UNITED STATES HISTORY
Separate but Equal
*Despite the feeling of the late 19th century that the cities were
corrupt and wicked, many of the most successful progressives were
city-dwellers who wanted to improve their own homes, although they
were supported by the rural people, and, in truth, most of them
were only one generation off the farm themselves. Most were
middle class, and their leaders tended to be fairly prosperous,
but there were progressives from all levels of society.
*Many leading progressives were also the wives of prosperous
men. Leading progressive women used their husbands’ money
and their own free time to crusade for their favourite
causes. Others, such as Jane Addams and the women who worked
with her at Hull House, found working for a cause to be the only
way to express themselves in the age of separate spheres.
*Many progressive women did not attack the notion of separate and
different roles for men and women, but instead used that to their
advantage. If men were breadwinners, they had to be made to
stop spending their income of liquor in the saloons. If
women were weaker and in need of protection, then it was necessary
to end prostitution for their own protection. If women were
naturally more moral than men, it stood to reason that they ought
to be able to vote, in order to provide some moral guidance to
*The temperance movement was a powerful force in both small rural
towns and large industrial cities in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries, and it had many advocates, some of whom wanted
temperance or even complete prohibition. Many Protestant
Christians opposed alcohol as an addiction that distracted people
from God and from their duties to society. Many women
opposed alcohol because their husbands drank too much, wasting the
family’s money and sometimes beating their wives and children in
drunken rages. Employers opposed alcohol because workers
turned up drunk or did not turn up at all. Lawmen opposed it
because it led to disorderly behaviour. Many groups were
formed to support temperance, including the Anti-Saloon League and
the Women’s Christian Temperance Union or the National American
Woman Suffrage Association.
*In 1873 the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was founded to
oppose all alcohol use (but also to oppose tobacco and other
drugs, prostitution, bad conditions for the poor, and other social
problems). The WCTU still exists today.
*One of the most famous members of the Women’s Christian
Temperance Union was Carrie Nation, whose first husband had been
an alcoholic who died after a few years of marriage, but whose
second husband was a minister (and lawyer and newspaper
editor). She described herself as a ‘bulldog, running along
at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like,’ and what
He didn’t like was alcohol.
*She founded a chapter of the WCTU in Medicine Lodge, Nebraska in
the 1890s, and at first sang hymns in bars and gave bartenders
greetings such as ‘Good morning, destroyer of men's souls.’
However, in 1899 she decided to oppose saloons more vigourously,
and began smashing up saloons with rocks. Later she bought a
big hatchet, and began chopping up bar furniture while singing
hymns. Although she was arrested many times (and banished
from Kansas City), she kept it up, even attracting followers who
would smash up saloons in groups while singing and praying.
Later she sold souvenir hatchets to fund her retirement.
*Eventually the temperance movement convinced many states and
counties to limit or outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol,
and in 1919 the XVIII Amendment to the US Constitution outlawed
the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcohol throughout the
*Taking leading roles in the temperance movement helped women gain
political experience. So had their role in the anti-slavery
movement in the mid-1800s, in which the first leaders of the
women's rights movement had been deeply involved.
*Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National
Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, and worked for women’s
suffrage the rest of their lives, although by the time they died
(1906 and 1902), only four states allowed women to vote.
Wyoming Territory had been the first place in the US to allow
women to vote in 1869.
*By 1900, though, more women were going to college (perhaps
one-third of all college students were women), more were working,
and more middle-class women (who did not need to work) felt that
they were the more moral sex, and that only women’s votes could
clean up the cities and that they had a right to vote because
public issues reached into people’s homes (of which women were in
*Working women won a victory in the Supreme Court case of Muller
v Oregon in 1908, when Curt Muller, who owned a laundry, was
fined $10 for violating an Oregon law that limited women’s working
day to ten hours. He sued, and although the Supreme Court
had recently struck down a New York law limiting working hours for
bakers, the Court upheld Oregon’s law, saying that because women
were weaker and dependent on men’s protection. In
particular, long working hours might be dangerous to a pregnant
woman, and therefore, ‘the physical well-being of woman becomes an
object of public interest and care in order to preserve the
strength and vigor of the race.’ On the other hand, some
women’s activists viewed this, and other laws based on the
supposed weakness of women as undermining the cause of full
equality in the long run.
*In 1900, Carrie Chapman Catt was elected president of the
National American Woman Suffrage Association (ten years after it
was formed by the unification of the National Woman Suffrage
Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association).
Her plan was for women to write to their congressmen and to use
referendums to try to get local laws passed. She
particularly tried to get wealthy, well-educated women who had
free time and the speaking and writing skills needed to form a
successful campaign. These suffrage supporters were called
suffragettes, and some were arrested and jailed for protesting in
*Among those more radical suffragettes was Alice Paul, who helped
to found the National Woman’s Party in 1916 to demand suffrage,
particularly targeting Woodrow Wilson and other conservative
Democrats. During World War I, they even picketed the White
House, called Woodrow Wilson a tyrant comparable to the German
Kaiser for denying women the right to vote, and even burnt
President Wilson in effigy, for which many were arrested and
imprisoned, including Alice Paul.
