquest into which our country has been plunged in the
Philippine islands. We appeal to the Declaration of Independence,
which is the moral foundation of the constitution you have sworn
to defend, and we reaffirm its weighty words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are creat-
ed equal [before the law], that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness/ that, to secure these rights, govern-
ments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from
the consent of the governed,- that, whenever any form of govern-
ment becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the peo-
ple to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying
its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in
such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety
And we unqualifiedly approve and support these resolutions of
the anti-imperialist league:
First. That our government shall take immediate steps toward
a suspension of hostilities in the Philippines and a conference with
the Philippine leaders with a view to preventing further bloodshed,
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 163
upon the basis of a recognition of their freedom and indepen-
dence as soon as proper guarantees can be had for order and pro-
tection of property.
Second. That the government of the United States shall ten-
der an official assurance to the inhabitants of the Philippine islands
that they will encourage and assist in the organization of such a
government in the islands as the people thereof shall prefer, and
that upon its organization in stable manner, the United States, in
accordance with its traditional and prescriptive policy in such
cases, will recognize the independence of the Philippines and its
equality among nations, and gradually withdraw all military and
In those eternal truths of the Declaration of Independence lie
the principles which we firmly believe ought to govern your
action as a faithful servant of the American people. In those reso-
lutions of the anti-imperialist league lies the clear application of
those principles to the duty of the hour. In the name of justice,
freedom, and humanity, and in the spirit of George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln, we urge you to obey those principles, and
cease at once this war of “criminal aggression” against a brave peo-
ple fighting for their independence just as our forefathers fought
for theirs and ours.
Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, one of the chief
proponents of an American empire, attempted to ground his
position in historical precedent—the nation’s westward
expansion. He made the following remarks on the floor of the
Senate in March 1900. While Lodge stresses the “duty” of the
United States to less “civilized” peoples, he also emphasizes
the economic benefits of the Philippines to the United States.
I believe we are in the Philippines, as righteously as we are there
rightly and legally. I believe that to abandon the islands, or to leave
them now, would be a wrong to humanity, a dereliction of duty, a
base betrayal of the Filipinos who have supported us … and in the
highest degree contrary to sound morals. As to expediency, the
arguments in favor of the retention of the Philippines seem to me
so overwhelming that I should regard their loss as calamity to our
trade and commerce and to all our business interests so great that
no man can measure it. …
Some of us were beginning to hope that wewere getting away from the ideals set by
the civil war, that we had made all the presi-
dents we could from men who had distin-
guished themselves in that war, and were com-
ing to seek another type of man. That we were
ready to accept the peace ideal, to be proud of
our title as a peace nation; to recognize that
the man who cleans a city is greater than he
who bombards it, and the man who irrigates a
plain greater than he who lays it waste. Then
came the Spanish war, with its gilt and lace
and tinsel, and again the moral issues are con-
fused with exhibitions of brutality.
Address before the Chicago Liberty
Meeting, April 30, 1899
164 T H E G I L D E D A G E
This cartoon from 1898, “The Cares of a
Growing Family,” portraying President
McKinley with his childlike charges,
reflects the racist attitudes used to justify
the establishment of an American empire.
Our opponents put forward as
their chief objection that we have
robbed these people of their liberty
and have taken them and hold them
in defiance of the doctrine of the
Declaration of Independence in
regard to the consent of the gov-
erned. As to liberty, they have
never had it, and have none now,
except when we give it to them
protected by the flag and the
armies of the United States. . . .
The second objection, as to the
consent of the governed, requires
more careful examination, because
of the persistency with which it has
been made the subject of heated
declamation. . . . Jefferson . . . took
Louisiana without the consent of
the governed, and he ruled it without the consent of the gov-
erned. … In 1819 we bought Florida from Spain without the con-
sent of the governed. . . . We received a great cession of territory
from Mexico, including all the California coast. . . . There were
many Mexicans living within ceded territory. We never asked
their consent. … In 1867 we purchased Alaska from Russia—ter-
ritory, people, and all. … To the white inhabitants we allow the
liberty of returning to Russia, but we except the uncivilized tribes
specifically. They are to be governed without their consent, and
they are not even allowed to become citizens. … If the arguments
which have been offered against our taking the Philippine Islands
because we have not the consent of the inhabitants be just, then
our whole past record of expansion is a crime. . . . Does any one
really believe it? Then let us be honest and look at this whole
question as it really is. I am not ashamed of that long record of
American expansion. I am proud of it. … The taking of the
Philippines does not violate the principles of the Declaration of
Independence, but will spread them among a people who have
never known liberty, and who in a few years will be as unwilling
to leave the shelter of the American flag as those of any other ter-
ritory we ever brought beneath its folds.
The next argument of the opponents of the Republican policy
is that we are denying self-government to the F i l i p i n o s . Our reply
is that to give independent self-government at once, as we under-
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 165
stand it, to a people who have no just conception of it and no
fitness for it, is to dower them with a curse instead of a bless-
ing. . . . We have no right to give those islands up to anarchy,
tyrannies, and piracy, and I hope we have too much self-respect to
hand them over to European powers, with the confession that
they can restore peace and order more kindly and justly than we,
and lead the inhabitants onward to a larger liberty and a more
complete self-government than we can bestow upon them. . . .
The Filipinos are not now fit for self-government. . . . The form
of government natural to the Asiatic had always been a despotism.
. . . You cannot change race tendencies in a moment. . . .
I conceive my first duty to be always to the people of the
United States, and most particularly for the advantage of our
farmers and our workingmen, upon whose well-being, and upon
whose full employment at the highest wages, our entire fabric of
society and government rests. In a policy which gives us a foot
hold in the East, which will open a new market in the Philippines
and enable us to increase our commerce with China, 1 see great
advantages to all our people, and more especially to our farmers
and our workingmen. . . .
William Jennings Bryan emerged as a leading spokesman for
the anti-imperialists. Bryan ran as the Democratic candidate
for President again in 1900, this time on an anti-imperialist
platform. He once again lost overwhelmingly to McKinley.
The following excerpts from his speeches rebut both the his-
torical and economic arguments of Henry Cabot Lodge; as a
longtime advocate of “the common man,” Bryan denied that
colonies would help either farmers or working people.
The forcible annexation of the Philippine Islands (and, in my
judgment, even annexation by the consent of the people) would
prove a source of pecuniary loss rather than gain.
Who can estimate in money and men the cost of subduing and
keeping in subjection eight millions of people, six thousand miles
away, scattered over twelve hundred islands, and living under a
tropical sun? . . .
And even if the amount invested in ships, armament, and in
the equipment of soldiers is returned dollar for dollar, who will
place a price upon the blood that will be shed? If war is to be
waged for trade, how much trade ought to be demanded in
exchange for a human life? And will the man who expects to
secure the trade risk his own life or the life of some one else? . . .
The Annexation of Hawaii
Hawaii had already been important for itssugar trade, but by 1898, as America
turned its gaze outward, the island took on
even more significance. Strategically located,
Hawaii, if annexed to the United States, could
serve as a crucial base of operations for eco-
nomic and political expansion in the Pacific.
With President McKinley’s support, the
United States annexed Hawaii on July 7, 1898,
during the Spanish-American War.
The majority of Hawaiian natives did not
support annexation. Their opinion is
reflected in this cartoon, in which the
bride, representing Hawaii, seems ready
166 T H E G I L D E D A G E
As illustrated in this 1898 cartoon,
Uncle Sam’s successful “fishing expedi-
tion” lands Cuba, Puerto Rico, the
Philippine Islands, and Hawaii.
While the American people are endeavor-
ing to extend an unsolicited sovereignty over
remote peoples, foreign financiers will be able
to complete the conquest of our own country.
Labor’s protest against the black list and
government by injunction and its plea for arbi-
tration, shorter hours, and a fair share of the
wealth which it creates will be drowned in
noisy disputes over new boundary lines and in
the clash of conflicting authority.
Monopoly can thrive in security so long
as the inquiry ‘Who will haul down the flag”
on distant islands turns public attention away
from the question “Who will uproot the trusts
They tell us that trade follows the flag and
that wider markets will be the result of annex-
ation. . . . Our foreign trade is increasing, and
that increase is not due to an expanding sovereignty.
The insignificance of the trade argument will be manifest to
any one who will compare the consuming capacity of the Filipinos
with that of a like number of Americans. The inhabitants of the
torrid zones can never equal, or even approach, the inhabitants of
the temperate zones as customers. . . .
