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.
A Chinese Immigrant Makes His Home in Turn-of-the-Century America
In this autobiographical sketch published in 1903 in the Independent magazine (which ran a series of about eighty short autobiographical "lifelets" of "undistinguished Americans" between 1902 and 1906), Chinese immigrant Lee Chew looked back on his passage to America, and his years as a launderer and merchant on both the East and West coasts.
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
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
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
"We Didn't Have Flies Until the White Man Came": A Yankton Sioux Remembers Life on the Plains in the
In the era before the U. S. Army conquered the Great Plains Indians the region's giant buffalo herds provided the primary food and clothing source for the Indians who lived there. Indeed, in 19th century America buffalo were more numerous than people. The various Lakota Sioux tribes who lived in the area that became South Dakota and Nebraska depended largely on the buffalo hunt according to Paul Picotte, a Yankton Sioux born in 1880. In this transcript of a 1968 interview with historian Joseph C
A Mule Spinner Tells the U.S. Senate about Late 19th century Unemployment
Fall River, Massachusetts, mill worker Thomas O'Donnell (who had immigrated to the U.S. from England eleven years earlier) appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Education and Labor on October 18, 1883, to answer the panel's questions about working-class economic conditions. An unemployed mule spinner for more than half of the year, he described the introduction of new production methods at the Fall River, Massachusetts, textile factory where he worked as a mule spinner (a worker who tende
Haymarket Martyr Louis Lingg Says Good-bye
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. Twenty-one-year-old German-born Carpenter Louis Lingg enthusiastically embraced the principles of anarchism and the violence he thought necessary to emancipate the working class in his final address before the court that convicted him of participating in the bombing.
American Soldiers in the Philippines Write Home about the War
During the U.S. war in the Philippines between 1899 and 1904 (which grew out of the Spanish-American War that had erupted in 1898), ordinary American soldiers shared the nationalist zeal of their commanders and pursued the Filipino "enemy" with brutality and sometimes outright lawlessness. Racism, which flourished in the United States in this period, led American soldiers to repeatedly assert their desire "to get at the niggers." An anti-imperialist movement, which rejected annexation by the Uni
"Everything Was Lively": David Hickman Describes the Prosperity Late Nineteenth-Century Railroads Br
The availability of rail connections often determined whether a western community would survive or die. The rails fostered prosperity by bringing both goods and people. This trade, and the local service industries that sprouted up to capitalize on the movement of people and goods, drove many local economies. Here, David Hickman talked about the boom years that followed the arrival of the railroad in the Latah County, Idaho town of Genesee in the 1880s.
"Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are": Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise Speech
In 1895, Booker T. Washington gave what later came to be known as the Atlanta Compromise speech before the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. His address was one of the most important and influential speeches in American history, guiding African-American resistance to white discrimination and establishing Washington as one of the leading black spokesmen in America. Washington's speech stressed accommodation rather than resistance to the racist order under which Southern Afric
Making the Atlanta Compromise: Booker T. Washington Is Invited to Speak
On September 18, 1895 Booker T. Washington, the noted African-American educator who was born a slave in 1858, spoke before 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. Acutely conscious of the narrow limitations whites placed on African Americans' economic aspirations, Washington stressed that blacks must accommodate white people's--and especially sou
"The Bad News From Chicago": Labor Organizer Oscar Ameringer Describes the Effect of the Haymarket B
The Haymarket bombing in 1886 marked a major turning point in the history of nineteenth-century labor. Used by capitalists as an excuse for a crackdown on labor organizations, the bombing also splintered what up had been until then the strongest labor organization in the United States--the Knights of Labor. The anti-labor reaction that followed in the wake of the bombing helped precipitate a rapid decline in membership in the Knights which was eventually supplanted by the American Federation of
"It Had a Lot of Advantages"Alfred DuBray Praises 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, the 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. But in this 1970 interview, Sioux tribal leader Alfred DuBray argued that the Indian New Deal, on balance, brought positive changes.
Slumming Among the Unemployed: William Wycoff Studies Joblessness in the 1890s
Even before the 1890s depression struck with devastating force in 1893, large numbers of jobless men and women competed in tight labor markets and faced homelessness. One of the best first-hand descriptions of "what it is to look for work and fail to find it" comes from political economist Walter Wycoff's two-volume study of The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, first published in 1899. Wycoff had abandoned his studies at Princeton to seek a more concrete appreciation of social problems. His re
A German Jewish Woman Settles in North Dakota
Women who settled the West in the years after the Civil War often faced harsh and unremitting toil. Laboring from well before dawn until well after the sun had set, women helped plant and harvest crops, raised large families, and kept house with the most rudimentary of equipment. Long periods of isolation from neighbors and kin were common; social occasions or visits by travelers and kin were rare and cherished events. Sarah Thal, a German Jew who immigrated to North Dakota in 1882, recalled tha
"All That Is Passed Away": A Young Indian Praises U.S. Government Policy in the Late 19th century
Federal officials and reformers regarded education as the linchpin in the government's efforts to Americanize and assimilate Native Americans, which became the dominant federal policy starting in 1887. They placed the greatest stock in off-reservation boarding schools, because they removed Indian youths from their home environment and culture. The U.S. Training and Industrial School founded in 1879 at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, was the model for most of these schools. Ellis B. Childers, a
The Bum as Con Artist: An Undercover Account of the Great Depression
Middle-class observers reacted to hoboes and tramps of the Great Depression with an array of responses, viewing them with suspicion, empathy, concern, fear, sometimes even a twinge of envy. For some, stolidly holding onto traditional values of work and success, the "bum" was suspect, potentially a con artist. Tom Kromer's "Pity the Poor Panhandler: $2 An Hour Is All He Gets" exemplified this stance, urging readers to resist the appeals of panhandlers and refer them to relief agencies, where prof
"It Didn't Pan Out as We Thought It Was Going To"Amos Owen on 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, the 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 1970 interview with historian Herbert T. Hoover, Amos Owen, Mdewakanton Sioux tribal chairman, gave a mixed verdict on the Indi
"A Perfect Hailstorm of Bullets": A Black Sergeant Remembers the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1899
The best-known image of the Spanish-American War is that of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback charging with his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba. But not only was the role of the Rough Riders exaggerated, it also displaced attention from the black soldiers who made up almost 25 percent of the U. S. force in Cuba. Indeed, the Spanish troops, who called the black soldiers "smoked Yankees," were often more respectful of the black troops than were the white officers who commanded them. Here Sergeant