The Jungle and the Community: Workers and Reformers in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago

How does Upton Sinclair’s representation of this community in The Jungle compare to the accounts of sociologists and reformers? Introduction In November and December of 1904, the New York writer Upton Sinclair spent seven weeks in Chicago’s meatpacking district—the Union Stock Yard and the surrounding neighborhood, known as Packingtown or Back of the Yards. Sinclair[…]

Chicago Workers during the Long Gilded Age

What were working conditions like in Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? What efforts did workers make to change these conditions? Introduction The United States experienced extraordinary social and economic change between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of World War I. In 1870, only one-quarter of Americans lived in cities.[…]

Politics and Class, 1790-1794: Radicalism, Terror, and Repression in Southern France

Popular uprisings and resistance to taxation played havoc with the nine departments into which the National Assembly divided Languedoc. Between 1789 and 1793, popular uprisings and resistance to taxation played havoc with the nine departments into which the National Assembly divided Languedoc. Counterrevolutionaries organized a series of military assemblies between 1790 and the spring of[…]

Why Don’t More Americans Remember the 1897 Massacre of Pennsylvania Coal Miners?

The mostly Eastern European victims were forgotten because of an ensuing backlash against immigrant workers. At the western entrance of the coal patch town of Lattimer, in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, sits a rough-cut shale boulder, about 8 feet tall, surrounded by neatly trimmed bushes. A bronze pickax and a shovel are attached to the boulder,[…]

The 19th Century Labor Movement That Brought Black and White Arkansans Together

In 1888, small farmers, sharecroppers, and industrial workers organized to fight inequality. Today, when Americans think about the tradition of political protest to protect democracy, they often recall the mid-20th century, when millions of Americans participated in the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War. But the roots of American grassroots political activism[…]

George Pullman: The Sleeping Car King and a Labor Uprising

George Pullman’s unbending business acumen made him a mogul but also inspired the greatest labor uprising of the 19th century. George M. Pullman literally raised Chicago from the mud. He introduced luxury to the nation’s rail lines. He even created a model company town for his workers—a feat that prompted some to proclaim him the[…]

Enslaved Labor and Building the Smithsonian: Reading the Stones

Examining evidence that enslaved persons were involved in the construction of the original Smithsonian Building in Washington, D.C. Many enslaved workers who labored at the Maryland quarry from which all the building’s “freestone” or sandstone blocks were obtained had roots in enslaved families owned by Martha Custis Washington at Mt. Vernon. And what erudition. He[…]

Montaigne, Whitman, and Thoreau Make the Case for Wasting Time

There is a time to embrace the joy of doing less. In The Art of the Wasted Day, a new book that got a good bit of attention this summer from readers and critics alike, author Patricia Hampl argues that doing less is an ideal we should embrace throughout the year. Hampl laments that she’s often[…]

Inside the Jackson Tract: The Battle Over Peonage Labor Camps in Southern Alabama, 1906

Exploring the history of post-slavery labor, the harsh conditions of labor camps, and efforts to end the peonage system. Introduction On a warm spring day in 1904, former governor of Maryland and lumberman E. E. Jackson, along with several associates, traveled to Alabama to view their extensive holdings of southern yellow pine forests. The party took[…]

The Midwest Farmers Movement That Challenged Gilded Age Capitalism

In the 19th century, the Grange was an agricultural brotherhood that sought to foster mutual self-reliance and free themselves from middlemen and monopolies. Perhaps you’ve seen them on a leisurely weekend drive through the countryside—small white structures with the sign “Grange Hall.” Although the Grange is now a mere shadow of its former self, its[…]