It has been argued that annexation would furnish a new field
for the investment of American capital. If there is surplus money
seeking investment, why is it not employed in the purchase of
farm lands, in developing domestic enterprises, or in replacing for-
eign capital? . . .
While the Philippines will not prove inviting to Americans, we
shall probably draw a considerable number from the islands to the
United States. The emigration will be eastward rather than west-
ward. During the six years from 1889 to 1894 more than ninety
thousand coolies left India, and we may expect an influx of
It is not strange that the laboring men should look with undis-
guised alarm upon the prospect of oriental competition upon the
farms and in the factories of the United States. . . .
The farmers and laboring men constitute a large majority of
the American people; what is there in annexation for them?
Heavier taxes, Asiatic emigration, and an opportunity to furnish
more sons for the army.
Will it pay?
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 167
While most African Americans supported the fight for Cuba’s
freedom, they rejected the colonial policy of the United
States in the Philippines as another example of white Anglo-
Saxons subjugating dark-skinned people. When black troops
were sent to the Philippines in an attempt to quell Emilio
Aguinaldo and the Filipino fight for independence, black
Americans became even more upset. American black church-
es, as well as social and political organizations, passed
numerous resolutions condemning imperialism. In a letter
written to the American Citizen (Kansas City), Lewis H. Dou-
glass, son of prominent African-American leader Frederick
Douglass, expressed the feelings of many African Americans
concerning the nation’s imperialist policies as he linked the
struggles of black Americans with the dark-skinned Filipinos.
President McKinley, in the course of his speech at Minneapolis,
says of the Filipinos under American sovereignty: “They will not
be governed as vassals, or serfs, or slaves. They will be given a
government of liberty, regulated by law, honestly administered,
without oppressing exaction, taxation without tyranny, justice
without bribe, education without distinction of social conditions,
freedom of religious worship, and protection of life, liberty, and
pursuit of happiness.”
I do not believe that President McKinley has any confidence
in the statement above. It cannot be successfully asserted that the
great tariff statesman is blind to the fact of the race and color prej-
udice that dominates the greater percentage of the soldiers who
are killing Filipinos in the name of freedom and civilization.
President McKinley knows that brave, loyal, black American
soldiers, who fight and die for their country, are hated, despised,
and cruelly treated in that section of the country from which this
administration accepts dictation and to the tastes of which the
President, undoubtedly, caters. The President of the United
States knows that he dare not station a regiment of black heroes
in the State of Arkansas. He knows that at the race hating com-
mand of a people who sought destruction of the nation his
administration rescinded an order to send black soldiers to Little
Rock. The administration lacks the courage to deal with
American citizens without regard to race or color, as is clearly
demonstrated in the weak and contemptibly mean act of yielding
to the demands of those who hold that this is a white man’s gov-
ernment and that dark races have no rights which white men are
bound to respect.
168 T H E G I L D E D A G E
“My opinion is that the
Philippine Islands should be
given an opportunity to govern
themselves. They will make mis-
takes but will learn from their
errors. Until our nation has set-
tled the Negro and Indian prob-
lems I do not believe that we
have a right to assume more
—Booker T. Washington,
Indianapolis Freeman, 1898
It is a sorry, though true, fact that whatever this government
controls, injustice to dark races prevail. The people of Cuba, Porto
Rico, Hawaii, and Manila know it well, as do the wronged Indian
and outraged black man in the United States. . . .
The question will be asked: How is it that such promises are
made to Filipinos thousands of miles way, while the action of the
administration in protecting dark citizens at home does not even
extend to a promise of any attempt to rebuke the outlawry which
kills American citizens of African descent for the purpose of grat-
ifying blood-thirstiness and race hatred? . . .
It is hypocrisy of the most sickening kind to try to make us
believe that the k i l l i n g of Filipinos is for the purpose of good gov-
ernment and to give protection to life and liberty and the pursuit
o f happiness. . . .
When the United States learns that justice should be blind as
to race and color, then may it undertake to, with some show of pro-
priety, expand. Now its expansion means extension of race hate
and cruelty, barbarous lynchings and gross injustice to dark people.
The war to subdue Filipinos who demanded their freedom
from the United States lasted four long years, from 1898 to
1902. The ferocity of the guerrilla warfare led many to ques-
tion U.S. policy. More than 126,000 American soldiers fought
against the Filipino nationalists. Around 4,200 Americans
and 18,000 Filipinos died in battle, while as many as 100,000
Filipinos succumbed to disease and starvation as the U.S.
government spent $400 million to quash the revolt. The Unit-
ed States finally granted the Philippines independence in
1946, after World War II. The following unsigned letter, from
a black American soldier to the New York Age, a black news-
paper, questions the treatment of Filipinos by the United
States and reveals the racial dimension of the war to stifle
Editor, New York Age:
I have mingled freely with the natives and have had talks with
American colored men here in business and who have lived here
for years, in order to learn of them the cause of their ( F i l i p i n o ) dis-
satisfaction and the reason for this insurrection, and I must confess
they have a just grievance. All this never would have occurred if
the army of occupation would have treated them as people. The
Spaniards, even if their laws were hard, were polite and treated
them with some consideration,- but the Americans, as soon as they
T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S B U I L D S A N E M P I R E 169
saw that the native troops were desirous of sharing in the glories
as well as the hardships of the hard-won battles with the
Americans, began to apply home treatment for colored peoples:
cursed them as damned niggers, steal [from] and ravish them, rob
them on the street of their small change, take from the fruit ven-
dors whatever suited their fancy, and kick the poor unfortunate if
he complained, desecrate their church property, and after fighting
began, looted everything in sight, burning, robbing the graves.
This may seem a little tall—but I have seen with my own eyes
carcasses lying bare in the boiling sun, the results of raids on
receptacles for the dead in search of diamonds. The [white]
troops, thinking we would be proud to emulate their conduct,
have made bold of telling their exploits to us. One fellow, a mem-
ber of the 13th Minnesota, told me how some fellows he knew
had cut off a native woman’s arm in order to get a fine inlaid
bracelet. On upbraiding some fellows one morning, whom I met
while out for a walk (I think they belong to a Nebraska or
Minnesota regiment, and they were stationed on the Malabon
road), for conduct of the American troops toward the natives and
especially as to raiding, etc., the reply was: “Do you think we
could stay over here and fight these damn niggers without making
it pay all it’s worth? The government only pays us $13 per month:
that’s starvation wages. White men can’t stand it.” Meaning they
could not live on such small pay. In saying this they never
dreamed that Negro soldiers would never countenance such con-
duct. They talked with impunity of “niggers” to our
soldiers, never once thinking that they were talking
to home “niggers” and should they be brought to
remember that at home this is the same vile epithet
they hurl at us, they beg pardon and make some
effeminate excuse about what the Filipino is called.
I want to say right here that if it were not for the
sake of the 10,000,000 black people in the United
States, God alone knows on which side of the sub-
ject I would be. And for the sake of the black men
who carry arms and pioneer for them as their repre-
sentatives, ask them to not forget the present
administration at the next election. Party be
damned! We don’t want these islands, not in the
way we are to get them, and for Heaven’s sake, put
the party [Democratic] in power that pledged itself
against this highway robbery. Expansion is too
clean a name for it.
Filipino rebels, under Emilia Aguinaldo,
fought a bloody guerilla war against
the United States for two years,
demanding independence. After the cap-
ture of Aguinaldo ended the rebellion in
1901, Andrew Carnegie—who was
adamantly opposed to colonizing the
Philippines—sarcastically wrote to a
friend in McKinley’s cabinet: “You seem
to have finished your work of civilizing
Filipinos, it is thought that about 8,000
of them have been completely civilized
and sent to Heaven, I hope you like it.”
The thrill of a ride on a popular
roller coaster at Coney Island gave
this proper Victorian young lady an
excuse to publicly embrace a man.
eginning in the 1890s American society seemed to explode
with physical activity. Both women and men participated in
the bicycling craze that swept the country. Football and box-
ing, feeding a fascination for violent competition, nearly sur-
passed baseball as the most popular spectator sport. A new interest in
nature and the wilderness spawned countless hiking, camping, and
nature clubs as well as groups dedicated to preserving whatever
wilderness remained in the United States. Even popular music reflect-
ed this new vigor, as white urban audiences listened to the syncopat-
ed rhythms of ragtime, a form of music invented by black Southern
musicians, and danced the high-stepping cakewalk, also of African-
American origin. John Philip Sousa’s marches also captured the mood
of the day. The exuberant “Ta-ra-ra-boom-der-e” was the most popu-
lar song of the decade.
