Research Paper: Industrialization and Social Reformers

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Industrialization and Social Reformers

African-Americans during reconstruction and post-reconstruction

There are several striking characteristics that define the lives of African-Americans during and after Reconstruction. The first is that conditions, in many respects, worsened over time for blacks between the reconstruction era and the World War I era. One indicator of this is the amount of freed blacks employed as skilled workers, which fell dramatically, from 32% of overall employed blacks to 10% in Cleveland, as an example (Chudakoff and Smith at 128). This dynamic was much more pronounced in the north than in the south, however as New Orleans and Savannah remained good sources of opportunity for blacks to work in trades. Typically, though, blacks paid higher rents for inferior housing and received lower wages for the lowest jobs.

Blacks also became more and more segregated between 1890 and 1920. As whites continued to evacuate from the urban centers and sprawl into the suburbs, blacks moved into these vacated areas. This led to black neighborhoods, which had before this been scattered throughout urban area, being centralized in one particular district of the inner city (Ibid. At 129). The buildings they occupied were often rundown because they had been neglected by the landlords for years.

Another characteristic that is notable is the relatively dominant role played by women in the black urban society in the post reconstruction era. First, black women outnumbered black men in most cities, a feature uncommon to the foreign immigrant communities in the same cities. Also, black female labor was in greater demand than black male labor, so black women had a greater proportion of employment (Ibid. At 128). Further, African-American women were more active in seeking racial equality than the men (when looking at the gender as a whole), as evidenced by their efforts to demand higher and more uniform prices for the washing industry which was dominated by black women (Ibid. At 129).

A final characteristic of black society in the post-reconstruction years was the emergence and effectiveness of black institutions. Churches became bastions of racial equality and community uplift and the schools had a higher matriculation rate than their foreign immigrant counterparts (Ibid. At 129). Also, neighborhood and civic associations helped to foster a thriving urban culture which would form the backbone of jazz age.

1b)

The rise of trade unions and labor unions.

The trade unions were a product of industrialization and the factory age. As businesses began to be able to mass produce and distribute and to therefore amass staggering revenues, the relationship between employer and employee changed dramatically. No longer was an apprentice-master relationship a close relationship, almost familial. Now the employer did not live near his business and he no longer saw his workers as a part of his business. They were now a part of his cost of doing business (Ibid. At 61). As a result, the employer could never pay too little in wage and the employees could never be paid enough. Not surprisingly, there were over a dozen major labor strikes between 1786 and 1816 as this evolution developed (Ibid.).

The development of cities teeming with factory workers, and other workers who could more closely identify with factory workers than with factory owners, created a fervent center of support and sympathy for aggrieved workers (Ibid. At 113). As these support networks became bigger and more organized, they began to assume a political presence and by the end of the nineteenth century managed to garner political clout in many major cities throughout the United States (Ibid.).

Against this backdrop many labor unions and organizations formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The most powerful of these, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) primarily operated to protect skilled labor, a predominantly white, male American group (Ibid. At 143). As a result, they very rarely sought to protect the interests of blacks, women or immigrants.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had as many as one hundred thousand members at its peak and reached out to "the poorest and most downtrodden working people from every race and group" (Buhle at 17). The IWW stood in stark contrast to the AFL which sought to protect the labor market from undue competition from 'undesirables' (Ibid. At 14).

2a) The settlement houses of the Progressive Era

The settlement house was a residence established by these women and men who sought to improve the living conditions and the lives of the lower classes in inner city slums. These workers also sought to close the gap between the classes by learning some of the challenges and difficulties the poor faced, as well as their triumphs and wisdom (Ibid. At 194).

The settlement houses were never intended to be merely charity houses. The settlement workers did help to eradicate poverty and below standard living conditions, but they also sought to educate the lower classes and introduce them to some of life's finer pleasures, such as the arts. The workers taught civics classes to help the poor (often immigrants) better understand the American political landscape. They also taught English and gave theatrical and musical performance (Ibid. At 195). Furthermore, the workers were also ardent reformers and worked closely with the local leaders of the various housing and labor reform movements.

Settlement houses in American were the product of two very diverse social phenomenons. The first is the social gospel. As people attended church less and less at the end of the 19th century, it became apparent that the trend spoke more to a new lifestyle and less about a departure from faith spiritually. Americans were still predominantly Protestant and still very eager to abide by its teachings. Rather than attending church and praying as a community, people chose to focus their religious energy on the doing good in the community.

Settlement houses also provided a perfect outlet for young college educated women who did not have a role in the work place, but wanted to put their education and social skills to use. Many women felt compelled to work at the settlements at the expense of marriage, or at least an early marriage. Perhaps more importantly, as the government began to implement some of the reforms that were being demanded (as a result of the settlement house work), many women found themselves employed in positions such as school nurses, social workers and factory inspectors (Ibid. At 196).

2b)

Housing reformers in the Progressive Era

After the Civil War many cities tore down old houses and replaced them with 4-6 story tenements. These buildings were used to house immigrant workers and their families. The buildings were designed to comfortably house 50-70 people; they routinely contained nearly 150 people. The severe overcrowding was caused by high rent rates and high poverty rates, extended families would all stay in one apartment and many times, tenants would sublet rooms or beds (Ibid. At 131).

Naturally, these conditions led to atrocious living conditions. The rooms were tiny and in many had no access to sunlight or ventilation. The buildings often had no indoor plumbing and no heat (Ibid. At 132). At the time, housing was not regulated by any of the city governments, however New York City was the first city to implement reform in 1867 with the Tenement House Law. Landlords were now required to furnish minimum ventilation, indoor plumbing and fire escapes. Overall the measures in the law were weak, and of course, not applicable anywhere outside of New York City, however there was now precedent for regulating the property rights of the landlord and a framework for stronger regulation to come (Ibid.).

Investigative journalism by Jacob Riis and others brought these conditions to public light and brought additional pressure to bear upon the cities to take action. But despite Riis' expose on 'how the other half… [END OF PREVIEW]

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