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Reform Movements Of The 19th Century

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Chris Heinz
History 201
Section 003
April 11, 2008
Reform Movements of the 19th Century

During the 19th century, there were many changes in America. In the 19th century, Americans began to view their society as imperfect, and began to try and make their society better for all citizens. Many movements arose to address the major social problems in America. These movements included: the new religious movement, the temperance movement, the abolitionist movement and the women’s right movement. Other movements included the Great Graham Cracker Crusade, the education reform, and the prison and mental health reforms. Each of these reforms helped influence the later reforms, and each reform was vital to America’s growth in the 19th century.
One of the first new movements in the 19th century was the new religious movement. America was trying to become more religious and during this time, several new religions were formed. The first major group was the Utopian societies, which “looked to replace the competitive individualism of American Society with a purer spiritual unity and group cooperation.” One of the most famous and longest lasting utopian communities was the Shakers. The Shakers became popular after the death of their founder Ann Lee. There were about “20 communal settlements [founded] based on [her] teachings… her followers sometimes shook in the fervent public demonstrations of their faith.” Unlike other communities at the time, the women were granted “unusual authority and equality.” This equality that was granted to women made these settlements favorable. On the other hand, the members of these communities lead lives of celibacy so the men and women lived in two different dormitories, ate at two different tables and worked in tow different places. The Shakers were though one of the longest lasting Utopian communities, lasting until the early 21st century when the last one finally closed down.
One of the most prominent religions formed during this time was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, formed by a man named Joseph Smith. The Mormons became very prominent during the 19th century because it “placed little emphasis on predestination and proclaimed that salvation was available to all.” Furthermore, the Mormon religion was popular amongst most middle class citizens because the “Mormon culture upheld the middle-class values of hard work, thrift and self control.”
The religious movement was based on the idea that people could exercise their own free choice. People’s salvation was achieved on their own. During the 19th century people began to believe in the “we can do it our selves”, “fix it on our own” ideas. It was these ideas, and the ideas that if we do things pleasing to God we can get into Heaven that lead to an increase in Shakers and Mormons. The religious movement had “Biggest impact among women… [giving the] women more status [and] purpose.” Women for the first time began taking on greater roles in the churches, serving on the church on the church staff and began leading the churches.
The biggest movement in the 19th century was the temperance movement. After the Revolution, “Alcohol consumption soared. By the 1830’s the average American consumed four gallons of absolute alcohol a year.” The problem with alcohol in the 1830’s and 1840’s were the financial effects on the families. On payday, it was not uncommon for the men to go to the bar and drink and gamble their whole paychecks away. This was hurtful on the wives and children because of the financial strain, but also because the instances of domestic violence on both women and children. The “social costs for such habits were high: broken families abused and neglected wives and children, sickness and disability, poverty and crime.” Furthermore, the temperance movement was “supported by factory owners who had massive absenteeism’s on Monday’s” because of the employees drinking habits the day before. The movement was “lead largely by the clergy, the movement first focused on drunkenness and did not oppose moderate drinking, but in 1826 the American Temperance Society was formed. Approximately 5000 local temperance societies were formed over the next decade. By 1845, the national alcohol consumption had decreased to below two gallons a year.” Because of the effects of alcohol on the women and children, the main supporters of the temperance movement were women. The temperance movement was so effective that in 1919, there was a ban on all alcohol.
The third reform movement in the 19th century was the Abolitionist movement. Slavery was a big issue in the 19th century. Many people who had rallied in the religious and temperance movements had the tools and the ideas to make the abolitionist movement strong. The movements arose “in the 1830’s with an emphasis on racial equality and intent on freeing, then educating the blacks.” With Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, more cotton was able to be cleaned quicker, leading to cheaper prices for cotton. This also led for the opening of more textile mills for the cotton. Unfortunately, because more factories, more cotton was needed in order to keep the costs down. To grow and maintain the more cotton fields the southern farmers needed more slaves. In 1819 in Philadelphia, the Quakers were the first to organize and end of slavery. They would buy and then free slaves. They took the newly freed slaves and shipped them back to Liberia. However, because the need for cotton, the southern states continued to add slaves, while the northern states abolished slavery. The Abolitionist movement was successful in the north but in the south where slavery was very profitable it was unsuccessful. The effect of the Abolitionist movement was a division between the north and south. In the 1840’s the northern and southern churches split, creating the Baptists and the Southern Baptists. Another driving force behind abolitionism was the writers of the time. William Lloyd Garrison, a writer of the Liberator, called for the freeing of the slaves now. David Walker who wrote the “David Walker’s Appeal” wrote that it is now the time for slavery to end. He called for the slaves to rise up and kill their masters. Finally, the most famous writer was Frederick Douglass. He wrote in a newspaper called the North Star, writing about his experiences as a slave. He was the most famous African American in America at the time. Unfortunately for the Abolitionist movement, in the 1830’s Congress placed a gag order, preventing anyone from discussing slavery in the House.
