GILDED-AGE CHICAGO WOMEN: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Spring Term 2016, Wednesdays, 5:45-7:45 p.m.
When in 1873 Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner entitled their co-authored novel The Gilded Age, they gave the late nineteenth century its popular name. The term reflected the combination of outward wealth and dazzle with inner corruption and poverty. Given the period’s absence of powerful and charismatic presidents, its lack of a dominant political event, and its sometimes tawdry history, historians have often defined the period by negatives. They stress greed, scandals, and corruption of the Gilded Age.
During the Gilded Age, ideas of gender and gender relationships shifted drastically in both public and private spheres. The largest wave of immigration from Europe mixed into a population that had been primarily Anglo-and-African American. Add to this heady current, the development of mass-consumption, leisure and the working-class response. Relations between different ethnic groups of women, different classes, and the way power dynamics shaped those interactions complicated women’s social and political struggles.
In this seminar we place the lives of Gilded-Age Chicago women in the interpretive center of U.S. history. Our study is framed by the oft-competing concepts of capitalism and democracy, especially the socio-political movements to which women’s participation laid claim and enabled them to assert power in American public life. Tracing working-class, middle-class and leisure-class women’s experiences as activists, laborers, club women, professionals, and artists, we will analyze the intersections of race, class and gender. Examining Chicago’s industrialization and urbanization, we focus on women’s unsung roles in these arenas. Drawing on an array of primary sources, including letters, speeches, photographs, as well as women’s print culture, music, and secondary sources, we will pay particular attention to: (1) women and progressive reform; (2) the meaning of freedom for black women living in the shadow of slavery and the strategies they employed to thrive in the context of urbanization, with a focus on black migration to Chicago’s South Side; (3) women’s roles in the development of businesses and corporations; (4) urban planning and politics. Seminar discussions are augmented by field experiences at Chicago’s Dreihaus Museum (one of Chicago’s few remaining Gilded-Age mansions) and the Hull House museum.
Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth. --Lucy Parsons
*Note: Prior to the first class meeting, please read Linda K. Kerber's, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” The Journal of American History 75, no. 1 (June 1, 1988): 9-39.
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All course books are for sale at the Newberry's C McClurg Bookstore.