*As Western states began allowing women to vote, they even began
to elect them to major offices. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin
(R) of Montana became the first woman elected to the US House of
Representatives, 2 years after Montana gave women the franchise.
*Some women were opposed to the suffragettes, fearing that their
efforts were taking them away from their homes, their families,
and from other charity work that was more important. They
even feared that it would make women less feminine and expose them
to all the ugliness of politics.
*Other people were convinced of the indecency of the women's
movement when Margaret Sanger began to publicly advocate birth
control, which she said would give women more freedom and better
health, and make abortion (which was illegal and dangerous) less
common. She also felt that encouraging birth control among
the poor, insane, crippled, retarded, criminal, and otherwise
undesirable would make the human race stronger and better.
This was a fairly popular idea in an age of Social Darwinism, but
in most places birth control was illegal and seen as interfering
with God's role in creating life. Sanger was sometimes
prosecuted and even imprisoned under the Comstock Law, which
outlawed sending obscene materials through the mail—and this
included information about birth control, let alone birth control
devices (some of which she smuggled into the country).
*While not too many people were very concerned about Sanger's
legal problems, the fact that many of the suffragettes who were
jailed were treated badly or chose to go on hunger strikes (and
were sometimes force-fed by their jailors) upset many people, and
the fact that during World War I many women went to work while the
nation’s men were overseas, contributed to a growing sympathy for
the women’s movement.
*In June 1919, Congress passed what become the XIX Amendment,
giving women the right to vote in all elections nationwide.
36 states had to ratify it before it became part of the
Constitution. By March, 1920, 35 states had done so, and
Tennessee was considering it.
*Tennessee already had a strong women's movement. Perhaps
the most successful of all Tennessee’s suffrage leaders was Anne
Dallas Dudley, a Nashville housewife. She used the
traditional image of women as nurturing wives and mothers to
promote her cause, saying that if women were given the vote, 'a
woman’s home will be the whole world, and her children, all those
whose feet are bare, and her sisters, all those who need a helping
hand.' When a man once told her that only men should vote
because they defended their country by bearing arms, Dudley
replied 'Yes, but women bear armies.'
*Sue Shelton White became the chairwoman of the Tennessee Chapter
of the National Woman’s Party in 1918, and in 1919 burned a paper
effigy of President Wilson outside the White House, for which she
was imprisoned for five days. Afterwards, she and other
members of the NWP travelled the country in a train known as the
Prison Special to speak out about women’s suffrage.
*Eventually an organized anti-suffrage movement was founded,
too. It was led by John Vertrees, a Nashville lawyer, but
supported by many women, too, including Josephine Pearson, head of
the Tennessee branch of the National Association Opposed to Woman
*When the time came for Tennessee to vote on the XIX Amendment, it
was close. Governor Albert H. Roberts supported suffrage,
and called a special session of the legislature to vote on
*The state senate approved suffrage by a 25 to 4 vote on 13
August, which put it all up to the House of Representatives.
*Seth Walker, Speaker of the House, had pledged to support
suffrage, but at the last minute changed his mind, and put all his
effort into beating it, both in debate and through parliamentary
manœuvers and technicalities. Finally, the vote was
scheduled for 18 August, and it seemed that there would be enough
votes to defeat the measure. Suffrage supporters were told that
all they could do was pray.
*The first vote was simply to table the resolution approving the
amendment, letting it die without ever being voted on. To
everyone’s surprise, it tied, 48 to 48, and thus did not
pass. Someone who had pledged to vote to table the
resolution had changed his mind.
*The legislature then voted on the amendment itself, and it passed
49 to 47. Harry Burn, a Republican from McMinnville and, at 24,
the youngest member of the House, had gotten a telegram from his
mother the night before, saying ‘Don't forget to be a good boy,’
and telling him to vote for suffrage, and although he had voted to
table it, when it actually came to a vote on the amendment itself,
he followed his mother’s advice.
*Harry Burn hired a bodyguard when he got back home, but his
district re-elected him anyway.
*Women’s suffrage was now the law of the land throughout the
United States thanks to the State of Tennessee (which some called
the Perfect 36, because it was the necessary 36th state), and
women cast their votes in 1920, overwhelmingly electing the
handsome Warren G. Harding. This alone proved that women
would not necessarily elect the better man.
*Despite all the changes in most of the country, for Blacks,
especially in the South, things stayed much the same.
*Almost as soon as Reconstruction ended, Blacks in the US,
especially in the South began to see their new freedoms vanish
once again. Throughout the South, Jim Crow Laws, a variety
of laws much like the old Black codes, sprang up to keep the Black
people from exercising many of their new rights.
