Farmers in the Gilded Age
After the Civil War, the nation’s farmers were poised to enjoy new opportunities and great prosperity. Cheap land in the west, a rapidly growing railroad network, technological advances such as the mechanical reaper and steel plow to increase productivity—all seemed to inspire confidence in the future. However, declining incomes over the next several decades caused them to turn to various methods of cooperative action to try to increase their political voice. They demanded that government act to address their grievances. They charged that monopolistic railroad practices, mortgage interest rates, and other factors beyond their control caused their incomes to fall, regardless of how hard they worked to achieve the American dream in the inherently uncertain work of farming.
Immigration in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
The late nineteenth century experienced one of the largest mass migrations in history, tens of millions of immigrants came to America from Europe, Asia, and North America. Immigrants settled in the United States primarily for economic opportunity afforded by the growing industrial economy and faced challenges upon arriving. The influx of so many immigrants changed American culture and presented unique tensions in American society, leading to a debate over immigration, citizenship, and the restriction of immigration.
African Americans in the Gilded Age
Constitutional amendments were ratified during and after the Civil War to protect the natural and civil rights of African Americans. Despite these legal protections, the condition of African Americans significantly worsened in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, the promise of emancipation and Reconstruction went largely unfulfilled and was even reversed in the lives of African Americans. Southern blacks suffered from horrific violence, political disfranchisement, economic discrimination, and legal segregation. Ironically, the new wave of racial discrimination that was introduced was part of an attempt to bring harmony between the races and order to American society.
Women in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
In the late nineteenth century, American suffragettes continued the decades-long struggle for the equal right to vote. Although the movement split into disparate elements with differing strategies, the movement united again in 1890 to fight for a women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. After continuing struggle, in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. Meanwhile, women reformers engaged in a number of lesser-known movements to ban alcohol, provide better working conditions for women and children, and improve the lot of immigrants. Women also increasingly began to work outside the home in factories, department stores, and offices. Therefore, women began to enter public life politically and economically in a fundamentally new way to break with the past in which they were primarily confined to the domestic sphere of the home.