Monday, June 05, 2006

Questions for The Devil in the White City

1. What does The Devil in the White City reveal about women’s lives in the 1890s? About attitudes toward women?

2. Why does the book begin (and end) aboard The Olympic?

3. Why is it appropriate to tell the tale of Holmes alongside that of Daniel Burnham and the Fair?

4. Larson writes that Holmes “fit the prevailing ideal of the self-made man who through hard work and invention pulled himself rung by rung into the upper strata of society” (64). By this definition, are there other self-made men in the book? Explain.

5. What is the Black City? How is it related to the White City? Historically, do you think they were binaries (direct opposites)? Why or why not?

6. Do you agree with Larson that “the exposition was Chicago’s conscience, the city it wanted to become” (210)?

7. What are we to make of the architectural themes in the book?

8. Where in the book do we see fraud and façade?

9. What role does the Panic of 1893 (an economic depression) play in the book?

10. Control, systems, efficiency: discuss.

11. What is the relationship of urban despair to civic optimism?

12. Late-nineteenth century ideas of masculinity? Their intersections with class? And race?

13. How did the Fair change the way Americans looked at their cities?

14. Disneyland and the White City: compare, contrast. Is the White City a magic kingdom of sorts? Why or why not? (See page 373.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Women at the 1893 World’s Fair

by Leslie M-B

In her dissertation Representing the Expansion of Woman’s Sphere: Women’s Work and Culture at the World’s Fairs of 1876, 1893, and 1904, Mary Cordato writes of women’s responses to such nineteenth century changes as
shifts from a Protestant to a scientific and secular world view; from a preindustrial to a more complex industrial order; from an homogeneous to a fragmented social fabric; and from a political philosophy of liberalism based on individualism and laissez-faire to one defined by social responsibility and a more activist, efficient, bureaucratic government. (7)

Cordato explains that women felt ambivalent about these changes. This was a time of new roles for women as well as for men, but traditional ideas about women’s roles remained strong (7-8). As we have discussed in class, progressive women took their traditional roles as moral arbiters of the domestic realm and applied to them to a new context: the public sphere.

World’s Fairs, then, became one site where women could showcase the progress they were making against social ills as well as celebrate women’s art, craft, intelligence, and creativity. However, although women increasingly mingled with men in the public sphere, their comparatively limited autonomy, some women feared, would make their contributions pale in comparison to men’s contributions to the fairs. Would fairgoers flock to see needlework, photography, and displays about social hygiene as readily as they did to the huge engines on exhibit at the fairs?

Accordingly, women at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia and the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago for the most part worked independently from men, forming their own committees and boards and ensuring space would be set aside for the display of women’s work. Cordato writes that
Through these separatist institutions, promoters achieved a collective consciousness based upon womanly ideals. This consciousness assumed an explictly political dimension, a dimension that held genuine feminist potential. Through the elaboration of womanhood, fair women aimed to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood, to increase women’s confidence and choices, to win social, economic, and legal advancement, to abolish unfair restrictions discriminating against their gender, to encourage sexual harmony, and to gain infleunce, leverage, and freedom for all women in and outside the home. (12)

In 1876 and 1893, then, women felt it was important to have governing bodies and physical space of their own. By the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, however, the women’s building housed only administrative offices, not separate exhibits by women. Instead, women’s work was integrated with men’s in buildings throughout the Exposition (Cordato 15). The fairs, then, reflected changing American beliefs, values, and priorities.

Of course, the story—women’s exhibits separate from men’s in 1876 and 1893, and integrated with them in 1904—isn’t quite so straight-forward. Indeed, in 1893, there were power struggles between two groups who wanted to control the fair’s Board of Lady Managers: the Chicago Women’s Auxiliary (also known as the Chicago Women’s Department) and the Queen Isabella Society.

From our vantage point, both organizations might be seen as feminist in that they promoted larger opportunities for women in the public sphere, but the Auxiliary was more interested in working parallel to the fair’s male organizers, supporting their efforts even as they planned their own Woman’s Building. This group of upper-middle-class women sought to represent what Cordato calls “traditional woman’s culture, which represented stability, morality, and perhaps even social justice.” This woman’s culture would “be presented as a counterpoint to the flux and confusion associated with industrialism and urban development” (206).

Where the Auxiliary women tended to be married to wealthy and successful men, the Isabellas were successful professional women and suffragists. While the Auxiliary wished for a separate women’s pavilion to exhibit women’s work, the Isabellas wanted to see women granted a dedicated space for meetings but asked that women’s exhibits be integrated with men’s throughout the fair (Cordato 208).

Question for students: What’s at stake in these two different proposals for exhibiting women’s work?

In the end, the Board of Lady Managers comprised members of both the Auxiliary and the Isabellas, for Susan B. Anthony and others sought to present a united front. “Only an orderly, well-disciplined, non-controversial campaign,” Cordato explains, “for the involvement of women in official leadership roles at the Exposition, Anthony and her colleagues maintained, would lead to long-range success for the cause of woman” (212). There were 117 Lady Managers and 117 alternates; there were no black women or factory workers (Weimann 42-43). The Board’s chair was Bertha Palmer, who is depicted below.

Inside the Woman’s Building
What, then, was actually inside the Woman’s Building? Plenty. A partial list:

    -paintings, pottery, stained glass, textiles, statuary, photographs, and handicraft made by women from the U.S. and several foreigh countries, including Spain, India, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Mexico, Italy, France, and Japan.
    -a room of inventions by women
    -Indian and African displays curated by the Smithsonian Institution (showcasing, as one commentator put it, “women’s work in savagery”)
    -an assembly hall
    -a model kitchen
    -a library
    -ornamental ironwork
    -a record room
    -wax mannequins attired by famous French stylists
    -displays of educational innovations
    -science exhibits by women, including one honoring Maria Mitchell, a then-famous astronomer who had died in 1889
    -architectural drawings
    -books written by women
    -dolls modeling clothes worn by American women from Puritan days to 1893
    -cut and polished stones from mines owned by women
    -an exhibit, sent by women of New York, of African-American arts, crafts, and professional skills
    -an exhibit on British nursing
    -an organization room populated by diverse clubs and associations
    -a board room
    -three sitting rooms intended for the use of the Lady Managers
    -special activities, including cooking demonstrations, lectures, and receptions
    -a roof garden with a restaurant (Weimann 264-66, 433-36; Shaw 61)

Question for students:What are the advantages and liabilities of showcasing women’s contributions to the professions of home economics, social work, and child care? Do exhibits of women’s arts and crafts carry the same advantages and liabilities?

A few women did participate in other parts of the fair, for example by creating displays for the U.S. government’s anthropological exhibits or for exhibits in the Agriculture Building. But their participation in these scientific realms was limited at best, and even the scientific exhibits in the Woman’s Building were small in scale and seemed to reflect less ambition than those created by men. Jeanne Madeline Weimann, author of The Fair Women, explains why:
Women were largely excluded from the centers of scientific activity; they were not taught scientific methods. they were forced in the main to exercise their scientific curiosity by stuffing animals, pressing rose leaves, or drawing natural phenomena. (438)

Women elsewhere at the fair

Of course, women were found throughout the fair as visitors and staff (for example as waitresses and cooks in the restaurant of the Woman’s Building). Many were also on exhibit themselves. We’ll talk about these women in class when we discuss the Midway Plaisance.

Works cited
Cordato, Mary. Representing the Expansion of Woman’s Sphere: Women’s Work and Culture at the World’s Fairs of 1876, 1893, and 1904. Dissertation. History Department, New York University, n.d.

Shaw, Marian. World’s Fair Notes: A Woman Journalist Views Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. n.p.: Pogo Press, 1982.

Weimann, Jeanne Madeline. The Fair Women Chicago: Academy Chicago, 1981.

The American Eugenics Movement

by Bonnie P.

A common theme found throughout various aspects of life in the 1890s is the betterment of human life. Many times this effort was successful. Such is the case with the advancement of leisurely activities during the decade or those immigrants lucky enough to encounter Jane Addam's Hull House. However, some efforts to improve the quality of life were, perhaps, a mistake in retrospect. The American Eugenics movement was one of these misdirected efforts.

While still in very early development, the movement had its roots in the 1890s. The intentions of those involved were to better the life of generations to come by inhibiting weaker human qualities from being passed down. As an extension on Charles Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, scientists aimed to eliminate elements in the gene pool that were not seen as fit.

Dubbed Eugenics by Francis Galton, an English scientist, the movement began in the 1880s, and picked up momentum when combined with the reemergence of the scientific study of genetics after the turn of the century (USHMM). While mostly conceived on European soil, the Eugenics movement also had support in the United States. In fact, some of the advocates of the movement were the progressive former President Woodrow Wilson, women's leader Margaret Sanger and Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Supreme Court Justice (Black).