In the mid 19th century, Elizabeth Stanton and her husband went to an anti-slavery rally in London. She wasn’t allowed to sit with the other delegates. All women had to sit behind the curtains, and were not allowed to speak to the World Antislavery convention. Shortly after returning to the states she realized that it was unfair that women still had no rights. She got together with one of her friends Lucretia Mott, and in 1848 “Stanton and Mott organized a conference in Seneca Falls, New York, that attracted about a hundred supporters.” The convention “approved resolutions calling for educational and professional opportunities for women, laws that gave them control of property, recognition of legal equality, and repeal of laws awarding the father custody of the children in a divorce. The only resolution that did not pass unanimously was the women’s right to vote.” The women at the convention drafted up a Declaration of Sentiments, in which they mirrored the beginning of the Declaration of Independence in their first paragraph, changing �men’ to �men and women’.
Another reform movement was the “Great Graham Cracker Crusade.” A man by the name of Sylvester Graham said that you are what you eat, so you should only eat stuff that’s good for you. He revolutionized the way most Americans ate. Sylvester Graham took a whole grain cracker, which was one of the most nutritious things to eat, and he sweetened it with honey. His new invention “gained a small following, [because] most Americans ignored him, except the commercial bakers. Who [knew] a threat when they saw one, mobbed his champion of homemade bread.” His movement was not very popular while he was alive, but his ideas and his crackers continue today. Sylvester Graham’s legacy lives on with the Graham Cracker.
Another important reform was the education reform on 1830. The movement began in Massachusetts with the idea of creating a school to combat the illiteracy problem by Horace Mann. Horace Mann was the first State Superintendent of Education. He led for passing of laws, which would establish schools for free in all counties in the state. Under Mann’s “leadership, the state adopted a minimum length school year, provided for training of teachers, and expanded the curriculum to include subjects such as history, geography, and various applied skills.” Also during this time the “educational opportunities for women expanded. Teachers like Catherine Beecher and Emma Hunt Willard established a number of private girls schools [which taught the girls] mathematics, physics [and] geography.” In 1837, the first women’s college was formed by Mary Lyon. The education system that Horace Mann helped create was very successful in the northern states. Education reform picked up speed in the south after the civil war. The education reform changed America because it allowed children and teenagers to get a good education, allowing them to get better jobs. After the 1850’s more than 1.5 million people were coming into the United States, the new education system helped the new immigrants learn to speak English and allowed them to get better job opportunities.
During the 1820’s public opinion changed from acceptance to one of disgust in regards to mental institutions and the prisons. This lead to a reform for prison and mental health institutions. The treatment of the mentally ill during this time was horrible; people with mental illnesses were “chained, kept in cages and closets and beaten with rods.” The woman leading the reform movement was Dorothea Dix. She published reports which illustrated the torments that the mentally ill were made to endure. The reform movement was successful and by the 1860’s “28 states maintained mental institutions.” Some of Dix’s friends went on to reform the prisons, pushing for better treatment of the prisoners as well as the abolishment of solitary confinement. Solitary confinement is a horrible experience where the prisoner was confined to a small room, by themselves. Most prisoners were driven mad, or driven to suicide because of the fact that they had no outside contact for a long amount of time.
I believe that the nineteenth century reformers were models for modern political activists. The reason I believe this is the fact that when the nineteenth century citizens saw an injustice that could be made better, they got together and changed the problem. The reformers created a school system, changed the way prisons and mental institutions are run, and gave women their rights. They also fought for freeing the slaves and changed the way Americans ate, and changed the amount of alcohol Americans drank. The Nineteenth century reformers changed many problems and they changed America for the better.
In conclusion, in the 19th century, there were many changes in America. Americans began to view their society as imperfect, and began to try and make their society better for all citizens. Many movements arose to address the major social problems in America. Each of these reforms helped influence the later reforms, and each reform was vital to America’s growth in the 19th century.

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