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Chapter 15 – Life at the Turn of the 20 th Century Section Notes Video Life at the Turn of the 20 th Century New Immigrants Urban Life Politics in the Gilded Age Segregation and Discrimination Maps Ethnic Neighborhoods in Chicago, 1880–1910 History Close-up Early Skyscrapers

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Chapter 15 – Life at the Turn of the 20th Century

Section Notes


Life at the Turn of the 20th Century

New Immigrants

Urban Life

Politics in the Gilded Age

Segregation and Discrimination


Ethnic Neighborhoods in Chicago, 1880–1910

History Close-up

Early Skyscrapers


Quick Facts

Political Cartoon: Old and New Immigration

Political Cartoon: Boss Tweed

The Populist Movement

Mexican American Worker

Old and New Immigrants

Visual Summary: Life at the Turn of the 20th Century

new immigrants
New Immigrants
  • The Main Idea
  • A new wave of immigrants came to the United States in the late 1800s, settling in cities and troubling some native-born Americans.
  • Reading Focus
  • How did patterns of immigration change at the turn of the century?
  • Why did immigrants come to America in the late 1800s, and where did they settle?
  • How did nativists respond to the new wave of immigration?
changing patterns of immigration
The old immigrants

10 million immigrants came between 1800 and 1900. Known as the old immigrants, they came from Northern and Western Europe.

Most were Protestant Christians, and their cultures were similar to the original settlers.

They came to have a voice in their government, to escape political turmoil, for religious freedom, or fleeing poverty and starvation.

Most immigrants came for economic opportunity, attracted to the open farm land in the United States.

Chinese immigrants had been lured by the gold rush and jobs building railroads.

The new immigrants

From 1880 to 1910, a new wave brought 18 million people to America.

Most came from Southern and Eastern Europe.

They were Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews. Arabs, Armenians, and French Canadians came as well.

Smaller numbers came from East Asia. Severe immigration laws reduced Chinese immigration, but 90,000 people of Chinese descent lived in the U.S. by 1900. Japanese immigrants arrived by way of Hawaii.

The makeup of the American population had changed. By 1910 about 1 in 12 Americans were foreign-born.

Changing Patterns of Immigration
coming to america
Desire for a better life

Most immigrants were seeking a new life, but they left their homelands for many reasons, including religious persecution, poverty, and little economic opportunity. If you were willing to work hard in America, prosperity was possible.

The journey to America

The decision to come involved the entire family. Usually the father went first and sent for the rest of the family later. Travelers made their way to a port city by train, wagon, or foot to wait for a departing ship. They had to pass an inspection to board, and prove they had some money. Most traveled cheaply, in steerage, and they still had to make it through the immigration station.

Ellis Island

Opening in 1892 as an immigration station, 112 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Immigrants had to pass inspection before they were allowed to enter.

Coming to America
coming to america5
Coming to America

West Coast immigrants were processed in San Francisco at Angel Island. Many Chinese immigrants were detained in prison-like conditions while awaiting a ruling. Poverty and discrimination awaited many newcomers.

Angel Island

Many new immigrants lived in poor housing in teeming slums near the factories where they found work. In the Northeast and Midwest, immigrants settled near others from their homeland. Cities became a patchwork of ethnic clusters. Residents established churches and synagogues to practice their religious faith. They formed benevolent societies, aid organizations to help new immigrants obtain jobs, health care, and education.

Building urban communities

nativists respond
Nativists Respond

Some native-born Americans saw immigrants as threats to society. Nativists felt they brought crime and poverty and accepted jobs for lower wages, keeping wages low for everyone. They wanted to close America’s doors to immigration.

Threat to society

Chinese workers were tolerated during good times, but with a worsening economy Denis Kearney led an active opposition to their presence. Chinese workers were not allowed state jobs, and local governments could ban them from communities or restrict them to certain areas. The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, banning Chinese immigration for 10 years. None of the Chinese in the U.S. would be allowed citizenship. The law was renewed in 1892, and Chinese immigration was banned indefinitely in 1902.

LimitingChinese immigration

limits to immigration

Nativists also resented the Japanese. Japanese students in San Francisco were segregated from other children.

Theodore Roosevelt negotiated a Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan.

No unskilled workers from Japan, and in return Japanese children could attend schools with other children.

Other immigrants

Nativists opposed immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

They claimed these folks were poor, illiterate, and non-Protestant and could not blend into American society.

They called for a literacy test to see if test takers could read English.

The Literacy Test Act was passed in 1917, over President Wilson’s veto.

