Featured in Social History in Every Classroom
In January 1914, the town of Ojinaga in northern Mexico was the site of a battle between the forces of Pancho Villa and those loyal to Mexican president Victoriano Huerta. This photo depicts refugees from the fighting making the sixty-mile journey to Marfa, in Texas. Refugees such as these made up a large portion of early twentieth-century Mexican immigration to the southwestern United States.
Unknown photographer, "Mexican refugees going to Marfa," Bain News Service, c. 1914, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2005015432/.
During the 1850s, hundreds of thousands of enslaved African Americans were sold by owners in the upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee) to owners in the lower South (Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi). This forced migration painfully disrupted slave families by separating husbands from wives and children from their parents. This painting by the British artist Eyre Crowe, based on a sketch made by him when touring the U.S. in 1853, shows a scene at a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia. Slave markets, where such auctions took place, were located throughout the South; the largest was in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Eyre Crowe, Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia, 1861, painting (Private Collection); available from the University of Virginia, The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas, http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/detailsKeyword.php?keyword=sale&recordCount=50&theRecord=23.
Supported by government funds, railroad building boomed after the Civil War. There were only 2,000 miles of track in 1850; by 1877 there were nearly 80,000 miles in use. Railroad owners controlled tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in assets. Larger than some state governments, railroad companies were the largest, most powerful companies Americans had ever known. This cartoon, published in a New York newspaper in 1873, reflects the concerns that many Americans had about the unprecedented political and economic power of the railroads.
Frank Bellew, "The American Frankenstein: 'When Frankenstein Beheld the Hideous Monster He Had Created He Started with Terror and Disgust," New York Daily Graphic, March 18, 1873.
Child cotton-pickers on a farm in Bells, Texas, documented by Lewis W. Hine, a photographer for the National Child Labor Committee. Children had long been used as cotton-pickers and other agricultural workers in the South, where the tradition of sharecropping as well as sheer economic necessity made the practice widespread. In the caption to this photo, Hine notes, "All these children five years, six years, seven years, nine years [of age]... The very young children like to pick, but before long they detest it. Sun is hot, hours long, bags heavy."
Lewis W. Hine, "All these children five years", 1913, black and white photograph, Library of Congress Online Prints and Photographs Collection, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.00199.
When World War II ended, Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant, like industrial manufacturers across the country, laid off thousands of women workers and replaced them with inexperienced men. In Highland Park, women members of the United Auto Workers Local 400 organized active protests against the policy, including this picket by 150 women workers outside of the plant's employment office. Eventually, after the issue became part of contract negotiations with the union, several hundred women workers were recalled to the plant.
From Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II (University of Illinois Press, 1987), 136.
With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, men seeking to make their fortunes streamed into the area from all over the world. In 1850, the California legislature passed a Foreign Miners' Tax that required miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay $20 every month for the right to mine in the state. In reality, the tax was only collected from Chinese and Latino miners, while European miners were not forced to pay it. The high tax drove many Latin American miners back to their home countries, and immigrant miners who stayed organized protests. The legislature eventually reduced the tax to $4 per month.
Blank Foreign Miner’s License, 1853, California State Archives (State Legislature Records), www.learncalifornia.org/GoDocUserFiles/790.blank-foreign-miners-license.jpg
In this 1866 illustration, the Anglo-Saxon features of Florence Nightingale, the storied battlefield nurse of the Crimean War, are contrasted with those of "Bridget McBruiser," whose animal-like features and generally slovenly appearance are typical of mid-nineteenth century depictions of Irish immigrants. This comparison appeared in a book about "physiognomy," a branch of supposedly scientific study popular in the nineteenth century which argued that individual moral character and intelligence could be seen in a person's facial features.
Samuel R. Wells, New Physiognomy, (New York, 1866).
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required police officers everywhere in the country to capture escaped slaves and return them to their owners. Anyone who was caught helping escaped slaves could also be arrested and face large fines. As a result of the law, many free African Americans who were not escaped slaves were still captured and sent into slavery in the South.
Theodore Parker, "Caution!! Colored people of Boston," poster, 1851, Boston; from the Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.rbc/rbpe.06002200.
The young farm women who worked in the Lowell textile mills were used to hard work, but working the large, noisy mills was different. On the farm, women had controlled their own work schedule, and they did may different tasks. In the mill, women did one task over and over again. Factory owners now controlled the speed and hours of work.
Time Table of the Lowell Mills, Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, from Uses of Liberty Rhetoric Among Lowell Mill Girls, http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/americanstudies/lavender/lowell.html.
John White, a painter who traveled with several English exploration companies in North America, made many illustrations of the people, plants and animals that inhabited the area around the Jamestown colony. Theodor de Bry later made engravings based on White's paintings; this image, and 27 others, were included in a 1590 book about the "New World" that was published in four languages: English, French, German and Latin. De Bry noticeably changed details to make the Indians look more European.
Virtual Jamestown, http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/plate40.html
Founded in 1903, the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) was an organization that brought together working-class women, reformers, and women from wealthy and prominent families. League members believed that working women needed help to gain better wages and working conditions, and that all women shared important values and goals. This seal represented the WTUL’s attitudes and goals; it appeared on their letterhead, publications, and pins.
Julia Bracken Wendt, National Women’s Trade Union Seal, pen and ink drawing on board, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm167.html
Recent Podcast Episodes
Making Queer History Public is a new podcast series by the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning that explores LGBTQ+ public history.
This episode features Kubi Ackerman, then-Director of the Future City Lab at the Museum of the City of New York. Ackerman is not interested in monuments for the past, but instead asks how we might memorialize the present and the future, as well as send warnings or messages to future generations.
This episode features Marisa Williamson, a multimedia artist based in Newark, New Jersey whose site-specific works, videos, and performances focus on the body, authority, freedom, and memory.
“Lots of hard work, lots of collaboration, and a long horizon.” These, according to Mary Anne Trasciatti, Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Hofstra University, are the keys to erecting a public art memorial from the ground up in New York City.