This emphasis on sports and recreation marked a significant shift
in U.S. culture, representing a deep-seated reaction to the regimenta-
tion of everyday life. Middle-class Americans, especially, had learned
to conform to the discipline of factory work and the time clock, the
restraints of urban-industrial life, and notions of respectability. But by
the early 1890s, they reacted strongly, showing a deep desire to break
out of the often dull routine of an urban culture.
This reaction took many forms. Middle-class and elite American
men sharpened definitions of masculinity, stressing physical prowess.
They even created new words to describe men who were considered
insufficiently masculine: “sissy” and “pussyfoot.” The enthusiastic
response of American men to the Spanish-American War as an oppor-
tunity to test their virility, along with that of the nation, reflected the
172 T H E G I L D E D A G E
“We Americans want either to
be thrilled or amused, and we
are ready to pay well for
—George Tilyou, creator
of Steeplechase Park,
On the beach at Coney Island
in 4897, these young women
pose playfully, rejecting the
strict etiquette expected in other
prevailing sentiment. But changes for upper- and middle-class
American women were even more profound in the 1890s.
Breaking from the restrictive middle-class ideal of the fragile
homebody, the new woman discarded her confining corset, took
up bicycling and tennis, and participated in vigorous activities
alongside her male counterpart. As the physical awareness of mid-
dle-class American women deepened, so did their political con-
sciousness. The suffrage movement gained momentum with the
emergence of the new woman.
While physical activity became the rage in the 1890s, specta-
tor sports also became enormously popular. Technological
advances, in transportation and communications, helped make
spectator sports a fundamental part of U.S. culture in the Gilded
Age. Railroad networks made it possible for teams from around
the nation to compete with one another. The telegraph instanta-
neously made available to newspapers scores and the latest sport-
ing news. Newspapers devoted increasing space to sports cover-
age, ultimately creating the sports section. Sportswriters created
national heroes through stories and pictures. Mass communica-
tions spawned a mass audience eager to keep abreast of the latest
Working-class Americans also participated in new forms of
leisure activity. Amusement parks, such as New York’s Coney
Island, attracted millions of people seeking fun. With increasing
leisure time, higher incomes, and affordable transportation, via
streetcar, working men and women flocked to amusement parks
N E W W O M E N , S T R E N U O U S M E N , A N D L E I S U R E 173
all over the nation, all of which offered an inexpensive escape
from the routine of modern life.
But not all Americans enthusiastically embraced the cultural
developments of the 1890s. Some criticized assertive, physical
women as “unnatural,” fearing that they might injure themselves,
making them unable to bear children. Others worried that the
obsession of Americans with spectator sports and amusement
parks kept the public in a mindless stupor. ‘”Looping the loop,'”
noted Jane Addams, “amid shrieks of stimulated terror or dancing
in disorderly saloon halls are perhaps the natural reactions to a day
spent in noisy factories and in trolley cars whirling through the
distracting streets, but the city which permits them to be the acme
of pleasure and recreation to its young people commits a grievous
mistake.” Escapism, she and others argued, through this kind of
activity, did little to educate or “improve” the public.
Despite criticism, the sports and leisure culture of the 1890s
prevailed, deeply influencing American life to this day. That
young people in the United States today routinely name a sports
hero, rather than a political or religious figure, as their most
admired American attests to the fundamental ways that the decade
has shaped our society.
‘The Strenuous Life”
In 1899 Theodore Roosevelt addressed Chicago’s Hamilton
Club on the topic of “The Strenuous Life.” In this often-quot-
ed speech, Roosevelt made “strenuosity,” as well as an
active foreign policy, the clarion call to the nation—particu-
larly to his fellow members of the elite.
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine
of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife,-
to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the
man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not
shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who
out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs mere-
ly from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things,
is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that
what every self-respecting American demands from himself and
from his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a
whole. Who among you would teach your boys that ease, that
peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes—to be the
Coney Island and the Creation of the
The amusement park was a Gilded Age cre-ation first developed at Coney Island, New
York. Made possible by an exploding urban
population with increased leisure time and
income, as well as the invention of the electric
streetcar to transport visitors cheaply, parks
like Coney Island were replicated in towns and
cities across America. The amusement park
represented a new kind of leisure activity. Not
only did it provide fantasy, thrills, and fun, but
it also challenged middle-class, Victorian con-
ventions, offering an outlet to rigid codes of
A series of three seaside parks—
Steeplechase, Luna Park, and Dreamland—
Coney Island provided cheap entertainment
for the masses, even poor laborers. Fare to
Coney Island on the trolley was a nickel and
Steeplechase Park offered 25 rides for 25
cents. But even those who could not afford
rides could enjoy Coney Island’s festive atmos-
phere as well as luxuriate on the beach. Coney
Island was especially attractive to young, sin-
gle working people who relished the freedom
and anonymity it offered, as well as release
from the eyes of nosy parents or chaperones.
Coney Island’s attractions were daring and
racy in their day. Many rides challenged
accepted etiquette between men and women.
At Steeplechase Park, the Human Whirlpool
and the Chair-O-Plane lifted women’s skirts,
exposing their legs. The Barrel of Fun, a
revolving cylinder, rolled men and women,
often total strangers, into each other. And the
Blowhole Theater entertained viewers and par-
ticipants as concealed air jets blew hats off and
skirts up into the air. A popular amusement at
Steeplechase Park was a booth with imitation
china dishes, objects to throw at them, and a
sign: “If you can’t break up your own home,
break up ours!” Other attractions appealed to
fantasy: Illuminated by 250,000 lights at night,
Luna Park featured “oriental” palaces, complete
with elephant rides, an Eskimo village, and a
Coney Island and other amusement parks
came under fire from critics who deemed them
a sign of American civilization’s decline. Some
claimed that the “thrills” promoted by the parks
led to mental illness. Others worried that the
loosening of social standards might lead to
social chaos. Yet, the amusement park survives
to this day. Coney Island fell into decline with
the arrival of the motion picture in the 1920s,
but Walt Disney and other entrepreneurs built
upon the concept, providing fantasy and fun
for present-day Americans who seek diversion
and escape just like their Gilded Age ancestors.
174 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Now that Thanksgiving day is close athand, the great game of football, perhaps
the greatest game in America to-day, is in
every boy’s mind throughout the United
States. There is no other sport which gives
you a better respect for yourself and for the
boys against whom you are playing than this
hardy game. Your anxious mother is terribly
worried, and tears come into her eyes day
after day when she sees one of your shins
barked for two or three inches or a big scratch
down your cheek. . . .
It will always be a rough game, but you can
tell your family at home, with a clear con-
science, that the bumping and bruising you
get each afternoon, while it looks pretty bad,
is healthy and not nearly as bad as the bump-
ing and bruising you are sure to get when you
leave school or college and begin to fight out
your own battles with the busy world.
—from “The Great Autumn Sport,”
in Harper’s Young People, November 1893
ultimate goal after which they strive?. . .You work yourselves, and
you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and are worth your
salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure,
it is not to be spent in mere idleness; for wisely used leisure mere-
ly means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity
of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on
some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art,
in exploration, in historical research—work of the type that we
most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which
reflects most honor upon the nation. . . .
In the last analysis a healthy state can exist only when the men
and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives;
when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to
shirk difficulties, but overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know
how to wrest triumph from toil and risk. The man must be glad to
do a man’s work, to dare and endure and to labor; to keep himself,
and to keep those dependent upon him. The woman must be the
Football embodied the martial spirit of
“the strenuous life.” Developed by
American college students—members of
the upper and middle classes—in the
1880s, football became one of the most
popular sports in America by the 1S90S,
although it was often criticized for its
violence. In 1887, Alexander Johnston
wrote an article for Century Maga-
zine, introducing the sport to the public
and explaining the rules and subtleties of
the game. Johnston argued that “this
outdoor game is doing for our college-
bred men, in a more peaceful way, what
ihe experiences of war did for so many
if their predecessors in 1861—65.”
housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless
mother of many healthy children. . . . When men fear work or fear
righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the
brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the
earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and
women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.
As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation. . . . Far bet-
ter it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even
though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor
spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live
in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. . . .
I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls
not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The
N E W W O M E N , S T R E N U O U S M E N , A N D L E I S U R E 175
20th century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If
we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and igno-
ble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win
at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then
the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for
themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly
face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully,-
resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word,- resolute to
be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practi-
cal methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or phys-
ical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the
strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and
dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true
Dr. James A. Naismith invented the game of basketball at the
YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891.
