1302.Three.Victorian Society

HIST 1302 Topic Three: Society in the Age of Industrialization
The 1890 census was the first to be counted on a tabulating machine, reducing the amount of time it
took to count the number of Americans living in the United States. The 1880 census had taken eight
years to produce. The 1890 census was produced in less than one year.
What the 1890 census showed was that approximately 63 million Americans resided in the United
States. It also showed that the American Frontier had disappeared, leading historian Frederick Jackson
Turner to produce his "Frontier Thesis". The 1890 census also showed the continuing trend that our
country was becoming an urban country. In 1870, 75% of the population was rural (living in a
community of 2500 or less). In 1900, that number had dropped to 60%.
When we think about this new industrial America following the Civil War, one of the first things that
comes to mind is social stratification. Workers and immigrants, the middle class, minorities, farmers
(whom we will talk about in Topic Four), the wealthy, all experienced this new America in different
ways. The one thing that bound American society together was that everything was industrialized and
manufactured now.
The Wealthy
As stated in Lecture Two, it was the Carnegie's, the Rockefeller’s, the Morgan's, etc. who amassed
tremendous amounts of wealth by building the first major U.S. corporations in America. That they did so
through unscrupulous means (by today's standards) can leave a bad taste in one's mouth. On the other
hand, some of them followed what Carnegie called the "Gospel of Wealth". Carnegie didn't apologize for
being wealthy. He believed that he had the talent to create wealth. On the other hand, Carnegie
believed that the rich were obligated to use their wealth for the good of mankind. He gave away most of
his fortune to philanthropic works. Rockefeller also gave away over half a billion dollars to charitable
causes and other philanthropic works. Other multi-millionaires used their money in different ways. J.P.
Morgan was known as a collector of books, art and gems. After his death, his collections were donated
to various museums, where they can still be visited today.
Businessmen justified their practices, and wealth, by stating that they were creating jobs for country,
creating wealth for the country and even helped the spiritual health of the nation by pursuing profits (as
an example to others, who could aspire to become "great men", like Vanderbilt or Jay Gould or J.P.
Morgan). And when they built large mansions, and summer "cottages", yachts and private train cars,
when they bought their wives fancy jewels, or had Italian villas taken down stone by stone, shipped to
American and then carefully rebuilt, well, they were only helping the economy. Again, they were
spending money to help the economy.
The Middle Class
The Middle Class lived in nuclear families with an average of three children. In the mornings, they
washed in their bedrooms from a pitcher and basin (you may still see these in an older relatives house),
and then they separated for the day. This was and is the reality of an industrial society, where the family
doesn't see each other during the day. Dad (and now mom) goes off to work and the children go off to
school, then reunite in the evenings. The average life expectancy in 1880 was 43, but by 1900 that had
risen to 50.
The Middle Class American was a heavy person and they ate heavy meals. Industrialization meant that
new, processed food made the American housewife's job much easier (although studies have shown
that the new demands on her time actually added to her working day). It was not unusual for the typical
middle class family to eat a meal consisting of three or four courses, a soup course, a salad course, the
main course and a dessert course. Much of this would have come from the new packaged foods
available on the market: Uneeda Biscuit Mix from the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco), canned
goods, Jell-O, packaged meat, etc. Housewives stored perishables in the new iceboxes, that would keep
dairy, produce and meat fresher for much longer.
Both sexes wore elaborate clothing. Men wore suits, with a tie, complete with waistcoat, undershirt,
drawers and garters (to keep their stockings up). They would complete their ensemble with a hat, a
cane, pocket watch, and wallet. For women, dressing was MUCH more strenuous. It started with a
chemise that might or might not have knickers attached to it. Over this came your corset, a torture
device designed to train your body to have the desired hourglass shape. Then came the petticoat, so
your dress would flare, then the bustle, then the dress itself. Oh, did I forget to mention the stockings
and garters? As a middle class lady, you could be wearing three to five pounds of fabric, and unable to
draw a full breath because of your corset. Now came your hat, your gloves, your reticule (a small purse
to keep valuables in), your parasol, and your handkerchief. Of course, throughout the era, fashions
changed somewhat, but overall, this was the standard uniform of the Victorian middle class. By the end
of the century, women's wear allowed more freedom of movement, but it wouldn't be until after the
turn of the century that women escaped the confining clothes of the Victorian era.
