This chapter looks at the urbanization and industrialization of cities after the Civil War and how these developments impacted American society and culture.
Section 1 discusses the reasons why millions of immigrants settled in the United States after the Civil War. Of the fourteen million immigrants that arrived in the United States between 1860 and 1900, most came from Asia and eastern and southern Europe. Although the reasons why they immigrated varied, many Europeans came to avoid religious persecution and forced military service, or to break free of Europe's class system. Chinese immigrants wanted to escape China's unemployment, poverty, and political unrest. Most Europeans endured a difficult voyage to the United States aboard a steamship and disembarked at Ellis Island—an immigrant processing center. Many of the immigrants from Japan and China who arrived on the West Coast during the late 1800s disembarked at Angel Island. Most immigrants settled in cities and formed ethnically separated neighborhoods. Nativism, which spread as immigration increased, led to immigration restrictions and violence against immigrants.
Section 2 looks at the urbanization of the United States. In the years following the Civil War, the number of American cities greatly expanded, and urban populations grew rapidly. Immigrants and farmers poured into the cities, creating almost unbearable congestion. New technologies paved the way for skyscrapers, suspension bridges, and new methods of mass transit. Distinct neighborhoods emerged, separating the cities' social classes. The majority of urban dwellers were the working class who suffered deplorable living conditions in dark and crowded tenements. The problems of rapidly growing cities included threats of crime, violence, fire, disease, and pollution. Political machines, which were controlled by party bosses, were criticized by their opponents for being corrupt. However, supporters claimed that the machines addressed urban problems by providing essential city services in return for the loyalty of urban immigrant groups.
Section 3 describes how the late 1800s, an era called the Gilded Age, gave rise to new values, art, and forms of entertainment. During the era, many Americans firmly believed in individualism—an idea that the individual had the power to create his or her own future. Social Darwinism, another powerful idea of the era, reinforced individualism and suggested that only the fittest people within a society would survive. Industrialists embraced Social Darwinism as justification for their aggressive business practices. Some business leaders tempered Social Darwinism by proposing that wealthy Americans had the responsibility of using their wealth to further social progress. New movements in art and literature focused on capturing the world realistically. As industrialization increased the disposable incomes and leisure time for many, people began to enjoy new forms of entertainment and recreation.
Section 4 reviews how the social problems of the urban poor stimulated a reform movement at the turn of the century. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many people began to challenge the ideas of Social Darwinism by suggesting that the government should play a role in easing urban societies' problems. Writers, known as naturalists, criticized industrial society and suggested that some people's circumstances were beyond their control. As the ideas of naturalists spread, social reformers began to establish programs like the Salvation Army and the YMCA, women's clubs, and settlement houses to create better lives for urban dwellers. In addition, reformers in the Social Gospel movement advocated that churches should take an active role in improving society. Demand for skilled workers multiplied the number of public schools, colleges, and libraries, and educational opportunities for city dwellers improved.