Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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History 101:
Survey of the History of the United States
Manual - Chapter 5
Industrializing America

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Appendix

The Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia 1876

The Chinese in California,  1850-1925

Readings for Chapter 5 

Terms for Week 5



























Terms for Week 5  

          standard time zones  

          “robber barons” 

          political machines 

          John D. Rockefeller 

          railroad rebates 

          Standard Oil Trust

           J. P. Morgan 


          National Women's Party  

          Interstate Commerce Commission 

          Sherman Anti‑Trust Act, 1890 


          Tammany Hall 

          Women's Christian Temperance Union 

          Social Darwinism 

          Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth 

          Carlisle Indian School 

          Dawes Act 

          American Protective Association 

          Chinese Exclusion Act, 1883 



The federal government and various states granted Railroad Corporations thousands of acres of prime public lands to encourage them to extend rail lines into the West.  These donations often made railroads, after the federal government, the largest landholders in most western states.  Yet some railroads demanded additional concessions from cities, counties, and private citizens before they would construct lines into cities and towns.  Local farmers and ranchers, eager to get produce or livestock to market, and town boosters, anxious to see a rail line stimulate population growth and commercial development, often willingly gave valuable lands to the railroads.  The 1889 resolution reprinted below, describes how San Luis Obispo citizens purchased land at the request of the Southern Pacific Railroad. 

          WHEREAS, The Southern Pacific Railroad Company has proposed to citizens of the city of San Luis Obispo and vicinity, that if said citizens will purchase and donate to said railroad company, the right of way for its railroad from the west side of the Cuesta mountains in San Luis Obispo county, California, to and through said city, and also such lands within the corporate limits of said city as may be necessary for the machine shops, depot grounds, and side tracks of said railroad, the said railroad company will without delay, build and construct its railroad from Santa Margarita in said county to said city of San Luis Obispo; and 

          WHEREAS, the early construction of said railroad of said city will be of great benefit to us and each of us; and 

          WHEREAS, R.E. Jack, H.E. McBride, J.H. Maddux, L.M. Kaiser, Levi Rackliffe, L.M. Warden and E.P. Unangst, have been duly appointed a committee, and are duly authorized to act for said citizens.  They are hereby made our agents to make said purchases and to donate said lands to said railroad company when purchased. 

Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune and Daily Republic, May 1, 1889. 



John D. Rockefeller in his 1909 autobiography, Random Reminiscences of Men and Events, details his reasons for promoting railroad rebates to the Standard Oil Company. 

          Of all the subjects which seem to have attracted the attention of the public to the affairs of the Standard Oil Company, the matter of rebate from railroads has perhaps been uppermost.  The Standard Oil Company of Ohio, of which I was president, did receive rebates from the railroads prior to 1880, but received no advantages for which it did not give full compensation.

          The reason for rebates was that such was the railroads' method of business.  A public rate was made and collected by the railroad companies, but, so far as my knowledge extends, was seldom retained in full; a portion of it was repaid to the shippers as a rebate.

          By this method of real rate of freight which any shipper paid was not known by his competitors nor by other railroad companies, the amount being a mater of bargain with the carrying company.  Each shipper made the best bargain that he could, but whether he was doing better than his competitor was only a matter of conjecture.  Much depended upon whether the shipper had the advantage of competition of carriers.

          The Standard Oil Company of Ohio, being situated at Cleveland, had the advantage of different carrying lines, as well as of water transportation in the summer.  Taking advantage of those facilities, it made the best bargains possible for its freights.  Other companies sought to do the same.

          The Standard gave advantages to the railroads for the purpose of reducing the cost of transportation of freight.  It offered freights in large quantity, carloads and trainloads.  It furnished loading facilities and discharging facilities at great cost.  It provided regular traffic, so that a railroad could conduct its transportation to the best advantage and use its equipment to the full extent of its hauling capacity without waiting for the refiner's convenience.  It exempted railroads from liability for fire and carried its own insurance.  It provided at its own expense terminal facilities which permitted economies in handling.  For these services it obtained contracts for special allowances on freights...

          The profits of the Standard Oil Company did not come from advantages given by railroads.  The railroads, rather, were the ones who profited by the traffic of the Standard Oil Company, and whatever advantage it received in its constant efforts to reduce rates of freight was only one of the many elements of lessening cost to the consumer which enabled us to increase our volume of business the world over because we could reduce the selling price.

          I well remember a bright man from Boston who had much to say about rebates and drawbacks.  He was an old and experienced merchant, and looked after his affairs with a cautious and watchful eye.  He feared that some of his competitors were doing better than he in bargaining for rates, and he delivered himself of this conviction:

          "I am opposed on principle to the whole system of rebates and drawbacks‑unless I am in it." 

Source: John D. Rockefeller, Random Reminiscences of Men and Events, (New York: Doubleday, 1909) pp. 107‑109. 



George Rice, a Pennsylvania oil refiner, was a victim of John D. Rockefeller's consolidation efforts.  In testimony before the United States Industrial Commission in 1899, he describes how the Standard Oil Trust bankrupted his refining company.  

    I am a citizen of the United States, born in the state of Vermont.  Producer of petroleum for more than thirty years, and a refiner of same for twenty years.  But my refinery has been shut down during the past three years, owing to the powerful and all‑ prevailing machinations of the Standard Oil Trust, in criminal collusion and conspiracy with the railroads to destroy my business of twenty years of patient industry, toil, and money in building up, wholly by and through unlawful freight discriminations.

    I have been driven from pillar to post, from one railway line to another, for twenty years, in the absolutely vain endeavor to get equal and just freight rates with the Standard Oil Trust, so as to be able to run my refinery at anything approaching a profit, but which I have been utterly unable to do.  I have had to consequently shut down, with my business absolutely ruined and my refinery idle.

     This has been a very sad, bitter, and ruinous experience for me to endure, but I have endeavored to the best of my circumstances and ability to combat it the utmost I could for many a long waiting year, expecting relief through the honest and proper execution of our laws, which have [has] as yet, however, never come.  But I am still living in hopes, though I may die in despair...