Asked to create a game that could be played indoors during
the winter months, Naismith formulated a noncontact sport
that combined some characteristics of soccer, football, and
field hockey. An instant hit, basketball appealed to men and
women alike. This article, from Harper’s Weekly, features
basketball teams at women’s colleges.
In the gymnasiums of the majority of girls’ colleges and schools,
basket-ball is one of the principal methods of pastime and exercise.
In the cities like New York and Brooklyn, the winter is, in fact, the
regular playing season, and more than the usual number of match-
es have already taken place. But in the larger colleges throughout
the country, such as Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Newcomb,
Smith, and others, the winter gymnasium practice is only prelimi-
nary to the class games and matches that are played out-doors in
spring and early summer. These games are largely attended by the
relatives and girl friends of the teams, but are in no sense public
gatherings like the football contests of the girls’ brothers.
The college girl who goes in for athletics is just as much in
earnest as her big brother, but she goes about the matter in a dif-
ferent way. The boy is proud of his athletic inclinations and abil-
ity, and fond of displaying his prowess to an admiring public. His
sister may be no less conscious of her skill and strength, but it is
not good form to court notoriety, and thus it is that we hear much
This illustration from Harper’s
Weekly depicts John G. Clarkson, a
member of the National League and one of
baseball’s stars in 1890.
Despite the surge of interest in football,baseball maintained its standing as the
national pastime in the Gilded Age. Magazines
and daily newspapers regularly featured arti-
cles about baseball stars and other athletes,
creating the modern cult of the sports celebri-
ty. Baseball players in 1890 were in the midst
of a labor dispute. As early as 1885 the play-
ers—like many of their working-class counter-
parts—organized a union, the National
Brotherhood of Base-ball Players, in an
attempt to offset the near-absolute power of
team owners. Among players’ grievances were
a salary cap of $2,000, set by National League
owners, and the standard “reserve clause” that
bound a player to his original team, prohibit-
ing him from negotiating a better deal with
another. In 1890 most union players withdrew
from the National League to create the
Players’ League. Reflecting the fate of many
Gilded Age unions, the Brotherhood and
League soon collapsed in the wake of the
owners’ seemingly limitless wealth and power.
176 T H E G I L D E D A G E
The 1897 Sears, Roebuck and
Company Catalogue featured
bicycle suits for women.
less of the girl athlete. Nevertheless, in college circles and among
the girl’s intimates, her reputation as a star player is as well known
and discussed as are the feats of her sturdier relative.
If the girl is in a position to acquire less of fame than her broth-
er, she is, on the other hand, recompensed by the fact that she
probably gets more fun and real pleasure out of her athletic exer-
cise with less of work and hardship. The long, trying days of train-
ing and abstinence are not considered as necessary in the case of
the girl as with the boy. The athletic reputation and supremacy of
the college are not at stake, as is the case among Yale, Harvard,
N E W W O M E N , S T R E N U O U S M E N , A N D L E I S U R E 177
Cornell, Columbia, and other universities. The girl’s athletic con-
tests are more for fun and real sport, and while there is a healthful
rivalry between classes and schools, a defeat is not of serious
The college girl has her own way of training. She believes, and
rightly, too, that there should be no violent exercise without a peri-
od of preliminary practice and preparation. The physical instructor
sees to it that the girl has no constitutional defect or impediment
before she is allowed to join the regular gymnasium class and par-
ticipate in the more strenuous work that comes later. Her heart
must be sound and her general health good. With this foundation,
she is welcomed and encouraged to take her place among the oth-
ers, no matter how frail and weak she may be. It is argued that a
certain amount of exercise, always in moderation, will be beneficial
to her, and when this exercise is combined with pleasurable recre-
ation, the effect cannot be otherwise than good. . . .
Bicycling was the most popular participant sport of the
1890s—one that middle-class women especially embraced
with enthusiasm. Approximately 1 million Americans owned
bicycles in 1893; by 1900 10 million bicycles proliferated
along streets and roads.
Bicycling was also a popular spectator sport in the 1890s.
Massive crowds of Americans from all classes and back-
grounds assembled to watch highly competitive cyclists
compete for lucrative prize money. Marshall W. “Major”
Professional baseball, reflecting American
society at large, became segregated in the
Gilded Age when some white players
refused to compete against blacks.
Beginning in the 1880s, blacks established
their own professional teams, such as the
Cuban Giants [New York) and the St.
Louis Black Stockings. Amateur baseball
was also especially popular among
African Americans, including these mem-
bers of Atlanta’s Morris Brown College
team, around 1900.
“A jew years ago the spectacle
of a woman on a bicycle brought
a flush of indignation to the face
of the average matron,- to-day
thousands of ladies in our great
cities are enjoying this health-
—B. O. Flower, Arena, 1892
178 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Tnl875 Don Salvador Vallejo criticized the
1 Americanization of Californio women, mem-
bers of the landed elite who had resided in
California when it was part of Mexico and
continued living there after it became part of
the United States. He cited their adoption of
cosmetics, high-heeled shoes, and especially
whalebone corsets, which he called “veritable
instruments of torture.”
As a result of their heightened physical
activity in the 1880s, a group of elite
and middle-class American women
pressed for dress reform. These draw-
ings, which appeared in the Arena in
1892, display the disfigurement caused
hy the corset. Despite these criticisms,
American women would not abandon
this type of corset until after 1910.
Taylor was one of the most famous cyclists of the time. He
turned professional at the age of 18, in 1896. Only three
years later, Taylor became a world champion as well as
American sprint champion in 1899 and 1900. Although
barred from some tracks in the United States because of his
color, Taylor nevertheless won honors and acclaim all over
the world. In an era of segregation, extreme discrimination,
and racial violence, Taylor provided an invaluable example
of achievement to black Americans. The following is an
excerpt from Taylor’s autobiography. The Fastest Bicycle
Rider in the World, 1928.
Despite the fact that I was at the top of my form that summer
, I was not able to make a fight for the championship that
season because the circuit extended into the South, and my entry
had been refused by all southern promoters. They claimed it
would be folly for me to compete with white riders in that section
of the country.
I found that the color prejudice was not confined to the South
entirely, in fact it had asserted itself against me even in and around
Boston. It would be difficult for me to narrate all the unpleasant
experiences which I underwent in my long racing career and also
to call to mind all the vicious attempts that were made in vain to
eliminate me from bicycle racing. I was the only colored rider ever
permitted to compete in the professional class, and one may well
surmise the obstacles I had to overcome against prejudice and nar-
This excerpt from an 1881 editorial in Scribner’s reminded
“rebelling” middle-class women of their “proper” place, as
wives and mothers.
A woman has a right to do everything she can do, provided she
does nothing which will unfit her for bearing and raising healthy
children. The future of the nation and the race depends upon the
mothers, and any woman who consents to become a mother has
no moral right to engage in any employment which will unfit her
for that function. We speak, of course, of women whose circum-
stances give them the control of themselves. It is pitiful to think
that there are multitudes who have no choice between employ-
ments that unfit them for motherhood and want. It is pitiful to
N E W W O M E N , S T R E N U O U S M E N , A N D L E I S U R E 179
think that there are mothers who live their whole married lives in
conditions which utterly unfit them for the functions and respon-
sibilities of maternity.
We have a theory, which we regret to say, is not only unpop-
ular among a certain class of women, but exceedingly offensive to
them, viz., that every one of them ought to be mistress of a home.
Women have a fashion in these days of rebelling against the idea
that marriage is the great end of a woman’s life. They claim the
right to mark out for themselves and achieve an independent
career. We appreciate the delicacies of their position, and we bow
to their choice and their rights; nevertheless, we believe that in
the millennium women will all live in their homes, and that men
will not only do that which is regarded as their own peculiar work,
but much of that which is now done by women. There has been
in these late years a great widening out of the field of women’s
employments. We have been inclined to rejoice in this “for the
present necessity,” but we are sure the better time is to come when
man, the real worker of the world, will do the work of the home,
and that woman will, as wife and daughter and domestic, hold to
the house and to that variety of employments which will best con-
serve her health and fit her for the duties and delights of wife-
hood, and the functions of motherhood. Quarrel with the fact, as
she may, woman’s rights must all and always be conditioned on
her relations to the future of humanity. . . .
Annie Peck and the New Woman
Annie Peck epitomized the new woman of the 1890s.