Once in America, the movement took hold. Plans were implemented to control the
superiority of the human race "by identifying the so-called 'defective' family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs." The groups targeted most often were those opposite of the "superior" light haired, fair skinned, Nordic race. African Americans, Eastern Europeans, Jews and the disabled were often investigated for their genetic contributions against the white human race (Black). If found under the scrutiny of an American raceologist, one might expect a thorough examination of oneâ•˙s extended family. Exact percentages and measurements of ethnicity and disability among relatives were recorded and weighted for threat to the rest of society. If deemed too much of a threat, sterilization was soon to follow. This eliminated the chance of poor genes to be passed on in the gene pool.

Considered cruel and unusual today, proponents of the American Eugenics movement saw these means as a solution to many of societies problems beyond a faulty gene pool. "Eugenics offered biological solutions to social problems common to societies experiencing urbanization and industrialization" (USHMM). Many thought is would insure "a future free of poverty, addiction and crime" (Sinderbrand). In addition, the need for "costly welfare programs" would lessen with a decreasing presence of hereditary medical problems (USHMM). These hereditary defects were becoming especially problematic as the rates of them increased. The increase was actually attributed to the fact that most educated (and therefore genetically stable) individuals were waiting longer to have children and as a result, had smaller families. In the end, less healthy births changes the ratio of acceptably healthy individuals to disabled individuals (USHMM).

Although research was being conducted in several areas of the world, the United States brought a uniquely American twist to the Eugenics equation: capitalism. Many people may be surprised to find that much of the research executed in America was funded by big business. "The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune" (Black). The Rockefeller Foundation even helped to finance the racial scientists of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Germany (Black). This is an interesting subject because, in essence, all consuming Americans, including those who would ultimately suffer from the repercussions of the research, were paying for the American Eugenics program.

But the repercussions of the movement extend far beyond the 60,000 sterilized Americans (Sinderbrand). By the time of World War I, the philosophies of Eugenics had reached the hands of the Nazi regime. "Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide. Nazi eugenics turned from mass sterilization and euthanasia to genocidal murder" (Black).

Today, the United States is still paying for its Eugenics science experiment. Although many states will not admit to the involuntary sterilization of immigrants and the disabled, some states are taking responsibility, including North Carolina and Virginia. Because sterilizations took place into the 1970s, both states offer health care options for Eugenics movement survivors (Sinderbrand).

Eugenics Archive
Deadly Medicine Exhibition

Works Cited:

Black, Edwin. "War Against the Weak."
accessed 17 May 2006.

Sinderbrand, Rebecca. "Eugenics in America." Newsweek Magazine Online. accessed 15 May 2006.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, "Deadly Medicine." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Web site. accessed 15 May 2006.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Final exam questions

Two of the three following questions will appear on your take-home final exam, and you will craft an essay in response to one of them. I will announce the two questions in class on Wednesday, June 7.

Your typed final exam will be due no later than 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 10. I will be in our usual classroom to collect them between 9:30 and 10 a.m. that day. Exams may be turned in earlier to my mailbox in 2134A Hart Hall. Please do NOT turn in exams to my office in Kerr Hall..

No late exams will be accepted. No exceptions!

Note: All responses must reference The Devil in the White City. You should, of course, also draw on other course readings and lectures (including by guest lecturer Melissa Strong and the political cartoons and poems passed out in class). You may draw on relevant blog entries as well. The majority of your references should come from material presented in the second half of the course.

1. In The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson refers to “transitional women” (199). What does he mean by this term? In what ways were women transitioning during the 1890s, and how are these transitions connected with the themes of this course?

2. In what ways did imperialism and science go hand-in-hand in the 1890s? At the 1893 World's Fair, did one justify the other, or were they codependent?

3. What factors of the 1890s made bicycles so popular? Do the same factors, or different ones, account for the popularity and success of The White City, the Midway Plaisance, and Coney Island?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Motion Picture Madness!

by Jennifer J.

During the 1890’s America was transforming from a rural unorganized society to a modern institution. With this transformation came developed urban societies, which longed for new forms of entertainment. Ways to communicate were advancing with the invention of the telegraph, telephone and media. There was mass migration from Europe to America during this period which required new ways to communicate.

With the mass amount of people flowing into the Americas, recreational activities became high in demand due to the development of leisure time. “The increase in available leisure time would encourage the creation and use of all recreational forms, especially commercial amusement such a the motion picture, which required a more definite and specific commitment of free time, unlike books, newspapers or periodicals, which could be read in the home with greater ease” (Jowett, pg. 17). The invention of motion pictures was associated with Thomas Edison, who took the use of a camera to a new level in developing a special motion picture camera called the “Kinetograph” (Library of Congress). Edison invented a projecting device in “1892”, which came to be known as the “Kinetoscope” ( Jowett, pg. 26). This projecting device was shaped like a box and one person could view a moving picture by looking inside the box.

Within a few years of Edison’s first moving picture inventions came another invention which would allow images to be projected onto a screen. This next invention was called the “Vitascope” and was created not just by Edison, but with the help of two other men by the names of “Tomas Armat and Francis C. Jenkins” (Jowett, pg.27). America was craving Edison’s new inventions so he allowed the Kinetoscope machines to be sold to stores all over to show the short motion picture shows. “The storefront theater, a minor venue for picture shows since 1895, rapidly became the dominant site of exhibition because changes in motion-picture practice had created new conditions that made it immensely profitable” (Charles Musser, pg. 417). The small theaters became known as “nickelodeons”; these theaters were also deemed responsible for the emergence of modern cinema (Charles Musser, pg. 417).

One of the first films produced and shown at a nickelodeon was a reproduction of a famous fight which involved “Corbett-Fitzsimmons” (Los Angeles Times, 1898). Per an article in the Los Angeles Times “The Famous Fight” reproduction proved the invention of the camera was scientifically advancing because the fight was known to last about an hour long. The reproduction of the fight was important to the public due to controversy about the fight being judged unfairly. People flocked to the nearest nickelodeon theaters so they could have their own opinion on what really happened during the fight.

Most of the films produced during the 1890’s were films reflecting images of real life situations. Some of these situations included “notable persons, railway trains, scenic places, foreign views, fire and police workers, military exercises, parades, naval scenes, expositions, parades, and sporting events” (Library of Congress). It was not until the early 1900’s that fiction story-lines were created and shown in theaters. This type of movie, which involved a script, developed the position of what we call movie actors. From the development of this new type of narrative script actors movie were required, which then created movie stars. Once certain actors were seen in numerous movies, audiences became more curious and want to know about these actors personally. Movie magazines were released to the public, which allowed them to read biographies of their favorite actors. When this personal information was released the public began to yearn for movies which displayed their favorite actors who became stars.

One of the first fiction films to be produced was “The Great Train Robbery” by Thomas Edison (Library of Congress). This films story-line was about two outlaws of the West who held-up the engineers of a train to steel it and the goods that it contained. There were numerous shots taken in this movie, which included indoor and outdoor motion picture photography. This movie was also known as one of the first films to introduce the two-shot sequence in motion picture photography. Edison always tried to be one-step ahead of his competitors, so trying new things in the movie industry was a must.

The emergence of cinema created a form of entertainment that has been running strong ever since the 1890’s all the way through today, 2006. Even though Edison was considered to be the first inventor of the motion picture machines, many other people quickly learned of his invention and strived to improve it, which created major market competition. Soon other companies began to develop new machinery that accentually took over the motion picture market and phased out Edison’s role in motion pictures. Even though Edison was fade away he still was considered not only the inventor of the first moving picture apparatus but was also considered responsible for creating new jobs in America because of his inventions. Movie scripts writers, actors, theater managers, and movie directors were all new jobs created for an aggressive transforming American Society.

Works Cited

Library of Congress-American Memory. “History of Edison Motion Pictures.” Accessed on May 10, 2006.

Los Angels Times. “The Famous Fight.” October 9, 1898. ProQuest Historical Newspapers-Los Angeles Times pg. B5. Accessed on May 10, 2006.

Garth Jowett, “Film: The Democratic Art.” (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976).

Charles Musser, ‘The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907.” (Berkley: University of California Press, 1994).

Interesting Links to History and Images Include:


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Science in the 1890s: The Rise of Scientific Naturalism

by David L.

