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Lone Star College-Kingwood Library
American Cultural History
19th Century - 1890 - 1899
Presidents: Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt | Population: 62,947,714 | Statehood: Idaho, Wyoming, Utah
About the 19th Century Decades Pages
By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had transformed the world's economy. To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through these decades. Then visit the suggested links for more information. As librarians, we must point out that the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library. Since we are getting close to the end of the century, you may want to see our Twentieth Century American Cultural History pages at kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decades.html. ENJOY!
Beginning of America's Gilded Age | 60% of the stocks listed on the stock exchange were those of railroad | NYC had become a melting pot of immigrants from around the world | 23,000 children were employed in the factories of the 13 southern states | Reporter Nellie Bly claimed a train from Colorado to Chicago averaged 78.1 miles per hour | Congress passed the International Copyright Act | Federal penitentiaries were authorized | Lizzie Borden gave her parents whacks with an ax | Ellis Island became the receiving station for immigrants | General Electric company was formed | Use of convict labor was causing unrest | The first graduated income tax law was passed | Garment workers struck against sweatshop conditions | Plessy v. Ferguson established 'separate but equal.'
American portraiture, realism, historical painting and landscapes continued as important art genres.Most interesting today are the American Impressionist artists including Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Childe Hassam. Art Nouveau soared into the artworld during this decade. John Singer Sargent continued with his famous portraits, including Lord Ribblesdale. The American Fine Arts Society was formed in NYC, aided by George W. Vanderbilt (Biltmore Estate opened in 1895). Frederick W. MacMonnies created the great fountain of the Columbian Exposition. Daniel Chester French and Cyrus Dallin were other sculptors whose work was represented at the exposition. The women's building was interesting as well. Glass works flourished, including Blenko.
The American Arts and Crafts movement started in the 1890s and went into the next century, with its simple, well-built crafts and architecture. Names like A. G. Bauer, M. W. Morris, and Gustav Stickley achieved fame for their designs.
Louis H. Sullivan, father of the skyscraper and modern architecture, built the Wainwright Building and Chicago's Auditorium. Other skyscarpers were built including the 17 story Manhattan Life Insurance Building and the Astoria Hotel in NYC. Another modern architect Daniel H. Burnham completed The Masonic Temple in Chicago, the tallest building in the U.S. (20 stories.) Heins and La Farge were awarded the architectural project for the largest protestant Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Frank Lloyd Wright build his first houses in Chicago (Charnley House and Winslow residence). Work was begun on the New York Public Library by architects John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings.
Realism, romances, history books, religious books, books containing local color, and poetry all continued to be read by many. Wealthy women had servants and there was plenty of time for reading. Ambrose Bierce, known for tales of the Civil War and horror stories, wrote Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. Laura Jean Libbey, an extremely popular romantic novelist, wrote stories of the New York Working-Girl. Poems, Second Edition and Third Edition were published by Emily Dickinson's sister after her death in 1890. One of our favorites by Emily Dickinson follows:
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Then there's a pair of us?
Don't tell! they'd advertise--you know!
How dreary--to be--Somebody!
How public--like a Frog--
To tell one's name--the livelong June--
To an admiring Bog!
John Fiske popularized U.S. History with The American Revolution. The first American collection of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Holmes was published (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes). Religious books had always been read and In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? by Kansas minister Charles M.Sheldon was published in 25 languages. The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke is also still in print. Frank Norris (McTeague) and Booth Tarkington (The Gentleman from Indiana) began publishing during this decade. International censorship and copyright laws were passed.
Poetry was popular and the final poetry collections of Walt Whitman (d.1892), Goodbye, My Fancy and Leaves of Grass were published. James Whitcomb Riley published more Hoosier poems. Edwin Arlington Robinson published his second collection of poetry, The Children of the Night. A new form of American journalism and humor came into being with the appearance of The Yellow Kid by Richard F. Outcault. The comic strip was wildly popular and circulation really boomed when Rudolph Dirks introduced The Katzenjammer Kids. Another pioneer of comic strips was Frederick Burr Opper with Happy Hooligan. More books by popular writers of the 1890s and today include:
For children and adults, Joel Chandler Harris published another collection of Uncle Remus tales. Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote Beautiful Joe, a dog story that sold 1,000,000 copies. G. A. Henty's With Lee in Virginia told the story of the Civil War. See more at Children's Literature.