Well-to-do and college educated, Peck taught Latin
at Purdue and Smith College and was an accomplished
mountain climber and a suffragist. Her accomplishments
undermined commonly held views that women were
the weaker sex, incapable of physical and intellectual
Soon after, we reach what would be the mostdangerous part of the journey, if the whole
distance were not hung with ropes. 1 had
received various reports of its difficulty, some
declaring that there were chains to be mounted
hand over hand; others, that it was all as easy
as possible. My own experience was that this
was the nicest part of the climb. The ropes,
with two exceptions, seemed new and strong,
and in two places there were iron chains in
addition. Then I had always the additional
support of the rope around my waist, if one of
the others had broken or the fastening staple
gave way. So one at a time we scrambled up
the rocks with ease and rapidity, though the
incline was from forty to eight degrees, mostly
eighty. . . . Now we advance over an easier
grade of rocks, more or less sprinkled with
snow, until we arrive about half-past nine at
the summit. It was indeed a moment of satis-
faction to stand at last upon this famous peak,
fourteen thousand seven hundred and five feet
above the sea. . . .
[S]uch a climb is enjoyable, not simply for
the exercise, varied and exciting though it may
be, and for the elation that victory inspires; but
also for the intimate acquaintance thus gained
with the mountain.
—Annie S. Peck, “A Woman’s Ascent of the
Matterhorn,” McClure’s, July 1896
The members of this basketball
team at Newcomb College, New
Orleans, put into practice the new
emphasis on vigorous exercise for
women, a groundbreaking concept
in the 1890s.
180 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Knights of Labor
Standard Oil Compa-
ny founded by John
leads to economic
Andrew Carnegie and
First Farmers’ Alliances
organized in Texas
Battle of Little Big
elected President after
an election dispute
as last of federal
troops are withdrawn
from the South,
and white Democrats
regain control of
Railroad strike disrupts
rail service from B a l t i –
more to St. Louis,
resulting in violence
Carlisle I n d i a n
the model for subse-
for I n d i a n children
of Labor founded
Chinese Exclusion Act
passed by Congress
T I M E L I N 181
in Chicago damages
Hull House opened
in Chicago by Jane
Ghost Dance revival
ends with massacre of
Native Americans at
Wounded Knee South
Jacob Riis publishes
How the Other Half Lives
Sherman Antitrust Act
passed by Congress
Mississippi passes first
excluding black vot-
ers; other Southern
Lockout of steelwork –
ers at Homestead
results in violence
formed in Omaha
leads to severe
most of decade
In Plessy v. Ferguson,
the Supreme Court
but equal” facilities
for blacks as
Bryan for the
Treaty of Paris
cedes Puerto Rico,
several other Spanish
possessions to the
Filipinos, led by
182 T H E G I L D E D A G E
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T E X T C R E D I T S 185
pp. 16-17: Andrew Carnegie, Autobiography of Andrew
Carnegie (Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n , 1920), 130,
pp. 17-18: John D. Rockefeller, Random Reminiscences
of Men and Events (New York: Doubleday, Doran &
Co., 1937), 87.
pp. 18-20: Henry Demarest Lloyd, “The Story of a
Great Monopoly,” Atlantic Monthly (March 1881):
pp. 21-23: Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” North Ameri-
can Review (June 1889): 653-64.
pp. 23-24: Henry Demarest Lloyd, Wealth Against
Commonwealth (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1899),
494; 496, 498, 500, 503.
pp. 24-25: Andrew Carnegie, “Wealth,” North Ameri-
can Review Gune 1889): 653-64.
pp. 25-26: Washington Gladden, “Mr. Rockefeller
and the American Board,” Outlook (22 April 1905):
pp. 26-27: Horatio Alger, Ratted Dick and Mark, the
Match Boy: Two Novels by Horatio Alger (London: Col-
lier Macmillan, 1962), 108-9.
pp. 33—34: Abraham Cahan, The Rise of David Levinsky
(New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 86-87.
pp. 34—35: Juanita Hermandes Garcia, from Ameri-
can Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal
Writers’ Project, 1936-1940, Library of Congress.
pp. 36-38: Mary A n t i n , The Promised Land, 2d ed.
(Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n , 1969), 180-81,- 184-85,.
186,- 187-88,- 198,- 202-5.
pp. 38-39: Robert Ferrari, from American Immigrant
Autobiographies, Part I: Manuscript Autobiogra-
phies from the Immigration History Research Cen-
ter, University of Minnesota, General Editor
Rudolph Vecoli, Microfilm, University Publications
pp. 40—42: Thomas Vivien, “John Chinaman in San
Francisco,” Scribner’s (October 1876): 866.
p. 42: Saum Song Bo, American Missionary (October
pp. 43-44: James Sargent, Why I Am an A.P.A., or the
American Protective Association Explained and Justified
(Rochester, N.Y.: n.p., 1895), 4.
pp. 44-45: “The Mischief of the A.P.A.,” Century
Magazine (May 1896): 156.
pp. 45-47: Isaac Metzker, ed. A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years
of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily For-
ward (New York: B a l l a n t i n e , 1971), 76-78; 36-37,-
pp. 51-53: TV. Powderly, Thirty Years of Labor, 1859
to 4889 (Philadelphia: n.p., 1890), 128-130.
p. 54: George Frederic Parsons, “The Labor Ques-
tion,” Atlantic Monthly (July 1886): 97-1 1 3.
pp. 56—57: Samuel Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and
Labor (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1925), 68-70,-
79-80,- 97-98. Copyright 1925 by Samuel Gom-
pers, renewed © 1953 by Gertrude Cleaves Gom-
pers. Used by permission of Dutton, a division of
Penguin Putnam Inc.
pp. 57-59: Mary Harris Jones, ed. Mary Field Par-
ton, The Autobiography of Mother Jones, rev. 3d ed.
(Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1996) originally pub-
lished in 1925, 30-39. Used by permission of the
pp. 60-62: Marie Ganz with Nat. J. Ferber, Rebels:
Into Anarchy—And Out Again (New York: Dodd,
Mead and Company, 1920), 38-42,- 93-95.
pp. 63-64: Emma E. Brown, “Children’s Labor: A
Problem,” Atlantic Monthly (December 1880):
pp. 71-72: Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House.
(New York: M a c m i l l a n , 1910. Reprint, New York:
Penguin, 1981), 72, 74, 88-89.
pp. 73-74.- “Minutes of the Second Convention of
the National Association of Colored Women: Held
at Quinn Chapel, 24th Street and Wabash Avenue,
Chicago, 111., August 14th, 15th, and 16th, 1899,”
Daniel A.P. Murray Collection, Library of Congress.
pp. 75-76: Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives-. Studies
Among the Tenements of New York (New York: Charles
Scribner’s Sons, 1890).
pp. 76—78: William Graham Sumner, What Social
Classes Owe to Each Other (New York: Harper’s, 1883),
pp. 78-79: William L. Riordon, Plunkitt of Tammany
Hall (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1963), 91-93.
pp. 80—81: “Men of Mecklenburg,” Charlotte Observer,
1 August 1881.
pp. 94-96: Grimes Family Papers (#3357), 1882,
southern Historical Collection, University of Nc
a r o l i n a , Chapel Hill.
pp. 94-96: Gri
pp. 97—99: Henry Grady, “The New South,” speech
at New York, December 1886. Reproduced in The
New South Writings and Speeches of Henry Grady (Savan-
nah, Ga.: Beehive Press, 1971), 3-13. Permission
granted by Mills Lane.
pp. 99-100: From These Are Our Lives, as told by the
people and written by members of the Federal Writ-
ers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration in
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia (New
York: Norton, 1967), 131-37,- 181-83. Copyright©
1939, 1967 by the University of North Carolina
Press. Used by permission of the publisher.
pp. 101-103: Plessyv. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
pp. 105-6: Public Laws of North Carolina, 1899, ch.
2 1 8 .
pp. 106-7: Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobi-
ography of Ida B. Wells. Ed. Alfreda M. Duster (Chica-
go: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 64-66,
69-71. © 1970 by The University of Chicago. All
pp. 107-10: Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery
(New York: Doubleday, 1901), 217-37.
pp. 110-13: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk,
2d ed. (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903), 41-59.
p. 121: “An Indian Victory,” New York Times, 7 July
pp. 122-23: H a m l i n Garland, “General Custer’s Last
Fight as Seen by Two Moons,” McClure’s Magazine
(September 1898): 443-48.
pp. 124-25: Zitkala-Sa, “Impressions of an Indian
Childhood,” Atlantic Monthly (January 1900): 37-41.
pp. 125-27: Zitkala-Sa, “School Days of an Indian
Girl,” Atlantic Monthly (February 1900): 185-94.
pp. 127-29: Phoebe Goodell Judson, A Pioneer’s
Search for an Ideal Home (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1984), 222-23,- 225-29,- 227; 278.
pp. 129-30: Negro Exodus: Report of Colonel Frank H.
