Monday, February 1, 2021

America's Gilded Age: An Era of Contradictions

Following the American Civil War, the nation experienced rapid economic expansion, inaugurating what became known as The Gilded Age—a glittering era in which a gilding of economic growth masked growing problems   Perhaps nothing symbolized the era’s contradictions more than the RMS Titanic—with its opulent first-class accommodations overshadowing the 700-plus steerage passengers who had access to only two bathtubs and slept in bunk beds without sheets or pillowcases.

 The contradictions of the era extended well beyond the combination of growing wealth and growing poverty.  Ostentation and flamboyant excess co-existed with the Golden Age of Philanthropy.  Farmland grew with wealthy suburbs while cities descended into poverty.  Industrialists battled conservationists and labor unions.  Manufacturers fueled immigration to their staff factories while nativists fought to close the borders.  Corrupt political machines took control of urban politics and widespread social activism and political reform spread across the United States.

Let’s explore the contradictory trends and impulses of the era – and see if they tell us about ourselves and our society today!

America's Gilded Age:  An Era of Contradictions

My Online Lecture Series via Zoom

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute @ California State University - East Bay

5 Wednesdays, June 16 – July 14, 2021
10:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Potential Lecture Topics

  • America After the Civil War:  An Impoverished South while the North and the West Boomed
  • Technology and Industrialization
    • The Gilded Age and its Robber Barons
    • The Battle between Industrialization and Conservation
    • The Labor Movement
  • Social Issues
    • Urbanization and the Decline of American Cities
    • Racism, Nativism and Populism
    • Women’s Suffrage
  • Political Corruption and Progressive Reform
  • The End of the Era:  The Titanic and World War I

Food for Thought

A young Mark Twain (about 1850)
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner:  The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today  
  • A satire of greed and political corruption in post-Civil War America

Hugh Brewster:  Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic's First-Class Passengers and Their World 

  • Interweaves personal narratives of the lost liner’s Gilded Age people with a haunting account of the fateful maiden crossing

Kathleen Waters Sanders:  Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age 

  • Examines the great social and political movements of the age through the life of one of the most influential philanthropists and women activists of the Gilded Age

Douglas Brinkley:  The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America 

  • Draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of our “naturalist president”

Timothy Egan:  The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America 

  • About the Great Fire of 1910, which burned about three million acres and helped shape the United States Forest Service - while describing some of the political issues facing Theodore Roosevelt's conservation efforts

Erik Larson:  The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America  

  • While telling the story of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the story of H. H. Holmes, a criminal figure in that same time often credited as the first modern serial killer, Larson also describes the condition of America’s cities at the end of the 19th century

David Von Drehle:  Triangle:  The Fire that Changed America­

  • The story of one of America’s most deadly industrial disasters with an emphasis on the humanity of the victims and the theme of social justice

Upton Sinclair:  The Jungle  

  • The living and working conditions of immigrants in America’ Gilded Age

Daniel Okrent:  The Guarded Gate:  Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law that Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians and Other European Immigrants Out of America

  • The history behind the eneactment of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act which severly limited immigration to the United States.  

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