During the end of the 19th century western scientific development had reached a crescendo of unprecedented proportions. New fields such as biology and genetics had developed explanations for some of life’s most elusive mysteries, while the older subjects such as physics and chemistry had evolved to a level where almost all relevant phenomenon could be explained by simple mathematical models. At this point in History, a philosophy by the name of Scientific Naturalism became popular among both scientists and lay persons in America. Scientific Naturalism (also known as Scientific Materialism of Pragmatism) is philosophy or world view that asserts that all actions events and objects can be fully explained through the application of known scientific concepts. During the late 19th Century this view of science came to dominate the scientific community as well as many other American intellectual circles. The concept of Scientific Naturalism represented the apex of American confidence in Science and during the 1890s its effects could be seen throughout scientific thought of the time. (4)

More than any other development during this period, it was new discoveries in physics that led many 19th Century intellectuals to believe that formalized science could applied universally through all fields. Due to discoveries throughout the 19th century by geniuses such as Boltzman, Rutherford, and Gibbs (the only prominent American among the great 19th century physics), by the early 1890s the scientific community had managed to unify the concepts of chemistry, thermodynamics and classical physics, giving way to an process for describing almost all observable events on Earth (5). With the advent of these achievements, many prominent scientists at the time were ready to declare a grand ‘Theory of Everything’ under which all physical phenomenon in the entire universe could be described within the confines of several basic scientific concepts. The existence of a nearly unified concept of physics formed the basis for peoples belief in Scientific Naturalism and led scientists in other fields to seek unifying principles that could explain reality within the confines of a formal scientific approach. To many prominent thinkers during the 1890s, it seemed that if a unified scientific theory could be used to describe lightning striking it was likely that science could similarly be used to describe and solve elusive social and psychological problems. (4)

Outside of the realm of physics, the role of scientific naturalism could already be seen in the ways American intellectuals viewed Darwinism. Although opposition to evolution was strong, it was increasingly making headways within the American academic elite. Most notable among the early proponents of evolution, was Herbert Spencer, best known for the his advocacy of Social Darwinism Although Social Darwinism is often times portrayed as simply an excuse for capitalist inequity, it is important to examine the fact that the motivations (but not the methods or conclusions) of early advocates of social Darwinism were at their base scientific (2). Spencer saw Darwinism, and eventually Social Darwinism, as an extension of scientific reason. Just as Newton laid down the basic laws of motion, Spencer felt that Darwinism was part of the same unbending physical laws that mankind could ignore only at its own risk. (3) Since science had seen such great success in the fields of chemistry and physics, it seemed impossible to Spencer, that a theory as lucid as Darwinism could not be cross-applied to the social organization of humans. To the Social Darwinists of the 1890s evolution was not a vague historical mechanism, but a scientific principle that could be applied strictly at every level of society (4)

However, evolution was hardly the only field to be influenced by the ideals of Scientific Naturalism. During the 1890s the field of psychology also came into being with similar philosophical motives. The most prominent figure behind the development of psychology was a man by the name of William James who worked throughout the 1890s to develop psychology from a vague field of interest to an accepted science. Perhaps the most important person in American psychology during the 19th century, James was most famous for his controversial theory of emotion. Under James’s theory, emotions, rather than being independent and spontaneous, were described as simply manifestations of measurable body conditions. James postulated that with close observation, a link between observable body functions and emotion could be detected and formalized.(1) As seen from his theory of emotion, William James was a firm believer of the idea that with enough rigor, even a system as complex as the human mind could be reduced to a simplified scientific understanding. James was heavily influenced by the philosophy of scientific naturalism, and he was not alone in the field; the late 19th century saw an explosion of interest in the scientific measurement of human mental capacity and functioning, eventually culminating in the creation of American Psychological Association in 1892. (6)

The subject of Scientific Naturalism might seem overly abstract, but in many ways 19th Century ideas on science reveal much about America in the 1890s. The 1890s was a decade in which an incredible optimism could be seen about technology and science. Many ordinary citizens, with no formal knowledge of science, looked towards scientists and engineers to find the solutions to literally all of society’s problems. Arguably, it was this attitude that led to both the decades great achievements and its darkest legacies. Looking back at the 1890s, it is easy to contrast the optimism of the late 19th Century with modern day views. For better or for worse, Americans today seem to regard answers based solely on scientific approaches with an enormous amount of skepticism. For evidence of this one should look no further than the debates over intelligent design. Not only is entire concept if intelligent design a reaction against Scientific Naturalism, one of the main accusations leveled at the proponents of classical Darwinism is that they irrationally subscribe to an “Naturalist world view” that inherently precludes the existence of forces not already found in existing scientific theories. Though this is a potent attack in today’s intellectual environment, ironically, this same label would probably not be seen as negative in the scientific community of the 1890s.

Sources Cited

1.) Psychology and Evolutionary Naturalism in American Thought, 1890-1940
Hamilton Cravens; John C. Burnham
American Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 5. (Dec., 1971), pp. 635-657.

2.) Evolution, Social or Cultural
A. R. Radcliffe-Brown
American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 49, No. 1. (Jan. - Mar., 1947), pp. 78-83.

3.) Evolution and the Rise of the Scientific Spirit in America
Sidney Ratner
Philosophy of Science, Vol. 3, No. 1. (Jan., 1936), pp. 104-122.

4.) Modernity and the Spirit of Naturalism (in The Fifth Annual Patrick Romanell Lecture on Philosophic Naturalism)
Thelma Z. Lavine; Clarence J. Robinson Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 65, No. 3. (Nov., 1991), pp. 73-83.

5.) Revolutions in Physics and Crises in Mathematics
Salomon Bochner
Science, New Series, Vol. 141, No. 3579. (Aug. 2, 1963), pp. 408-411.

6.) Struick, Dirk J. Yankee Science in the Making. Boston, Little Borown and Company 1948


by Anson L.

Musically, ragtime is described as a composition written for the piano consisting of three to four sections, each with sixteen measures. The genre is usually recognized for its syncopated melody, which is accompanied by a steady rhythm.

Ragtime is one of the most elusive musical genres in American history. To this day, there is no formal definition of the genre. And to deepen the mystery, while any suggested that the term might have been derived from the word ‘ragged’, a term used to describe Negro dance music, the etymology of the word ‘ragtime’ itself is also unknown (Jasen 2). Historians have attempted to pinpoint the origin of the music along with the name associated with it, but these attempts have been unsuccessful. Some claimed that ragtime music was present at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, but there are no records that show that the term ‘ragtime’ was associated to the musical genre at the time (Berlin 27).

While the name and definition of ragtime is still shrouded in mystery, its origin is not. Ragtime originated in the 1890s and developed and matured during the following decades. Ragtime is usually created by forming and organizing several folk melodies and fusing it with original musical techniques (Schafer 5). The timing of the introduction of ragtime music was crucial to its later success. The emergence of ragtime happened alongside some technological advances that were taking place during the 1890s. During the decade, the music publishing industry experienced a huge boom. Coupled with new technological means of music communications such as recordings and piano rolls, ragtime music became a hit with the public.

Although popular, ragtime was not well received by everyone in the community. Some cultural leaders of the time feared that this was the downfall of classical music. These critics viewed ragtime as a threat to what they thought of as ‘good music’. They also thought that the nation’s youth is exposed, not to the European style of sophisticated culture, but to an African savagery nature (Berlin 32). One thing that critics and many supporters of ragtime music agree on is the vulgar nature of the lyrics, with most songs depicting violence, racial bigotry, greed and sexual promiscuity. Here’s an excerpt from a song titled Do Your Honey Do by Theodore A. Metz
What am de use for to tarry and toil,
And to save up all your dough,
When you feel in your bones,
Dat de gal dat you love,
Is another big nigger’s beau,
And the cheek of dat wench,
For to come around and say,
Dis here love you nebber can share,
I’ve another big coon,
He am de star o’ my soul,
Now do him if you dare,

And I done him, cause I love her
I carved him long, I carved him deep,
Yes I done him, Does you believe me,
And I put that coon to sleep...

The racial stereotype was even more apparent in ‘coon songs’, a musical craze that coexisted with ragtime during the ragtime era. The coon songs were a sign of the white-supremacy sentiment that existed in the 1890s. Coon songs were staple routines of minstrelsy and vaudeville. While it was a commercial success, there was an unfortunate by-product. Coon songs helped the skyrocketing sales of sheet music and concert hall tickets, but brought along with it a widespread racist sentiment. Both coon songs and ragtime music became an outlet for these white-imposed stereotypes and gradually transformed into a commercial showcase of racist humor. An example of this kind of stereotype is displayed in ‘All Coons Look Alike to Me’ by Ernest Hogan.

All coons look alike to me,
I’ve got another beau, you see,
And he’s just as good to me
As you, nig! Ever tried to be.

He spends his money free,
I know we can’t agree,
So I don’t like you no how,
All coons look alike to me.

This song is a particularly interesting example, in that Ernest Hogan was a black songwriter. This perhaps is one of the most unfortunate examples in which a black person of the time is depicted as submitting to the stereotype that the whites want to portray to the nation. Several black singers performed the same song later during the decade, but were hesitant to use the word ‘coon’. Singers such as J. Rosamond Johnson and Bob Cole substituted the word ‘coon’, for ‘boys’ in an attempt to lesson the song’s racial charge.

While ragtime music was not generally viewed in a positive light, it made a huge contribution in the development of a new genre in American music, Jazz. And although much of it was racially stereotypical, it did help to bring black music into the mainstream and made way for genres like jazz to flourish.