     Outside of rebates or freight discriminations, I had no show with the Standard Oil Trust, because of their unlawfully acquired monopoly, by which they could temporarily cut only my customers' prices, and below cost, leaving the balance of the town, nine‑tenths, uncut.  This they can easily do without any appreciable harm to their general trade, and thus effectually wipe out all competition, as fully set forth.  Standard Oil prices generally were so high that I could sell my goods 2 to 3 cents a gallon below their prices and make a nice profit, but these savage attacks and [price] cuts upon my customers' goods...plainly showed...their power for evil, and the uselessness to contend against such odds.... 

Source: Report of the U.S. Industrial Commission, I (1899), 687, 704. 



In 1878, William Graham Sumner, professor of political and social science at Yale College, testified before a congressional committee investigating the conditions of employment at various industrial plants around the country.  Sumner, an outspoken opponent of labor unions used this forum to criticize attempts by government to regulate industrial working conditions.  His argument reflects the basic beliefs of the Social Darwinists. 

          Question: What is the effect of machinery on those laborers whom for the time being it turns out of employment? 

          Sumner: For the time being they suffer, of course, a loss of income and a loss of comfort... 

          Question: Is there any way to help it? 

          Sumner: Not at all.  There is no way on earth to help it.  The only way is to meet it bravely, go ahead, make the best of circumstances; and if you cannot go on in the way you were going, try another way, and still another until you work yourself out as an individual... 

          Question: Do you admit that there is what you call distress among the laboring classes of this country? 

          Sumner: No sir: I do not admit any such thing.  I cannot get evidence of it...  I do not know of anything that the government can do that is at all specific to assist labor‑‑to assist non‑capitalists.  The only things that the government can do are generally things such as are in the province of a government.

          The general things that a government can do to assist the non‑capitalist in the accumulation of capital (for that is what he wants) are two things.  The first thing is to give him the greatest possible liberty in the directing of his own energies for his own development, and the second is to give him the greatest possible security in the possession and use of the products of his own industry.  I do not see any more than that a government can do....

          Society does not owe any man a living.  In all cases that I have ever known of young men who claimed that society owed them a living, it has turned out that society paid‑‑in the State prison.  I do not see any other result... 

          The fact that a man is here is no demand upon other people that they shall keep him alive and sustain him.  He has got to fight the battle with nature as every other man has;  and if he fights it with the same energy and enterprise and skill and industry as any other man, I cannot imagine his failing‑‑that is, misfortune apart... 

Source: Howard H. Quint, Milton Cantor and Dean Albertson, Main Problems in American History, (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987) p. 50. 



Andrew Carnegie's life was the epitome of upward mobility.  He arrived in the United States, an impoverished immigrant and later became one of the nation's leading industrialists.  Carnegie was also an articulate spokesman of the new cult of success and promoted it through his most famous book, The Gospel of Wealth, published in 1901.  In the passages below he describes the price of economic progress.  He also discusses the need to redistribute the accumulated incomes of the wealthy.  

          Today the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices which even the preceding generation would have deemed incredible. In the commercial world similar causes have produced similar results and the race is benefited thereby.  The poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford.  What were the luxuries have become the necessaries [sic] of life...

          The price we pay for this salutary change is, no doubt, great.  We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, and in the mine, of whom the employer can know little or nothing...  All intercourse between them is at an end.  Rigid castes are formed and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust.  Each caste is without sympathy with the other, and ready to credit anything disparaging in regard to it.  Under the law of competition the employer of thousands is forced into the strictest economies, among with the rates paid to labor figure prominently, and often there is friction between the employer and the employed...

          The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is also great; but the advantages of this law are also greater still than its cost--for it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development...  But, whether the law be benign or not...it is here; we cannot evade it...and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department.   We accept and welcome...great inequality of environment; the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few; and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial but essential to the future progress of the race... Objections to the foundations upon which society is based are not in order, because the condition of the race is better with these than it has been with any other which has been tried... 

          Why should men leave great fortunes to their children? If this is done from affection, is it not misguided affection?  Observation teaches that, generally speaking, it is not well for the children that they should be so burdened.  Neither is it well for the State.  Beyond providing for the wife and daughters moderate sources of income, and very moderate allowances indeed, if any, for the sons, men may well hesitate...for great sums bequeathed often work more for the injury than the good of the recipients...  The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion.  The State of Pennsylvania now takes--subject to some exceptions--one tenth of the property left by its citizens...  Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest...  By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life... 

Source: Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth, (New York, 1901) pp. 3-5, 9, 11. 



In 1900 J.P. Morgan bought out Carnegie Steel and created U.S. Steel, the largest corporation in America at the time.  Capitalized at $1.4 billion (America's first billion dollar corporation) a figure three times larger than the annual budget of the United States.  Here is part of the conversation between the two men which finalized the deal. 

          It was a cold winter's night in December 1900, seventy-five of the richest, most influential American businessmen gathered at the New York University Club.  They met for a testimonial dinner in honor of Charles Schwab, president of Carnegie Steel Company.  Seated to the honoree's right was J.P. Morgan, the powerful investment banker and consolidator of industry.  Charles Schwab...in his speech rhapsodized over low prices and stability for steel.  This future was to be ushered in by a scientifically integrated firm which would supplant numerous companies--many of which produced more stock certificates than steel. 

          Morgan did not miss the point. For several years he and others had been busily creating trusts [which] they hoped to unite or eliminate competition in order to raise prices.  Andrew Carnegie's company was the largest supplier of raw steel to such companies, and he hated trusts...  Morgan and his cohorts soon realized that depending on Carnegie for raw steel would doom their consolidation schemes...  They were going to produce their own steel or but it from others--and put Carnegie out of business.

