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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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The Jungle (Excerpt)

Upton Sinclair's novel about immigrant workers in Chicago's meatpacking plants shocked readers when it was first published in 1906. Sinclair hoped the novel would awaken Americans to the evils of capitalism; the main character Jurgis ends the novel [...]

The Brooklyn Consumers' League Takes on Sweatshops

Women, who did most of the shopping in turn-of-the-century households, used their purchasing power to push forward many Progressive reforms. They organized local and national consumers' leagues to boycott businesses that employed unfair labor [...]

Pupils Study in San Francisco's Chinatown

This photograph shows a schoolroom scene from San Francisco's Chinese Public School, circa late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The Chinese immigrant students are taught by a middle-class white woman. Note the students' traditional dress and [...]

"Bandit's Roost"

Jacob Riis—a journalist and photographer of industrial America and himself a Danish immigrant—exposed the deplorable conditions of late nineteenth-century urban life in his widely-read book, How the Other Half Lives, first published in [...]

"A Settlement house worker visits a newly-arrived family"

Progressive reformers established settlement houses to aid new immigrants and instill American middle class values. Some social workers were sympathetic to the immigrants' problems and helped publicize their plight. Others were critical of immigrant [...]

"Lodgers in a crowded Bayard Street tenement"

Lodgers in a boarding room on New York's Bayard Street charging "five cents a spot" exemplify the overcrowded, frequently squalid living conditions that immigrants in New York City faced at the turn of the twentieth century. As documented in Jacob [...]

Background Essay on Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine

This short essay describes Jacob Riis and Lewis Hines, two important documentary photographers of the turn of the twentieth century.

An Economist Declares Mexicans "An Undesirable Class of Residents"

Discussions of the "Mexican problem" in the early 20th century often revolved around issues of race and culture, much as they did with other immigrant groups. Samuel Bryan published this study of Mexican immigrants in a leading Progressive social [...]

A Social Scientist Urges Americans to Give Mexicans "a Fair Chance in Life"

Progressive social scientists, like economist Alvin S. Johnson, disagreed with those who held Mexican and other immigrants as racially inferior an undesirable. Instead, he and his peers claimed that Mexican government and culture were "inferior" and [...]

The National Child Labor Committee Seeks Members

The National Child Labor Committee was organized in 1904 by reformers concerned about the safety, health, and education of working children. It campaigned for state and federal laws that would ban child labor and require public education. Among its [...]