Gilded age and Progressive Era
The gilded era had a false impression of glitter over a cheap base. This era was characterized by materialism, corruption, and a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Industrial revolution had raised productivity in businesses, factories and farms, but it caused low wages for workers and farmer debts. The federal government did not prioritize reforms until after 1900. However, in the progressive era, active involvement by government in achieving public welfare was welcomed by people (Perry & Karen 11).
Former slaves were poor and had no land or property. Their rights had been violated by the white supremacists, and through the ‘black codes’ that put so many restrictions on them. To survive, they practiced sharecropping, as they only knew how to farm. They leased land from the white landlords and paid rent with share of crop. However, this did not profit them much. Their establishment of black communities and cities marked a new development for them. They educated their own professionals and formed mutual benefit and self-help groups, life-insurance programs and clubs that helped them survive amid strong racism. Some went as far as challenging the racist system (Perry & Karen 12-14).
Immigrants arrived in America every year due to the rapid urbanization; and were crowded in the poorest neighborhoods where crime and disease outbreak was high. Politicians prayed on them, promising them a good life if they voted them in. their state did not change and this called for them to act. They formed reform movements for poverty eradication in society in hopes that their voices would be heard. For example, reformer Jane Adams formed Hull House in Chicago to socialize the poor immigrant families to life in America. This paved way for formation of similar settlements among other immigrants.
Farmers utilized the new technology to maximize land use and widen market. However, they faced hardships such as difficulty in acquiring fuel, poor rainfall, drought, harsh winter, locust invasion, manual plowing and low crop prices. The government did not fund irrigation projects and farmers drilled wells manually due to lack of drilling machinery. When farm mechanization was introduced in 1870’s, many farmers plunged into debts while adopting this. In order to survive, farmers practiced sharecropping to cut down on farming costs. They also formed their own cooperatives to counter the low prices of cotton and wheat in 1880’s. These harsh realities however took a turn in the early 20th century (Perry & Karen 17-18). All these scenarios show how without an economic standing one has no social standing, and vice versa. The affluent class was the only advantaged group as they did not have to struggle to survive like the other groups.
In conclusion, this was a hard period for these groups but they survived because of their strong will and survival strategies they had set. There were more impediments than opportunities but the solidarity they practiced helped them overcome. We draw a lot of lessons from this history; and so our present generation can look back at this and be motivated to equally face the economic challenges we experience today.
Perry, Elisabeth Israels., and Karen Manners. Smith. The Gilded Age and Progressive
Era: A Student Companion. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.