Political and Social Change: The Gilded Age

Due to the abundance of factory jobs that were being altered by the new technology developments, wages of workers were being forced down because the factories felt these were no longer skilled jobs. This change along with the continuous immigration to America for the hope of a better life led to the use tenement buildings. In these tenement buildings, there would be dozens of families living in one apartment building. Each tenement was often only several hundred square feet, had no windows and often no plumbing. These harsh conditions paired with such close proximity to so many others led to large outbreaks of sickness and disease. Every year during the 1890’s over ten thousand children under the age of 5 died in the city of Chicago from these hard slum conditions.

In the 1850’s a racist minded group reemerged, known as the Nativists. The people of this group hated foreign born Americans and immigrants. The Nativists were under the thought process that the immigrants were bringing nothing to the American society other than illness, poverty and new unwanted ideals. During this time, tenements were becoming very overpopulated and spreading, of which the Nativists did not take kindly to. Nativists were actively trying to get the government to slow down or even halt the immigration. The rate in which immigrants were taking jobs and overtaking parts of the city made the Nativists quite uncomfortable, and in 1882 the government reacted to the outcry from the Nativists and enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act which stopped the immigration of Chinese to America.

In the Gilded Age the political landscape began to see major changes in how parties were supported. The machines used corruption by making strong ties with real estate companies and construction companies. The machines gained the trust of immigrants and the Black community, denouncing the views of the Nativists. Poor people, often living in tenements, were also persuaded by political machines as the machines would go around handing out cash offerings, purchasing food and sometimes even paying for funerals in exchange for a vote in support of the Political Machines. The tactics the Political Machines used were very useful, and they regularly affected the outcome of elections.

During this time in the Gilded Age the middle class started moving out of the overcrowded cities and into the suburbs. The advancement of trains and trolleys made this transition to the suburbs very easy for the middle class workers to get into the city to work, and then go home to a place where they were not going to experience any of the filth and hustle of the city. This time in the middle class also led to the birth of the New Woman. These women were educating themselves more, prolonging child birth, and becoming more involved in the community. This involvement in the communities led to organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, a club where reform-minded women went to become activist and build leadership skills.

The changes during the Gilded Age of Political and Social norms had a great deal of impact on building today’s world. For instance, women in our society are much more educated, often going out into the world and making a great deal of money and success for themselves and their families. In big cities today like New York City and Chicago, the means of public transportation are vast and many of the citizens of these cities don’t have cars. Luckily we as a country have eradicated most though processes like the ones of the Nativists and housing commissions have made a major change in the way people live in these populated areas making tenements of that era non-existent today.




Keene, Jennifer D., Visions of America: A History of the United States, Vol 2, 3e, Pearson, 2017.

5 thoughts on “Political and Social Change: The Gilded Age

  1. Great examples for the political machines. These corrupt bosses would really do anything they could to get votes. If it wasn’t for the New Women, women today might not have the same rights they do. They really changed the world for all women.

      1. They definitely did a great thing but black women were often left out of movements and had to create groups that were specific to their own issues. Even with their own groups, their issues were often left unresolved due to racism. Even today many feminist groups don’t practice intersectional feminism and ignore the issues that black women face.

  2. Black women to this day absolutely fight a fight that no one else does. Im a white male so it’s a bit uncomfortable for me to speak upon, but in my opinion the response to the Serena Williams situation is just a small price of what black women face every day. She is a dominate, emposing and fierce black woman who has owned her sport since the day she stepped into it. She has done nothing but been a pillar of respect and because she felt she was cheated out of a tournament she’s now treated like she deserved the loss because she expressed herself strongly. By all means she slammed her racket which is illegal, but had a white male made the same argument she was he would have been taken more seriously, or maybe it wouldn’t even have happened.

    1. Me being the son of a black woman i can most definitely elaborate with you on what i witnessed my mom face. Unlike Serena though she was a single mother raising three kids on her own and i can tell you that she faced a lot of hardships especially being a black woman. As for Serena i feel like she really stood up for black women. It surprised many people because she’s known to be very humble but out of all the years she makes one response and the world flips. Your exactly right if it was maybe a white guy that made a claim it wouldn’t have been this big of a issue. I believe he still would of received flak but not as bad as Serena. People look at her as a sore loser for speaking out for herself which i think is BS.

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