Events: Reform Movements


The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century was a change in how goods were produced in the country. The United States went from producing goods by hand in people’s homes to mass-producing goods by machines in factories. Inventions like Samuel Slater’s textile machine, Eli Whitney’s interchangeable parts and cotton gin, and Robert Fulton’s steamboat, all contributed to America’s economic growth and the beginning of the United States as an industrial power.
The Transportation Revolution (1700’s – 1800’s) was fueled by the Industrial Revolution, including inventions and advancements in the transportation system such as steamboats, railroads, and canals. These inventions improved transportation costs and made transportation and communication faster. The Industrial and Transportation Revolutions also contributed to urbanization (the rapid growth of cities).
During the 1800’s women fought for suffrage (the right to vote). In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the Seneca Falls Convention for Women’s Rights in Seneca Falls, New York to draw attention to the problems women faced. The delegates approved The Declaration of Sentiments, modeled after the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It proclaimed “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Other women’s rights reformers included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who founded the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the American Equal Rights Association. Sojourner Truth was a former slave who was one of the most effective speakers for women’s rights and drew huge crowds throughout the North.
During the 1800’s, Americans began to demand better schools. Prior to the reforms in public education, most children did not attend school, and those who did usually had poorly trained teachers and overcrowded classrooms. Reformers believed that education would help children become good citizens and escape poverty. Horace Mann pushed for education reform and encouraged legislators to provide more money for education to make it available to more children. Due to his efforts, Horace Mann is known as the “Father of Public Education.”
Alcohol abuse was widespread in the early 1800’s with many individuals drinking heavily. The temperance movement was a campaign to stop alcohol abuse by banning alcohol. The movement was led by women and business owners. Supporters believed that alcohol abuse led to domestic violence against women and children, poverty, the breakup of families, and unproductive workers.
Workers wanted improvements to unsafe working conditions in factories that were unregulated and dangerous. Labor unions began to organize in the 1800’s. They came together to push for better working conditions, shorter hours, higher wages, and an end to child labor in the growing industrialization of the United States.
Many new inventions contributed to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Eli Whitney invented the technique of interchangeable parts which made mass-production of goods possible. He also invented the cotton gin which resulted in increased production of cotton and the need for more slave labor. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telegraph that increased communication. Innovations in transportation such as the transcontinental railroad and Robert Fulton’s steamboat made the transportation of goods easier and cheaper and led to increased economic development.
American artists, authors, and musicians have contributed significantly to the cultural identity of the United States. Hudson River School artists, including Thomas Cole and Asher Durand, painted vast American landscapes that coincided with westward expansion. Authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau wrote about their love of nature and Americans’ rugged individualism. John James Audubon’s collection of art illustrates over 450 North American bird species. Many artists and authors have also documented important events in American history. For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn famously recounts the battles of Lexington and Concord, and Walt Whitman’s poem, O’ Captain, My Captain, captured the nation’s somber mood after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Abolitionists were individuals who wanted to end slavery in the United States. Between the 1820s-1860s, they spoke out publicly and published abolitionist newspapers to achieve their goal. Frederick Douglass was a leader of the abolitionist movement. He was born a slave and eventually escaped to the North. Douglass lectured across the U.S. and published an antislavery newspaper, the North Star. William Lloyd Garrison was an outspoken white abolitionist who believed that slavery was evil and it needed to end immediately. He founded The Liberator which was the most influential antislavery newspaper of the time. Other abolitionists included Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Harriet Tubman, and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
Dorothea Dix was a social reformer in the 1840’s who focused her efforts on the mentally ill and criminals. She visited jails and was outraged to discover that some of the prisoners were not criminals but people with mental illness. Dix also wanted to improve prison conditions by banning cruel punishments, stopping state governments from placing debtors in prison, and ending overcrowding of prison cells. She traveled all over the U.S. on behalf of the mentally ill. She led efforts to build 32 new hospitals and create a special justice system for children.
In the 1840’s transcendentalism was a philosophical movement originating in the United States. Transcendentalists, as they were called, believed that the ultimate truths in life transcended (went above) human understanding. They felt that people should seek truth by listening to their intuition and deep, heartfelt emotions, uninfluenced by society. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a leading transcendentalist, called this an “inner light” and stressed individuality and personal effort in his famous essays titled Self-Reliance (1841). Transcendentalists were also noted for supporting social reform movements, seeking to preserve nature, and encouraging people to look for ways to improve society, rather than being driven by material wealth.