          Rather than surrender, Carnegie telegraphed instructions to his compa­ny's officers: "Crisis has arrived, only one policy open; start at once hoop, wire, nail mills....Have no fear as to result, victory certain..." Carnegie know he could produce superior products at cheaper prices...  The overcapital­ized, antiquated, and scattered plants of his competitors would have been no match for Carnegie's new ones.  Panicked promoters scurried to J.P. Morgan in the weeks before the testimonial dinner.  Few doubted Federal Steel president Elbert Gary's assertion that Carnegie could "have driven entirely out of business every steel company in the United States."  Carnegie, however, wanted to retire, and Schwab's speech was aimed at producing a bargain, not a war.  After the dinner Morgan fired dozens of questions at Schwab.  Later they held an all-night session at Morgan's house.  In the early hours of the next day Morgan finally said, "Well, if Andy wants to sell, I'll buy. Go find his price."

          Schwab approached Carnegie on the golf course, where he might be more inclined to cooperate.  Carnegie listened and asked Schwab to return the next day for an answer.  At that time Carnegie handed him a slip of paper with his asking price of $480 million written in pencil.  When Schwab gave Morgan the offer, he glanced at it and replied, I accept the price."  A few days later Morgan stopped by Carnegie's office, shook hands on the deal and stated, "Mr. Carnegie, I want to congratulate you on being the richest man in the world." 

Source: James K. Martin, America and its People, Vol. 2, (Glenview, Illinois, 1989), 512.    



Leading Industrial Nations    

 1860   1900    1980   2000
Great Britain United States United States United States
France Germany Soviet Union Japan
United States Great Britain Japan Germany
Germany France West Germany Great Britain


Nations in 2000 with the Largest GDP (in Trillions of Dollars) 

United States 8.4  Trillion   France  1.3 Trillion   Spain 552  Billion
Japan 4.1  Trillion   Italy 1.1 Trillion   India 442  Billion
Germany 2.1  Trillion   China 1.0 Trillion   Mexico 429  Billion
Great Britain 1.4  Trillion   Brazil 743 Billion      


                              Manufacturing in the United States, 1860‑1900                                             


Number of  Factories 

Number of Employees 

 Capitalization    Value of Products
1870 252,140 2,053,996 1,694,567,015 3,385,860,354
1880 253,852 2,732,595 2,790,272,606 5,369,579,191
1890 355,405 4,251,535 6,525,050,759 9,372,378,843
1900 512,191 5,306,143 9,813,834,390 13,000,149,159

Gross National Product and Total Per Capita Income


 Gross National Product     Per Capita Income
1873 $9,100,000,000 $223
1876 11,200,000,000 254
1881 16,100,000,000 327
1886 20,700,000,000 374
1891 24,000,000,000 388
1893 27,300,000,000 424
1896 29,600,000,000 434
1901 37,100,000,000 496

Steel Production in the United States, 1870‑1905

Average Production (in Tons) Per Establishment 

1870 5,000
1880 9,000
1890 23,000
1900 43,000
1905 59,000


The Sherman Anti‑Trust Act, reprinted below, was intended to halt the proliferation of business trusts.  Its language on this question was clear but it was not enforced by American presidents until Theodore Roosevelt used the measure to breakup the Northern Securities Trust.  

Sec. 1 Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is hereby declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any such contract or engage in any such combination or conspiracy, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court. 

Sec. 2 Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court. 


1891 4 1896 10 1900 33
1892 8 1897 7 1901 71
1893 9 1898 12 1902 88
1894 3 1899 88 1903 25
1895 8        


Date Date Plants Capitalization % of
Leading Company* Formed     Industry
Standard Oil Trust 1882 400 97,500,000 97%
American Sugar Refining 1891 55 145,000,000 100
Amalgamated Copper Trust 1899 11 175,000,000 100
American Smelting Trust 1899 121 201,550,000 98
Consolidated Tobacco 1901 150 502,915,000 100
United States Steel 1901 785 1,370,000,000 76
*Dominant Corporation in the Trust      



In testimony before a Congressional Committee in 1913, J. Pierpont Morgan denied claims that he and other bank directors attempted to control major American corporations.   

          ...There have been spread before your Committee elaborate tables of so‑called interlocking directorates, from which exceedingly mistaken inferences have been publicly drawn.  In these tables it is shown that 180 bankers and bank directors serve upon the boards of corporations having resources aggregating $25,000,000,000, and it is implied that this vast aggregate of the country's wealth is at the disposal of these 180 men.

          But such an implication rests solely upon the untenable theory that these men, living in different parts of the country, in many cases personally unacquainted with each other, and in most cases associated only in occasional transactions, vote always for the same policies and control with united purpose the directorates of the 132 corporations on which they serve.

          The testimony failed to establish any concerted policy or harmony of action binding these 180 men together, and, as matter of fact, no such policy exist.  The absurdity of the assumption of such control becomes more apparent when one considers that, on the average, these directors represent only one quarter of the memberships of their boards.  It is preposterous to suppose that every "interlocking" director has full control in every organization with which he is connected, and that the majority of directors who are not "interlocking" are mere figureheads, subject to the will of a small minority of their boards.

          Such growth in the size of banks in New York and Chicago has frequently been erroneously designated before your Committee as "concentration," whereas we have hitherto pointed out [that] the growth of banking resources in New York City has been less rapid than that of the rest of the country.  But increase of capital, and merger of two or more banks into one institution (with the same as the aggregate of the banks merging into it), has been frequent, especially since January 1, 1908.

          These mergers, however, are a development due simply to the demand for larger banking facilities to care for the growth of the country's business.  As our cities double and treble in size and importance, as railroads extend and industrial plants expand, not only is it natural, but it is necessary, that our banking institutions should grow in order to care for the increased demands put upon them.  Perhaps it is not known as well as it should be that in New York City the largest banks are far inferior in size to banks in the commercial capitals of other and much smaller countries...

          Yet, before your Committee, this natural and eminently desirable relationship was made to appear almost sinister, and no testimony whatever was adduced to show the actual working of such relationships. 

Source: Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1984), pp. 636‑637. 



Hazen Pingree, the reform mayor of Detroit, delivered an address at the Chicago Conference on Trusts, 1900, which was highly critical of the business consolidation movement.  His argument is summarized below. 