Berlin, Edward A. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History. University of California Press; Berkeley, CA. 1980

Hasse, John Edward. Ragtime: Its History, Composers, and Music. Schirmer Books; New York, NY. 1985

Jansen, David A. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History. Seabury Press; New York, NY 1978

Schafer, William J. The Art of Ragtime: Form and Meaning of an Original Black American Art. Louisiana State University Press; Baton Rouge, LA. 1973

Waldo, Terry. This Is Ragtime. Hawthorn Books; New York, NY 1976


by Chad P.

American Baseball transformed greatly in the 1890’s. The results of many of these transformations persist in baseball today. The social and economic conditions of the late nineteenth century shaped the status of American sports of the time, and baseball was no exception. The mid-nineteenth century began the formation of baseball clubs and the standardization of baseball rules. However the turmoil of the 1890’s as a result of competing league structures, team strikes, and player’s moral issues lead to the arrangement of the National and American Leagues and the current rules of modern American Baseball.

The social and political climate of the nineteenth century allowed for the necessary circumstances for the formation of modern American Baseball. The transformation of the United States from a rural society to an urban-industrial society helped create the conditions for the popularization of professional sports. Economic prosperity increased standards of living and created increased leisure time for the average American. In addition, the economic boom times enabled the formation of an America “aristocracy” that amassed sufficient capital to financially support sports. Further, Sports Journalism became popular as a result of increased communication capabilities due to new technologies which could transfer up to date information. In addition, new technology such as the railroad linked distant communities and allowed the teams from different regions to compete, creating friendly turf competitions. In America’s nineteenth century the economic and societal links tightened by technology permitted widespread interest in sports. (Betts, 39-40)

American Baseball was one of the many sports to benefit from the economic and social changes which created prevalent interest in sports. (Zingg, 396-397) Baseball clubs were organized all over the East and Mid-West in the mid-1800s, but the National League was not formed until 1876 by the president William Hulbert. The increased regional competition after the civil war, as a result of linking communities by rail significantly contributed to the development of baseball in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
In the 1880’s journalism and the beginning of standardization of baseball were important factors in baseball’s increasing popularity. By 1882, the American Baseball Association is created in a reaction against the National League, and the American Association becomes known as the Beer and Whiskey League. The first publication of Spalding’s official base ball guide in 1886 demonstrates the standardization of baseball rules. The expanded newspaper coverage of baseball shows the journalism’s importance to baseball. The nineteenth century was the root of American baseball, but by the 1890’s baseball became the national game, marking a decade of turmoil in baseball history. (Betts, 231-256)

John Montgomery Ward, the star player from the New York Giants, formed the first union for professional baseball players in 1885, naming the union the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players. By 1887 most of the players in the National League and American Association are members of the union and attempt to seek recognition to bargain for their contracts with the club owners. However, the club owners refuse to compromise on reserve clauses and the salary caps, especially on the controversial pitcher’s salary cap of two thousand dollars. (Sullivan) Hence, the Players’ League is formed on December 16, 1989 by numerous players that are unsatisfied with the National League (NL) and American Association (AA) contracts. (Reiss, 322)

The first season of the Players’ League begins in 1890 with strong financial backing. The contract issues are remedied with profit sharing for the players and long term contracts. The Players’ League includes many former players from AA and NL; however some star players refuse to join the Player’s League. Due to this the Players’ League fails after only one season, which leaves great competition between the NL and AA. “The new National League is formed in 1892, despite the club owner’s positive ideas of the new NL. The turmoil negatively impacts the fan’s views and decreases sales. (Sullivan)”

The decreased popularity of baseball, leads to changes to improve the public image of baseball. In 1894 the “Brush Rules” are established, which fines players one hundred dollars for vulgar language to assist in cleaning up baseballs moral issues. In 1895, stricter regulations are made which does not allow club owners to pay the fines for the players. (Ritter) During the 1890’s sports journalism’s exciting descriptions are considered one of the few reasons that base balls popularity continued through these dark ages. (Betts, 55-56)

By 1900 baseball was thriving again and the foundation of current American baseball was developed. The National League was strong and in 1900 the American League was established by Ban Johnson, a Cincinnati sportswriter. The 1890’s had seen standardization of most of the rules of baseball from the number of strikes and balls to the still customary sixty feet and six inches distance between the pitcher and the batter. The season was extended to one hundred and fifty games and the club owners were more regulated to create an even playing field. Although the beginning of the 1890’s marked a disarray of American Baseball, the disarray was resolved at the end of the decade, with a strong base and great fan support to develop the modern structure of American Baseball.

Work Cited

Betts, John. “Sporting Journalism in the Nineteenth-Century American” American Quarterly 5 (1953) 39-56.

Betts, John. “The Technological Revolution and the Rise of Sport, 1850-1900.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 40 (1953) 231-256.

Johnson, Lloyd. Baseball: A Pictorial Tribute. Stamford, CT: Brompton Books, 1995.

Reiss, Steven. “The New Sport History” Reviews in American History. 18 (1990) 311-325.

Ritter, Lawrence S. The Glory of Their Times: the Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men who Played It. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1984.

Sullivan, Dean A. ed. Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Zingg, Paul. “Diamond in the Rough: Baseball and the Study of American Sports History.” The History Teacher. 19 (1986) 385-403.

Child Labor in Coal Mines

by Megan B.

Industry and progress not only touched the lives of children in the 1890’s, it nearly swallowed some of them whole. Children labored to abusive extents in numerous industries, such as agriculture and textiles. Coal mining stood apart from other industries, as an industry that literally put children’s lives at risk on a daily basis. It was estimated that in the Pennsylvania area alone, there were at least between nine thousand and ten thousand children under the age of fourteen working in coal mines, and very possibly as many as twelve thousand (1).

John Spargo observed and commented on the conditions children experienced working in the coal mines in his widely read piece, The Bitter Cry of the Children, published in 1906. The following is his description of life at the breaker, where the youngest children of the coal mine worked sorting coal:

The coal is hard, and accidents to the hands, such as cut, broken, or crushed fingers, are common among the boys. Sometimes there is a worse accident: a terrified shriek is heard, and a boy is mangled and torn in the machinery, or disappears in the chute to be picked out later smothered and dead. Clouds of dust fill the breakers and are inhaled by the boys, laying the foundations for asthma and miners' consumption”.

After working at the breakers, boys moved on to work inside the mine, underground as door tenders, switch boys, or mule drivers. These jobs entailed greater perils for the boys. They worked alone in the darkness of the mine, often for fourteen hours at a time. In addition to the harsh nature of their jobs, the boys were also disciplined harshly. To keep children on task "supervisors often resorted to the switch or whip" (3).

What would a day in the life of a child laborer in the mines be like? The boys working in the mines awoke by 5:30am, dressed in work clothes already covered in coal dust, and were at work by 7:00am. Breaker boys sat along a board over a large chute. Coal passed underneath them through the chutes, and all day long their job was to pick out pieces of slate and rock by hand. As can be imagined, their hands and fingers were cut over and over again performing this task. Coal dust hung in the air and filled their lungs.

The breaker boy advanced to be a door tender. These boys spent their days alone, in darkness, opening and closing the door for men and cars passing through. The door tender advances to the job of mule driver, entailing higher pay but higher physical danger. Mule drivers had to retrieve the mules from inside the mine, clean them, and harness them to the cars before 7:00am. For the rest of the day, mule drivers brought the full cars up to the breakers and the empty cars back down into the mine.

The mule drivers were endangered by the possibility of being crushed by the cars. In general the boys working inside the mines were at a greater risk of serious injury and death than the boys in the breakers were. It was not uncommon for the boys working underground to spend their day "partially submerged in water" (3). They were also at serious risk due to their exposure to mine dust and mine gas, and there was a constant risk of injury or death due to explosions, rock falls, and mine collapses (3).

In 1902 the National Child Labor Committee performed its first investigation of child labor in the coal mines (1). The committee was concerned with the moral effects of the mine work on the children. The committee believed that the children were adversely impacted by performing monotonous labor in dreadful conditions, and also by the influence of the men in the mine, who used profanity and obscenity in the presence of the children, as well as tobacco and alcohol.

In their report the committee commented that “the lives of many of the small boys in the coal region are already so tainted by vicious habits that an almost insuperable obstacle to a maturity of virtue and intelligence is presented” (1). Significantly, the committee also noted that the economic conditions of the coal mines were not such that the labor of the boys was required, but rather the economic conditions of everyday life pushed boys looking for work to help support their families into the coal mines.

Boys working as laborers in coal mines in the 1890's faced serious injury and death, losing their childhood in the process. The boys most often did not receive formal education (1). They worked to help support their working families. The lives of these children of the 1890's are illustrative of the realities of children in this era, which was that there was very little opportunity to live their lives as children.

Works Cited

1. Lovejoy, Owen R. ‘Child Labor in the Coal Mines’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 27 (March, 1906).

