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Urban growth during the gilded age: social, cultural, political, and economic changes

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Rodrigo Sanchez Urban Growth during the Gilded Age: Social, Cultural, Political, and Economic Changes One of the most notable times during the late 19th century was the Gilded Age. This is a term often used to describe this time period since from the outside looking in urban life in America seemed perfect, but in reality, many citizens did not like the changes that were occurring. Since the verb gild means to cover with or as if with a thin coating of gold[1], historians often refer to this time period as “ the Gilded Age”.

New ideals aboutpoverty, social reforms, different political approaches, and a new women’sculturebrought forth political, economic, social, and cultural changes in urban growth during the Gilded Age. Some were mostly beneficial, but others were not. The Gilded Age was a time of politics, and new forms of it influenced urban growth during this time period. Campaigning was no longer enough to keep voters on your side. George WashingtonPlunkitt recognized this and changed their approach toward politics. …you have to go among the people, see them and be seen…I know what they like and what they don’t like…” says Plunkitt as he describes his new strategies (Document E). He goes on to explain how he helps people follow their passion, “ I hear of a young feller that’s proud of his voice…I ask him to join our Glee Club,” (Document E). This new form of politics and obtaining votes closely resembles the strategies political bosses used during this time period. Via favors and help, political bosses secured votes for their political parties.

This new way of getting votes, both from politicians and political bosses, changed the way people viewed politics. Politics became a new interest for many, since now they were personally affected by it. Not only that, but people now saw politics as a means of getting what they wanted. Some, such as old immigrants, wanted everything to be closed on Sundays. New immigrants wanted to be able to relax and be able to enjoy their day off on Sundays (Book). Minor things like this got people interested in politics. They now felt they had a voice, and with the new methods of getting votes they were instantly rewarded through favors.

Politics during the Gilded age also stirred raw emotions and anger among citizens. The Spoils System was good for many people who were looking for jobs and had made monetary contributions to political campaigns. The people who were on the other side of the spectrum did not like the Spoils System. Ultimately, this system put qualified people out of jobs and replaced them with unqualified people (Book). Those lucky enough to not be affected by the Spoils System who had jobs often suffered bad working conditions in the workplace and low wages.

In an effort to reform these conditions unions sprung up throughout American cities. Government oftentimes kept unions down, afraid big companies and factory owners would make them look bad in court. Document C clearly points a finger toward the government. “…man’s liberties are trampled underfoot at the bidding of corporations and trust,” states a letter on labor, as it then explains how tyrants have always found a willing judge “ to clothe that tyranny in the robes of legality” (Document C). With unions down, entrepreneurs kept getting richer and richer.

The wealth amounted by these entrepreneurs would be the new political standard. William Graham Sumner stated that America was turning over a new political system, plutocracy. Plutocracy, as defined by Sumner, is a political system in which the ruling force is wealth (Document I). This was in fact true as the rich controlled government, as it is made clear when judges put unions down. All these bad aspects of politics during the Gilded Age were a set back. Regardless, they contributed to the urban growth in the forms of reform movements, and activism by individuals to try to change what they didn’t like.

It is clear that there were different views regarding politics during this time period, but there was also a difference in views regarding economics. Different views on poverty altered urban life as well. Those who were better off economically saw poverty as a weakness. They believed the poor were poor because of a lack of work ethic and determination, this theory was known as Social Darwinism. This theory is emphasized by Andrew Carnegie who, in his book Wealth, states that it is “ much better great inequality than universal squalor” (Document A).

Not only are those his thoughts about poverty, but he also finds it “ essential for the future progress of the race” (Document A). This belief was shared by many successful entrepreneurs. There were, however, those who did not share this idea. There were those who believed the poor were poor due to their surroundings and the lack of opportunities they had. Such individuals include Jacob A. Riis. In his book, How the Other Half Lives, Riis says, “ If it shall appear that the sufferings and the sins of the ‘ other half’, and the evil they breed, are but as just punishment upon the community that gave it no other choice, it will be because that is he truth” (Document H). Riis puts the blame on the community, not on people themselves. This belief is also shared by Jane Addams, who after helping out a German immigrant realized that she didn’t need charity, since she had an “ immense capacity”, but the service of the state’s attorney (Document J). These different views on poverty ultimately changed urban life by starting a social reform movement, which will further be discussed later on. Though poverty was an economic predicament, the Gilded Age also brought economic relief for other social groups.