Fletcher (Topeka: Kansas Freedman’s Relief Associa-
p. 1 3 1 : Reproduced in David J. Weber, ed. Foreigners
in Their Native Land: Historical Roots of the Mexican Ameri-
cans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press,
pp. 138—40: Ocala Demands of the Farmers’
Alliance (1890). National Farmers’ Alliance and
Industrial Union. Proceedings. Washington, 1890, 25.
pp. 140-42: Annie L. Diggs, “The Women in the
Alliance Movement,” Arena (July 1892): 161-79.
pp. \42-43-. Progressive Farmer, 10 July 1888.
p. \43: Progressive Farmer, 31 July 1888.
pp. 144-46: People’s Party Paper, 19 August 1892.
pp. 146-48: Tom Watson, “The Negro Question in
the South,” Arena (October 1892): 540-50.
pp. 148-49: W i l l i a m Jennings Bryan, “The Cross of
Gold,” The First Battle: A Story of the Campaign of 1896
(Chicago: W B. Conkey Co., 1896), 199-206.
pp. 157-58: Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography
(New York: Macmillan, 1913), 227-28.
pp. 158-59: H. H. Proctor, A Sermon on the War-. ‘The
Duty of Colored Citizens to Their Country’: delivered before
the Colored Military Companies of Atlanta, Sunday evening.
May 1st, 1898, at the First Congregational Church, Atlanta,
Ga. (Atlanta: Mutual Printing Co., 1898), Daniel A.
P. Murray Collection, Library of Congress.
pp. 160-62: Albert Beveridge, “The March of the
Flag,” speech by the Honorable Albert Beveridge
Opening the I n d i a n a Republican Campaign, at
Tomlinson Hall, Indianapolis, Friday, September 16,
1898 ( I n d i a n a p o l i s , 1898).
pp. 162—63: Women’s Auxiliary of the A n t i – I m p e r i –
alist League, “Women Make an Appeal in Behalf of
the Foundation Principles of the Republic,” Spring-
field Republican, 30 May 1899.
pp. 163—65: Congressional Record, 56th Cong., 1st
sess., 1900, 2618-21,- 2627-29.
186 T H E G I L D E D A G E
pp. 165-66: William Jennings Bryan, Republic or
Empire: The Philippine Question (Chicago: Indepen-
dence, 1899), 59-68.
pp. 167—68: Lewis Douglass, letter to the American
Citizen (Kansas City), 17 November 1899.
pp. 168-69: Willard B. Gatewood, ed. “Smoked Yan-
kees” and the Struggle for Empire: Letters from Negro Soldiers,
i898-i902 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
pp. 173-75: Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous
Life”: Speech Before the Hamilton Club, Chicago,
April 10, 1899, reproduced in The Strenuous Life.
Essays and Addresses (New York: Century Co., 1903),
pp. 175-76: “College Girls and Basket-Bali,” Harper’s
Weekly, 22 February 1902.
p. 178: Marshall W. “Major” Taylor, The Fastest Bicycle
Rider in the World (Worcester, Mass.: Wormley, 1928).
pp. 178-79: Scribner’s (February 1881).
p. 16: Quoted in David Traxel, ( 8 9 8 The Birth of the
American Century (New York: Knopf, 1998), 43.
p. 20: Andrew Carnegie, Autobiography of Andrew
Carnegie (Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n , 1920), 130,
p. 24: Quoted in David Brody, Steelworkers in America
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
p. 26: New York Sun, 1905.
p. 38: ‘The Greenhorn Cousin,” from How We Lived:
A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America,
188O-1930 by Irving Howe and Kenneth Libo, copy-
right © 1979 by Irving Howe and Kenneth Libo.
Used by permission of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a divi-
sion of Penguin Putnam Inc., 134-35.
p. 39: Abraham Cahan, The Education of Abraham
Cohan. Trans. Leon Stein et al. (Philadelphia: Jewish
Publication Society of America, 1969), 401.
p. 40: Diane Mel Lin Mark and Ginger Chih, A
Place Called Chinese America (Dubuque, Iowa:
Kendall/Hunt, 1982), 6.
p. 60: J. M. Lizarras to Samuel Gompers, June 8,
1903. Quoted in John Murray, “A Foretaste of the
Orient,” International Socialist Review 4 (August 1903):
p. 61: Carroll D. Wright, Chief of Bureau of Labor
Statistics, Massachusetts, 1882.
p. 93: William C Smith, Charlotte Messenger, 1 March
p. 96: Frederick Douglass, “Decoration Day,” May
1894, reel 17, Frederick Douglass Papers.
p. 98: The Reverend H. L. Atkins, “Overworked
Factory Workers,” Daily Charlotte Observer, 8 January
p. 100: W. S. Mallory, “Reply to Mr. Atkins,” Daily
Charlotte Observer, 9 January 1895.
p. 116: From W. Fletcher Johnson, Life of Sitting Bull
and History of the Indian War, 189O-94 (Philadelphia:
Edgewood Publishing Co., 1891), 201.
p. 117: From American Indian Poetry: An Anthology of
Songs and Chants, ed. George W. Cronyn (New York:
Liveright, 1962), 64; 66-67. Copyright 1918 and
renewed 1962 by George W. Cronyn. Reprinted by
permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Ran-
dom House Inc.
p. 1 34: “Notes from Alliances,” Progressive Farmer, 5
p. 1 35: C. H. Otken, The Ills of the South; or Related
Causes Hostile to the General Prosperity of Southern People
(New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894), 21-22.
p. 138: L. Frank Baum. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
(New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1900), 1-2.
p. 141: Mary Elizabeth Lease, Macon Telegraph, 11
p. 143: “Secretary Rusk and the Farmers,” North
American Review CLII (June 1891): 751-53.
p. 144: New York Times, July 5, 1892.
p. 145: “Leaving the Party,” in American Labor Songs of
the Nineteenth Century, ed. Philip S. Foner (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1977), 277.
p. 146: Tom Watson, The Negro Question in the
South,” Arena, October 1892: 542.
p. 162: Quoted in Charles S. Olcott, The Life of
William McKinley, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton M i f f l i n ,
1916), 1 1 1 .
p. 163: Jane Addams, “Democracy or Militarism,”
Chicago Liberty Meeting, Liberty Tract No. 1 (Chicago:
Central Anti-Imperialist League, 1899).
p. 168: Booker T Washington, Freeman (Indianapo-
lis), 24 September 1898.
p. 172: George Tilyou, quoted in Reginald Wright
Kaufman, “Why Is Coney,” Hampton’s Magazine 23
(August 1909): 224.
p. 174: ‘The Great Autumn Sport,” Harper’s Young
People, November 1893.
p. 177: B. O. Fowler, ‘The Next Forward Step for
Women, or Thoughts on the Movement for Ratio-
nal Dress,” Arena, November 1892: 635-42.
p. 179: From Annie S. Peck, “A Woman’s Ascent of
the Matterhorn,” McClure’s Magazine, July 1896.
