June  2010
Billie Silvey
The Gilded Age
Fashionable Living
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History,
Culture  and the Arts--and anything else that comes to mind.
There are events in the history of America that we all know well—the
Revolution, the Civil War, World War I and II.  But there are vast
periods between these events that may not be so familiar.  This was true
for me of the era between the Civil War and World War I.  Running
roughly from the late 1880s to 1917, it was a period that our country
might prefer to overlook.
It was a little like today.  Technology was advancing, immigrants were
pouring in, some people were getting very rich, while others were
crowded into urban slums.  The 12 square miles of New York's Lower
East Side was home to 500,000 people, the most densely populated
spot on the globe.

Mark Twain called the period
The Gilded Age, in contrast with the
Golden Age of Greece, because the glitter was not gold.  It was
the new industry that sparked industrialization, fostering the development
of technology and the rise of cities.  An excellent film portraying this era
is called Cities, and is a part of the
America, The Story of Us series on
the History channel.

Laissez-faire capitalism, or unregulated business practices, and Social
Darwinism, a mis-application of biological principles of the survival of the
fittest to economics, led to extreme wealth for a few--Carnegie,
Rockefeller, Morgan, Gould and Ford—and exploitation and
devastating poverty for almost everyone else.

It was a time of patriotism.  As Doctorow points out, people gathered in
great numbers for parades, concerts, political rallies, theater, operas and
balls, but those were only particular people--people capable of either
criminal ignorance or benign neglect.  To them, "There were no Negros.  
There were no immigrants."  There were no slums nor poverty nor

However, a small series of journalists and reformers took it upon
themselves to bring to light what had been hidden or ignored.

The first of these was
Jacob A. Riis. Part police reporter, part church
deacon, Riis published a book about the tenements.  Called
The Other
Half:  How It Lives and Dies in New York,
the book was illustrated
with a history-making series of flash photographs that brought light into
the darkness of the crowded, disease-infested tenements.

Next came
Colonel George E. Waring, Jr., who hired uniformed men to
sweep the streets, tearing down old houses, opening the space where
they'd stood to let in the sunlight, and turning that space into parks where
children played and older people dozed in the sun. His work lowered
death rates in the tenements and became the basis for  the city's
sanitation department.

A fire at the
Triangle Shirtwaist factory killed 146 young women and
teenage girls and led to the rise of labor unions and regulations on
crowding, exits and storing flammables in the workplace.

Emma Goldman brought women's issues to the fore--including abuse,
disenfranchisement, and a lack of power to vote, handle money or even
control their own bodies.  These reforms helped turn the Gilded Age into
the Progressive era.

This website includes a
Timeline, as well as pages on Ragtime (the
music, book, movie and musical); and a discussion of the morality of
Fashionable Living in the Gilded Age.

I'd love to get your reactions to anything in this website.  Just email me at


Next month's website will be about Constantinople.