Illinois During the Gilded Age

American Populism, 1876-1896

In the early 1890s, a coalition of farmers, laborers, and middle class activists founded an independent political party named the People's Party, also known as the Populist Party. This party was the product of a broad social movement that emerged in response to wrenching changes in the American economy and society.

This site examines the Populist Movement of late nineteenth-century America. It contains interpretive materials, including an essay and videos, prepared by Dr. Charles Postel of California State University, San Francisco, author of the prize-winning The Populist Vision (Oxford University Press, 2007).

The Pullman Strike

In the late spring of 1894, over four thousand workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went out on strike. The company seemed an unlikely place for a strike, as its workers inhabited the well-appointed company town of Pullman, located near Chicago, Illinois. But the rise of Pullman-style welfare capitalism obscured a number of significant strains and tensions that quickly came to the surface in the economic depression of 1893-98. During the summer of 1894 members of the American Railway Union representing the strikers succeeded in paralyzing the American railroad network west of Chicago by refusing to handle the popular Pullman cars. A federal judge’s injunction against the Union boycott turned the strike’s tide in favor of the Pullman Company. President Cleveland effectively finished the strikers off when he dispatched federal troops to Chicago, where they protected strikebreakers operating trains.

This site contains interpretive materials, including an essay and videos, prepared by Dr. Richard Schneirov of Indiana State University.

The Haymarket Bomb in Historical Context

On the evening of May 4, 1886, an unknown individual lobbed a dynamite bomb into a formation of Chicago police officers sent to disperse an anarchist meeting in Chicago's Haymarket Square. The panicked police responded with a hail of gunfire directed into the crowd attending the meeting. When order once again prevailed, seven police officers and at least that many private citizens lay dead, with many more wounded. These events touched off a wave of civic upheaval as Americans discussed the Haymarket bomb in light of the period's rapidly changing economic and social conditions. It also led to a celebrated trial of eight avowed anarchists, the execution or death in prison of five of them, and Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld's bold pardon of the remaining three. This incident furnishes a vivid portrait of society and politics during the Gilded Age.

This site contains interpretive materials, including an essay and videos, prepared by Dr. Richard Schneirov of Indiana State University.

Ida B. Wells, 1862-1931

Ida B. Wells-Barnett ranks among the most important founders of modern civil rights and feminist movements among African Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States. This site contains a biography about her life by Patricia A. Schechter of Portland State University, as well as her writings, including A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894.

Frances E. Willard, 1839-1898

Born in 1839 in Churchville New York, Frances Willard became the successful president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the largest organization of women in the United States by the end of the 19th century. This site contains an interpretive essay by Jean Baker of Goucher College, as well as the writings of Frances E. Willard.