The middle class lived in the suburbs, in wooden houses, complete with porches. Until the advent of
plumbing, it was not unusual to have several buildings in the back of the main house, an outhouse, a
cow shed, a gardening shed, etc. When the family came home in the evenings, they engaged in some of
the new mass marketed entertainments: dominoes, checkers, and backgammon. They read the new
magazines and journals that were being published, or the new books that were being mass produced.
With the creation of the mass communication industry, publishers like William Hearst and Joseph
Pulitzer completed for readership. In 1870, 3 million newspapers were circulated; by 1910, that number
rose to 24 million. New magazines that appealed to a specific audience were sold, such as Ladies Home
Journal, or Life Magazine.
They had the leisure time to go to plays; Broadway alone had 17 theaters open. Every major city had a
symphony. Professional sports were being organized: in 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the
first professional baseball team and in 1876 the National League was formed. Baseball soon became
America's number one pastime: songs were composed about baseball, poems were written about
baseball, art was produced with baseball as its main theme. Not only did America have the major
leagues, but also the minor leagues, junior leagues, the Negro Leagues, and also poor and immigrant
children playing stick ball in the alleys of major cities. The first college football game was played in 1869,
between Princeton and Rutgers. While not as popular as baseball, college football did become a staple
in the Midwest, and the Western Conference (the Big Ten) was formed in 1896. Basketball was invented
in 1891. Boxing was outlawed, but by the 1880's was becoming more and more popular. The Marquis of
Queensbury rules were followed, that is, the boxers wore gloves instead of fighting bare fisted and
matches consisted of three minute rounds.
One of the biggest effects that the middle class had on American society was its emphasis on morality
and on reforming society. Throughout history, it's not really the elite, nor the lower classes who
emphasize "family values". It is the middle class. Hence, during this time period, "Blue Laws" were
passed that prohibited most businesses from opening on Sunday. This was the time of great missionary
endeavors by various religious denominations. The Temperance Movement gained momentum and in
S1874, the Women's Christian Temperance Movement was founded. The one area that really struck a
nerve among the middle class, however, was sex. The Comstock Law (1872) was enacted to ban
obscene material in the mail. Under the Comstock Law, books were banned, poetry was banned, even
medical anatomy books were banned. On a personal level, middle class parents were concerned about
the moral health of their children. Chastity devices, both for boys and girls, were marketed in order to
keep them from masturbating. Also disturbing to the middle class was the idea of homosexuality. This is
the time period where homosexuality became less about sexual identity and sexual pleasure and more
about immorality and gender stereotyping; that is, the homosexual as effeminate and submissive.
Sodomy became a capital offense in most countries. One of the battle cries of the moral middle class
was (and still is) "protect the children".
The Working Class and the Immigrant
The average "wage slave" or factory worker made $450 a year in 1890. The census bureau calculated
that the subsistence income was $530 dollars. How did families make it? Well, the whole family worked.
It is estimated that in some families, children under the age of 16 contributed 20% of a family's income.
These urban workers lived on the edge of economic starvation. Two-thirds of their income was spent on
rent, food and heating fuel, leaving very little left over as discretionary income. As a matter of fact, 90%
of Americans died without leaving anything to give to their heirs. Life was hard on women also. Onethird of women had seven or more children (not all would live to see adulthood). In addition to childbearing, women of the working classes, well....worked. If they worked in factories, they made only 50%
of the wages that men earned. Many women did "female" jobs: laundresses, cooks, maids, nannies. And
since there were no laws against child labor, the children of these families worked also.
