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"We Are Not Entirely Out of Civilization": A Homesteader Writes Home in 1873
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Moving to the Great Plains meant building a home on broad, flat, ...

Moving to the Great Plains meant building a home on broad, flat, and treeless prairies. Borrowing from the Plains Indians and earlier pioneers in Kansas, Mattie Oblinger and other homesteaders built sod houses. They cut the prairie sod deep and wide, laid it up like giant bricks, and fit the bricks together snugly without mortar. Mattie and her husband Uriah obtained their land through the Homestead Act of 1862, claiming and improving their 160 acres over five years. Other lands for farmers became available from the vast acreages of public land given to the railroad companies as subsidies. The Oblingers and other settlers formed communities of young families with a rough social equality and common concerns about crops, religion, and social isolation. They faced a series of hardships on the land in the 1870s: blizzards, droughts, and grasshoppers, as well as low crop prices. Mattie died in childbirth at the age of thirty-six.

Subject:
U.S. History
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"I Stumbled on the Place by Sheer Accident": Oscar Ameringer Discovers the Cincinnati Public Library in 1888
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Libraries in the late 19th century were seen by their founders as ...

Libraries in the late 19th century were seen by their founders as instruments of social and cultural uplift, meant to raise the working class out their ignorance and teach them how to be middle class. But men like Oscar Ameringer, who immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was 15 and later became a socialist organizer, humorist, and editor, took away different lessons. In this selection from his 1940 autobiography, Ameringer described his discovery of American history books, translated into German, at the local public library.

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U.S. History
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"After the Ball": Lyrics from the Biggest Hit of the 1890s
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The 1890s witnessed the emergence of a commercial popular music industry in ...

The 1890s witnessed the emergence of a commercial popular music industry in the United States. Sales of sheet music, enabling consumers to play and sing songs in their own parlors, skyrocketed during the "Gay Nineties," led by Tin Pan Alley, the narrow street in midtown Manhattan that housed the country's major music publishers and producers. Although Tin Pan Alley was established in the 1880s, it only achieved national prominence with the first "platinum" song hit in American music history--Charles K. Harris's "After the Ball"--that sold two million pieces of sheet music in 1892 alone. "After the Ball's" sentimentality ultimately helped sell over five million copies of sheet music, making it the biggest hit in Tin Pan Alley's long history. Typical of most popular 1890s tunes, the song was a tearjerker, a melodramatic evocation of lost love.

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U.S. History
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America at Work, America at Leisure, 1894-1915
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This site features motion pictures that showcase work, school, and leisure activities ...

This site features motion pictures that showcase work, school, and leisure activities in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century. The site includes films of the U.S. Postal Service from 1903, cattle breeding, fire fighters, ice manufacturing, logging, calisthenics and gymnastic exercises in schools, amusement parks, boxing, expositions, football, parades, swimming, and other sporting events.

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U.S. History
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Library of Congress
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American Memory
Sarah Smith Emery - Memories of a Massachusetts Girlhood at the Turn of the 19th century
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Sarah Smith Emery, in her nineties when she wrote this memoir, grew ...

Sarah Smith Emery, in her nineties when she wrote this memoir, grew up around the turn of the 19th century in the Massachusetts countryside. Her family lived on a farm near the port town of Newburyport, on the Merrimack River. Life on the farm, as she described it, was a series of peaceful routines organized by season, time of day, age, and gender. Emery described the home production of food, such as butter and cheese, and household items, including candles, soap, and clothing. Spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, dressmaking, cooking, preserving food, and housecleaning filled this early nineteenth-century girl's life, while the men in her family farmed, butchered, and chopped wood. Militia training took place twice each year, in spring and fall. At the time that Emery was writing, the United States was rapidly shifting from an agricultural to an urban industrial economy, and nostalgia for rural life thus colored her recollections.

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U.S. History
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"One of the Primitive Sort": Chester Harding Becomes an Artist in the Early 19th-Century Countryside
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Farming was not the only occupation in early nineteenth-century rural America. Many ...

Farming was not the only occupation in early nineteenth-century rural America. Many young entrepreneurs were able to take advantage of the countryside's increasing commercial activity and growing consumer desires by taking to the road to work. Chester Harding, born in Conway, Massachusetts, survived by working in a variety of country crafts as he related in his 1866 autobiography My Egotistigraphy. His early skill in painting signs led to his painting faces, and he grew more expert in portraiture as he practiced on his business patrons, providing them with a rare likeness to display in their homes. Initially far more artisan than artist, Harding, unlike most of his fellow itinerant and self-taught colleagues, ended up one of the most renowned academic artists in antebellum America.

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Dissatisfied With the Lives They Live: Farm Women Describe Their Work in a 1913 U.S. Department of Agriculture Report
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Statistics on women's work in the early 20th century were invariably misleading: ...

