Muckrakers & Reformers Timeline
How It All Went Down
Machine politician William Marcy "Boss" Tweed and his Tammany Hall associates steal millions of dollars from the New York City treasury.
Boss Tweed Defeated
Machine politician William Marcy "Boss" Tweed loses his control over New York City. The New York Times starts printing exposés of Tweed Ring corruption, Harper's Weekly runs political cartoonist Thomas Nast's damning caricatures of the greed and theft taking place, and reformist Democrat Samuel J. Tilden leads a drive to hold Tweed accountable for his actions. A "committee of 70" organizes and runs for municipal office expressly to oust the Tweed Ring; most of them win election, breaking Tammany's hold on power.
The Prohibition Party mounts its first nationwide campaign, nominating James Black of Pennsylvania for president on an anti-liquor platform. Black does not fare well, winning only 0.09% of the votes nationwide as President Ulysses S. Grant wins a second term in office.
Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed, no longer in control of New York City's municipal government, is charged with forgery and larceny. He is convicted but will be released after serving just two years in jail.
Minor v. Happersett
In Minor v. Happersett, the Supreme Court affirms that states have the jurisdiction to decide whether women are allowed to vote.
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union
Having served just two years for forgery and larceny, Boss Tweed is released from prison and immediately rearrested on civil charges. New York state sues him for $6 million, and Tweed is held in debtor's prison until he can post half that amount as bail.
Tweed Escapes Prison
Boss Tweed escapes from debtor's prison while making one of his allowed daily visits to his family.
WCTU Supports Women's Suffrage
Frances Willard takes over leadership of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Under Willard, the organization becomes a key supporter of the female suffrage movement.
Buffalo Organizes Charity
Buffalo, New York becomes the first American city to coordinate its private charities. The financial depression that has lasted since 1873 has plunged so many people into desperate poverty that private relief organizations can no longer provide adequate assistance.
Woman Suffrage Amendment
A Woman Suffrage Amendment is introduced in Congress. The wording is identical to the suffrage amendment that will finally pass in 1919.
"Dumbbell tenements," five- or six-story housing blocs with dumbbell-shaped floor plans, are introduced in New York City. They are supposed to include fireproof stairways, outside windows for each room, and a toilet for every two families. But violations of these standards soon become commonplace, and by the 1890s, most of the dumbbell tenements will be grossly overcrowded and lacking toilets, running water, or backyards.
A group of Progressives commences the "social gospel" movement, seeking to create a new socially conscious version of Christianity as an alternative to the church's traditional emphasis on individual responsibility for sin and its exclusive focus on religious salvation. Some socially conscious ministers and reformers advocate reforms in housing, wages, and working conditions; others argue that the economic system must be reformed and regulated in order to realize a truly Christian model of civilization. These Social Gospel proponents ultimately compose a minority of American church-goers, but they are nonetheless an important aspect of the Progressive movement.
Kansas Dry Law
Kansas passes a "dry" law forbidding the manufacture and sale of liquor within its borders. Temperance advocates soon become frustrated when it becomes clear that this ban is being unevenly (and ineffectively) enforced.
Chinese Exclusion Act
Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, banning immigration from China into the United States for ten years. Chinese Exclusion marks the first systematic federal legislation to restrict free and open immigration into the United States.
Immigration Act of 1882
The Immigration Act of 1882 renders several categories of immigrants ineligible for citizenship. Besides Chinese, those barred include criminals, "lunatics," "idiots," and persons deemed "likely to become a public charge"—a category that will, in practice, come to encompass most working-class unmarried women.
First Settlement House
Anglican cleric Samuel Augustus Barnett and his wife open Toynbee Hall in the slums of East London. It is the first settlement house, designed to bring middle-class reformers—especially young university students—into direct contact with the underclasses and offer social services. The settlement house movement will soon take hold in America.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, built by French workmen in celebration of a century of friendship with the United States, is dedicated in New York Harbor. The towering statue will become an icon for generations of American immigrants, who steam past it en route to the nearby immigration stations at Castle Garden and Ellis Island. In 1903, the base of the statue will be inscribed with the words of poet Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"6
Kansas Grants Suffrage
Kansas grants women unlimited voting rights in municipal elections.
Prohibition Party Peaks
The Prohibition Party reaches the pinnacle of its national strength—which is not great—when its presidential candidate polls 2.2% of the popular vote.
Jane Addams and her friend Helen Gates Starr convert the Hull mansion in Chicago's 16th Ward into Hull House, a settlement house based on the British model. Here, college-age men and women from the middle class establish libraries, playgrounds, and clubs for poor adults and children. Settlement houses soon spread to Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and beyond. They are used as nurseries, employment bureaus, gymnasiums, and more.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Leads
The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which split in 1869 over philosophy and tactics, are reunited as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) under the leadership of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Wyoming is admitted to statehood and grants women suffrage rights on an equal basis with men, continuing a tradition established when it was organized as a territory in 1869. Wyoming becomes the first state to accord women completely equal voting rights, marking a significant historical moment for female suffrage. Yet only ten other states will join Wyoming in granting women equal rights by 1914.
Prohibition Party Declines
For the second consecutive presidential election, the Prohibition Party candidate polls over 2% of the popular vote. After the turn of the century, the party will decline in nationwide strength, while still exercising some influence at the local and county levels.
Colorado Women Vote
Colorado becomes the second state to enfranchise women (and the first to do so by way of a state constitutional amendment).
National Association of Colored Women Founded
In Washington, D.C., Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell, Margaret Murray Washington, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fanny Jackson Coppin, Charlotte Forten Grimké, and former slave Harriet Tubman co-found the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).
Electric subways are introduced in Boston.
The electric lamp is developed for outdoor lighting.
By 1898, only five states have passed alcohol prohibition laws.