One of the most memorized poems ever was written, by Gelett Burgess in 1895.
I never saw a purple cow. I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow.I'd rather see than be one. See Representative Poetry Online
to find out what Burgess wrote as a sequel.
With the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 and the subsequent surrender of the Lakotas on January 16, 1896, the Indian Wars were over. At the beginning of the decade there remained some western lands still to be settled - 11 million acres of Lakota land ceded to the federal government in 1889 and land purchased from the Cherokee in Oklahoma - but by the end of the 19th century most of the free land was gone. All but three of the contiguous states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma) were now part of first 48 states in the Union. The west of cowboys and Indians was finished. In 1893 the noted historian, Frederick Jackson Turner, in his paper "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", proposed the theory that the availability of free land and its gradually westward settlement formed the American character. This restless character would be changed as it no longer would be challenged by a frontier to conquer. The country's population was shifting from the eastern seaboard of the first of the century to extend across the continent. By the 1890 census, of the 62,947,714 people counted, 17,000,000 lived west of the Mississippi River. This same census declared the disappearance of a designated frontier line. In less than 100 years this uncharted and sparsely populated country had become inhabited, cultivated, and linked together from coast to coast. People were coming into the United States in great numbers - 3.6 million in this decade alone.
No longer were they mainly from the "old immigrant" countries of western and northern Europe but from the "new immigrant" countries of southern and eastern Europe. Political upheaval in Italy and pogroms against the Jews in Russia made leaving their homeland either a necessity or an attraction. On January 1, 1892 the government opened Ellis Island in New York City harbor to process the multides coming to the New World. The new residents had to make a place in their new home. They tended to establish themselves in enclaves in the cities and seek jobs in industry or commerce rather than farming. These "new immigrants" were looked upon as less desirable and skilled than the earlier immigrants. The deplorable living conditions in the tenaments where many were forced to live were disclosed in Jacob Riis's book, How the Other Half Lives. The competition for jobs, accelerated by the Panic of 1893, stirred antagonism toward these newcomers who were willing to work for less pay. The Federal Immigration Act of 1891 (see page 12) tightened regulations for those who would be admitted to the United States. In 1896, the Immigration Restriction Bill, first of many bills to impose a literary test for admittance, was introduced in Congress but was vetoed by President Cleveland. Despite the hardships and the discrimination still they came as the Statue of Liberty proclaimed to them in this sonnet by Emma Lazarus, 1883:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
In 1890, Congress passed the Second Morrill Act which specified that states that maintained separate colleges for different races had to propose a just and equitable division of the funds to be received under the act. This act served to establish sixteen black land-grant colleges throughout the South. Cities remained ahead in educating their
children. The kindergarten program had moved from New England to such
Midwestern cities as St. Louis
through the efforts of such educators as Elizabeth
Harrison, William Hailmann, John Dewey, Patty
Smith Hill, and Pauline
Agassiz Shaw. During this same period the drive for public high
schools continued. The number of such schools had increased from one
hundred in 1860 to 6,000 by the end of the century. Some of these schools
began to offer organized sports and other extracurricular activities such as
More and more women entered
the teaching profession. By 1900 seventy-five percent of all teachers
were women, and these women were rising to supervisory positions. Fanny Jackson Coppin
became the head of the Institute for Colored Youth in
Phildephia and trained teachers
to work in the inferior
schools provided for African-American children. Janie Porter Barrett
started a school in her home, and in 1890 established the Locust
Street Social Settlement, the country's first such institution for African-Americans.
The Supreme Court issued the Plessy v.
Ferguson decision in 1896 that established the doctrine that was to legalize
segregated schools until the Brown v. the Board of Education
decision of 1954 .
In higher education more students were seeking advanced degrees.. By 1900 over 5,000 such students were enrolled in the universities of Harvard, Yale, and Johns Hopkins. The questions of academic freedom and academic standards were beginning to be addressed. Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard, was introducing such programs as the college elective system, admissions standards, and graduation requirements at his university. He also served on the Committee of Ten which set up standards for high schools in the United States.