The average factory worker labored six days a week, twelve to fourteen hours a day. There were very
few holidays and no vacations. Since no government regulations oversaw the workplace, workers
breathed in toxic fumes, or cotton lint, or had the doors of their factories locked behind them after the
work bell had rung, creating a fire hazard. Since you lived quite near the factory in which you worked (no
alarm clock, so you had to be able to hear the bell calling the different shifts), you were breathing in the
pollution caused by the coal dust, or chemicals produced by the factory. If you were injured, there was
no worker's insurance to save you. There were plenty of laborers willing to take your place. And some
industries were quite hazardous. On the railroads, twelve workers died per WEEK. Furthermore, the
working class lost control of their own labor. Today, we are used to this, but it was something that this
new generation of Americans had to adjust themselves to. Instead of working at their own pace,
something that you could do on a family farm, a factory worker had to work at someone else's pace.
Factory workers also had to adjust to the fact that their time was not their own. Americans for the first
time "watched the clock".
And yet, these factory workers, both native born and immigrant, adjusted to this new industrial system.
After all, the American credo is that "hard work is good for the soul". Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick books
told of "rag to riches" stories, in which the industrious worker eventually becomes a millionaire (look at
Andrew Carnegie for example). The business tycoon also championed the model of the hard worker,
bringing home his meager paycheck. They said low wages was good for workers, because the lower the
wages, the higher the profit, which meant that more factories could be built and more workers could be
hired; society would benefit. Furthermore, subsistence wages meant that the working classes didn't
have the discretionary income for alcohol, gambling or prostitution. Low wages protected the working
classes from immoral vices and was good for their souls.
A substantial part of working class America was the immigrant. Between 1820 to 1865, 6.5 million
immigrants came to the United States. However, between 1865-1914, 25 million immigrants moved to
the United States. We can break up this flood of immigrants into two waves: between 1865-1890, 10
million immigrants, mostly from northern and western Europe and 1890-1914, 15 million immigrants,
mostly from southern and eastern Europe. This tidal wave from Europe (but also from Asia and Mexico,
but not quite in the same numbers) meant huge population growth in the major cities in the Northeast.
New York City was 80% immigrant, Chicago was 87% immigrant. New York City alone had a greater Irish
population living there than the Irish capital of Dublin. When the processing center of Ellis Island was
overwhelmed, a new center was opened at Galveston, TX.
The vast majority of immigrants settled in the major cities, where they created their own ethnic
enclaves. Here, they could speak their own languages, practice their own religion, keep their own
holidays and traditions and open schools that catered to their own ethnic practices. Immigrants married
within their own communities (no West Side Story here). The melting pot myth of America is just that, a
myth. Instead, there was Little Italy, Chinatown, the Jewish Quarter, the Irish neighborhoods, etc. Each
ethnic neighborhood had shops that catered to the needs of its inhabitants: kosher deli's, sausages,
pasta. Each major city also had foreign language newspapers (New York had over 200), where the Polish,
or the Italians or the Russians could keep informed of information back home
Among these immigrants, there were two competing factors, assimilation vs. tradition, especially among
the second generation, American born "immigrant". Keep in mind that cultural assimilation is always a
two-way street. While the immigrant was absorbing American culture, Americans were also absorbing
theirs. On March 17th we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, without ever knowing who St. Patrick is. We have
Christmas trees. Why? We buy kolaches at Shipley's donuts. Where did they come from?
Although native born Americans became concerned at the number of immigrants entering the country,
since big business found them a cheap source of labor, no attempt at curtailing immigration was made
until after the turn of the century.
Negros and Jim Crow
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution requires each state to provide equal protection to all
people living within in boundaries. And yet, within eight years of its passage, the Supreme Court ruled
that the 14th Amendment did not protect citizens against the laws of their state, only from the laws of
the federal government. And in the landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, the court ruled
that the 14th Amendment only applied to political equality, not social equality. As long as public
accommodations were equal, then the races could be separated.
In the South, this meant that everything from water fountains to hospitals were segregated. Textbooks
were segregated. Factories that employed both races had separate entrances and even separate
workrooms, as well as segregated toilet facilities. Even houses of prostitution were segregated.