Statistics on women's work in the early 20th century were invariably misleading: most women worked but only a minority were formally in the wage labor force. Nowhere was the discrepancy between the domestic ideal and the reality of women's work lives wider than in rural America. In 1913 the U. S. Department of Agriculture decided to investigate and document the lives of farm woman they discovered a vast reservoir of discontent. The report, reproduced here, was culled from letters responding to a questionnaire sent to the wives of farmers and commented on all aspects of rural life, especially the enormous burden of labor that these officially non-working women were expected to carry out.

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The New Woman of the 1920s: Debating Bobbed-Hair
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The "new woman" of the 1910s and 1920s rejected the pieties (and ...

The "new woman" of the 1910s and 1920s rejected the pieties (and often the politics) of the older generation, smoked and drank in public, celebrated the sexual revolution, and embraced consumer culture. While earlier generations had debated suffrage, political discussions of feminism were seldom the stuff of popular media in the 1920s. Instead, magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Pictorial Review presented readers with the debate: "To Bob or Not to Bob?" The short, sculpted hair of the "bob" marked a startling visual departure from the upswept and carefully dressed hair of the early twentieth-century Gibson Girl. Dancer Irene Castle (Treman) inadvertently helped set the fashion when she cut her hair for convenience before entering the hospital for an appendectomy. In these magazine excerpts, Castle, singer Mary Garden, and film star Mary Pickford (known as "America's Sweetheart"), described their decisions to adopt, or not adopt, the new style.

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Kissing Rudy Valentino: A High-School Student Describes Movie Going in the 1920s
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Fears about the impact of movies on youth led to the Payne ...

Fears about the impact of movies on youth led to the Payne Fund research project, which brought together nineteen social scientists and resulted in eleven published reports. One of the most fascinating of the studies was carried out by Herbert Blumer, a young sociologist who would later go on to a distinguished career in the field. For a volume that he called Movies and Conduct (1933), Blumer asked more than fifteen hundred college and high school students to write "autobiographies"of their experiences going to the movies. In this motion picture autobiography, a high school "girl" talked about what the movies of the 1920s meant to her.

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U.S. History
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Movie Dreams and Movie Injustices: A Black High-School Student Tells What 1920s Movies Meant to Him
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Fears about the impact of movies on youth led to the Payne ...

Fears about the impact of movies on youth led to the Payne Fund research project, which brought together nineteen social scientists and resulted in eleven published reports. One of the most fascinating of the studies was carried out by Herbert Blumer, a young sociologist who would later go on to a distinguished career in the field. For a volume that he called Movies and Conduct (1933), Blumer asked more than fifteen hundred college and high school students to write "autobiographies"of their experiences going to the movies. This seventeen-year-old African American used his motion picture autobiography to describe how films not only led to dreams of fast cars but also made him "feel the injustice done the Negro race."

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U.S. History
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The National Pastime in the 1920s: The Rise of the Baseball Fan
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Baseball's growing popularity in the 1920s can be measured by structural and ...

Baseball's growing popularity in the 1920s can be measured by structural and cultural changes that helped transform the game, including the building of commodious new ballparks; the emergence of sports pages in daily urban newspapers; and the enormous popularity of radio broadcasts of baseball games. Baseball commentators and critics expended much ink during the 1920s discussing the exact nature and composition of this new and expanding fan population. Some derided the influx of new fans to urban ballparks, in part because of the growing visibility in the bleachers of the sons and daughters of working-class Italian, Polish, and Jewish immigrants, and in part because the game seemed to be straying from its origins in traditional rural and small-town America. On the other hand, writer Edgar F. Wolfe argued in the 1923 Literary Digest that the urban ballpark was a meeting ground for Americans of all classes and backgrounds.

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U.S. History
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"Complete Nudity Is Never Permitted": The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930
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Mae West spent her career on the stage and screen skirting--and sometimes ...

Mae West spent her career on the stage and screen skirting--and sometimes transgressing--the boundaries of sexual and moral propriety. In 1926 and 1927, she outraged some critics (and landed herself in jail) with two sensational Broadway productions, Sex (a play she wrote about a Montreal prostitute, in which she also starred) and The Drag (a "homosexual comedy-drama" that she wrote and staged). In 1928, New York police arrested her again, this time for her play about a troupe of female impersonators, Pleasure Man. In 1932, she brought her brand of ribald humor to the movies. West's move from Broadway to Hollywood was surprising, given the substantially tighter moral scrutiny under which the film industry operated. Adopted in 1930 by the Association of Motion Picture Producers, the Motion Picture Production Code, excerpted below, spelled out in detail what was and was not permissible in the nation's most popular form of entertainment.

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Didactic Dramas: Antiwar Plays of the 1930s
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The interwar peace movement was arguably the largest mass movement of the ...