The theories that would dominate the United States educational
system for most of the twentieth century - the
graded classroom, the nine-month school term, free textbooks, the Americanization
of immigrant children and Native-American
children, the philosophy of progressive education
- were in
place by the end of the nineteenth century.
FLASH! Gold discovered in the Klondike...the great gold rush is on...25,000 people stampede to the Klondike area. FLASH! Chicago's World Fair and Columbian Exposition. FLASH! Chinese Exclusion Treaty excludes Chinese laborers from the U.S. FLASH! Treasury Departments buys $62,000,000 in gold from J.P. Morgan & Company and August Belmont & Company.FLASH! Power generators put into operation at Niagara Falls by the Westinghouse Electric Company. FLASH! Pulpit thumping Christian evangelism thrives with Billy Sunday at its helm. FLASH! Rural free postal delivery established. FLASH! American industry becomes the most productive in the world, including steel, cotton, meat packing, electric power, steam turbines and electric motors. FLASH! The horseless carriage is introduced to Americans. FLASH! Illiteracy on the decline. 13.3% of the population said to be illiterate, a decrease of 3.7%. FLASH! 1899. Congress authorizes voting machines for federal elections.FLASH! Judge Roy Bean, the hanging judge, takes care of crime in Texas.
popularity of bicycles gave rise to songs about them, including The Cycle Man,
The March of the Bloomers, and the still popular Bicycle
Built for Two. Music Boxes, idiophones with changeable
cylinders brought music into the homes and and stores. Recorded music
was selected by the lot rather than by the title, and coin operated music boxes cost a penny a song. John
Philip Sousa, not allowed to leave Washington DC for more than one day at
a time, turned to recording
to share his music. In 1891, he finally went on tour successfully, and,
in 1892, resigned as conductor of the Marine Corps Band (see picture at the
left) to form the Sousa Band.
At the Columbian Exposition in 1893, Little Egypt danced the hoochee-coochee belly dance in a semitransparent skirt. "The Hootchy Kootchy Dance" song aided her popularity. She was considered scandalous - wow! Not far away, Buffalo Bill offered his Wild West Show.
The gay nineties featured two major dances, the waltz and the two-step. Dancing master Allen Dodworth considered the waltz a sinful dance because of the closeness of the dancers. He instructed men to never put a bare hand on a woman's waist. America's first contribution to social dancing was the two-step, danced to the popular John Philip Sousa marches. From the Cakewalk came a style, originally called rag music, featuring syncopated piano playing. It became known as Ragtime. Scott Joplin's career took off with the "Maple Leaf Rag." Other popular songs included "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight," "Red River Valley," "Sidewalks of New York," and "Ta-ra-ra Boom-De-Ay." "After the Ball" was written by Charles Harris, who advertised "songs written to order" but could not read nor write music. "Happy Birthday to You" debuted In 1898, Isadora Duncan, traveled to London and became world famous. She based many of her dances on interpretations of music by Strauss, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky.
Although most composers were men, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach completed her Symphony in E-minor, ("Gaelic") in 1896. Her compatriot, Margaret Ruthven Lang, was the first woman to write a symphony played by a major orchestra. Horatio Parker established a reputation as a composer with Hora Novissima. Charles Ives wrote his first symphony in 1898.
An article in The Ladies’ Standard Magazine in April 1894, reported the benefits of cycling. Bicycles became easier to ride once both wheels were the same diameter. This popular sport gave rise to the phrase "Mile-a-Minute Murphy" when, on June30, 1899, Charles M. Murphy rode a bicycle a mile in sixty-five seconds. Basketball, introduced in 1891, was first played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets. The prize fighting world was stunned by the Sullivan-Corbett match on September 7, 1892. Women were increasing their participation in sports as the catch phrase "The New Woman" was used to describe the feminist of the day. The University of Nebraska opened competitive athletics for women. women played baseball in Bloomer Girls leagues. The first Women's Golf Championship Tournament was held at Meadow Brook, Long Island in 1895. Women's fashions adapted to this increased participation in activities and sports. Women's bicycle bloomers and swimsuits made an appearance. Another major influence on women's fashion was the "Gibson" girl created by the magazine illutrator Charles Gibson. The mannish styled tailored shirtwaist was popular with girls wanting the "Gibson" look. They also wore a feminized version of the man's "boater" straw hat. The unisex look was at its very beginning. Men's clothes featured a batswing tie that was a variation of the bowtie. They wore their hair parted in the middle or slightly left of center and were generally either clean shaven or had little mustaches waxed and turned up at the ends.
