19 Century Society: A Deeply Divided Era


At the end of the nineteenth century, the recently formed United States had already been through a decent amount of hardships. The most recent being a Civil War between the Northern Union, and the Southern Confederates, which would change the nation forever. After the passing of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, which were subjected around equal rights for everyone, Americans began to value individualism and equality more so than they had before. The only odd thing was that race, ethnical values, gender, and financial class profoundly separated the society. Poorer people were barely making it by from horrendous jobs that had virtually no promise of actually supporting yourself, let a lone an entire family. Women were still considered inferior beings to men, and were given less job opportunities. The majority of the people who immigrated to America were sectioned off into areas of where you came from, to be with those like you, and those who could speak your language. And the biggest issue being of race, mostly pertaining to the recently freed slaves. Although the recent additions to the American Constitution gave them equal rights to that of the whites, they were still treated like sub-human creatures that deserved no respect whatsoever.

Times were extremely challenging at the end of the nineteenth century. Newly built cities attracted an abundance of people seeking to be a part of this industrial revolution, and the abundance of new jobs seemed to promise an adequate, sustainable lifestyle. But foreign immigrants quickly overcrowded the cities, and the hopes of a new and better life were lost. The sudden escalating population quickly changed cities from a nice, exciting place to live, into a hazardous, foul war zone of confusion, and people were left confused and frustrated because they could not speak English and couldn’t find those who spoke their language. Noise, traffic jams, slums, air pollution, sanitation and health problems all became a standard day with no hope of changing. “Many of those who resided in the city lived in rental apartments or tenement housing that was stuffed with people; usually a family of seven lived in one small room.” But people still tried to survive in this lifestyle because it was virtually impossible to leave it. Miniature subculture towns began forming within the cities from the immigrants finding those who came from the same country, and making a small town of their own (Little Italy, China Town, etc.). Suburbs began to develop outside of the cities, where the elite and rich could live because they had the money to commute to the city for work everyday. This left the poorer families, usually descending from another country no other choice but to live in the filthy city.

Corrupt, rich people inevitably ran the inner city. They ran the major factories throughout the city. They had no fear of losing work because their jobs were secure, and they had the money to live off of if something were to go wrong. This was not even close to how the poor lived. Everyday they were losing jobs for a plethora of reasons: late for work, missed a shift, refused to take lower pay, made a mistake, etc. After losing the job, it was very tough for them to find new work, and most of the time did not understand why they had lost the job because their boss could not speak their language. Everyone was looking to work, but not enough jobs to place everyone, and it was more likely to obtain a job if you could speak some English, which a vast majority of the immigrants could not. Although, some factories created new jobs that were the lowest, dirtiest, most dangerous because the current workers did not want to do it. An example being the jobs the characters in Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle, which is a fictional story of an immigrant Lithuanian family surviving in Chicago during these times, but the lifestyle they lived was completely accurate for the poor, non-native families living at that time. They men of the family felt imposed to take unsafe, unsanitary, degrading jobs for little pay. They were given no respect, and would be replaced instantly from the vast amounts of unemployed if they were to slip up in any way. At one point in the novel, Jurgus, the main character, obtained a one hundred dollar bill from a drunken rich man whom had offered him some food and drinks, then passed out. Jurgus then took the bill to a bar to get it changed for smaller bills, so he could spend it on necessary items. The bar tender short hands him and pockets the rest, which causes Jurgus to become infuriated and attack the bar tender. The police show up to break up the fight, and proceeded to arrest Jurgus for assault. When he tried to explain how the bar tender stole from him, the police accused him of lying because there was no way a man of his status could have a one hundred dollar bill . Just because he was poor and foreign he lost everything, and could obtain nothing. This was very much true for the citizens of urban areas, to be maltreated, and have no hope from ever making anything more than what they have all because they were of a low social class who were struggling to adapt to a new, strange country.

Another group of society had been a victim of oppression for much longer, and cultural background made no difference because in almost every society they were given the same treatment. Women were and had been viewed as second to man and it was their sole duty to take care of him, his house, and his children. Women were seen as “too delicate” or “dainty” to be anything more than homemakers and child bearers. Even though it seemed like the men of that time showed women respect by not swearing or smoking in front of them, and standing up whenever a lady entered or left a room, but these were all expected by men and if not done, this showed that you are not a true gentleman. So even though they were given signs of respect, in the end they were signs to judge men’s characteristics.