          Everybody has been asking whether more money can be made by trusts than by small corporations and individuals‑whether cost of production will be increased or decreased‑whether investors will be benefited or injured‑ whether the financial system of the country will be endangered‑whether we can better compete for the world's trade with large combinations or trusts...

          I believe that all these things are minor considerations.  I think that it is of far greater importance to inquire whether the control of the world's trade, or any of the other commercial advantages claimed for the trust, are worth the price we pay for them.

          The strength of our republic has always been in what is called our middle class.  This is made up of manufacturers, jobbers, middle men, retail and wholesale merchants, commercial travelers and business men generally.  It would be little short of calamity to encourage any industrial development that would affect unfavorably this important class of our citizen.

          Close to them as a strong element of our people are the skilled mechanics and artisans.  They are the sinew and strength of the nation.  While the business of the country has been conducted by persons and firms, the skilled employee has held close and sympathetic relations with his employer.  He has been something more than a mere machine.  He has felt the stimulus and ambition which goes with equality of opportunity.

          How does the trust affect them?  It is admitted by the apologist for the trust that it makes it impossible for the individual or firm to do business on a small scale.  It tends to concentrate the ownership and management of all lines of business activity into the hands of a very few.  No one denies this.  This being so, it follows that the independent, individual business man, must enter the employment of the trust.  Self‑ preservation compels it.  His trusted foremen and his employees must follow him.  Their personal identity is lost.  They become cogs and little wheels in a great complicated machine.  There is no real advance for them.  They may perhaps become larger cogs or larger wheels, but they can never look forward to a life of business freedom.

          The trust is therefore the forerunner, or rather the creator of industrial slavery.

          The master is the trust manager or director.  It is his duty to serve the soulless and nameless being called the stockholder.  To the latter the dividend is more important than the happiness or prosperity of any one.  The slave is the former merchant and business man, and the artisan and mechanic, who one cherished the hope that they might sometime reach the happy position of independent ownership of a business.

          I favor complete and prompt annihilation of the trust,‑with due regard for property rights, of course. 

Source: Howard Quint, Milton Cantor and Dean Albertson, Main Problems in American History, (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987) p. 159‑160. 



Those who criticized industrialization by linking it to the apparent rise in poverty faced deeply held views about the responsibility of society to assist the poor.  Many of those ideas were articulated by Francis Wayland, a professor at Yale University who in 1837 published a widely read book, The Elements of Political Economy in 1837.   Part of his book is excerpted below. 

          Although God has designed men to labor, yet he has not designed them to labor without reward...  As it is un­natural to labor without receiving benefit from it, men will not labor continuously nor productively, unless they receive such benefit.  And, hence, the greater this benefit, the more ac­tive and spontaneous will be their ex­ertion.

In order that every man may enjoy, in the greatest degree, the advantages of his labor...that, he be allowed to gain all that he can; and, 2d. That having gained all that he can, he be allowed to use it as he will...

          A man may possess himself, either dishonestly or by begging, of the prop­erty for which he has not labored.  The dishonest acquisition of property, as by cheating, stealing, or robbery, will be prevented by the strict and impartial administration of just and equitable laws.  Hence, we see that the benefit of such laws is two fold.  They encourage industry, first, by securing to the in­dustrious the righteous reward of their labor; and secondly, by inflicting upon the indolent the just punishment of their idleness...

          ...The support of the poor, simply because he is poor; and of provision to supply his wants, without requiring the previous exertion of his labor...we suppose to be injurious, for several reasons. 

          1. They are at variance with the fundamental law of government, that he who is able to labor, shall enjoy only that for which he has labored... 

          2. They remove from men the fear of want, one of the most natural and universal stimulants to labor. Hence, in just so far as this stimulus is re­moved, there will be in a given com­munity less labor done; that is, less production created. 

          3. By teaching a man to depend upon others, rather than upon himself, they destroy the healthful feeling of independence... It is in evidence…that, after a fam­ily has once applied for assistance...it rarely ceases to apply regularly, and, most frequently, in progress of time, for a larger and larger measure of assistance. 

          4. Hence, such a system must tend greatly to increase the number of pau­pers. It is a discouragement to in­dustry, and a bounty upon indo­lence... 

          5. They are, in principle, destructive to the right of property, because they must proceed upon the concession that the rich are under obligation to support the poor... 

          6. Hence, they tend to insubordina­tion.  For, if the rich are under obliga­tion to support the poor, why not to support them better; nay, why not to support them as well as themselves, hence, the more provision there is of this kind, the greater will be the lia­bility to collision between the two classes. 

          If this be so, we see, that in order to accomplish the designs of our Creator in this respect, and thus present the strongest inducement to industry, 

          1. Property should be universally appropriated, so that nothing is left in common. 

          2. The right of property should be perfectly protected, both against indi­vidual and social spoliation. 

          3. There should be no common funds for the support of those who are not willing to labor. 

          4. That if a man be reduced, by indolence or prodigality, to such ex­treme penury that he is in danger of perishing... that he be furnished with work, and be remuner­ated with the proceeds. 

          5. That those who are enabled only in part to earn their subsistence, be provided for, to the amount of that deficiency, only.  And hence that all our provisions for the relief of the poor be so devised as not to interfere with this law of our nature.  

          By so directing our benevolent energies, the poor are better provided for; they are happier themselves; and a great and constantly increasing burden is removed from the community. 

Source: Francis Wayland, The Elements of Po­litical Economy (New York, 1837), 111, 134—127 reprinted in Richard W. Leopold, Arthur S. Link and Stanley Corbin, eds. Problems in American History (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966), p. 317-319.  



Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, minister of Brooklyn's Plymouth Church, and one of the nation's most prominent religious leaders, discussed his views of the workingmen's plight during the national railroad strikes of 1877.   

          ...It is true that $1 a day is not enough to support a man and five children, if the man insists on smoking and drinking beer.  Is not a dollar a day enough to buy bread?  Water costs nothing.  Men cannot live by bread, it is true; but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live. 