The interwar peace movement was arguably the largest mass movement of the 1920s and 1930s, a mobilization often overlooked in the wake of the broad popular consensus that ultimately supported the U.S. involvement in World War II. The destruction wrought in World War I (known in the 1920s and 1930s as the "Great War") and the cynical nationalist politics of the Versailles Treaty had left Americans disillusioned with the Wilsonian crusade to save the world for democracy. The antiwar movement drew on many tactics honed in earlier suffrage campaigns, including the use of pageants and plays. Circulated by the New Deal-sponsored Federal Theatre Project (FTP), these play synopses suggested the range and diversity of antiwar sentiment in the 1930s. The FTP vetted hundreds of scripts and prepared lists of plays for the use of community theaters. Antiwar dramas were among the most popular, with themes of religious pacifism, moral motherhood, and condemnation of war profiteering.

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U.S. History
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The Fields family, Hale County, Alabama, Summer 1936.
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To build broad public support for its New Deal relief programs, the ...

To build broad public support for its New Deal relief programs, the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt encouraged documentation of the human suffering caused by the Depression. From 1935 to 1943, photographers working for several federal government agencies, principally the Farm Security Administration (FSA), traveled the country and produced the most enduring images of the Great Depression. This Walker Evans picture of a poor rural family was part of that massive documentation effort. Wishing to convey both suffering and dignity, FSA photographers searingly presented conditions to the American public, selecting effective compositions and poses influenced by advertising and mass-market magazine formats. These photographic icons of the era were widely circulated in the popular press, including Time, Look, and Life magazines, and they appeared in major museum exhibits and best-selling books.

Subject:
U.S. History
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"Belles of the Ball Game": Women's Professional Baseball League Thrives in the 1940s
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The All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League lasted from 1943 to 1954. During ...

The All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League lasted from 1943 to 1954. During its peak attendance year, the League attracted close to a million fans--three of whom wrote letters, included below, to correct factual misrepresentations about the objects of their affection printed in the following Collier's article. The League inspired a hit motion picture of 1992 (A League of Their Own) and continues to hold interest for many, as demonstrated by numerous websites featuring leading players. Formed during World War II when major league owners feared that the military draft might lead to suspension of play, the All-American League thrived. In the early 1950s, however, it reproduced a pattern found elsewhere in American society: women encouraged to fill jobs (previously open only to men) during the war years faced restrictions as traditional norms were reestablished. The following look at the League from the perspective of its "harried" male managers, however, offers only minimal insight into the reasons for such high ticket sales and the devotion of fans cheering players who challenged the gender barriers of their day.

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"Communists are second to none in our devotion to our people and to our country": Prosecution and Defense Statements, 1949 Trial of American Communist Party Leaders
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In 1919, during the post-World War I "Red Scare," the Supreme Court ...

In 1919, during the post-World War I "Red Scare," the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protection of free speech was not applicable in circumstances in which there was a "clear and present danger" that "substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent" would occur as a result of that speech. In 1940, Congress passed the Smith Act, making illegal the advocacy of overthrowing state or national governments. Although the Act was not used against members of the Communist Party during World War II, 11 Communist Party leaders were convicted under the Act in 1949 following the build up of Cold War tensions. In the following opening statements of that trial, the U.S. prosecuting attorney, John F. X. McGohey and the general secretary of the Communist Party, Eugene Dennis, offered widely divergent descriptions of the Party's goals. The Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdicts in 1951, ruling that government action against the defendants was required under the "clear and present danger" test. The ruling further argued that the Party, which was "in the very least ideologically attuned" with Communist countries, had formed "a highly organized conspiracy," that created the present danger. In subsequent years, Congress passed additional anti-Communist laws, and courts obtained 93 convictions of Party members. After the liberal-leaning Warren Court's 1956 ruling that mere advocacy of revolution was insufficient grounds to convict, the U.S. government ended their prosecution of Communists for Party membership alone.

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"A Sop to the Public at Large": Contestant Herbert Stempel Exposes Contrivances in a 1950s Television Quiz Show
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Television had become the nation's largest medium for advertising by the mid-1950s, ...