Limits to Immigration

Americanization occurred in many places. Newcomers were taught American ways to help them assimilate. They learned English literacy skills and American history and government.

urban life
Urban Life
  • The Main Idea
  • In cities in the late 1800s, people in the upper, middle, and lower classes lived different kinds of lives because of their different economic situations.
  • Reading Focus
  • How did American cities change in the late 1800s?
  • How did class differences affect the way urban dwellers lived?
  • How did the settlement house movement work to improve living conditions for immigrants and poor Americans?
american cities change
Compact cities

Before industrialization, cities had no tall buildings and most people lived within walking distance of their work, schools, shops, and churches. In the late 1880s, they ran out of room and started to build up.

Tall buildings and transportation

Steel frames and Elisha Otis’s safety elevator made taller buildings possible. With mass transit, people moved farther away.

Green spaces

Urban planning was used to map out the best use of space in cities. Frederick Law Olmsted designed city parks to provide residents with countryside. New York’s Central Park is his most famous endeavor.

American Cities Change
class differences
Class Differences

The wealthy in America inherited fortunes, but they made them from industry and business as well.

The newly rich made a point of conspicuously displaying their wealth. Grand city houses and magnificent country estates were commonplace.

High-society women read instructional literature detailing proper behavior. The ideal woman was a homemaker who organized and decorated her home; entertained visitors and supervised her staff; and offered moral and social guidance to her family.

Some women lent their time and money to social reform efforts.

class differences11
The middle class

The urban middle class grew as jobs for accountants, clerks, managers, and salespeople increased.

Educated workers like teachers, engineers, lawyers, and doctors were needed.

The rise of professionalism required standardized skills and qualifications for certain occupations.

Married women managed a home. With time for other activities, some participated in reform work or other activities, expanding their influence to the outside world.

The working class

Many lived in poverty, with a growing population keeping wages low.

Housing shortages led to crowded and unsanitary tenement conditions.

Housekeeping was difficult; with no indoor plumbing, water had to be hauled inside from a pump.

Clothes were boiled on the stove and hung on lines to dry.

Many women also worked low-paying jobs outside the home.

Class Differences
the settlement house movement
London reformers

Founded the first settlement house in 1884. Volunteers provided a variety of services to people in need.

They taught skills people could use to lift themselves from poverty.

Hull House

Jane Addams founded Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in the U.S., and the movement spread quickly. The movement gave women the opportunity to lead, organize, and work for others.

Religious views

The Social Gospel was the idea that religious faith should be expressed through good works and that churches had a moral duty to help solve society’s problems.

Social Darwinists disagreed; they felt people were poor because of their own deficiencies.

The Settlement House Movement
politics in the gilded age
Politics in the Gilded Age
  • The Main Idea
  • Political corruption was common in the late 1800s, but reformers began fighting for changes to make government more honest.
  • Reading Focus
  • How did political machines control politics in major cities?
  • What efforts were made to reduce political corruption?
  • How did the Populist movement give farmers political power?
political machines
Political Machine—was an informal group of professional politicians controlling the local government who often resorted to corrupt methods for dealing with urban problems.

Immigrants—were a loyal support base for the political machines. In Boston, the Irish rose in the ranks to control the political machine in that city.

Corruption—Political machines used illegal tactics to maintain control, buying voter support and resorting to election fraud.

The Tweed Ring—was a notorious political machine headed by William Marcy Tweed.

Thomas Nast—a political cartoonist who attacked the corruption in Harper’s Weekly.

Political Machines
federal corruption
Federal Corruption

Grant’s presidency was marred by several scandals. Crédit Mobilier cost the taxpayers $23 million and tainted the nation’s leaders. The Whiskey Ring was responsible for diverting tax collections.


Reformers wanted to end the spoils system, and the next president agreed. Hayes issued an executive order that prohibited government employees from managing political parties or campaigns. The Stalwarts wanted to continue the spoils system.

Hayes and reform

Republicans compromised on James A. Garfield as the next president, but he was assassinated four months after taking office. His successor, Chester A. Arthur,turned against the spoils system and passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.

Civil service reform

the populist movement
Farmers’ hardships

Crop prices were falling, and farmers had to repay loans.

Railroads were charging high fees for transport

Merchants made money from farm equipment.

Everyone made money but the farmer doing the work

Outraged farmers organized to help themselves.

Local groups formed to aid farmers

The National Grange

First major farmers’ organization

Campaigned to unite farmers from all over

As membership grew, pushed for political reform and targeted railroad rates

Munn v. Illinois gave state legislatures the right to regulate businesses that involved the public interest.

Wabash v. Illinois—federal government could regulate railroad traffic.

The Populist Movement
the alliance movement and money supply
The Alliance Movement and money supply

The Farmers’ Alliance helped with practical needs such as buying equipment or marketing farm products. They also lobbied for banking reform and railroad rate regulation.