          When a man is educated away from the power of self‑denial, he is falsely educated.  A family may live on good bread and water in the morning, water and bread at midday, and good water and bread at night.  Such may be called the bread of affliction, but it is fit that man should eat the bread of affliction... 

          The great laws of political economy cannot be set at defiance.  

Source: Howard Quint, Milton Cantor and Dean Albertson, Main Problems in American History, (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1987) p. 51.   



Although most 19th and early 20th Century women did not work outside the home, the vast majority who did were domestic servants‑‑maids, laundresses, cooks.  In 1901 Inez A. Godman, curious about the life and work of servants, left her middle class home to work as a maid.  She was soon employed as a domestic servant for $2.75 a week doing general housework and cooking.  In the passage below she outlines her duties during her first day as a maid. 

          I rose at six and served breakfast promptly at seven.  By half‑past nine the downstairs work was finished.

          "Thursdays you will clean the sitting room," said my lady, "but you must tidy your own room first.  I wish you always to put your own room in order before noon."  So I spent ten minutes in my room and two hours in the sitting room.  I could not finish in less time...  Five times during the two hours I was called off by the door bell and twice I went down to look after my bread.

          I finished soon after twelve, and hurried down to prepare luncheon; this I served at one.  I had been on my feet steadily for seven hours and they began to complain.  I was thankful for a chance to sit, and dawdled over my lunch for half an hour.  It was half‑past two, everything was in order and I was preparing to go to my room when my lady appeared saying that the kitchen floor ought to be wiped.  She was right.  The floor was covered with oilcloth and it was getting dingy.  The kitchen was large, and it took me half an hour; then I went to my room.  I was very tired.  In my own housekeeping I had taken frequent opportunities for short rests, here the strain had been steady.  I was too much heated to dare a bath, but I rocked and rested, did a little mending, and tidied myself up a bit.  It was astonishing how soon four o'clock came.  It did not seem possible that I had been upstairs forty minutes.

          There was a roast for dinner and I hastened down to heat the oven.  Then came three hard hours.  Dinner was a complex meal, and coming at night when I was tired was always something of a worry.  To have the different courses ready at just the right moment, to be sure that nothing burned or curdled while I was waiting on the table, to think quickly and act calmly; all this meant weariness, and by the time the dishes were washed up my whole being was in a state of rebellion.  I had started upstairs with a pail of hot water for my tired feet when I remembered the ice water [for the mistress].  For a moment I hesitated.  It meant another trip and had not been asked for.  Nevertheless I took it up and my lady smiled again, but not surprisedly this time.  I assured you that I did not dally an hour with my toilet but was in bed and heavily asleep in twenty minutes. 

Source: David A. Katzman, Seven Days A Week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 32‑33. 



In the following account Jacob Riis, a pioneer in investigative journalism, describes working women in New York City in 1900.  

          Six months have not passed since at a great public meeting in this city, the Working Women’s Society reported: “It is a known fact that men’s wages cannot fall below a limit upon which they can exist, but woman’s wages have no limit, since the paths of shame are always open to her.  It is simply impossible for any woman to live without assistance on the low salary a saleswoman earns, without depriving herself of real necessities... It is inevitable that they must in many instances resort to evil.”  It was only a few brief weeks before that verdict was uttered, that the community was shocked by the story of a gentle and refined woman who, left in direst poverty to earn her own living alone among strangers, threw herself from her attic window, preferring death to dis­honor.  I would have done any honest work, even to scrubbing,” she wrote, drenched and starving, after a vain search for work in a driving storm. She had tramped the streets for weeks on her weary errand and the only living wages that were offered her were the wages of sin¼.         

          It is estimated that at least one hundred and fifty thousand women and girls earn their own living in New York; but there is reason to be­lieve that this estimate falls far short of the truth when sufficient account is taken of the large number who are not wholly dependent upon their own labor, while contributing by it to the family’s earnings.  These alone constitute a large class of the women wage-earners, and it is characteris­tic of the situation that the very fact that some need not starve on their wages condemns the rest to that fate.  The pay they are willing to accept all have to take.  What the “everlasting law of supply and demand,” that serves as such a convenient gag for public indignation, has to do with it, one learns from observation all along the road of inquiry into these real woman’s wrongs. To take the case of the saleswomen for illus­tration: The investigation of the Working Women’s Society disclosed the fact that wages averaging from $2 to $4.50 a week were reduced by excessive fines, “the employers placing a value upon time lost that is not given to services rendered.”  A little girl, who received two dollars a week, made cash-sales amounting to $167 in a single day, while the receipts of a fifteen-dollar male clerk in the same department footed up only $125; yet for some trivial mistake the girl was fined sixty cents out of her two dollars.  The practice prevailed in some stores of dividing the fines between the superintendent and the time-keeper at the end of the year.  In one instance they amounted to $3,000, and “the superintendent was heard to charge the time-keeper with not being strict enough in his duties.”  One of the causes for fine in a certain large store was sitting down. The law requiring seats for saleswomen, generally ignored, was obeyed faithfully in this establishment.  The seats were there, but the girls were fined when found using them. 

Source: Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives (1905) reprinted in Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, ed. America Firsthand. vol.2 (New York: 1989), p. 151-52. 



The passage below, a description of the workforce in a Massachusetts textile mill, is part of testimony by Otis Lynch, the mill owner, before a 1896 Congressional Committee on child labor.   

Q.   How much help do you employ?

A.   We have, I think, 485 on our payroll.

Q.   How many of those are men?

A.   I cannot answer that exactly; about one‑seventh.

Q.   The rest are women and children, I suppose?

A.   Yes, sir.

Q.   How many of them would you class as women and how many as children?

A.   I think about one‑third of the remainder would be children and two‑thirds women.  That is about the proportion.    

Q.   What is the average wages that you pay?

A.   Eighty‑two cents a day for the last six months, or in that neighborhood.

Q.   What do the women make a day?

A.   About $1

Q.   And the men?

A.   About $1 a day.

Q.   What do the children make on an average?

A.   About from 35 to 75 cents a day.

Q.   You employ children of ten years and upward?

A.   Yes, sir.

Q.   Do you employ any below the age of ten?

A.   No... 

Q.   Do you think it well that children between the ages of say ten and fourteen years should be required to work more than about half the time in a factory?

