US History 6B
January 29, 2013
The Gilded Age (1877-1900) The phrase "America's Gilded Age" typically brings to mind the financial exploits and dazzling wealth of the "robber barons": Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie, and others. The fortunes they made have left us with lasting monuments that, in most of our minds, exemplify the era: mansions in Newport, treasure-filled libraries and museums in Manhattan. The truth however, shows a side that was anything but glamorous, and maybe that’s why no one spoke of the horrid circumstances. The Gilded Age, as Mark Twain coined it, was a society built of “a thin layer of gold over a cheap base.” Coming out of the civil war and reconstruction of our nation, it seems as if life would be full of hopeful promises: blacks would be included in the nation's civic life, the working man could start his own business or move out west to work his own farm, and it set forth the ideal that each man would be accorded a single vote. By the end of the century, slavery was replaced by sharecropping, and the voting right was withdrawn.
As the country became industrialized, so little a number struck rich, while others were left struggling as wage laborers, working underneath them for little pay. The introduction of tenements came, but with it came unhealthy conditions. With poverty settling in people began cramming people into tenements, making it overpopulated and causing the poor hygiene to turn into widespread illness.
Another major problem during this time was immigration. Many foreigners came to the United States in hopes of finding jobs to provide for their families. However, the glamorous talk of America wasn’t what they found when they arrived. Many newly arrived immigrants were robbed of their belongings at the destination port, and were left to make a new start with absolutely nothing to their name. Settling in also presented challenges when the others started making restrictive covenants,