2. ‘No Rest for the Weary: Children in the Coal Mines’. Source: John Spargo, The Bitter Cry of Children (New York: Macmillan, 1906), 163–165.

3. Keil, Thomas J., 'The Family Wage System in Pennsylvania's Anthracite Region: 1850-1900'. Social Forces, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Sep., 1988).

4. ‘The Life of a Coal Miner’. By John McDowell.

Sexuality in the 1890s: The Role of the Gentleman in Society

by Hailey Y. and Stephanie T.

In the 1890s, gender roles served as an integral part of a functioning society. Women were expected to be pious, submissive and loyal to their husbands, caring and nurturing for their children, and well-bred, catering hostesses. If a woman were to overstep such boundaries, she would be considered un-ladylike, scandalous, or even immoral. Similarly, the boundaries for men, as far as their societal roles were concerned, proved to be just as rigid. The “ideal” socially-acceptable male was the “gentleman,” a Victorian version of today’s iconic “knight in shining armor,” the epitome of a present day “perfect man” (Gentleman 1). If a male were to overstep the boundaries of this definition, he would also be socially sanctioned, and find himself suffering various consequences.

The Gentleman figure of the 19th century is man who, by nature, avoids conflict and removes “obstacles” or unnecessary contention from his life and the lives of others; he does not argue unnecessarily, is considerate, and he encourages others to be the same (Gentleman 1). Because his intentions are non-abrasive, and because he desires to be so even-tempered, he then develops the skills of a dedicated listener, and is fair in his assessment of other’s opinions (Gentleman 1). Finally, although he possesses all of these fine qualities, the Victorian gentleman is always humble, and never betrays his actual confidence (Gentleman 2).

These characteristics were important in defining both a man’s internal constitution, and his actions within various situations. Even during the simplest daily tasks, like afternoon tea, there were strict guidelines for the man that wanted to be considered a gentleman. He was required to partake in what he was served, regardless of his actual taste, was expected to produce intelligible, appropriate conversation when necessary, and always take out a cigar for himself and his guests at the conclusion of tea (19th Century 1). Other important 19th century events like dining, attending a ball, sport or leisure event, engaging in business, politics and the public sphere, or promoting education, each had similarly structured societal “rules” (19th Century 1).

Such rules meant that there was little room for self expression. A gentleman wore clothing that had been deemed suitable for the occasion, in the colors that were fashionable, despite his personal inclination. The “sack suit,” or business suit was considered the “leisure wear” of the day (American 1). For the majority of Americans, the sack suit was a gentleman’s “best clothes;” a banker or a man of middle class would wear it to a picnic, whereas a man of lower class would only wear a sack suit to church (American 1). Gentleman wore primarily black or gray, and his trousers or upper garments were “required” to match (American 1).

Appropriateness ranged from the minute detail of proper wardrobe and dress to situations regarding personal relationships, such as that of marriage and right to possessions. One of the major characteristics of a gentleman was that he respect others, and that the same respect extend into his relationship with his wife and his possessions. A “true gentleman” gave his wife “equal right to all [of his] worldly possessions” and thus “a certain sum of money” (Whisper 1). He considered his property to be more than his own, and recognized that his family had equal right to that property.

The way that a man treated women in the Victorian age extended from issues of courtesy, like the previously mentioned role of money and expenditures within a marriage, to more controversial, socially weighted issues of sexual boundaries. During the 19th Century, there was a debate between whether or not it was considered apropos to engage in physical activities with one’s close familiar relations, i.e. cousins. The meaning of kissing had evolved during this time from a form of common courtesy, like handshaking, that could be exchanged with a common acquaintance, to a form of special endearment only proper if exchanged between “husband and wife, brother and sister, father and daughter, lover and betrothed” (Familiarities 1). In an article that engages this subject, “an estimable gentleman and an eminently useful member of society” is shunned for his blatant ignorance of this value, describing in detail how the man forces his daughters’ schoolmates to kiss him upon arriving, and upon leaving his household. The article seems to suggest that although the young females are neither “prudish nor ill-bred,” that the man being discussed, by virtue of his behavior, is “no real gentleman” (Familiarities 2).

The importance of being a gentleman in the Victorian age was more than a matter of dressing the part, or acting according to social guidelines. Becoming a gentleman was a way of measuring one’s internal constitution, and determining the value of one’s self. The consequences of rebelling against gentlemanly ideals meant tarnishing one’s reputation amongst outsiders, amongst family and friends. But perhaps more importantly, that rebellion meant a loss of self value and honor that, during this time, could only be attained through the title of “gentleman.”


A Gentleman

A Whisper to a Newly-Married Pair: A Whisper to The Husband On Expenditure

American Men’s Attire: 1860-1900

Familiarities Between Relations

The 19th Century Gentleman

Gilded Age Baseball: A Mirror of Society

by Christian W.

The decade of the 1890’s was a period of social change and reform, big business, and racial tension. During this time, America’s newly instated national pastime, baseball, was in its fledgling years. The organization of baseball in the 1890’s was, in reality, as fragile as an infant. The rules we have today were just being conceived, Babe Ruth was just a distant descendant to the forefathers of the game, and Barry Bonds was more than a century away from trying to break records. Nonetheless, this is the period when leagues were formed, teams were chartered and players formed unions. As professional baseball developed it became clear that the racial stances, business practices and theory behind the way the game was played all echoed the societal norms of the day.

Baseball as we know it today began in Manhattan in the mid 1840’s. It was seen as a gentleman’s game for professionals and started as a grassroots leisure activity. Through the 1850’s and early 1860’s the popularity of the sport grew and baseball clubs were popping up in cities throughout the U.S (1). The first leagues were formed when clubs from different cities began playing each other on the weekends and the sport grew beyond the east coast into the west and into Oregon (1). The progression of the game was halted by the civil war in the late 1860’s. After the war the soldiers returned home and brought baseball with them. The first professional team came into being in Cincinnati in 1871 and the stage was set for professional leagues to be established and the nation to mold a new pastime (1).

Although professional leagues were established earlier than the 1890’s the finer points of running a team and managing inter-league competition were yet not realized. Team owners in this era exercised a large amount of power over their players, setting forward rules that capped salaries and limited options for players wanting to change teams. The tension between owners and players escalated as players began missing games due to not being paid. Players who were fed up with the conditions they were playing under formed the “Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players” baseball player union, and in 1889 went on strike as the first professional sports union in the U.S (2). Team owners exercised complete control of their players, so much so that players were seen as a commodity in a marketplace. They were bought and sold without consent and their skills had no worth other than salary to themselves, while the corporate owners of their team made thousands of dollars due to trades and ticket sales (2). Their attempt to start a league of their own, with team ownership falling into the hands of the players acting as “capitalists” and not owners failed due to the already large number of leagues present. In the end the players had to settle for the only to get paid, that was, to work for the rich baseball club owners (2). As baseball became a profitable endeavor, the skills and trade of the working class players were capitalized on by rich owners who could profit from mass marketing these skills to boost ticket sales. This exploitation of the lower classes skills is reminiscent of much big business during this era. The attempt of the players to rise up, only to be quelled by the wealthy owners rings similar to the attempts at labor reform present in corporate and industrial America during the later parts of the 19th century. Players received more than an average worker in their salary, but the gap between earnings from the top of the baseball corporation to the bottom was extreme. Just like in the factories and sweatshops, those who labored received little, while those with the means to market their wares on a large scale made significant profits and shared little (2).

Another way in that the teams of the 1890’s mirrored the corporate environment was a new style of play invented in 1894. The Baltimore Orioles studied, timed, and perfected the movements it took to hit infield balls and run from base to base. Their mastery of the timing and nuance of the game, put into an assembly line of men on base was called “scientific play” (3). Much like the practice of scientific management manager and coaches would watch and time a players movements to enhance efficiency and focus on strong points in the players game. In a time when sluggers and homerun hitters ruled the game, this infield heavy manner of play proved effective as a tool for increasing the chance of victory (3). By paralleling factory and corporate work common in the cities where the baseball teams were based, the managers were able to fine-tune their teams into a working unit. One player would bunt and get on base, and the next would double to take the first to home, the last would hit an RBI into the outfield and bring the runner on third home. Each player had his task and his strength, they were polished, compartmentalized, and implemented in a way that was not unlike secretaries in a large corporate office sorting papers with accuracy and consistency (3).

Unfortunately, the prejudices that resided in corporate America were also ringing through baseball at this time as well. The “color line” had been drawn, and African American players were forced to start their own “Negro Leagues” in order to have a chance to play (4). These teams were often technically superior to the all white major league teams and offered entertainment on a level not available at a major league game. Players would steal bases more regularly, dive for catches, and play to the crowd while simultaneously performing impressive athletic feats (5). All white clubs who did not adopt the scientific style of play had a system of putting a man on first, and then bring up a homerun hitter to drive in the points. This was looked down on in the African American leagues that made for much more exciting and technically fast-paced games than the major league counterparts (5). The ban on African Americans in baseball that was implemented in 1890 reflected the attitude of inequality present throughout this decade in America. The action of the African American ballplayers to coordinate teams and tournaments without wealthy sponsorship shows the drive and determination to be seen on equal terms as the White population (6). Unfortunately, because of the lack of corporate sponsorship the leagues were often put on hold because of local economic problems. Nevertheless, the presence of these leagues opened the door for future hall of fame players such as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mayes to take the field as major league players (5).