Main Street was still the center of life in the 1890's. The drug store soda fountain was a gathering place and drives in a surrey were a way of courting. Dancing was a favorite passtime with the two-step being the most popular. Amusement parks such as Coney Island and the Atlantic City boardwalk drew crowds. The first Ferris Wheel was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Cigarette smoking continued to rise but was still considered unacceptable for women. The term "the 400" came into being to decribe New York City society when the invitation to the Astor Ball had to be trimmed to that number to accomodate the Astor ballroom. With the publication of Fannie Farmer's The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book recipes became more prcise with stress on exact measurement of ingredients in cooking. The term "home economics" was coined to describe the movement to bring science into the American home. In 1895, Sears and Roebuck began publishing their mail order catalogs. The catalog became a favorite book in many homes. A new convenience food was introduced in 1897. Dr. John T. Dorrance developed Campbell's condensed soup, which sold for 10 cents! With advertising increasing and chain stores beginning to replace the local storekeeper the nation continued on its road to consumerism and homogenization. This decade is often referred to as the "Gay Nineties".
In the last decade of the 19th century, people in the
United States were looking toward the future. Opportunity
for a better life drew more immigrants
to the United States. Industrialization
helped improve the economic outlook. Scientific
advances enabled men to overcome
many problems encouraging optimism
religious views of the world. Charles Augustus
Briggs of Union Theological Seminary in New York and Newman Smyth, a Congregational
pastor, introduced new methods of Biblical study to American schools.
Opposing this new thinking were schools like the Princeton Theological Seminary.
grew stronger throughout the 1890's in response to conditions created by increased
crowded urban areas,
and the rise of big business.
Jacob Riis wrote How the Other
Half Lives, 1890, about life in urban slums. The federal government
immigrant receiving station on Ellis
Island opened in 1892 to handle the huge numbers of people coming into America.
Jane Addams wrote Hull-House
Maps and Papers in 1895 which reported on the living
conditions of poor Chicagoans. Women's rights grew
as suffrage was granted in states
like Colorado, 1893, and
African American churches
became important organizations for blacks in the South as Reconstruction
failed to eradicate segregation. The largest
were Black Methodist and Baptist congregations like the National
Baptist Convention organized in 1895. Leaders
of these churches like Theophilus Steward
of Wilberforce University in Ohio were often the most influential and and independent
Native Americans all over the West responded to the teachings
of a Paiute named Wovoka
who preached a religion called Ghost Dance
which combined traditional Indian and Christian elements. The Ghost Dancers
of the Lakotas were some of the last Native Americans to join. In
South Dakota, Lakotas held one of the last large Indian reservations. In
1890, Chief Big Foot , also known as Spotted Elk, and a group of 250
Lakota men, women and children were killed at Wounded
Knee as whites became fearful of the Ghost Dancers. In 1891, the Lakota
surrendered and the final Indian war was over.
Sutton, Bettye, et al. "19th Century: 1890-1899." American Cultural History. Lone Star College-
Kingwood Library, 2003. Web. 1 Mar. 2011.
Sutton, Bettye, Sue Goodwin, Becky Bradley, Shielda Welling and Peggy Whitley. "19th Century:
1890-1899." American Cultural History. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library. Last modified
August 2010. http://wwwappskc.lonestar.edu/popculture/19thcentury1890.htm.
Sutton, B., Goodwin, S., Bradley, B., Welling, S. and Whitley, P. (2010). 19th Century: 1890-1899.
American Cultural History. Lone Star College-Kingwood Library, Kingwood, TX. Retrieved from
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Design and Maintenance - Peggy Whitley
Contributions: Bettye Sutton, Sue Goodwin, Becky Bradley, Sheilda Welling, Peggy Whitley
Written 2003, updated 5/11 BB