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Progress for immigrants

Immigrants brought progress as well as strong backs. They were willing to challenge entrenched interests, if necessary, to better working conditions. Most immigrants came from European towns and farms, and some newcomers took the money they earned and went back to their home countries. Almost half the Italian immigrants returned to Italy; perhaps 20 percent of other immigrants eventually went back home in the 1800s. But most stayed to work on building a better life in the U.S.

The new Americans who stayed had help from urban settlement houses like Jane Addams' Hull House (1889) in Chicago and Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement (1893) in New York. Florence Kelley worked at both places and for 40 years led the fight for the welfare of ordinary people. Reformers slowly got laws passed to improve the treatment of the poor.


Question: From what social and economic background did most late-1800s immigrants come?

Answer: They came mostly from rural and small-town Europe.

The growing women's rights movement

In 1820, the United States didn't have a single female college graduate. By 1900, however, one out of every four college graduates was a woman.

The women's rights movement got support in Women and Economics (1898), written by feminist thinker Charlotte Gilman. Gilman said that women have no biological differences that necessarily keep them from full participation in the world. She called for child care and takeout food 100 years before fast food and drop-off preschool became a staple of working parents.

In 1890, pioneer feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony passed on the torch of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 (see Chapter 11) by founding the National American Women's Suffrage Association.

Women cleverly linked their role in the family with getting the vote. The concept had its roots in republican motherhood (see Chapter 9), but the arguments were now both clear and not about to go away. Hull House hero Jane Addams said men were as sloppy at running government as they were in the home and that voting needed a woman's touch. Carrie Catt said the growth of city life meant that women couldn't confine caring about the future of their families to their houses: Family life now extended into the community, and women needed to be represented there. The movement gained strength; most Western states allowed women to vote even before the passage of the women's suffrage amendment in 1920.


The AP exam will include questions on women's rights and other social issues. Knowing the names of the primary leaders of these movements in the 1880s will help your score. At minimum, remember from the women's movement Abigail Adams, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. From the black freedom movement, keep in mind W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass. For labor (discussed later in this chapter), remember Samuel Gompers, Eugene V. Debs, and Terence Powderly.

Educating the population

The Morrill Act of 1862 (see Chapter 13) provided money from the sale of public land to state universities; the Hatch Act of 1887 added agricultural experimentation and education to the government-supported mix. College and high school graduation both tripled between 1870 and 1900, although those increases still meant that only 6 percent of the U.S. population stayed in school long enough to get a high-school diploma.

Bicycles: Providing transportation for everyone

Before the automobile, bicycles set people free. Riders could tear along on dangerous-looking high-wheel bikes at speeds that are hard to reach even today. "Safety bicycles," with two equal-sized wheels like the ones ridden today, made riding the rage for both men and women. By 1893, the United States had as many bicycles as horses.

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