Baseball was born in the 1840’s but it came into adulthood through the decade of the 1890’s. We can use our national pastime as a window to view the trends and prejudices present in our culture during that era. The attitudes of the players towards the team ownership, the methods through which the game was played, and the discrimination of African Americans all reflect views and practices in American Culture during the 1890’s. By using the looking glass of Baseball we can get a third person perspective on how intertwined the corporate and societal ideals of the decade are with the way sports are played and manipulated. In a period driven by money and prejudice, we can see the same values reflected in stadiums throughout the major cities. In a time when speed and efficiency were treasured traits, we can see them sought after and put to use on the baseball diamonds in rural centers. Baseball in the 1890’s was truly a child of the decade, mirroring society both in its management, and the way the game was played.

Works Cited

1. The History and Beginnings of Baseball 6th Nov. 2005.

2. Ethan, Lewis, A Structure To Last Forever: The players League and Brotherhood war of 1890

3. Scientific Baseball. 6th Jun. 2001

4. Introduction to Baseball's Negro Leagues

5. Negro Leagues baseball: Timeline of Even in Professional Black Baseball

6. Pope, Steven W. A review of The League That Failed

The Bird Hat Craze

By Megan D.

The late 1880s saw a fashion craze that seemed to sweep both the markets and popular culture equally. The use of exotic objects such as fruit, furs and animals in the millinery (hat making) business mostly among fashionable women became the norm. However, perhaps the most debated accessory was the use of birds as hat ornaments. the utilization of birds as décor was both highly revered and detested. Bird feathers, and I some cases entire stuff birds were used as topping for a Victorian era hat. Often, even birds considered to be endangered were used in order for hats to be "one of a kind" for those patrons who were willing to pay sometimes outlandish prices for them. In one instance, ornithologist Frank Chapmen walked the streets of Manhattan on a hat survey and counted about three quarters of the 700 hats he view as being decorated in bird ornament in some way (Ehrlic).

In America alone, the gull, tern, heron and egret populations saw sharp declines along the Atlantic coast (Price). Even popular magazines noted that the craze would probably decimate large populations of birds due to the attractiveness of owning a bird hat. Profits were extremely lucrative, in fact, in 1903 a business whose purpose was solely the hunting and gathering of plumes for trading would make roughly $32 per ounce! Thus even through controversy, the roughly 83,000 people who worked in the millinery business stood strong against opposition as the money was simply too good (Ehrlic).

However many people were not so easily swayed by the monetary gains of the plume trading industry. They saw the hunting of birds for something as trivial as fashion to be cruel and irresponsible. In the same time period states were forming individual Audubon Societies under the purposes of campaigning for bird protection against the millinery industry (Price). These advocates launched what could be called the first modern movement to conserve animals. Although it started as primarily grassroots, it gained notable esteem.

One thing I find exceedingly interesting, is that this grassroots movement of Audubon organizations across the country were primarily run by women of leisure, fashionable women of city society. In fact, about 80% of all membership and half the leadership was female (price). I immediately thought back on the information we had been given earlier in the class about women of leisure and their endeavors at social change in young women's homes. One must ask if the high level of female involvement in these societies had to do with this trend of community involvement among upper class women as a means of finding something to keep themselves occupied (most of the plans to boycott the industry was done through the use of lush afternoon teas as informational meetings).

However there are other societal considerations that may put the debate into a more understandable context. First, we must understand the time in which this "craze" occurred . Second, we must consider the moral implications of women and their place in this time in history. The 19th century saw major advances in the industrial world. Things that were once taken as sacred part of nature were now being used for inventions that were changing the way humans lived (oil, wood, steel etc). Perhaps one hundred years earlier, when things weren't considered to be as expendable, using animals for such "selfish" means would have been even more hotly debated than in the 1890s.

Another consideration is the level of moral involvement the opposition might have had. Women in the Victorian era were seen as precious, virginal, moral individuals, who were not to ruin their nature in any way were defaming their names, and the names of their counterparts by participating in such a vulgar practice of wearing birds upon their heads. Women were supposed to be a wall of morality around a perverse world. Their actions were to reflect their given status. In essence, no one was to be more moral than the woman. The fur trade most certainly could not be fully blamed for it's indecency, that was what was to be expected, but if women were buying into such a defamatory practice, then society as a whole could be considered to be in danger (Price). This is an interesting dichotomy. We seem to have the old fashioned ideals of times past clashing with the need for advancement in more modern times; a theme we have seen often during this class. What is more interesting is that this dichotomy is occurring within the same level of the social strata. Arguments could be made on both sides of the debate, but perhaps the most important lesson that could be taken from this very interesting cultural craze was it's ability to show the affects of modernity on the ideals of a people.

Works Cited

Ehrlic. Paul R. Dobkin. David S. Wheye. Darryl. "Plume Trade." 1988. Stanford University.

Price. Jennifer. "When Women Were Women, Men Were Men, and Birds Were Hats." Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America. New York: Basic Books, 1999

The Edison Company and Motion Pictures

By Laura T.

During the early 1890’s many middle-class Americans were regimented by the daily factory routine. According to Janette Thomas Greenwood and her book, The Gilded Age, she points out that there was shift in American culture, emphasizing a desire to engage in recreational activities (171). The newly developed cinematic experience offered Americans entertainment during their leisure time. The popularity of full-length films did not arise until the 1930’s with the creations from Walt Disney, however the history of motion picture technology became possible through the inventions of Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison and Company became an influential component in the development of motion picture technology and film production. Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors in history, and through his invention of the Kinetoscope and short films, he paved the way for future films and technological advances along with the increasing popularity of movie theatres.

Before the invention of the Kinetoscope, the first machine patented in the United States that showed animated pictures was a device called the Zoopraxiscope. William Lincoln had patented this device in 1867. This device allowed for pictures to be watched through a hole in the machine, but was not very successful and soon came the invention of the Kinetoscope.
The Kinetoscope came to existence in October 1888. Edison believed this device would record and reproduce objects in motion, which would "do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear." The name Kinetoscope was derived using the Greek words "kineto" meaning "movement" and "scopos" meaning "to watch." (1) The image illustrates the basic design of the Kinetoscope. It was a tall wooden box with a magnifying lens in the top. Inside the box the film, was a continuous band of approximately 50 feet, and as each frame passed under the lens, the shutter permitted a flash of light so brief that the frame appeared to be frozen. This rapid series of still frames appeared as a moving image. The invention allowed for Kinetoscope parlors to open throughout the states.

The first motion picture shown in a theater to an America audience was on April 23, 1896, in New York City. Admission was twenty-five cents as viewers were treated to several short films within their cinematic debut. Nearly five hundred people became cinema's first major audience during the showing of the films. The earliest movie theatres were converted churches or halls, showing just ten to twelve minutes of film. (2) Unlike the films today that last two hours, ten minutes was all of the projector's reel capacity at the time.

Early films produced by the Edison Company during this period were actuality films. These short films were motion pictures taken of everyday life and events as they occurred. One of Edison's first motion picture and the first motion picture ever copyrighted showed his employee Fred Ott pretending to sneeze. During this brief five-second clip, the importance was not the content of the action, but the fact that the sequence of movement could be viewed. The Edison Company's actuality films contained scenes of local events such as scenic places, parades, expositions, and sporting events. By 1904, fiction films, as opposed to actualities, were becoming increasingly popular. The Edison Company also focused on contemporary social issues in fictional films that reflected the Progressive attitudes of the time. (3) Thomas Edison created hundreds of short film clips that can be viewed at the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

Shifting from the Kinetoscope parlors, new storefront theaters began to emerge. These theatres were called nickelodeons and first appeared in 1905. Nickelodeons featured films all day long. The theaters attracted a variety of people, including women and children, and the frequent showings allowed people to stop in almost anytime. However, by the end of 1907, entrepreneurs began to build movie theaters with greater seating capacities where larger audiences could see longer film productions. (4)

During the Gilded Age, the emergence of motion pictures in America was made possible through the inventions and works of Thomas Edison. The Kinetoscope device allowed a series of moving objects to become short film clips. The growth of film ideas and technology has obviously advanced drastically over time, yet its roots remain with the creation of the ten-minute motion reels. The Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division houses more than half a million moving image items, including feature films, shorts, serials, newsreels, cartoons, documentaries, educational films, television programs, and commercials. (5) The short clips available are quite interesting to see the beginning attempts to create films. The growth of movies has allowed Americans to engage in a leisure activity. Through the history of motion pictures and the innovations of Thomas Edison, we can attribute the birth of films to the innovations of the 1890’s.