Although every effort has been made to secure per-
mission, we may have failed in a few cases to trace
the copyright holder. We apologize for any appar-
P I C T U R E C R E D I T S 187
Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society: 54, 152;
Courtesy: Arizona Historical SocietyATucson
(AHS# 51185): 131,- Bishop Museum Archives:
165; Brown Brothers: 23 bottom, 32; California Sec-
tion, California State Library: 41,- Carnegie Com-
pany of New York: 15; Carnegie Library of Pitts-
burgh: 65; CORBIS-BETTMAN: 44; Dorothy Hill
Ethnographic Photo Collection, CSU Chico, Mer-
riam Library, Chico, Calif.: 119 bottom; Emory U n i –
versity: cover (text), 144, 148, 181; Ericson Photo-
graph Collection, Humboldt State University
Library: 125; Forward: 46; Frank Leslie’s, July 24,
1886: 171; The Granger Collection, New York: 49;
Janette Greenwood: 92; Harper’s Young People, June
19, 1894: 27; Institute of Texan Cultures: 36; Jacob
Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish
Archives: 28; Kansas State Historical Society,
Topeka, Kansas: 126, 127, 141,- Kheel Center for
Labor-Management Documentation and Archives,
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-3901: 61;
Library of Congress: cover, 1, 12, 42, 52, 70, 81, 90,
97, 104, 108, 1 1 1 , 116, 132, 139, 155, 157, 160,
166, 169, 174, 177, 180; Minnesota Historical
Society: 80; Montana Historical Society, Helena:
121,. Museum of the City of New York: 3, 69 (The
Byron Collection), 84 (Gift of Joseph Verner
Reed), 85 (Gift of Joseph Verner Reed), 115 (The
Harry T Peters Collection), 172, 181, Museum of
the City of New York /Jacob A. Riis Collection:
66 (#108), 77 (#244), 82-83 (#1491/2), 86 top
(#154), 86 bottom (#187), 180 right (#187), 87 top
(#129), 88 (#157), 89 top (#148), 89 bottom (#230);
Courtesy Museum of New Mexico, Photo by John
K. Hillers, Neg. No 16096: 119 top; National
Archives: 33 (Northeast Branch), 63, 124; National
Parks Service, Ellis Island: 31, Nebraska State His-
torical Society: 9 bottom, 114, 129; New York Jour-
nal, 1896: 151 bottom, New York Public Library: 43,
64, 95, 98, 107 (Photographs & Prints Division,
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,
Astor, Lenox and Tilde Foundations), 151 top, 164
(Photographs & Prints Division, Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture, Astor, Lenox and
Tilden Foundations), 170 (General Research, Astor,
Lenox and Tilden Foundations), 175 (Harper’s Week-
ly, May 3, 1890), 178 (Arena, Nov. 1892), 179;
Newport Historical Society: 23 top. Sears Roebuck
& Company: 21, 176; Smithsonian Institution: 56
(National Portrait Gallery), 72, 124,- State Histori-
cal Society of Wisconsin: 93; Swarthmore College
Peace Collection: 71; U.S. Department
of the Interior, National Parks Service, Edison
National Historic Site: 14; Valentine Museum,
Richmond, Virginia: 134,- Verdict, January 22,
1900: 9 top, 17, 18, Yale Collection of Western
Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript
188 T H E G I L D E D A G E
References to illustrations and their captions are
indicated by pacje numbers in bold
Addams, Jane, 67-68, 70, 71, 72, 74, 76,
106, 162-63, 173
African Americans, 68-69, 72-74,
91-113, 120, 121, 129-30, 134, 136,
142-43, 145-47, 158-59, 167-69,
Aguinaldo, Emilio, 157, 167, 169
Alcohol. See Prohibition
Alger, Horatio, 26-27
American Federation of Labor (AFL), 55,
American Protective League (A.PA.), 30,
Amusement parks, 170, 172, 173
Anti-immigration sentiment, 30-32,
Anti-imperialism, 71, 162-69
Antin, Mary, 35-38
Asian immigrants, 30, 116. See also Chi-
nese immigrants,- Japanese immigrants
Atlanta Exposition, 107-9, 1 1 1
Atlanta, Georgia, 96, 97
Baseball, 171, 175, 177
Basketball, 175, 179
Baum, L. Frank, 136
Bell, Alexander Graham, 14
Beveridge, Albert ]., 159, 160
Bicycling, 171-72, 176, 177-78
“Bintel Brief” (newspaper column), 30,
Birmingham, Alabama, 92
Blackfeet Indians, 1 1 8
Bohemian immigrants, 89
Bowers, Henry F, 43
Brace, Charles Loring, 76, 84
Brown, Emma, 62—64
Brown, Henry Billings, 101-2
Brown v. Board of Education ofTopeka, Kansas
(Supreme Court case), 101
Brumby, Kate, 99-100
Bryan, William Jennings, 132, 136-37,
139, 140, 148-50, 1 5 1 , 165
Buffalo (American bison), 124
“Buffalo Soldiers,” 120, 159
Cahan, Abraham, 29-30, 32-34, 39, 45,
Carlisle I n d i a n School, 123
Carnegie, Andrew, 13-14, 15, 16-17,
20-25, 64, 65, 92, 110, 162, 169
Carnegie Steel, 12, 13-16, 64
Cartoons, political, 17-19, 43-44, 64,
132, 150, 151, 164-66
Catalogs, mail-order, 21, 26, 92, 176
Catholics, 30, 43-44, 49, 76
Central Pacific Railroad, 31, 41
Charity, 20, 24-26
Charlotte Messenger (newspaper), 91, 92,
Charlotte, North Carolina, 69, 80, 91,
Cheyenne Indians, 116, 123
Chicago, I l l i n o i s , 49, 53, 68-74. See also
Haymarket Affair,- Hull House
Child labor, 38-39, 62, 63, 64, 73, 82,
Children, 26-27, 69, 76, 77, 82, 83-85,
86-89, 123. See also Child labor;
Chinatowns, 31, 38
Chinese Exclusion Act, 40, 42
Chinese immigrants, 30-32, 40, 41, 42,
43, 44, 116
Cigar makers, 29, 40, 55-56, 89
Cities, growth of, 68-71, 73, 91-92,
96-97. See also Urban l i f e
Coal miners, 50, 57-59
Colorado, 128, 147
Colored Farmers’Alliance, 134, 142-43
Competition, 15, 17, 20, 22-23. See also
Coney Island, 170, 172, 173
Conservation movement, 125
Constitution, U.S., 100-103, 105, 140
Consumers, 21, 27
Corporations, 15, 17
Cotton crop, 134-35, 144, 146
Cotton mills, 63, 92, 93, 99-100
Craft Unions. See Trade unions
“Cross of Gold” speech, 148-49
Cuba, 153-55, 157-60
Custer, George Armstrong, 117, 120-23
Dakota Territory, 116-17
Darwin, Charles, 20
Democratic Party, 132, 136, 145-50,
1 5 1
Denver, Colorado, 69, 70
Dewey, George, 156
Diggs, Annie L., 140
Disease, 32, 49, 69, 99, 100, 123, 155
Disfranchisement, 73, 92, 93, 104,
105-8, 1 1 1 , 130
Donnelly, Ignatius, 144-46
Douglass, Frederick, 96
Douglass, Lewis H., 167-68
Drinking. See Prohibition
Du Bois, W. E. B., 106, 110-13, 162
Durham, North Carolina, 99
East European immigrants, 29-30, 43.
See also Jewish immigrants
Edison, Thomas, 14
Education, 25, 37-38, 90, 102, 107,
1 1 2 , 123. See also Schools, public
Electricity, 14, 69
Ellis Island, 31, 32, 34
English immigrants, 86
Ethnic enclaves, 31, 38-39, 116
Farmers, 92-96, 133-51
Ferrari, Robert, 38-39
Fielden, Samuel, 55
Fletcher, Frank H., 129
Fonvielle, W. F, 103-5
Football, 170, 174
Frick, Henry Clay, 64-65
Ganz, Marie, 59-62
Garcia, Juanita Hermandes, 34-35
Garment industry, 32, 59-60, 61, 62
German immigrants, 56
Ghost-Dance songs, 117-18
Gilded Age, The (Warner & Twain), 10-1 1
Gladden, Reverend Washington, 25-26
Gold standard, 148-49
Gompers, Samuel, 55, 56, 57, 60, 162
Gorras Blancas, Las, 1 3 1 , 136
I N D E X 189
Grady, Henry, 92, 96-99
“Grandfather clauses,” 105-6, 108
Grant, Ulysses S., 117
Greek immigrants, 3 1 — 3 2
Guadalupe Hidalgo, Treaty of, 119
Hanna, “Dollar Mark,” 150, 151
Harlan, Marshall, 101-3
Hawaii, 30-31, 42, 165
Hayes, Rutherford B., 48
Haymarket A f f a i r , 53-54, 55
Hispanics, 116, 119, 130-31
Homestead Act, 115
Homestead Steelworks, 64-65
Housing, 23, 66, 69, 74-75, 83,
85-86, 88-89, 98, 99, 114-15,
1 18-19, 129
How the Other Half Lives (Riis), 74-76, 85,
Hull House, 68, 70-72, 74
Immigrants, 28, 29-47, 68, 93, 116, 119
Imperialism, 153-69. See a also Anti-impe-