A.   Well, I don't know that I can answer that question satisfactorily.  I don't know whether they should be compelled to work at all in the factory unless the circumstances made it necessary.

Q.   Do the children remain in the mill during the whole eleven hours as the older operatives do?

A.   Yes.

Q.   How as to their chance of getting some education in your free schools?

A.   Well, in individual cases they sometimes quit the mill and go to school‑­‑some of them do.

Q.   For how long periods?

A.   Indefinite periods.  Some of the parents take their children out when they feel that they can do without them for a while and send them to school, and afterwards when it becomes necessary they send them back to the mill again.  There is no rule about it.

Q.   But most of them remain in the mill one year after another, I suppose.

A.   Oh, yes; but they change a good deal out and in. 

Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand, Vol. II, (New

        York, 1989), pp. 84‑86. 



20 Largest Cities 1880     1900
1. New York, N.Y. 1,164,673   1. New York, N.Y. 3,437,202
2. Philadelphia, PA 874,170   2. Chicago, IL 1,698,575
3. Brooklyn, N.Y. 599,495   3. Philadelphia, PA 1,293,697
4. Chicago, IL 503,185   4. St. Louis, MO 575,238
5. Boston, MA 362,839   5. Boston, MA 560,892
6. St. Louis, MO 350,518   6. Baltimore, MD 508,957
7. Baltimore, MD 332,313   7. Pittsburgh, PA 451,512
8. Cincinnati, OH 255,739   8. Cleveland, OH 381,768
9. Pittsburgh, PA 235,071   9. Buffalo, N.Y. 352,387
10. San Francisco, CA 233,959   10. San Francisco, CA 342,782
11. New Orleans, LA 216,090   11. Cincinnati, OH 325,902
12. Washington, D.C. 177,624   12. New Orleans, LA 287,104
13. Cleveland, OH 160,146   13. Detroit, MI 285,704
14. Buffalo, N.Y. 155,134   14. Milwaukee, WI 285,315
15. Newark, N.J. 136,508   15. Washington, D.C. 278,718
16. Louisville, KY 123,758   16. Newark, N.J. 246,070
17. Jersey City, N.J. 120,722   17. Jersey City, N.J. 206,433
18. Detroit, MI 116,340   18. Louisville, KY 204,731
19. Milwaukee, WI 115,587   19. Minneapolis, MN 202,718
20. Providence, R.I. 104,859   20. Providence, R.I.        175,597



Today millions of Americans visit Ellis Island to commemorate and celebrate the arrival of their 19th and early 20th Century ancestors to the United States unaware, for the most part, of the suffering that many of the newcomers initially encountered upon arrival.  This vignette, written by Russian immigrant and former Petersburg University student Alexander Rudnev, who was detained at Ellis Island on July 4, 1909, appeared originally in the Jewish Daily Forward. 

Dear Editor,

          We, the unfortunate who are imprisoned on Ellis Island, beg you to have pity on us and print our letter in your worthy newspaper, so that our brothers in America may know how we suffer.

          The people here are from various countries, most of them are Russian Jews, many of who can never return to Russia.  These Jews are deserters from the Russian army and political escapees, whom the Czar would like to have returned to Russia.  Many of the families sold everything they owned to scrape together enough for passage to America.  They haven't a cent but they figured that, with the help of their children, sisters, brothers and friends, they could find means of livelihood.

          You know full well how much the Jewish immigrant suffers till he gets to America.  First he has a hard enough time at the borders, then with the agents.  After this he goes through a lot till they send him, life baggage, on the train to a port.  There he lies around in the immigrant sheds till the ship finally leaves.  Then follow the torment on the ship where every sailor considers a steerage passenger a dog.  And when, with God's help, he has endured all this, and he is at last in America, he is give for 'dissert' an order that he must show that he possesses twenty-five dollars.

          But where can we get it?  Who ever heard of such an outrage, treating people so?  If we had known before, we would have provided for it somehow back at home.  What nonsense this is!  We must have money on arrival, not a few hours later (when relatives come) it's too late.  For this kind on nonsense they ruin so many people and send them back to the place they escaped from

          It is impossible to describe all that is taking place here, but we want to convey at least a little of it.  We are packed into a room where there is space for two hundred people, but they have crammed in about a thousand.  The don't let us out into the yard for a little fresh air.  We like about on the floor in the spittle and filth.  We're wearing the same shirts for three or four weeks, because we don't have our baggage with us.

          Everyone goes around dejected and cries and wails.  Women with little babies, who have come to their husbands, and are being detained.  Who can stand this suffering?  Men are separated from their wives and children and only when they take us out to eat can they see them.  When a man wants to ask his wife something, or when a father wants to see his child, they don't let him.  Children get sick, they are taken to a hospital, and if often happens that they never come back.

          Because today is a holiday, the Fourth of July, they didn't send anyone back. But Tuesday, the fifth, the begin again to lead us to the 'slaughter,' that is, to the boat.  And God know how many Jewish lives this will cost, because more than one mind dwells on the though of jumping into the water when the take him to the boat.

          All our hope is that you, Mr. Editor, will not refuse us, and print our letter which is signed by many immigrants.  The women have not signed, because they don't let us get to them.

                                                            Alexander Rudnev 

Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand: From Reconstruction to the Present Vol. 2 (New York, 1989) pp. 128-129. 



