Through the Ages – Do Unto Others – 19th Century America
“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-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Emma Larzarus.
Immigration – so many people of all different races and nationalities making their way to the new land of opportunity.
Imagine how strange it would have been, arriving after a hideous stinky sickly boat trip to a new country. Chances were that you didn’t know the language – and if you did you would have an accent that others might not understand. You would have been picked on for your nationality and segregated into different parts of the city.
A lot of people would have spent all their money on the boat trip over to America and so would not be able to get any further than the city that they arrived in as trains and other methods of transport were pretty expensive. In fact by 1850 the Irish made up more than half the population of New York, as they couldn’t afford to move further inland.
Different nationalities lived in different districts and boy was it a melting pot of cultures in those days. Scottish, Irish, British, Russian Jews, Greeks, Slavs, Eastern European Jews, Armenians and Italians were the majority of immigrants in the mid 1800’s and African slaves were still being brought over from their homelands to serve the rich white folk.
The slave trade was finally abolished in 1808 by Congress and slaves eventually made their own way in this new world, finding homes and jobs of their own and getting away from the people who had imprisoned them for so long. Of course, the American Civil War had to be fought in the meantime.
The women’s movement was also getting bigger and the late 19th Century saw a rise in Suffragettes. Until that time, society women had very strict rules as to how to behave and dress.
1. Interrupt no one while speaking, though it be your most intimate friend.
2. Speaking of any distant person, it is the height of rudeness to point at him.
3. Always look people in the face when speaking to them, otherwise you will be thought conscious of some guilt.
4. There cannot be any practice more offensive than that of taking a person aside to whisper in a room with company.
5. Ladies shall be particular not to cross their knees in sitting, nor to assume any indecorous attitude.
Well, no wonder there was a suffragette movement, who would want to stick to so many rules?! Um, but really there isn’t anything there that is so very surprising is there? It’s all common knowledge really and it’s the same way that we should all behave now.
Enough of the lecture. Okay, what else was going on? Well, railroads were big news and you could pretty much get to most places in America by rail if you had the money. Rail companies invested in luxurious hotels and tried to get the rich to travel away and have holidays. This was quite a novelty as most rich people were used to packing up their winter homes and moving to their summerhouses rather than actually go away on vacation as such.
Vacations did become more and more popular and steamboats were another attraction for the rich folk of America.
As for the poorer classes, they could look forward to medical ailments such as influenza, cholera, typhus and typhoid. Massive waves of disease would spread like wildfire through cities and many thousands of lives were lost.
A lot of important things happened in the 19th Century in America but perhaps the most important was the fact that the country was built from this melting pot of races and cultures.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us … are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.