An Urban America
By the turn of the twentieth century, one-third of all Americans live in cities.
Half of States Allow Suffrage
Over half of all states now allow women to vote in local elections (primarily pertaining to school boards). Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah have all adopted full women's suffrage.
Carry Nation Attacks Saloons
Kansas resident Carry A. Nation has a dream in which a voice appears to her and says, "Take something in your hands, and throw at these places in Kiowa and smash them." Nation is a devout Christian and WCTU member who has become frustrated with the limitations of legal action in working to prohibit the sale and manufacture of liquor. Arming herself with rocks, brickbats, axes, and a fervent faith in the righteousness of her cause, Nation leads her followers on a succession of saloon attacks between 1900 and 1910, chanting "Smash, ladies, smash!" throughout each onslaught. She is arrested 30 times but feels emboldened by her religiosity, describing herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like."7
Tenement House Act
New York State passes a landmark Tenement House Act, prompted to action by the revelations in Jacob Riis's 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives. The bill requires improvements in lighting, bathroom facilities, and ventilation for all future urban housing, and requires improvements in existing tenements. It creates the Tenement House Commission to monitor the improvements and enforce the provisions of the new legislation.
The city of Galveston, Texas, which was devastated by a hurricane and tidal wave in 1900, launches its new four-member commission form of government. Galveston begins a new era of nationwide government reform on the local level by eradicating the old and ineffective city council and replacing it with municipal directors who are elected every two years, and who are supposed to be more focused on business and economics than the previous system of political patronage and corruption.
First Muckraking Article
Tarbell on Standard Oil
Roosevelt Labels Muckracking
President Theodore Roosevelt labels the new form of investigative (or exposé) journalism as "muckraking," and he does not intend it as a compliment. Acknowledging that the muckrakers have exposed many horrible truths to the American people, Roosevelt nonetheless complains that their ultimate effect is to stir up discontent. According to the president, these journalists are like the man in the classic book Pilgrim's Progress, who when offered "the celestial crown for his muckrake" would "neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor."8
Congress Requires English
Congress passes the Naturalization Act of 1906, which, for the first time, makes some knowledge of the English language a requirement for citizenship. The act also creates the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a branch of the Commerce Department.
Opposition to Woman Suffrage
The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized. Mrs. Arthur Dodge chairs the group, which is composed of several wealthy women and some Catholic clergymen.
Bull Moose Party
Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive (or "Bull Moose") Party becomes the first national political party to adopt a women's suffrage plank.
National Women’s Party
Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, later known as the National Women's Party. They are inspired by the tactics of the radical, militant Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England. Women's Party members emulate these tactics by picketing the White House, getting arrested, participating in hunger strikes, and practicing other modes of civil disobedience to bring attention to the suffrage cause.
Suffragettes and their supporters—some 5,000 in all—hold a parade in Washington, D.C. to bring public attention to their cause on the day before President Wilson's inauguration.
National Federation of Women’s clubs
The National Federation of Women's Clubs (NFWC) endorses the suffrage campaign. By this time, two million women throughout the United States, white and black, have become NFWC members.
New York's Cooper Union hosts a mass meeting dedicated to the question, "What Is Feminism?" The question isn't just rhetorical; it is during this time period that the term "feminism" first enters the vernacular.9
At a convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, NAWSA president Carrie Chapman Catt unveils her "winning plan" for suffrage victory. The plan entails the coordination of activities among state and local suffrage associations.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Running the NAWSA campaign in Washington, D.C., Alice Paul advocates that women "hold the party in power responsible" for stalling on the women's suffrage issue by campaigning against Democrat Woodrow Wilson in the upcoming election. Yet the more conservative NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt supports Wilson. The resulting conflict between the two women furthers the internal ideological divide among suffragettes.
Alice Paul Organizes Pickett
NWP founder and President Alice Paul orchestrates the first-ever picket line at the White House for women's suffrage. She is arrested on a trumped-up charge of "obstructing traffic" and sent to the Occoquan Workhouse, where she demands to be treated as a political prisoner arrested for her beliefs, rather than as a common criminal. When reports of her brutal force-feeding reach the press after Paul wages a 22-day hunger strike, the resulting public pressure forces the White House to order Paul's release.
Eighteeneth Amendment Ratified
The Eighteenth Amendment is ratified, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol in the United States.
Nineteenth Amendment Ratified
The Nineteenth Amendment is ratified, ensuring that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. American women now have the right to vote.
Congress passes the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, establishing an entirely new, ethnically discriminatory system for determining which immigrants to allow into the country. The act establishes, for the first time, a specific quota for the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States each year from each foreign country. The quota limits annual immigration from any given country to 3% of the number of people from that country resident in the United States in 1910. The new system forces a dramatic reduction in immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, but allows immigration from Northern and Western Europe to continue virtually unabated.
National Origins Act
Congress passes the National Origins Act of 1924, refining the national quota system created in 1921. The new National Origins formula caps annual immigration from any given nation to 2% of the number of people from that country resident in the United States in 1890. By choosing 1890—a year that preceded the bulk of the "new immigration"—as the benchmark for setting national quotas, the law heavily favors Northern and Western Europeans at the expense of Southern and Eastern Europeans. The discriminatory National Origins system will remain in effect until 1965.
Asian Immigration Tightened
In conjunction with the National Origins Act of 1924, Congress passes the Oriental Exclusion Act, further tightening restrictions on Asian immigration by closing the few loopholes that have previously allowed a small number of Asians to enter the country. The new act blocks the immigration of foreign-born wives of Asians already living in America, and even the children of American citizens born within the Asiatic Barred Zone.
Border Patrol Established
Congress creates the Border Patrol to help police its increasingly stringent immigration controls.