1870 1880 1890 1900
Germany 1,690,500 1,966,700 2,784,900 2,663,400
Ireland 1,855,800 1,854,600 1,871,500 1,615,500
Eastern Europe 93,900 221,000 635,700 1,473,200
Scandinavia 498,400 723,000 1,257,800 1,419,600
Canada 493,500 717,200 980,900 1,179,900
Great Britain (excluding Ireland) 770,200 917,600 1,251,400 1,167,600
Southern Europe 25,900 58,300 206,600 530,000
Mexico & Latin America 57,900 89,500 107,300 137,500
Other Foreign Born 81,000 132,200 153,300 154,400
  Total Foreign Born 5,667,200 6,679,900 9,249,600 10,341,300
Foreign-Born as a Percentage        
of the Population 14% 13% 15% 18%


City Population % Foreign-Born Largest Nationalities
  1. New York, N.Y. 3,437,202 37% Germans, Irish
  2. Chicago, IL. 1,698,575 35 Germans, Irish
  3. Philadelphia, PA. 1,293,697 23 Irish, Germans
  4. St. Louis, MO.   575,238 19 Germans, Irish
  5. Boston, MA.   560,892 35 Irish, Canadians
  6. Baltimore, MD.   508,957 14 Germans, Russians
  7. Pittsburgh, PA.   451,512 26 Germans, Irish
  8. Cleveland, OH.   381,768 33 Germans, Irish
  9. Buffalo, N.Y.   352,387 30 Germans, Poles
10. San Francisco, CA.   342,782 34 Germans, Irish
11. Cincinnati, OH.   325,902 18 Germans, Irish
12. New Orleans, LA.   287,104 11 Germans, Italians
13. Detroit, MI.   285,704 35 Germans, Irish
14. Milwaukee, WI.   285,315 31 Germans, Poles
15. Washington, D.C.   278,718 6 Germans, Irish
16. Newark, N.J.   246,070 29 Germans, Irish
17. Jersey City, N.J.   206,433 31 Germans, Irish
18. Louisville, KY.   204,731 8 Germans, Irish
19. Minneapolis, MN.   202,718 30 Swedes, Norwegians
20. Providence, R.I.   175,597 32 Irish, English



The two passages below provide a glimpse into urban life in the post Civil War era.  The first is an account of the rapidly growing industrial city of Pittsburgh in January 1868 by James Barton, a reporter for the Atlantic Monthly.  The second passage is from a Senate Committee investigation of living conditions on Baxter Street, a slum area in New York City in 1883.  

          Barton: There is one evening scene in Pittsburgh which no visitor should miss.  Owing to the abruptness of the hill behind the town, there is a street along the edge of a bluff, from which you can look directly down upon all that part of the city which lies low, near the level of the rivers.  On the evening of this dark day, we were conducted to the edge of the abyss, and looked over the iron railing upon the most striking spectacle we ever beheld.  The entire space lying between the hills was filled with blackest smoke, from out of which the hidden chimneys sent forth tongues of flame, while from the depths of the abyss came up the noise of hundreds of steam‑hammers.  There would be moments when no flames were visible; but soon the wind would force the smoky curtains aside, and the whole black expanse would be dimly lighted with dull wreaths of fire.  It is an unprofitable business, view‑ hunting; but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburgh, and looking over into‑‑hell with the lid taken off. 

          Committee: In Baxter Street in one room there are eight families, composed alto­gether of forty‑two people, and three‑quarters of them are so destitute of clothing that they cannot go into the street even to beg...

          Q.   Where is this room; is it above ground or under ground?

          A.   Well, it is a basement, a half‑cellar, and, when the tide comes in the water is eight inches deep on the floor; they have to put scantlings and slabs across to put their clothes on. One small stove is all that can be found in that enormous room to warm a whole crowd of people in the cold weather...

          Q.   Do you say that there are eight families in one room?

          A.   Yes, sir.

          Q.   What is the size of the room?

          A.   It is a large room‑‑a whole basement.  It is, perhaps, longer but not as wide as this room‑‑it extends back...

          Q.   Do you know how the people who live here employ themselves?

          A.   I think they are rag pickers, mainly.  I say that the houses for the poor in this city are too dark, too damp, too much crowded, too poorly ventilated, and have altogether insufficient water, and hence are too vile to live in.  I refer to the tenements for the masses.  Who it is who owns these houses I do not know.  I have been told that some of these tenements‑‑places of the lowest order‑‑are owned by people like the Astors.  How they can ride in their carriages, and dress in silk and velvets, or sleep peacefully at night while they permit their tenants to have such dwellings, I cannot understand. 

Source: James Barton, "Pittsburgh," The Atlantic Monthly, January 1868; Report of the Committee of the Senate on the Relations between Labor and Capital, 1885. 



In the vignette below, author Jacob Riis describes tenement life among the working poor, mostly immigrant families by illustrating the experience of one working woman's family. 

          In a house around the corner that is not a factory‑tenement, lives now the cigar maker I spoke of as suffering from consumption which the doctor said was due to the tobacco‑fumes.  Perhaps the lack of healthy exercise had as much to do with it.... Six children sit at his table.  By trade a shoemaker, for thirteen years he helped his wife make cigars in the manufacturer's tenement.  She was a very good hand, and until his health gave out two years ago they were able to make from $17 to $25 a week, by lengthening the day at both ends.  Now that he can work no more, and the family under the doctor's orders has moved away from the smell of tobacco, the burden of its support has fallen upon her alone, for none of the children is old enough to help.  She has work in the shop at eight dollars a week, and this must go round; it is all there is.  Happily, this being a tenement for revenue only, unmixed with cigars, the rent is cheaper: seven dollars for two bright rooms on the top floor.  No housekeeping is attempted.  A woman in Seventy‑second Street supplies their meals, which the wife and mother fetches in a basket, her husband being too weak.  Breakfast of coffee and hard‑tack, or black bread, at twenty cents for the whole eight; a good many, the little woman says with a brave, patient smile, and there is seldom anything to spare, but‑‑‑.  The invalid is listening, and the sentence remains unfinished.  What of dinner? One of the children brings it from the cook.  Oh! it is a good dinner, meat, soup, greens and bread, all for thirty cents.  It is the principal family meal.  Does she come home for dinner?  No; she cannot leave the shop, but gets a bite at her bench.  The question: A bite of what? seems as merciless as the surgeon's knife, and she winces under it as one shrinks from physical pain. Bread, then.  But at night they all have supper together-‑sausage and bread.  For ten cents they eat all they want." 