Furthermore, Negros in the South were disenfranchised. Laws were passed that required voters to pass
literacy tests, own property or pay a poll-tax, usually at least two dollars. In addition, laws required all
white primaries. Not only did these law keep Negros from voting, but they also kept poor whites from
voting also.
Why did Jim Crow rear its ugly head in America, and why was it confined mostly to the South? Part of
the explanation could be that the Southern economy, which was still based on cotton, lagged far behind
the industrial north. With a rural, agricultural population that lived on the edge economically, a
scapegoat was needed for economic woes. In addition, the first generation of Negros who had not been
born into slavery were reaching adulthood. Southern whites feared that these Negros, who had not
been slaves, would not respect the unspoken code of white supremacy.
The farmer and his plight will be discussed in Topic 4.
The New American City
In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned approximately three and half square miles of the city. When
Chicago was rebuilt, it was built with steel, making it America's first modern city.
Early American cities were built of masonry, which limited their height. It also meant that their windows
couldn't be too large, or they would be crushed by the weight of the stone. This was the time period
where you could still see the church steeple, and the sky, because public building would not exceed five
or six stories.
With the coming of steel, the city could rise to fantastic heights. First built in Chicago after the fire, these
new buildings, the skyscraper, were constructed of steel frames. Windows could be as large as possible
since the walls weren't load-bearing anymore. And so the city went up. Of course, skyscrapers needed
other things. Ventilation systems had already been invented, and they were able to heat and cool these
tall buildings. A man by the name of Elisha Otis invented a contraption that would carry people up and
down these tall buildings (along with the device that would stop the car from falling if the rope should
break). The modern city skyline was being created. It was these skyscrapers that housed the offices of
major corporations, banks, department stores, etc.
The American city not only grew up, but it also grew out. As the inner city grew more polluted the
wealthy and middle class fled to the new suburbs. These suburbs were green areas, where houses could
be built cheaply, and lawns with trees were to be found. What made suburban living possible was the
advent of mass transit, street cars, elevated railway trains and then subways, that allowed the middle
class worker to get downtown to his office job.
Between the skyscrapers of downtown and the suburbs of the middle class lay the inner city. This is
where the majority of the urban population lived. The working class crowded into tiny apartments that
were side by side with the factories where they worked. These tenement buildings, usually called
dumbbell tenements because of their shape, were miserable places to live. Seven or eight stories high,
with four apartments per floor, these tenements were built as closely together as possible. The
apartments measured 25ft x 25ft. On each floor there were two bathrooms that all four apartments
shared. Since the rent was high on the apartment (averaging $10 per month), most apartments had
multiple families living in them. There was no central heat, no air, small windows, and no running water.
The city was crowded. In Manhattan alone, 2/3 of the inhabitants lived in tenements. One square mile
of Manhattan had 334,000 people living in it. This was the reality of inner city life.
The cities grew faster than municipal services. It wasn't until the end of the century that water, sewage,
garbage collection, all the things that we take for granted, would start to be built in the major American
cities. Even the roads weren't paved for the longest time. And the city smelled. Not only was trash
dumped into the nearest body of water, creating a fantastic odor on warm summer days, but pollution
poured from the various factories, creating perpetual fogs. Oh, and the major form of transportation
was the horse. Horses not only moved people, but they also moved goods all over the city. Everyday
thousands of tons of horse shit were left on the streets of the urban city.
In this environment, homicide rates skyrocket. Suicide rates rise steadily. Alcoholism was also a problem.
Crime of all kind was on the rise. Street gangs formed. Outbreaks of disease were not uncommon.
Americans today are used to life in an urban setting. But Americans in the late 19th century had to
adjust to the noise, the smells, the crowds and the anonymity of city life.
Eventually, public spaces were built so that the urban population could get away from the stresses of
the city. These public spaces were usually funded by the wealthy. Some of them created large parks (i.e.
Central Park in New York), or smaller neighborhood parks. Others built concert halls, where the public
could go for entertainment. The most prolific of these public spaces were the new museums and
libraries. The wealthy donated their private collections to form the nucleus of art museums, or natural
history museums. Libraries were opened so that the working class could go and improve their minds on
their one day off.