Television had become the nation's largest medium for advertising by the mid-1950s, when the Revlon cosmetics corporation agreed to sponsor The $64,000 Question, the first prime-time network quiz show to offer contestants fabulous sums of money. As Revlon's average net profit rose in the next four years from $1.2 million to $11 million, a plethora of quiz shows tried to replicate its success. At the height of their popularity, in 1958, 24 network quiz shows--relatively easy and inexpensive to produce--filled the prime-time schedule. Many took pains in their presentation to convey an aura of authenticity--contestants chosen from ordinary walks of life pondered fact-based questions inside sound-proof isolation booths that insured they received no outside assistance. To guarantee against tampering prior to airtime, bank executives and armed guards made on-air deliveries of sealed questions and answers said to be verified by authorities from respected encyclopedias or university professors. When the public learned in 1959 that a substantial number of shows had been rigged, a great many were offended; however, one survey showed that quite a few viewers didn't care. Following the revelations, prime-time quiz shows went off the air, replaced in large part by series telefilms, many of which were Westerns. The industry successfully fended off calls for regulation, and by blaming sponsors and contracted producers, networks minimized damage and increased their control over programming decisions. In the following testimony to a Congressional subcommittee, contestant Herbert Stempel described the process through which every detail of the seemingly spontaneous battle of wits was, in fact, scripted, rehearsed, and acted for dramatic effect.

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U.S. History
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Air Waves "are in the Public Domain": Public Television Advocacy in the 1950s
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Although educational radio stations flourished in the early 1920s--more than 200 existed ...

Although educational radio stations flourished in the early 1920s--more than 200 existed prior to the introduction of network radio in 1926--most faltered shortly thereafter. One reason was the alignment of the Federal Radio Commission (FRC), created by legislation declaring that the airwaves belonged to the public, with commercial interests. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) replaced the FRC in 1934, educational, religious, and labor groups promoted an amendment requiring the allocation of one-fourth of all broadcast licenses to nonprofit organizations. The amendment failed to pass, and by 1937, only 38 educational radio stations remained in operation. In 1948, as sales of televisions skyrocketed, Freida B. Hennock, the first female FCC commissioner, began a campaign to assign channel frequencies for nonprofit, educational use. Advocates backing Hennock documented the high number of acts or threats of violence shown to children every week on commercial television broadcasts. Consequently, when the FCC in 1952 added UHF (ultra high frequency) channels to the existing VHF (very high frequency) channels, they reserved 10 percent for use by nonprofit educational organizations. In the following testimony to a 1955 Congressional subcommittee, Hennock advocated oversight of commercial television by governmental and civic bodies and championed educational television. The testimony from the general manager of a new Pittsburgh educational station, William Wood, follows. Wood emphasized the lack of violence in his 'poverty stricken' station's programming and included excerpts from fan mail praising an acclaimed children's show, The Children's Corner, a program co-produced by Fred Rogers, who later created, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Until 1967, however, when the Federal government established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to appropriate funds for public television, non-commercial stations struggled to survive.

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U.S. History
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"One Should Not Look to Research as a Kind of a Panacea": Social Scientists in the 1950s Discuss Studies of Television Viewing by Children
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While experimental television broadcasts were first transmitted in the 1920s, mass production ...

While experimental television broadcasts were first transmitted in the 1920s, mass production of television sets did not occur until after World War II. By 1960 the number of sets in the U.S. had surpassed the number of homes. With this relatively swift introduction of television into domestic American life, concern was voiced over the harmful influence that watching television might have on the nation's children. Although Congress held its first hearing on the subject in 1952, they chose not to take any action to interfere with the industry, in part because that year the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters adopted a code to regulate broadcast content. In 1954 and 1955, Congress conducted additional hearings to investigate whether television--along with other mass media products that appealed to children, such as comic books and motion pictures--had anything to do with the documented rise in incidents of juvenile crime. As the renowned media researcher Paul Lazarsfeld testified, studies showed that the hearings, which themselves were televised, only led to worry among viewers rather than to practical measures to correct any perceived problem. In the following testimony from the 1955 hearings, child psychologist Eleanor E. Maccoby discussed her research findings, while Lazarsfeld advocated the funding of long-term projects. Both stressed the limitations of research for providing reliable evidence that would definitively link juvenile delinquency to television viewing.

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U.S. History
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"The Shadow of Incipient Censorship": The Creation of the Television Code of 1952
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While experimental television broadcasts were first transmitted in the 1920s, mass production ...

While experimental television broadcasts were first transmitted in the 1920s, mass production of television sets did not occur until after World War II. By 1960 the number of sets in the U.S. had surpassed the number of homes. With this relatively swift introduction of television into domestic American life, concern was voiced over the harmful influence that watching television might have on the nation's children. Although Congress held its first hearing on the subject in 1952, they chose not to take any action to interfere with the industry, in part because that year the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters adopted a code to regulate broadcast content. The Senate report held hearings in 1954 and 1955 on the possible influence of television on juvenile delinquency. The resulting report summarized standards included in the Television Code pertaining to the portrayal of crime, horror, sex, and law enforcement, and to the industry's responsibility to provide "wholesome entertainment" for children. The report also presented testimony from a television executive who cited the motion picture industry's history of successful self-regulation to ward off government censorship. The Senate report--excerpts of which are included below--also presented the preamble to the Code and detailed the Code's review mechanism.

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U.S. History
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American Social History Project / Center for History Media and Learning
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