At the end of the 19th Century women began to see more potential in themselves, and started to take on activities that men were doing and becoming independent. “They started riding bikes, playing tennis, playing tennis, and it eventually it became considered that women were more attractive physically fit rather than frail and thin.” They even began to take on jobs to bring income to their families, but that was truer for the inner city families so that they had more money to survive on. John Kasson expressed this change through his book Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. Coney Island. At Coney Island, any sexual segregation was left behind to just have fun. Within Coney Island the gender gap was equalized. Coney Island served as a medium to a change in the traditional mindset. Here, the hotels, amusement parks, rides, and events that the civilians encountered a display of immorality, fast pleasure and love for life. "At the turn of the century the nation was beginning a pivotal transition form an economy organized around production to one organized around consumption and leisure as well." Coney Island provided an open minded and progressive atmosphere in which men and women could be equals; which contrasted to the strict gender roles of genteel society.

Finally, the most profound post Civil War discrimination was that of African-Americans, the former slaves of the southern states. The conclusion of the Civil War, in favor, of the north was supposed to mean an end to slavery and equal rights for the former slaves. Although laws and amendments were passed to uphold this assumption, the United States Government fell short. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments were proposed and passed within five years of the Civil War’s conclusion. These amendments were to create equality throughout the United States, especially in the south where slavery had been most abundant. Making equality an actual way of life would not prove to be easy, especially for the former slave owners. The reunification of the country would prove to be harder than expected, and entry into a new lifestyle would be difficult for both the freedmen and their formerly oppressed slaves. The thirteenth amendment clearly prohibits slavery in the United States, which was put into effect as soon as possible. All slaves were to be freed immediately when this amendment was passed in December of 1865, it was unclear of that they were going to do with their newly acquired freedom. Generations of African-Americans had been enslaved in America, and those who had lived their whole lives in slavery had little knowledge of a world outside serving the white man. This lack of knowledge would not be helpful in trying to find work once they were released. Plantation owners had a sudden lack of workforce, thus making them eager to offer extremely low pay to their former slaves. To make matters even worse, the work force of the plantation would often live in the same quarters they did while enslaved. These living conditions showed little change from the living conditions former slaves had faced while enslaved. While the former slaves lived on the ideal that they were now free, the fifteenth amendment was still having trouble taking full effect due to the lack of cooperation of the white citizens of the south. Those who felt threatened by the massive amount of African-Americans, who would now be participating in the government decisions, criticized this Amendment, which allowed all male citizens the right to vote regardless of race. People who still favored the Confederate notion of life lost their privilege to vote after bitterly losing to the north, and argued that African-Americans were not ready to vote because of their ignorance to the U.S political system, and how to be actual citizens, but that was left under the breath of the believers. They were afraid because the political power of the south would be in the hands of the formerly oppressed, due to their large number of inhabitants, which could mean lack of power for the whites, which they were not willing to give up. The debate on this topic would cause more tension in southern society, which was already undergoing a difficult period of adaptation. Another problem which arose in the south were laws which would further the oppression of the African-American population. Commonly called Black Codes or Jim Crow Laws, these laws also punished white persons who supported emancipation during the Civil War. These Black Codes were often unreasonable or unneeded to keep order within society. They were simply created as bitter retaliation by the pro-confederation civilians who were not pleased by the recent integration. Black Codes were created and enforced on a State level, which began to overrule to the Fourteenth Amendment in most southern states. The laws would be psychologically and emotionally damaging to the African-American population. Unfortunately, the discrimination would not end there. The white population would do more than hurt the freedmen through harsh words and prohibiting them to enter into their work establishments. Around the same time Black Codes were created, racist groups, such as the Klu Klux Klan, were emerging in the south. These groups would put on terrifying costumes so as not to be recognized, and take their anger and frustration out on those who were different than them, mostly focusing on the African-Americans. Violence was inflicted on their victims, who were usually randomly selected by the group based only on their race. Government officials pretended like the atrocious assaults were not occurring, thus leading corruption to spread through the police force when officers joined the group and did such things like granting access to prisons where black inmates would become human punching bags. Life would be like this for the African-Americans for many years, even after they had to suffer through the torturous burden of slavery.

By the end of the 19th century, many things were changing in relation to the views towards certain groups of people who had been discriminated against. Even though it would take some longer than others to fully accept these changes, America was finally shaping out to be the land of opportunity everyone had hoped it would become. Former slaves finally got official documented rights as citizens, women were becoming more confident and independent, and began to accomplish things never imagined before, and even though life was not what they had expected at all in America, immigrants were continually aspiring to make a living that which they would enjoy. Despite of being forever affected by the bloodiest war American soldiers were ever involved in, cities were being built and maintained, new technology was being built to improve the efficiency of factories, and people of different gender, nationality, race were finally coming together to work as one to keep America a prosperous, thriving country.

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