1. Kinetoscope. Accessed May 6, 2006

2. History of Edison Motion Pictures. Accessed May 6, 2006

3. Edison Film Production. (1896-1900) Accessed May 6, 2006

4. Fictional Films Dominate as Nickelodeons Emerge. Accessed May 6, 2006

5. Moving Image Section--Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Accessed May 6, 2006

6. Thomas-Greenwood, Janette. The Gilded Age: A History in Documents. Oxford University
Press; New York, 2000.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Family Stucture in Victorian Architecture

By Stevie J. and Kathy C.

The structure of a house is representative of the structure of the family within it. If you were to look at the history of American houses you would see vast changes in the way we live. Many of these changes can be associated to changes in how we build houses, but the actual layout of a house is representative of the social values of that time period. The Victorian age in the late 1800’s brought about a change to the home. The architecture of the classic Victorian home reveals a formally structured family hierarchy, maintained and upheld by the use of public and private space in the home.

The Hierarchy of House and Home

The layout of the Victorian home is not only important in its use of public and private space but also in its creation of a hierarchy. There was a desire in the late 1800s to determine and maintain a place for everything, as George Augustus Sala, a journalist in the Victorian era, put it “subdivision, classification, and elaboration are certainly distinguishing characteristics of the present area of civilisation (Flanders, p. 10).” What this means for the home is that everything and everyone had a place, and this is visible in the structure. In comparison to older housing styles where rooms were multifunctional and most of the space was communal, in the Victorian home there is a rigid separation of every room.

Upon entering a Victorian house you would step into a hallway where you could immediately find the parlor, a place for the public, and near there you would find the dining room. The kitchen was most often placed in the rear of the house but no matter where it was, it was not attached to any of the common spaces such as the parlor or dining room. Since there was no desire for there to be common sleeping areas, you would find any number of small individual bedrooms in the house; this often required most houses to have a second floor. Essentially the Victorian style changed the structure of the house, altering the hallway, kitchen, and parlor most specifically.

The layout of the Victorian house was designed with a clear intention of creating a hierarchy. Those areas that were considered public areas were always considered the most important, while areas that were private were of lesser importance. It was also important those areas remain separate from the private areas. One place this can be seen is the necessity of a parlor over a bedroom. Just about everybody, no matter their station, had a parlor, even in some of the lower income homes were people would sleep in the parlor, often the beds would be moved out of the room during the day (Schlereth p. 120). As for the bedrooms, those created another kind of hierarchy. Not only did the parents’ room become separate from the children’s room but there was a desire to separate the children. First it was important that the boys and girls were separated, then, if possible, the older children should be separated from the younger.

The way the Victorian house was arranged was in response the views and beliefs of that era. In a time of biological classification and social Darwinism, people were trying to find absolute truths about the world around them. Science was the answer to our problems, that if we incorporated scientific ideas and principals into our everyday lives, things would improve. This can be seen in many aspects of society in the late 1800’s, but its appearance in the structure of the house tells us just how much the family was affected by these changes.

Public v. Private Space

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Victorian home, as mentioned earlier, is the fact that it was one of the earliest styles of home architeture that gave the family members separate spaces from each other and from the public. The hall and the parlor, in particular, were very public parts of the home and were kept very separate from private living spaces.

The floor plans of a traditional Victorian house suggest that when a guest entered the house, they would be met visually with only the hall and the stairs. All other parts of the home were off to the sides or upstairs, behind closed doors. If a guest was lucky, they would be invited from the hall into the parlor, but never would they see the bedrooms or the kitchen. For this reason, most families kept the finest of their belongings in the hall and the parlor, along with photographs and needlework that they thought best represented the home’s inhabitants to the outside world. In fact, urban parlors tended to be a tribute to the spending habits of the people (Schlereth p. 123). In other words, a large part of their purpose was to impress guests.

Such a blatantly public space implies that there must have been an equally limited private side to a Victorian household. Again, everything and everyone had its place, and the rigid structure of the home made sure that each member of the family was confined to his or her private area, unless formally presentable to the public. There was no sense of family intimacy beyond the parlor space, which was still very formal. This means that any individual chore or responsibility could not have been shared among the family members. Each individual’s personal burden remained private and separate, just like the rooms of the house. In this way, the strict family hierarchy was maintained. Limited sharing of responsibility meant limited mobility in “family rank.”

It would be very difficult to tell for sure whether the the rigitidy of the Victorian era family influenced the construction of their homes or whether the home architeture nurtured a certain type of family relationship. Either way, the Victorian style house gives us a tangible look at family living in the 1890s (as well as the rest of the era). Like life itself at the time, Victorian houses are formal and orderly, displaying their assets proudly while shielding their inner workings from the world. It was this cooperation between public and private that allowed such a decorous and structured lifestyle to function.


Carley, Rachel. The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture. Henry Holt & Company; New York, NY. 1994

Flanders, Judith. Inside the Victorian Home. W.W. Norton & Company; New York, NY. 2004

Schlereth, Thomas J. Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life. HarperPerennial; New York, NY. 1992

“Victoriana” Online. Accessed April 30, 2006.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Eugenics: America’s First Genetic Engineering

by Aaron McK.

The closing decades of the nineteenth century were ones when American Society grew to respect the changing realities of daily life due to rapid technological advancement. The Eugenics movement in America followed this trend. The Term “Eugenics” as defined by the principal proponent of the movement, Sir Francis Galton, “is the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with these that develop them with the utmost advantage.” (1) This definition of the eugenics movement describes it as a movement that is beneficial to all who prescribe to its philosophy. The eugenics movement was not however a single idea nor was it carried out with a single action. Incorporating anti-immigration fears, misunderstanding of mental and physical handicaps, and a faith that scientific progress will lead to an improved society, the eugenics movement was the cutting edge of genetic engineering during the gilded age.

The leaders of the eugenics movement in this period were men and women of science who felt they knew of a way to ensure the success of society by selecting those who would be able to successfully contribute to it. At immigration points such as Ellis Island, immigrants attempting to enter the United States were denied access because of failing health, physical handicap, or unsavory physical appearance. The nations first mental institutions were established to provide locations to properly manage the mentally retarded members of American society. These institutions quickly fell under the belief that it was in the best interests of society to limit the reproductive capabilities of these patients. (2)

Francis Galton, as the leader of the American Eugenics movement, attempted to ensure the genetic prosperity of America by created a Eugenic ranking of people, attaching a value to the genetic qualities of their individual lineage, economic prosperity, and physical vitality. (3) The American Association for the Advancement of Sciences stated in 1883 that Eugenics “shall teach the human race how to breed so that its best stock shall be preserved and improved, and its worst shall be eliminated.” (4) By referring to desirable qualities in people as those that shall be retained and unsavory ones as ones to be “eliminated,” proponents of the eugenics movement are bringing social Darwinism directly into the logic behind this American Eugenics movement. The eugenic rank earned by a person directly correlated to ones “inherited wealth of valuable properties,” correlating economic success with a high eugenic ranking.

The scientific benefits of this philosophy seemed, to the supporters of Eugenics, to be boundless. The concept of eugenic ranking appeared to people to be more legitimate than psychological testing of the period. The new study of a human’s mind was less trusted than the adaptation of common agricultural breeding techniques. (5)

The Eugenics movement of this period was not primarily about the creation of a utopian society through limiting the reproductive abilities of unsavory members of society; such as the Nazi party did in the 1930’s. What the progressive era eugenics movement hoped to achieve was to bring the strongest traits of those who were breeding together to create a stronger society. Galton, in his support for marriage law reform states, “when (eugenics) lofty objects shall become generally appreciated, they will meet with some recognition both from the religious sense of the people and its laws.” (6) This optimistic view of societies willingness to accept certain levels of genetic intervention in daily life clearly reflects the changing attitudes that common Americans had towards science and it’s day-to-day applicability. For the first time in the history of civilization, medical doctors were trained specifically to treat the ailments of people; education and technology had taken such leaps forward that people were living longer and healthier lives. It was not irrational therefore at this major turning point in human-technological relations to believe wholeheartedly that the possibility for acceptance of limited human genetic engineering was attainable.

The eugenics movement in the late nineteenth century was born from the ideas espoused by Charles Darwin and his theories on the origins of species. The period saw business leaders amass incredible wealth based upon the principal of Social Darwinism along with the emergence of scientific advances unseen before this time. The connection of these two principals into a philosophy that promised a stronger future was extremely tempting to many Americans. The eugenics movement in America represented the changing attitudes of American society in relation to science and its application in day-to-day life.

