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Reform in the Gilded Age

The vast differences of wealth in the Gilded Age led contemporaries to wonder: was it possible to have a modern, industrial society without social inequality? In this video, Kim discusses how reformers in the Gilded Age responded to social problems, and how women began to play a larger role in public life as they confronted those problems.

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  • leafers seed style avatar for user Ordo Ab Chao (Quizzaciously Sesquipedalianized Eleemosynary)
    In the video, the instructor states that socialism is "a system in which the government, not private individuals owns economic enterprises," yet the Wikipedia (and other) definitions of socialism all mention "social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management of enterprises," but no government. What is the source of this discrepancy?
    (6 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Nikolas
    Out of curiosity, the dictionary and Wikipedia definition for socialism is 'publicly owned means of production and industry', which I take to mean the workers own the mechanisms of the economy as a democratic collective, but the video states socialism is a 'government owned enterprise'. Additionally, the book in which socialism was reportedly described is actually describing communism, at least by definition, as it is defined as a 'stateless, classless, and money-less' society. If someone could clear up the inconsistency, that would be great!
    (5 votes)
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    • marcimus red style avatar for user Tg
      Communism was supposed to eventually become socialism where the government would disintegrate; however there has not been a single instance where this has happened, instead communists in power stay in power and "get rid of" or "make disappear" anyone that disagred with them.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby blue style avatar for user Elijah B. Tuito'elau
    For me this is hard to take notes, is anyone that can give their process of taking notes?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Bianca
      put specific examples under headers (Ex: these reformers focused on conservation, these on workers' rights, these on abolition, etc.). Look for groups like that -- it helps with compare/contrasting and identifying common themes.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the year 2000 a wealthy Bostonian named Julian West woke up from a very long nap. He had fallen asleep in the year 1887. The United States in the year 2000 was very different from the Gilded Age he knew. It was a utopian society where there was no poverty no labor strikes, no pollution. His new friends in the future explained to him how this society worked. There was no private property and no money. Everyone worked at the job they were most suited for and received their fair share of the national wealth on a credit card that they could use to buy necessities. This is the plot of Edward Bellamy's 1888 novel "Looking Backward." It was a bestseller of its day but today we remember it not only for its predictions about the future but as an example of how thinkers of the time period explored the burning question of the Gilded Age. Was it possible to have a modern industrial society without great inequalities of wealth? In the late 19th century the rapid changes in American life stemming from the rise of industrial capitalism caused a great deal of concern. The United States prided itself on being different from the countries of Europe where the inequality between the aristocracy and the working class caused strife and revolution. But industrialization had brought both millionaires and impoverished millions to the United States, packing them in to cities where mansions sat side-by-side with filthy tenements. Suddenly, the New World looked a lot more like the old world and so people at the time wondered was inequality an inevitable by-product of advancing society? Those who answered yes were called Social Darwinists who thought that the survival of the fittest would weed out the weak and improve society overall. We'll talk more about Social Darwinism elsewhere but in this video I wanna concentrate on those who believe that it was possible to have a society that was both modern and equitable. During the Gilded Age there were a number of reformers and reform movements that attempted to solve the problems posed by urban and industrial life. So let's talk about some of the ways that reformers attempted to respond to the inequalities of the Gilded Age. One was to suggest new economic systems for the United States. For example, you might have noticed that in Edward Bellamy's utopian society there was no private property and the national wealth was equally shared. In fact, what he was suggesting was socialism a system in which the government, not private individuals owns economic enterprises. Bellamy carefully avoided saying the word socialism which was associated with anarchists and immigrant radicals but he portrayed it as the ultimate remedy to all problems in the country. Bellamy's work influenced many reformers including the labor activist and socialist leader Eugene V. Debs who ran for president on a socialist platform five times. Another popular suggestion of the time was the single tax which was proposed by Henry George in his book "Progress and Poverty." George's solution to wealth inequality was to replace all other taxes with a single high tax on the value of land. He believed that the revenue from this tax would be enough to pay for all necessary government services. One of George's many admirers was Jacob Riis. He was a social reformer who published a photo expose of tenement life in New York City called "How the Other Half Lives." Riis was one of the first muckrakers whose chosen method of combating social problems was to shine a light on them. His images of dangerous living conditions in tenements led to laws which regulated building safety. Other muckrakers targeted the corruption in industry like Ida Tarbell, who wrote a history of the Standard Oil Company that exposed its unscrupulous practices. Some focused on the unjust treatment of racial minorities. In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson published a book called "A Century of Dishonor" which discussed the mistreatment, violence and broken treaties that indigenous Americans had faced at the hands of the U.S. government and white settlers. Journalist Ida B. Wells campaigned against the lynching of black men in the South. In addition to campaigning against economic and social inequality many Gilded Age reformers attempted to remedy the problems befalling cities and their residents. The most famous of these was the settlement house movement. Settlement houses were community centers based in immigrant neighborhoods where newcomers could learn English, get job skills attain childcare and find a range of services that helped them adapt to life in urban America. Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago in 1889 and many other reformers founded settlement houses in other cities. Similarly some churches of the time period began to emphasize that confronting contemporary social problems and helping the poor were the embodiment of the teachings of Christianity. This Social Gospel movement as it was known led to the establishment of missions in urban areas and churches opened libraries gymnasiums and classrooms for public use. Some reformers focused their energies on the physical setting of cities believing that the squalor of dirty streets and tenements depressed people and encouraged moral decay. The City Beautiful movement works to incorporate parks inspiring architecture and good design into American cities. Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park in New York City to be a respite from the urban jungle and City Beautiful architects like Daniel Burnham created monumental spaces and buildings in Washington D.C. These spaces were supposed to inspire harmony order and civic virtue in society. One aspect of Gilded Age reform you may have noticed by now is that a large number of reformers were women. Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells and Ida Tarbell all placed prominent roles in the movement. After the Civil War a growing number of middle class women went to college and these active and educated women began looking for work and meaning outside of the home. Many white, middle- and upper-class women joined clubs dedicated to social reforms and they argued that women's traditional role of keeping their homes clean and the people within them upstanding and moral also extended to their communities which they called municipal housekeeping. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, for example became the Gilded Age's largest female organization with more than 150,000 members. Led by Frances Willard, the WCTU grew from its roots in opposing the sale and consumption of alcohol to advocate for policy solutions to social problems ranging from prison reform to domestic violence. The WCTU also campaigned for women's suffrage. In 1890 the two major women's suffrage organizations which had been at odds with each other since the passage of the 15th Amendment reunited to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Their efforts would lead to the growth of woman suffrage at the state level and later, with the help of the National Woman's Party the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.