While many Americans living during the “Gilded Age” (1865-1900) considered it a time of prosperity, others were not so fond. Many peoples that weren’t middle and upper class whites were being treated very poorly by both the government and by other members of society. While all Americans found their lives changed by big business and new technologies, others found their way of life completely altered. Particularly Native Americans, industrial workers and African Americans saw their entire way of life changed by many different factors. Native Americans saw the most dramatic change in their lives during this time period. Buffalo in the Great Plains were central to Native American life as it was used for many different things including housing, clothing, blankets, and food (Danzer 409). They lived a communal life where their children were raised by the whole village, and where they were governed by council rather than by a single ruler (Danzer 409). All of this soon began to change as more and more white settlers moved out west. Because white settlers claimed that the Native Americans did nothing to “improve” the land, many considered it unsettled, and traveled to seek opportunity via wagon trails and train (Danzer 409). In 1834 the United States had set apart the Great Plain as a giant reservation for the Native Americans to live on (Danzer 410). However, by the 1850’s laws were being changed that gave boundaries to this reservation which eventually led to battles between white settlers and the Native American, including the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 that forced them to live on reservations around the Mississippi River (Danzer 410). Many of these wars were actually in fact massacres that left thousands of Native Americans dead such as the Massacre at Sand Creek, the Red River War, and finally the Battle of Wounded Knee (Danzer 410-12). Eventually white settlers began to out populate the Native Americans in the Great Plains due to the ever-expanding railroad industry and the Homestead Act of 1862, which encouraged over 600,000 white settlers to move out west (Danzer 421). The Native American life as they knew it would never be the same again. Industrial workers of the time also found their lives being changed, only this time in a more positive way. Before reforms were made many steel workers faced seven day work weeks, while most seamstresses worked over twelve hours a day six days a week (Danzer 450). These and other workers were not entitled to vacation, sick leave, unemployment compensation, or even reimbursement for injuries attained on the job (Danzer 450). In fact, an average of 675 industrial workers were killed every week due to dangerous working conditions (Danzer 450). Pay was so poor that women averaged only $267 a year, and men only $498 a year (Danzer 451). Soon however, many of these workers joined newly formed labor unions to change all of this. The National Labor Union or NLU was formed in 1866 and grew to over 640,000 members by 1868 (Danzer 451). It convinced Congress to legalize an eight-hour work day (Danzer 451). Another labor union, the Knights of Labor grew to an estimated 700,000 by 1869 (Danzer 451). Things were finally starting to look up for these workers. Between 1890 and 1915 the average weekly wage rose from $17.50 to $24, and the average work week went down from 54.5 hours to only 49 (Danzer 452). However, with a rise in violent strikes and federal involvement many labor unions declined. Such strikes as the Great Strike of 1877 (which was ended by federal troops), the Haymarket Affair, the Homestead Strike, the Pullman Co. Strike (which was also ended by federal troops), enraged business owners (Danzer 453-54). Even women began to organize under Mother Jones and Pauline Newman, who formed the WMU and IGLWU respectively (Danzer 455). Soon big business found a way to get the government against union by using the Sherman Antitrust Act (Danzer 455). However, workers preserved and by 1904 the AFL grew to over 1,700,000 members, and by pre-World War I grew to over two million members (Danzer 455). Another group of people that found their lives altered during the Gilded Age were African Americans. During Reconstruction many began to vote and run for public office. However, when President Rutherford B. Hayes declared an end to Reconstruction in 1877 many blacks faced violence and segregation on a much larger scale than ever before (Danzer 492). New regulations such as corrupt reading tests and an unfair poll tax prevented many African Americans from returning to the polls (Danzer 493). Even worse was that if a white person were to fail the same reading tests and couldn’t afford the poll tax, they were still able to vote because of a rule called the grandfather clause (Danzer 493). New laws nicknames the Jim Crow laws segregated blacks and whites in public and private facilities such as school, hospitals, and parks (Danzer 493). In 1896 a case was brought to the Supreme Court called Plessy vs. Ferguson in which the courts actually declared segregation legal (Danzer 493). Despite the efforts of such advocates as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DeBois, and Ida B. Wells, violence against blacks also increased (Danzer 495). Between 1882 and 1982 more than 1400 blacks were lynched without trial in the South alone (Danzer 494). Segregation even increased in the North when many blacks moved to avoid it and to find equal opportunities in the job market (Danzer 494). African Americans, industrial workers and Native Americans truly suffered the biggest blow during the Gilded Age when it came to change. From losing their jobs, to being killed and even to having their whole culture destroyed, these three factions endured plenty during this time period. However through perserverence of the people during the Gilded Age they have all made enormous strides. Today, Native Americans still maintain their culture all across America, blacks are equal in society as much as any other American is, and many rules and regulations have been put in place so that the working class of today is much like the upper class of back then (except for the few industrial giants of the era). All in all these three factions suffered major changes in their everyday lives, and still came out on top!
1. 1. Danzer, Gerald. The Americans. McDougal Littell Inc., 2003. 226-229. Print.
Cited: 1. 1. Danzer, Gerald. The Americans. McDougal Littell Inc., 2003. 226-229. Print.