1. Johnson, Roswell H. Eugenics and so-called Eugenics. American Journal of Sociology 1914, University of Chicago Press

2. Keeping America Sane: Pshyciatry and Eugenics in the US and Canada 1880-1940. American Review of Canadian Studies, 1992

3. Galtons Human Faculty. American Association for the Advancement of Sciences 1883

4. Ibid.

5. Galton, Francis. Eugenics: Its defenition, scope, and Aims. American Journal of Sociology 1909, University of Chicago Press

6. Galtons Human Faculty. American Association for the Advancement of Sciences 1883

Separate but [Un]Equal

By Madeline O.

The Plessy v Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896 was an incredibly significant moment in American History. It not only set the precedent for legal racial segregation in the United States for over fifty years but also became a justifiable reason for discrimination and mistreatment of blacks.

The abolition of slavery after the Civil War in 1865 brought freedom to blacks across the United States. With this freedom also came a complex new dynamic of race relations. Many whites considered blacks an inferior race that lacked intelligence, skill and the ability to be contributing members of society. To ensure white supremacy, Southern states adopted Black Codes in 1865. These were a set of strict laws intended to maintain control over newly freed slaves on a social, political and civil level. They were incredibly restrictive and served the intention of keeping race dynamics as they were prior to the Civil War. In 1866 these were outlawed by federal officials.

Soon whites wanted other means to maintain racial superiority and southern legislatures began to “enact criminal statutes that invariably prescribed harsher penalties for blacks than for whites convicted of the same crime.” In 1892 Louisiana passed a Separate Car Act which implemented segregation in railway carriages. If one did not abide by this law they were fined $25 or placed in jail for twenty days.

On June 7, 1982 Homer Plessy refused to abide by the Louisiana law and instead sat in a white passenger car. He was a southern shoemaker who was actually 7/8ths white but still legally considered black. Plessy was imprisoned and his case eventually went to the Supreme Court in 1896.

His lawyers argued that segregation violated the recently passed 13th and 14th amendments which both abolished slavery and “prohibit[ed] certain restrictive legislation on the part of the states.” Judge John Marshall Harlan resided over the case and eventually upheld the Louisiana law. In response to Plessy’s arguments, he stated that the fourteenth amendment “could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon unsatisfactory terms to either” instead “if the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits and a voluntary consent of individuals.” Since there was such racial strife and tension Marshall felt segregation was the best solution. He ruled that as long as facilities were “equal” then separation of the races was considered legal.

The notion of “separate but equal” legally justified racial segregation and soon included restaurants, movie theatres, drinking fountains, schools and all areas of public life. An unfortunate aspect about this was that black spaces were nearly always inferior. The black schools were given little supplies and outdated books. Blacks were forced to sit at the back of public busses and trains which were usually hot and uncomfortable. This decision also had a profound impact on nation’s views of racial equality. Generations were socialized to believe that blacks did not deserve to live in the same conditions as whites. The legality of segregation gave people a reason to believe in racial inferiority and justify discrimination. The case was overturned a half century later in the Brown v Board of Education case (1954), yet it took the civil rights movement of the sixties, and years of fighting for equality to truly reverse the impact of the decision.

Works Cited:

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Week 4 reading questions

1. In DuBois’s essay, what is “the Veil?”

2. What is DuBois’s argument?

3. On whom does DuBois lay the blame for African Americans’ difficulties?

4. In Washington’s view, what is the best method for improving the quality of life for African Americans?

5. What does Washington mean when he refers to “the ordinary process of education” (first sentence of second paragraph, pg. 132)?

6. On whom does Washington lay the blame for African Americans’ difficulties?

7. In Douglass’s essay, what is “the peculiar crime so often imputed to [African-American men]” (225)?

8. On whom does Douglass lay the blame for the continuance of lynch law in the South?

9. Do any of the three essays for today suggest solutions to problems cited in the others?

BONUS! Practice for the final exam:

Assess the validity of this statement:
In the 1890s, the South was the most American part of America.

1. Formulate a tentative thesis.

2. Look over documents to identify evidence. Revise thesis according to this evidence.

3. Outline an essay in response to this prompt.

Plessy v. Ferguson: Identity and Disappearance

by Carolyn T.

According to Janette Thomas Greenwood in The Gilded Age: A History of Documents, Homer Plessy boarded the train in New Orleans and sat in the “whites only” first-class section and was asked by the conductor to move to the “colored only” car; when Plessy refused, he was arrested (Greenwood, 101). This discussion of the events suggests that Homer Plessy was easily identifiable as African American and her discussion of Louisiana suggests that this state’s ideas about racial identity were like the rest of the South at that time. Both suggestions conflict with what is known about the case and Louisiana’s social and state understandings of race. This omitted information is crucial to understanding the complexities of Plessy v. Ferguson and the decision’s historical and current relevance.

Most people tend to associate Plessy v. Ferguson with the upholding of Jim Crow laws in the South or the phrase “separate but equal.” (1) However, Plessy v. Ferguson also dealt with identity politics or, more specifically, the question of color. In 1892, Homer Plessy bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway to travel from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. At that time, Louisiana’s statutes mandated racial segregation. When Mr. Plessy sat down in the whites only car, his presence there was not disputed because he “looked” white. According to the court’s documents, Plessy was not visually discernible as being of African descent (Plessy, 1896:538 [headnote]). According to Mr. Plessy's legal argument, because he considered himself white, he took a seat in the car reserved for white passengers.

This legal argument contradicted his actions somewhat in both that he was working with the Committee to change the law (although not necessarily as Greenwood contends) but also when he stood up in the whites only car and announced to the conductor that he had African ancestry. This declaration provided the opportunity for conductor to “identify” Plessy as being of African descent. In other words, if Mr. Plessy had not said anything about his ancestry his “whiteness” would have been assumed.

The assumption of “whiteness” within Louisiana, however, was a precarious thing to do at the time. As Mark Golub states in “Plessy as ‘Passing’: Judicial Responses to Ambiguously Raced Bodies in Plessy v. Ferguson,” “To appreciate the complexity of issues of racial classification in the case, one must consider the location and context of the legal dispute, in New Orleans, a city thoroughly marked by its strong Creole tradition” (2005:568). Louisiana was originally a Spanish colony. It later was colonized Bourbon France, Great Britain, the Republic of West Florida, Napoleon and, finally, the United States. The cultural factors of this particular type of colonization (as opposed to strictly British colonization) contributed to high rates of interracial sexual contact (Spear, 1999:37). A combination of French and Spanish laws also contributed to a large free African American and mulatto communities (2) in possession of legal, social, and economic rights that were not seen within the British colonies (Sterkx, 1972:26-34). The difference in the colonization of Louisiana led to a different view of and among what would be considered today the African American population within Louisiana.
So, while Homer Plessy took his case to the United States Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of racial segregation in Louisiana and elsewhere by arguing that the state law went against the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, it also attempted to call into question the arbitrariness of legal racial definitions (Davis, 1991:8-9, 52-53, 68). However, given Louisiana’s racial caste system and that Plessy and the members of the "Citizens' Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law" were mulatto caste (rather than Negro caste), is it safe to assume the Committee or Plessy were fighting for the equality of all African Americans under the law or merely attempting to claim whiteness for themselves while leaving Jim Crow firmly in place?

Complicating this reading, the court discussed the lack of visual discernment of Plessy’s racial identity within their decision. Yet, three paragraphs after this remark, the court states, “A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races — a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color [italics mine] — has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or re-establish a state of involuntary servitude” (Plessy, 1896:538). It appears that the more the court attempts to defend its position the more it has to disappear Homer Plessy from the case and the text. This disappearing of Plessy is duplicated by those teaching Plessy in the classroom through the use of books like Greenwood’s; how and/or does this color (all puns intended) society’s collective understanding of “race,” “blackness,” “whiteness,” etc. in this country?


(1) A Jim Crow law is “a law enacted or purposely interpreted to discriminate against blacks, such as requiring separate restrooms for blacks and whites,” according to Black’s law dictionary, 7th ed., ed. Bryan A. Garner (St. Paul, MN: West Group, 1999), 840. For an in-depth discussion of Jim Crow laws and analysis of legal racial definitions in the United States, see F. James Davis, Who is black? One nation’s definition (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991).

(2) While not separate and necessarily distinct, the African American (or Negro) community and the mulatto community had different social structures and networks that reflected the racial hierarchy of Louisiana.


Davis, F. James. Who Is Black: One Nation’s Definition. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Golub, Mark. "Plessy As "Passing": Judicial Responses to Ambiguously Raced Bodies in Plessy V. Ferguson." Law & Society Review 39, no. 3 (2005): 563-600.

Louisiana, State of. "Louisiana History." Accessed 20 Apr. 2006.

Plessy V. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 US Supreme Court (1896).

Spear, Jennifer M. "They Need Wives': Mestissage and the Regulation of Sexuality in French Louisiana, 1699-1730." In Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, edited by Marth Elizabeth Hodes, 35-59. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Sterkx, H.E. The Free Negro in Ant-Bellum Louisiana. Madison, NJ: Associated University Press, 1972.