The Gilded Age
Throughout American history, different periods of time are given nicknames based on the goings-on in that era: the Roaring 20s, Reconstruction, and the Era of Good Feelings are some examples. However, in the late-1800s and early-1900s, one era stands apart from many others due to its direct correlation to a wide array of cultural and social practices: the Gilded Age. Given its nickname because of the writers Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, this era is aptly labeled as such because on the surface, the nation looks successful and prosperous; digging just beneath the surface, though, shows all the problems with society, ranging from denying women access to the elective franchise to the subjugation of an entire race of people as somehow “lesser” than the majority.
The “gilded” age is just that – polished and shiny on the outside, and a cesspool of problems just underneath. There was profound economic growth between about 1880 and about 1930; this came at a price, though, most notably was the use of long hours, low wages, and dangerous conditions. Similarly, America’s reputation as a land of peace and prosperity is beginning to span the globe, allowing others to see how resplendent America was (from the outside, at least). Millions of immigrants are coming through Ellis Island in these decades in the hopes of making a name for themselves, being able to provide a refuge for their family, and, ultimately, getting rich. While the last of these was highly unlikely, the appearance of prosperity and success on the surface was enough motivation for most.