Indians. See Native Americans
Irish immigrants, 44, 49
Italian immigrants, 30-32, 38-39, 68, 88
Japanese immigrants, 30-32, 42, 60, 116
Jewish immigrants, 29-38, 45-47
Jim Crow laws, 92, 93-94, 100-107
Johnston, Alexander, 1 74
Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 69
Jones, Mary Harris (Mother Jones),
Joplin, Scott, 1 1 2 , 113
Judson, Phoebe, 127-28
Kansas, 124, 126, 129-30, 136, 138,
Knights of Labor, 49-51, 52, 53, 54, 55,
Ku K l u x K l a n , 137
Labor unions, 49—65, 1 75
Lakota people, 115-18
Lease, Mary Elizabeth, 140, 141, 143,
Leisure, 26, 79, 170, 171-79
Libraries, 24, 25
Literacy tests, 93, 105
Little Big Horn, Battle of, 117, 120-23
Little Italys, 31, 38-39
Lloyd, Henry Demarest, 18-20, 23-24,
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 163-65
Louisiana, 100, 101, 102, 103
Lynchings, 72, 74, 92, 93, 106, 107
Maine (ship), 152, 153, 154, 156
Manly, Alexander, 94
“Maple Leaf Rag” (song), 1 1 3
McDowell, Calvin, 106
McKinley, William, 104, 137, 148, 150,
151, 153-56, 162, 164, 165, 167
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina,
Memphis, Tennessee, 49, 106-7
Mexican Americans, 30, 32, 34-35, 37,
60, 116, 119-20, 130, 1 3 1 , 160
Mexican-American War, 116, 119, 130
Middle class, 54, 67, 69-70, 72, 76,
79-81, 171, 172, 177, 178-79
Middlemen, 133, 135
Mill villages, 98, 99
Monopolies, 17-20, 135
Montgomery Ward catalog, 21, 26
Morgan, J. Pierpont, 13
Moss, Thomas, 106
Muir, John, 125
Munoz Mann, Luis, 161
Museum of American Immigration, 34
Music, 80-81, 1 1 2 , 1 13, 117-18, 171
NAACP. See National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People
Naismith, James A., 175
National Association for the Advance-
ment of Colored People (NAACP),
National Association of Colored Women
(NACW), 72, 73-74
Native Americans, 115-26
Natural resources, 124, 125
Nebraska, 114, 129
New Mexico, 130, 1 3 1 , 136
New York City, 28, 29, 32, 38-39, 57,
66, 75-76, 78-79, 82-89
Niagara Movement, 106
North Carolina, 69, 80-81, 91, 94, 96,
99, 103-6, 142
Nye family, 80
Oil industry, 17-20
Oregon Territory, 127
Orphans, 72-73, 76
Palliser, George, 75
Parks, national, 125
Parsons, George Frederic, 54
Peck, Annie, 179
Pennsylvania, 18, 19-20, 57-59, 65
Pennsylvania Railroad, 13-15, 19
People’s Party. See Populists
People’s Party Paper, 144, 148
Philippines, 155-57, 160-68, 169
Photography, 74, 84
Piedmont crescent, 96, 99
Plains Indians, 115-16, 118, 124
Plessy, Homer, 100-101
Plessy v. Ferguson (Supreme Court case),
Plunkitt, George Washington, 78-79
Political machines, 78-79
Poll taxes, 93, 105-6, 130
Populists (People’s Party), 132, 136-38,
140, 143-47, 148, 149-50, 151
Portland, Oregon, 69
Poverty, 20-27, 49, 66, 67-79, 82-89
Powell, Colin, 120
Pratt, Richard Henry, 123
Proctor, Reverend H. H., 158-59
Prohibition, 79-81, 128
Promised Land (Antin), 35-38
Puerto Rico, 155, 161
190 T H E G I L D E D A G E
Pulitzer, Joseph, 42, 153
Racism, 32, 37, 40-44, 60, 72-74, 94,
120, 164, 168-69. See also Jim Crow
Radicalism, 53-54, 55-56
Ragtime music, 1 1 2 , 1 1 3 , 171
Railroad car laws, 93, 100-102, 106
Railroads, 13-15, 17, 19, 31, 41, 48,
92, 115, 117, 120, 126
Raleigh, North Carolina, 103-5
Reformers, 62-64, 67-68, 70-77, 79-81,
Republican Party, 104, 136, 145-47
Reservations, Indian, 116-17, 123-24
Richmond, Virginia, 99
Riis, Jacob, 66, 74-76, 82-89
Riordon, William L, 78-79
Riots, 53-54, 55, 57, 94
Rockefeller, John D., 17-18, 25-26,
Roosevelt, Theodore, 153-54, 155, 156,
157, 158, 173-75
Rough Riders, 154, 155, 159, 160
Russian immigrants, 29, 33-34, 35
San Francisco, California, 40—42
Schools, public, 29, 37-38, 77, 98. See
Scientific management, 16
Sears, Roebuck catalog, 21, 92, 176
Settlement houses, 67-68, 70-72
Sharecropping, 94, 95, 96, 1 34
Shareholders, 15, 17
Sherman Antitrust Act, 18, 20
Silver standard, 132, 136-38, 145, 148,
Sioux Indians, 116, 121-23
Sitting Bull, 115, 116, 117-19, 121-22
Slaves, former, 91, 94-96, 129
Slavic immigrants, 30—32
Smith, William C, 91, 92, 93
Social Darwinism, 20-23, 76-77, 119,
“Sojourners,” 32, 40
South, U.S., 68, 73, 91-113, 134-37,
142-43, 144, 145-47
Spanish-American War, 71, 152,
Spencer, Herbert, 20
Standard Oil Company, 17, 18, 19-20,
Starr, Ellen, 68
Statue of Liberty, 42
Steel industry, 12, 13-16, 24, 69,
Steelworkers, 12, 16, 64, 65
Stewart, Lee, 106
Streetcars, 69, 70, 173
Strikes, 48, 50, 53, 55, 57-60, 64-65,
1 34. See also Labor unions
Suburbs, 69-71, 75
Sugar production, 31, 153, 165
Sumner, William Graham, 76-77
Supreme Court, U.S., 93-94, 101-3
Sweatshops, 39, 82
Taos, New Mexico, 119
Taylor, Frederick Winslow, 16
Taylor, Marshall W “Major,” 177-78
Telegraph, 14, 172
Tenements, 66, 69, 74, 75-76, 85
Tepees, 1 1 8
Textile industry, 59, 62, 69, 92, 93, 99
Tompkins, D. A., 98, 99
Tompkins Square Riot (New York City),
Torleno, Tom, 123
Trade unions, 55-57, 59, 64-65
Transportation, 14, 33, 69-70, 172-73.
See also Railroads
Trusts, 17-18, 19, 20
Tuskegee Institute, 90, 107, 110, 112
Twain, Mark, 10-11, 162
Twenty Years at Hull House (Addams),
Two Moons, 121-23
United Mine Workers (UMW), 50-51,
Urban life, 28, 31, 66, 67-81, 82-89.
See also Cities, growth of
Vanderbilt family, 23
Veblen, Thorstein, 23
Vertical integration, 15-16
Vivien, Thomas, 40—42
Voting. See Disfranchisement,- Woman
Ward bosses, 78-79
Warner, Charles Dudley, 10-11
Washington, Booker T, 90, 107, 108,
Washington Territory, 127-28
Watson, Tom, 133-37, 144, 146-48
Weaver, James B., 136, 140, 143-44
Wells, Ida B., 74, 106-7
West, U.S., 31, 40, 70, 115-31, 134-37,
White, William Allen, 150
Willard, Frances, 80
Wilmington (North Carolina) Riot, 94
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 96,
Woman suffrage, 80, 128, 147, 172
Women: African American, 72-74,
103-6, anti-imperialist, 162-63,- in
Farmers’ Alliance, 140—42,- middle-
class, 79-81, 172, 178, 179, pioneer,
127-28, rights of, 52; and sports,
171-78, 179; workers, 59-62. See also
Women’s Christian Temperance Union
(WCTU), 80, 140
Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Baum), 136, 138,
Workers, 16, 24; cotton m i l l , 98,
99-100,- immigrant, 31-32, 39-40,
41. See also Labor unions,- Trade
Workers’ compensation, 59
Workingman’s Party, 40
World War I, 71,73
Wounded Knee, South Dakota, 118
Wyoming Territory, 128
Youngstown, Ohio, 69
Zitkala-Sa (Redbird), 123-26
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S 191
I would especially like to thank my editors at Oxford University Press,
Nancy Toff and Karen Fein, for their care in shepherding this book
through the process of publication. I am indebted to Sally Deutsch for
suggesting me for this project, and for her thoughtful criticism of the
manuscript as well as her encouragement and helpful advice. I would
also like to thank Jenean Rombola, who provided valuable research
assistance, and Nicole Dupont for her help in transcribing documents.
About the Author
Janette Thomas Greenwood is Associate Professor of History and
Director of the Higgins School of Humanities at Clark University,
where she teaches a course on the Gilded Age and other classes in
U.S. social history. She is the author of Bittersweet Legacy-. The Black and
White “Better Classes” in Charlotte, 185O-1910, selected as an Outstanding
Academic Book by Choice in 1995.
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