America 1877-1900, also known as the Gilded Age, was a time period where achievements of the time were used as a veil that hid the real and unresolved social issues underneath. One of the main social issues that occurred in this time period was the discrimination against many marginalized groups such as African Americans, women, and immigrants. In this age, there was a great increase in urban population growth, much of which came from these discriminated groups. Although all three groups contributed to the urban growth, immigrants were the most significant. Many of these people came to America to escape lives of persecution, warfare, and poverty. With the rise of immigration, came anti-immigrant legislation. Many proposals were made in hope of keeping immigrants from acquiring public jobs. Nativists thought immigrants were the cause of problems such as poverty, crime, and disease and wanted to eliminate these issues by restricting immigration. With many blaming immigrants for these urban issues, there were also Americans who believed these problems could be minimized with various policies and institutions.
This time was also important for many women as they found themselves with more free time between lower birth rates and the increase of the employment of servants. According to gender-roles women were to remain in the home and business and politics were damaging to their “virtuous womanhood” (Keene, section 17.2.3). With this free time, women began joining clubs for charity and social reform. These clubs allowed women to become activists and exercise their political influence. This activism brought about the women’s suffrage movement, which was an attempt to obtain voting rights for women. Many struggles were faced by these activists, but in the end they achieved their goals with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. While these women achieved their goal of obtaining voting rights, racism caused the segregation of African American women from any clubs and suffrage movements held by the white women. Black women did not let this segregation stop them. They soon established clubs and suffrage movements that pertained more to the issues that black women faced.
During these hard times, politics were mostly controlled by wealthy white men making the political movements of these marginalized groups difficult. Many corporations would use donations as a form of bribery to different political parties in order to stop political legislation that would be harmful to their interests. An example of this bribery at work would be the Sherman Act of 1890. This act was originally intended to “crack down on business practices that diminished competition” (Keene, section 17.4.1). This law was then weakened by the opposition of legislators that favored corporations and was ultimately used to weaken labor unions by big business.
Keene, Jennifer D., Visions of America: A History of the United States, Vol 2, 3e, Pearson, 2017.