Source: Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York reprinted in Pauline Maier, Inventing America: A History of the United States, vol. 2 (New York 2003), p. 613. 



In an 1869 speech in Boston, Frederick Douglass challenged most social observers and politicians (including most African Americans) by advocating the acceptance of Chinese immigration.  Part of his argument is presented below. 

          I have said that the Chinese will come...  Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would.  Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship?  I would.  Would you allow them to vote?  I would.  Would you allow them to hold office?  I would.

          But are there not reasons against all this?  Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation?  Does not every race owe something to itself..?  Should not a superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones?  Are not the white people the owners of this continent...?  Is it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will carry? 

          To all of this and more I have one among many answers, together satisfactory to me, though I cannot promise that it will be so to you.

          I submit that this question of Chinese immigration should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold and selfish expediency.  There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible.  Among these, is the right of...migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike.  It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here.  It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever.  I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity... I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

          I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours... If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions...  If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands...and thus have all the world to itself...

          The apprehension that we shall be swamped or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization...does not seem entitled to much respect.  Thought they come as the waves come, we shall be stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions.  They will find here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented by an ever-increasing stream of immigration from Europe.... They will come as strangers.  We are at home.  They will come to us, not we to them.  They will come in their weakness, we shall meet them in our strength...and with all the advantages of organization.  Chinese children are in American schools in San Francisco.  None of our children are in Chinese schools, and probably never will be...  Contact with these yellow children...would convince us that the points of human difference, great as they, upon first sight, seem, are as nothing compared with the points of human agreement.  Such contact would remove mountains of prejudice.

          The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs.  Those races of men which have... had the least intercourse with other races of men, are a standing confirmation of the folly of isolation.  The very soil of the national mind becomes in such cases barren, and can only be resuscitated by assistance from without. 

Source: Philip S. Foner and Daniel Rosenberg, eds., Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present: A Documentary History (Westport, Conn., 1993), pp. 223-226.



The American Protective Association, a secretive, anti‑Catholic organization, emerged in the 1880s in response to European immigration and the rise of immigrant‑supported big city machines in the East.  In the West it was primarily anti-Asian.  By 1896 it claimed one million members.  Reprinted below is the oath of membership of the A.P.A. 

          I do most solemnly promise and swear that I will always, to the utmost of my ability, labor, plead and wage a continuous warfare against ignorance and fanaticism; that I will use my utmost power to strike the shackles and chains of blind obedience to the Roman Catholic Church from the hampered and bound consciences of a priest‑ridden and church‑oppressed people; that I will never allow anyone, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, to become a member of this order, I knowing him to be such; that I will use my influence to promote the interest of all Protestants everywhere in the world that I may be; that I will not employ a Roman Catholic in any capacity, if I can procure the services of a Protestant.

          I furthermore promise and swear that I will not aid in building or maintaining, by my resources, any Roman Catholic church or institution of their sect or creed whatsoever, but will do all in my power to retard and break down the power of the Pope, in this country or any other; that I will not enter into any controversy with a Roman Catholic upon the subject of this order, nor will I enter into any agreement with a Roman Catholic to strike or create a disturbance whereby the Catholic employees may undermine and substitute their Protestant co‑workers; that in all grievances I will seek only Protestants, and counsel with them to the exclusion of all Roman Catholics, and will not make known to them anything of any nature matured at such conferences.

          I furthermore promise and swear that I will not countenance the nomination, in any caucus or convention, of a Roman Catholic for any office in the gift of the American people, and that I will not vote for, or counsel others to vote for, any Roman Catholic, but will vote only for a Protestant, so far as may lie in my power (should there be two Roman Catholics in opposite tickets, I will erase the name on the ticket I vote); that I will at all times endeavor to place the political positions of this government in the hands of Protestants, to the entire exclusion of the Roman Catholic Church, of the members thereof, and the mandate of the Pope.

          To all of which I do most solemnly promise and swear, so help me God. Amen. 

Source: Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy, The American Spirit, Vol. II, (Lexington, Mass: D. C. Heath and Company, 1984), pp. 509‑510. 



Long before "Ann Landers" and "Dear Abby" Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper for Jewish immigrants in late 19th and early 20th Century New York, provided advice to his readers in a column titled "A Bintel Brief" [bundle of letters].  In the following passage we see a letter from a "Discontented Wife" and Cahan's response. 

Dear Editor, 

          Since I do not want my conscience to bother me, I ask you to decide whether a married woman has the right to go to school two evenings a week.  My husband thinks I have no right to do this.

          I admit that I cannot be satisfied to be just a wife and mother.  I am still young and I want to learn and enjoy life.  My children and my house are not neglected, but I go to evening high school twice a week.  My husband is not pleased and when I come home at night and ring the bell, he lets me stand outside a long time intentionally, and doesn’t hurry to open the door.

          Now he has announced a new decision.  Because I send out the laun­dry to be done, it seems to him that I have too much time for myself, even enough to go to school.  So from now on he will count out every penny for anything I have to buy for the house, so I will not be able to send out the laundry any more.  And when I have to do the work myself there won’t be any time left for such “foolishness” as going to school.  I told him that I’m willing to do my own washing but that I would still be able to find time for study.

          When I am alone with my thoughts, I feel I may not be right.  Per­haps I should not go to school.  I want to say that my husband is an intelligent man and he wanted to marry a woman who was educated. The fact that he is intelligent makes me more annoyed with him.  He is in favor of the emancipation of women, yet in real life he acts contrary to his beliefs.

          Awaiting your opinion on this, I remain,


Your reader,

The Discontented Wife 


Since this man is intelligent and an adherent of the women’s emancipation movement, he is scolded severely in the answer for wanting to keep his wife so enslaved.  Also the opinion is expressed that the wife absolutely has the right to go to school two evenings a week.


Source: Isaac Metzker, A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (New York, 1971), Reprinted in Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, ed. America Firsthand Vol. 2 (New York: 1989), p. 130.         






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