New immigrants were one of these groups. Document B provides a story of the struggles two immigrants from Italy faced as they arrived to America. They arrive to Brooklyn, move to Newark, and finally moved back to Brooklyn where they settled in Hamilton Avenue. They go through this hassle in an effort to makemoney, and pursue a better a better life. But in the end their plans change as one of them states, “ we had said that when we saved $1, 000 each we would go back to Italy to buy a farm, but now the time is coming we are so busy and making money that we think we will stay…” (Document B).

This clearly depicts the economic opportunities immigrants had. But immigrants weren’t the only one benefited, so we middle class Americans. The Gilded Age was prosperous times for middle class Americans, who wanted to appear wealthier than what they were. Thorstein Veblen noticed this behavior among middle class Americans, who conspicuously acquired luxuries to appear richer (Document F). The fact that middle class citizens were able to buy these “ luxuries” leads one to believe that they were economically stable.

This economic relief helped along urbanization by giving new immigrants opportunities, which brought more immigrants into America, and by giving middle class Americans something to aspire to. There were new social developments during the Gilded Age, as well? which helped urbanization along. Due to poverty, many people sometimes lived under harsh conditions. Such were cramped housing. Document C provides a blueprint of a dumbbell tenement. This building was 50 feet long and in that p there were seven rooms, think of how small the rooms were!

Not only that, but there were only two fire escapes, and the blueprint lacks essentials, such as a bathroom. Riis then states that three-fourths of [New York’s] population used to live in tenements similar to the one shown in Document D (Document H). Needless to say, these were unfit living conditions for anyhuman being. In an effort to fix, or at least improve this, social reforms were started. Organizations such as the Hull House started going into these communities to better understand the conditions poor people lived under.

Jane Addams narrates the story of her helping out and going into the community in Document J. This social reform helped the growth of urbanization by lending out a helping hand to the poor. During this time period there was also more social interaction. Due to the popularization of croquet and cycling young men and women now socialized more (Book). Women were also making social changes during the Gilded Age. Educationis a tool and weapon to better ourselves, and during the Gilded Age women were now given a fair education.

M. Carey Thomas argues that women should have the same education men have (Document G). “ There is no reason to believe that typhoid or scarlet fever or phthisis can be successfully treated by a woman physician in one way and by a man physician in another way,” argued Thomas (Document G). Thomas simply said that whatever a man can do a woman can do it too, and it can be done in the same fashion. Thisacademicreform for women would lead to more and more successful women. With the rising women came the women suffrage.

Organizations such as the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) fought for equal voting right for women. All these social changes helped in developing a more equal and fair society for men and women alike. A final part of the growth in urbanization during the Gilded Age includes the cultural changes that occurred. As said before, the economic opportunities during the Gilded Age attracted many immigrants. All immigrants did not come from one place; the “ new immigrants” came primarily from southern and eastern Europe, with some immigrants from other parts of the world as well.

With so many cultures together, America became a melting pot of cultures where Europeanfoodwas cooked with American products, polka bands entertained at Polish gatherings, andMexicanballads acquired new themes (Book). These are obvious cultural changes. America was now a nation where immigrant cultures met and were redefined. Entertainment was a culture in its own. Sports were now a big thing. Baseball and football gained popularity as many more people were able to engage in the sport. Circuses provided families good, healthy entertainment. Everyone was bewildered by the trapeze artists, lion tamers, acrobats, and clowns.

Vaudeville was the most popular form of entertainment, it in included jugglers, dancing bears, magicians, and puppeteers. Movies also were a big hit. The fact that the image was moving provided people with amazement and entertainment. This cultural change in particular helped give cities their edge. Where else could people find sports, circuses, vaudevilles, and movies within close proximity? During the Gilded Age urbanization grew due to political, economic, social, and cultural changes. Politically, there were new approaches to getting votes and people got more involved in politics.

There were many poor people, and they were viewed differently, but there were also many economic opportunities to succeed. Women also were allowed to succeed, and the poor were given a helping hand. Culture changes redefined American society. All the changes, in one way or another, helped move urbanization along. Some changes were good and some were not as beneficial, but in the end they all contributed to the urban growth during the Gilded Age. ———————– [1] Merriam-Webster’s School Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Inc, Springfield (1999). Gild, 373.

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