In the South, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance formed. With more than 1 million members, the Alliance advocated hard work and sacrifice as keys to gaining equality in society.

The Alliances felt that an expanded money supply would help farmers by inflating prices, with inflation easing farmers’ debt burden. Money was tied to the gold standard, and farmers wanted it to be backed by silver as well. Now politically active, candidates supported by the Alliance won more than 40 seats in Congress and four governorships.

the populist party
Encouraged by their clout in national elections, the Alliance decided to form a national political party. The Peoples’ Party was born in Nebraska in July 1892. This coalition of farmers, labor leaders, and reformers became known as the Populist Party.

Party Platform—Supported the National Grange and Alliance demands, with a platform calling for an income tax, bank regulation, government ownership of railroad and telegraph companies, and free coinage of silver.

1892 election—Speaking for the common people against the ruling elite, the Populists took several state offices and won seats in Congress.

The Populist Party
economic depression and a new election
The Panic of 1893

The nation plunged into another depression, investors pulled out of the stock market, and businesses collapsed.

Cleveland focused on silver as a cause of the national depression. When silver decreased in value, people rushed to exchange paper money for gold.

Cleveland called for Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. The country stayed on the gold standard.

The election of 1896

William McKinley, a believer in the gold standard, was the Republican nominee, and the Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan.

Bryan hailed the free coinage of silver as the key to prosperity.

The Populists threw their support to Bryan.

McKinley won the election, and the Populist Party soon faded away. But the groundwork for reform was laid.

Economic Depression and a New Election
segregation and discrimination
Segregation and Discrimination
  • The Main Idea
  • The United States in the 1800s was a place of great change—and a place in need of even greater change.
  • Reading Focus
  • What kinds of legalized discrimination did African Americans endure after Reconstruction?
  • What informal discrimination did African Americans face?
  • Who were the most prominent black leaders of the period, and how did their views differ?
  • In what ways did others suffer discrimination in the late 1800s?
legalized discrimination
Restricting the vote

Once white Democrats had regained control over their state legislatures, they passed poll tax and literacy requirements to prevent African Americans from voting.

Most African Americans were too poor to afford the poll tax, and many had been denied the education needed to pass the literacy test.

Some poor or illiterate white men could not meet the requirements, but they were given a grandfather clause allowing them to vote.

Legalized segregation

Designed to create and enforce segregation, Jim Crow laws were passed in the South.

African Americans filed lawsuits, wanting equal treatment under the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

In 1883, the Court ruled the Act to be unconstitutional, determining the 14th Amendment applied only to state governments.

Congress had no power over private individuals or businesses.

Legalized Discrimination
plessy v ferguson
Thirteen years later, another key case came before the Supreme Court. The matter involved a Louisiana state law requiring railroads to provide “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races.”

Homer Plessy sat in a whites-only train compartment to test the law and was arrested. He appealed based on the 14th Amendment.

In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the court upheld the practice of segregation, with only Justice John Marshall Harlan dissenting.

The Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The Plessy decision allowed legalized segregation for nearly sixty years.

Plessy v. Ferguson
informal discrimination
Informal Discrimination

Strict rules of behavior, called racial etiquette, governed social and business interactions. African Americans were supposed to “know their place” and defer to whites in every encounter.

Racial etiquette

If an African American failed to speak respectfully or acted with too much pride or defiance, the consequences could be serious.

The worst consequence was lynching, the murder of an individual usually by hanging, without a legal trial.

Between 1882 and 1892, nearly 900 lost their lives to lynch mobs. Lynchings declined after 1892, but continued into the early 1900s.


prominent black leaders
Prominent Black Leaders

With the turn of the century, two different approaches emerged for improving the lives of African Americans.

Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington believed that African Americans should accept segregation for the moment. Farming and vocational skills were the key to prosperity, and he founded the Tuskegee Institute to teach practical skills for self-sufficiency.

W.E.B. Du Bois, a Harvard-trained professor, believed in speaking out against prejudice and striving for full rights immediately. African Americans should be uplifted through the “talented tenth,” their best educated leaders. Du Bois launched the Niagara Movement to protest discrimination in 1905. Later, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

others suffer discrimination
Others Suffer Discrimination

They encountered hostility from white Americans, often not speaking English well and taking the most menial jobs for little pay. Debt peonage tied many of them to their jobs until they could pay off debts they owed their employer.

Mexican Americans

Chinese and Japanese Americans had to live in segregated neighborhoods and attend separate schools. Housing was difficult, because most house owners did not want Chinese tenants. Several states also forbade marriage with whites.

Asian Americans

Native Americans faced continuous government efforts to stamp out their traditional ways of life. Children were sent away from their parents to be “Americanized.” Reservation life held little opportunity for economic advancement.

Native Americans