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"You Would Never Hear People Complain": Elfido Lpez Recalls Rural Mexican-American Life in the Late
The arrival of the railroad in the Southwest in the early 1870s transformed the area's economy and the lives of its residents. Long-time Mexican residents of the area were quickly drawn into the region's expanding wage economy. In this selection from his handwritten memoir from 1937 Elfido Lpez recalled his childhood on his family's modest homestead and his father's decision to move the family to a small railroad town, and a life of wages, in southern Colorado in 1876.
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"Drug Him Through the Street": Hughsey Childes Describes Turn-of-the-Century Sharecropping
The sharecropping system that emerged in the South in the last three decades of the 19th century afforded southern black families a certain measure of control over their daily lives and labor. But the white landowners were able to use the legal mechanisms of sharecropping to assure control over the largely African-American workforce that toiled on the farms. Here Hughsey Childes, interviewed by historian Charles Hardy in 1984, described what seems like a matter of fact exchange in which the whit
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"We Are Literally Slaves": An Early Twentieth-Century Black Nanny Sets the Record Straight
In folklore the black nursemaid was seen as a dutiful, self-sacrificing black woman who loved her white family and its children every bit as much as her own. Yet the popular images of the loyal, contented black nursemaid, or "mammy," were unfortunately far from the reality for the African-American women who worked in these homes. In 1912 the Independent printed this quasi-autobiographical account of servant life, as related by an African-American domestic worker, which dispelled the comforting "
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"I Am Obliged to Reside in America": A Gay Immigrant Tells His Story in 1882
The reasons immigrants had for leaving their homelands and coming to America were as diverse as the backgrounds of the immigrants themselves. Although most immigrants came to the United States for economic reasons some sought a new home because of persecution based on their politics, religious beliefs, or even their sexual orientation. In this 1882 letter sent to medical writer and sexologist Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, a thirty-eight-year-old German-born merchant explained how a homosexual ar
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"It Set the Indian Aside as a Problem"A Sioux Attorney Criticizes the Indian Reorganization Act
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government's Indian policy. Although John Collier, commissioner of Indian affairs who was responsible for the new policy, may have viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans viewed the Indian New Deal in equally positive terms. In this 1968 interview with historian Joseph H. Cash, attorney Ramon Roubideaux, a Brule Sioux, denounced the Indian Reorganization Act as
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"I Started Filling Rifles": A Woman Strike Supporter Remembers the 1914 Ludlow Massacre
The brutal southern Colorado coal strike reached its nadir on Easter night, 1914, with the horrendous deaths by fire of three women and eleven children at the hands of the Colorado state militia. Mary Thomas, whose husband was on strike, was interviewed at age eighty eight by historian Sherna Gluck in 1974 for the Feminist History Research Project. Thomas vividly recalled the horror of the infamous Ludlow Massacre, described her efforts to save the lives of women and children by hiding them in a
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A Woman Recounts Her Twelve Abortions in Turn-of-the-Century New York
In an interview, conducted by oral historian Allyson Knoth for the Feminist History Research Project, Elizabeth Anderson, born in Germany in the late 1880s, described the twelve abortions she endured as a young married woman living in New York City with a husband who refused to use birth control devices such as condoms. Anderson detailed a series of painful and dangerous procedures, including the use of ergot pills, and pricking the cervix with a hat pin. Anderson also suggested that abortion wa
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A Year's Wage for Three Peaches: A Black Man Tells of Exploitation in the Late 19th century South
The harsh brutality of race relations in the late nineteenth-century South was sometimes best expressed through small incidents. For William Robinson, the story that best encapsulated his own experience growing up African-American in rural Georgia in the 1880s involved three peaches. He was interviewed by oral historian Charles Hardy in 1983 when Robinson was 103 years old. Apparently, some ninety-five years earlier when he was eight years old, three black boys sneaked into a peach orchard on th
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"I Just Loved that School": Henrietta Chief Recalls an Indian Boarding School in the Early 20th cent
In this 1970 interview with University of South Dakota historian Herbert Hoover, Henrietta Chief, A Winnebago, talks of her religious conversion at the Tomah School in the first decade of the 20th century. The Tomah school was one of the federal government's off-reservation boarding schools, the linchpin of federal policy after 1887 to Americanize and assimilate Indian youth by removing them from their home environment and culture. Henrietta Chief's conversion made her a fervent apostle of Chris
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Camella Teoli Testifies about the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike
When 30,000 largely immigrant workers walked out of the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile mills in January 1912, they launched one of the epic confrontations between capital and labor. The strike began in part because of unsafe working conditions in the mills, which were described in graphic detail in the testimony that fourteen-year-old millworker Camella Teoli delivered before a U.S. Congressional hearing in March 1912. Her testimony (a portion of which was included here) about losing her hair