These are cities that we modern Americans would know. We would recognize the skyscrapers, the
department stores, the transit systems, the public buildings, the parks. The names on the businesses
might have changed, but the general layout of the city would be familiar to us.
In an industrial society, schooling was seen as exceedingly important. After all, you couldn't learn what
you needed to make a living from your father, as in farming. By 1900, 31 states had mandatory school
attendance laws. Budgets for schools increased and illiteracy in the United States decreased from 20%
to 10%. Elementary and secondary education had a highly structured curriculum, which not only taught
the basics but also discipline, frugality, hard-work and ethics.
After all, millions of immigrants were pouring into the country every year. Schools were not only a way
to educate children, but also a way to indoctrinate them with "American" values and teach them the
myths and folklore of our culture. How many of our elementary school children learn of George
Washington and the cherry tree? It's a complete lie (how un-American) and yet first graders color the
same worksheet, showing a young George and a dead cherry tree, "I cannot tell a lie". On the other
hand, the training of teachers became professional and secondary education focused on vocational
training as well as academic studies.
The most important, and tragic, result of the Plessy v. Ferguson case was the way it affected the
education of Negros in America. Although the doctrine of "separate but equal" meant that white and
black schools were supposed to receive the same funding, of course this wasn't the case. In some school
districts, the only black high school was closed. In most districts, negro schools received a mere pittance
of the funds that white schools received. By 1900, almost 50% of Negro's in the United States were
That's not to say that the state of education in the South for white children was rosy. The South lagged
far behind the North in education. Reasons for this was that family size in the South was larger, so there
were more children to educate, however, the tax base was smaller since the South was more poor than
the North. The South also refused to adopt mandatory attendance laws, so many children, white and
black, didn't go to school. Since the South was more rural, it was more difficult for some children to get
to school and southern states mandated a smaller school year.
Higher Education
Almost 150 new colleges and universities were founded during this era. The Morrill Act gave federal land
to the states to build agricultural and mechanical colleges (the A&M colleges) that focused on practical
matters like engineering, soil management, livestock breeding, etc. Philanthropy also played a large role
in creating colleges. Stanford, Duke, Vanderbilt, Carnegie-Mellon, these are all the names of rich
industrial tycoons who endowed colleges that took their names.
The purpose of college now was to get an education, not to train young men for the ministry. As such,
courses such as biology, mathematics, modern languages, fine arts, etc. were added to the curriculum.
Instead of recitation, the professor gave lectures on the subject. Students chose their own course of
study. Johns Hopkins opened the first graduate school in 1876.
More women were going to college, even though some men argued that a college education made
women sterile, or masculine. Women's colleges opened, like Radcliffe, Wellesley and Vassar. Other
colleges became co-ed. By 1900, 40% of the student body at colleges were women. The problem
women had with attaining a college degree was that they were still shut out of professional jobs.
Minorities had fewer opportunities for higher education. W.E.B. du Bois obtained a PhD. from Harvard
University, but couldn't obtain a teaching position at a white college. Black colleges were created, but in
reality they were really vocational schools that trained Negros for manual labor. The most famous of
these was Tuskegee College, founded by Booker T. Washington. Washington held the position that
Negros could better their position in society by accepting racial segregation and white supremacy, and
working to better themselves economically (Atlanta Compromise). For this view, Washington was
bitterly denounced by du Bois, who felt that Negros must not accept the status quo, but work politically
against segregation. du Bois believed that Negros should strive for more than a vocational education.
Heading Towards the 20th Century
As this industrial society headed toward the 20th century, major changes occurred. Clothing styles
changed drastically, as athleticism and fitness became more popular. Women gain more freedom, not
only in their dress, but in their education, creating an intellectual community that has energy, but
nowhere to put that energy. Society was waking up to the ills of industrialization, leading to major
reform movements. And finally, Americans were dropping their Victorian prudery, as restaurants, night
clubs, theme parks, theaters, in essence mass entertainment, led to the mixing of the sexes.
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