The Gilded Age was an era that occurred from the 1870s to about 1900. It was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the Northern and Western United States. As American wages grew much higher than those in Europe the period saw an increase of millions of European immigrants. Conversely, the Gilded Age was also an era of abject poverty and inequality, as millions of immigrants, many from impoverished regions, poured into the United States, and the high concentration of wealth became more visible and contentious. Railroads were the major growth industry, with the factory system, mining, and finance increasing in importance. Immigration from Europe, and the eastern states, led to the rapid growth of the West, based on farming, ranching, and mining. Labor unions became increasingly important in the rapidly growing industrial cities. Two major nationwide depressions—the Panics of 1873 and 1893—interrupted growth and caused social and political upheavals. The South, after the Civil War, remained economically devastated; its economy became increasingly tied to commodities, cotton, and tobacco production, which suffered from low prices.
With the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877, African-American people in the South were stripped of
political power and voting rights, and were left economically disadvantaged. The dominant issues were cultural and economic. With the rapid growth of cities, political machines increasingly took control
of urban politics. In business, powerful nationwide trusts formed in some industries. Unions crusaded for the eight-hour working day, and the abolition of child labor; middle class reformers demanded civil service reform, prohibition of liquor and beer, and women’s suffrage. Local governments across the North and West built public schools chiefly at the elementary level; public high schools started to emerge.
Religious denominations were growing in membership and wealth, with Catholicism becoming the largest. They all expanded their missionary activity to the world arena. Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians set up religious schools and the larger of those set up numerous colleges, hospitals, and charities. Many of the problems faced by society, especially the poor, gave rise to attempted reforms in the subsequent Progressive Era.
The following is a list of the most recognizable works from these years:
Tent Life in Siberia: An Incredible Account of Siberian Adventure, Travel, and Survival by George Kannan (1870)
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (1872)
Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott (1872)
Ferdinand De Soto, the Discoverer of the Mississippi by John S.C. Abbott (1873)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
The Bostonians by Henry James (1886)
Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890)
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis (1890)
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)