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Bitter Harvest: A Puerto Rican Farmer Laments U.S. Control of the Island
In 1898, the United States took control of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, intending to use it as a base for strategic naval operations. Most of the island's 900,000 inhabitants welcomed the end of Spanish rule. But they were divided about the U.S. presence. Some hoped links with the United States would lead to increased trade and prosperity; others wanted total independence. Some who initially welcomed the United States quickly became disillusioned. Severo Tulier, a small farmer from Vega
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Killing the Messenger: Ida Wells-Barnett Protests a Postmaster's Murder in 1898
The rising tide of lynchings of African Americans across the South launched a national anti-lynching crusade, led by Memphis, Tennessee, newspaper editor Ida Wells-Barnett, an outspoken advocate for the area's African-American citizens. As the leader of the national anti-lynching movement, Wells-Barnett joined a group of Illinois congressmen who visited the White House in March, 1898, to protest the murder of the newly-appointed Lake City, South Carolina Postmaster Baker, who was black. Wells-Ba
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"It Was Considered Low Music": Pianist Eubie Blake on the Birth of Ragtime at the Turn of the Centur
Ragtime music, with its syncopated, polyrhythmic style, was born, according to cultural historian Robert Snyder, in the 1890s in the black saloons and brothels of southern and Midwestern cities like Baltimore and St. Louis. By the end of the 19th century ragtime had assumed a place at the center of American popular music and remained there until the 1920s. Ragtime meant a tinkling piano and no one played the ragtime piano any better or longer than Eubie Blake, born in Baltimore in 1887. In this
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"Their Own Hotheadedness": Senator Benjamin R."Pitchfork Ben" Tillman Justifies Violence Against Sou
In this March 23, 1900, speech before the U.S. Senate, Senator Benjamin R. "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman of South Carolina defended the actions of his white constituents who had murdered several black citizens of his home state. Tillman blamed the violence on the "hot-headedness" of Southern blacks and on the misguided efforts of Republicans during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War to "put white necks under black heels." He also defended violence against black men, claiming that southern whit
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"I Am Sorry Not to Be Hung": Oscar Neebe and the Haymarket Affair
The Chicago radicals convicted of the infamous May 4, 1886 Haymarket Square bombing in which one policeman was killed remained openly defiant to the end. Unlike the other seven men convicted of the bombing, Oscar Neebe, a New York-born labor organizer who had been raised in Germany, received not death, but a fifteen-year jail sentence. Although Neebe insisted (accurately) that "there is no evidence"that he had connection with the bombing, he maintained, in this brief address, his solidarity with
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"We Have Got a Good Friend in John Collier": A Taos Pueblo Tries to Sell the Indian New Deal
The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which became known as the Indian New Deal, dramatically changed the federal government's Indian policy. Although John Collier, the commissioner of Indian affairs who was responsible for the new policy, may have viewed Indians with great sympathy, not all Native Americans viewed his programs in equally positive terms. Antonio Luhan, the husband of the wealthy writer Mabel Dodge Luhan and a Taos Pueblo Indian, was a friend and supporter of John Collier. In th
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Beyond Bed Pans: The Life of a Late 19th-century Young Nurse
In this autobiographical account of the life that awaited new nursing recruits in 1893, former nurse Mary Roberts Rinehart painted a vivid portrait of the daily obstacles that stood between nurses and the professional status they hoped to attain. Rinehart described the "simple, plain hell" faced by the young nurse, a description that challenged conventional expectations about professional work.
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Booker T. Washington Delivers the 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech
On September 18, 1895, African-American spokesman and leader Booker T. Washington spoke before a predominantly white audience at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. His "Atlanta Compromise" address, as it came to be called, was one of the most important and influential speeches in American history. Although the organizers of the exposition worried that "public sentiment was not prepared for such an advanced step," they decided that inviting a black speaker would impress No
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A Family Corresponds: Polish Immigrants in the Early 20th century
Many immigrants to the United States wrote letters back home. At the time they were written, the missives shaped the expectations of those who would soon make the same journey; today, they gave historians invaluable first-hand testimony of the immigrants' own experiences. These seventeen letters involved the children of a retired Polish farmer named Raczkowski. Adam Raczkowski went to the United States in 1904 with the financial assistance of his sister Helena Brylska [later Dabrowskis] and his
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Frustration versus Fantasy: How the Movies Made Some People Restless
Fears about the impact of movies on youth led to the Payne Fund research project, which brought together nineteen social scientists and resulted in eleven published reports. One of the most fascinating of the studies was carried out by Herbert Blumer, a young sociologist who would later go on to a distinguished career in the field. For a volume that he called Movies and Conduct (1933), Blumer asked more than fifteen hundred college and high school students to write "autobiographies"of their expe
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