*Voting restrictions were common. One common form was the
poll tax, which required voters to pay a fee. This was
always large enough to keep out most Blacks, and had the added
benefit of keeping out many poor whites as well, although it was
not uncommon to enforce the laws selectively. Another
restriction was the literacy test, in which prospective voters had
to demonstrate they could read, which often kept out Blacks, who
were usually denied much education by the lack of public schools
for them. It was not uncommon to give white voters very easy
things to read, while giving something different and much harder
to Black voters.
*Segregation also became common after the Civil War. White
and Black people used different schools, railroad cars, water
fountains, bathrooms, and even different sections in hospitals,
theatres, and churches.
*Several attempts were made to overturn segregation, and the most
important was the case of Plessy v Ferguson, which went to
the Supreme Court in 1896. Homer Plessy, a very pale Black
man, had attempted to ride in a white section of a train to force
a test case, and was arrested when he announced his race. He
appealed this case all the way to the Supreme Court. The
Supreme Court declared that it was legal to segregate, provided
that the areas provided were ‘separate, but equal,’ possibly a
good idea in theory, but hard to enforce, and the facilities given
Blacks were rarely equal to those enjoyed by whites. Still,
this decision would stand until 1954.
*Some African-Americans tried to change things. Booker T.
Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Born a
slave in Virginia, he had a pragmatic view of the daily life of
Black people in the South. His goal was to educate
African-Americans in trades so that they could gain economic
independence—only then could they seek political and civil rights.
*Some people criticised Washington's willingness to accept social
inequality, calling it 'the Atlanta Compromise,' after Washington
gave a speech at The Atlanta Cotton States and International
Exposition in 1895, in which he said that it was wrong for white
Americans to ignore the injustices done to Black Americans, but in
which he also admitted that it was useless for Blacks to demand
full equality immediately.
*The term 'Atlanta Compromise' was invented by W.E.B. Du Bois, an
African-American from Massachusetts with a Ph.D. from Harvard (who
did not have to face the constant oppression of Blacks in the
South, although he did face discrimination in the North, and had
once taught in a rural Tennessee coloured school and seen Southern
discrimination first-hand) who criticised Booker T. Washington for
going along with political discrimination.
*Some of this criticism was expressed in his book The Souls of
Black Folk, published in 1903, which said that "the problem
of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line."
He traced the history of discrimination from the end of the Civil
War to the 20th Century, and he blamed it on failures of the
Freedmen’s Bureau and the national government to really solve the
problems of Black folk, but since then on the rise of materialism
and the role of a compromiser like Booker T. Washington as a
spokesman for Black folk. He also described Black culture,
particularly Black religion and music.
*DuBois said African-Americans should demand full equality
immediately and that it was the duty of the nation as a whole to
make sure they got it.
*Ida B. Wells was one of those African-Americans who spoke out
against discrimination. She was born in Mississippi but
moved to Memphis as an adult. After friends of hers were
attacked by a mob in 1892 she began to write about lynching in the
South (although it occurred in many parts of the North as
well). Eventually she was run out of Memphis by people who
got tired of her criticism.
*In 1908, Ray Stannard Baker published Following the Color
Line to examine racial relations in the US, focusing
particularly on lynching.
*Lynching continued to be a problem in the United States for
decades, and efforts to specifically outlaw lynching (as a crime
separate from murder or manslaughter) were not undertaken by
Congress until 1918, and then were blocked by Southern
senators. About 5,000 African-Americans were lynched between
1890 and 1960.
*In 1905, W.E.B. Du Bois and other African-Americans who wanted
full civil rights right away met at Niagara Falls (on the Canadian
side, because no hotel on the New York side would let them stay
*They called themselves the Niagara Movement. Their primary
sentiment was that Booker T. Washington’s plan of gradual progress
was degrading, slow, and essentially a sell-out, as Washington
compromised with whites by not asking for too much equality—Du
Bois said that Washington’s approach could ‘create workers, but it
cannot make men.’ (Washington, though, thought it was easy
for Du Bois to take this attitude, as he had not grown up under
slavery nor did he have to live with the daily pressures and
prejudices of the South). Furthermore, only a few hundred
people joined the Niagara Movement, and on its own it never
accomplished much. However, it was one of the inspirations
for one of the most important groups to work for African-American
*In 1908, a white mob in Springfield, Illinois tried to break into
a jail to lynch two Black men accused of rape, attempted rape, and
murder (who were safely removed by the Sheriff with the help of a
local white restaurant owner, whose restaurant was soon burnt down
in the race riot that followed and killed seven people).
Later, the man accused of rape was proven to be innocent and the
charges were dropped; the man accused of attempted rape and of
murder was found guilty and hanged.
*That such a race riot could happen in Abraham Lincoln’s home town
horrified the Niagara Movement and white reformers, too. In
1909, white and Black reformers formed the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People, meant to help
African-Americans get better jobs, better education, equal rights,
and an end to racial insults. They also began publishing The
Crisis, a magazine dealing with issues of interest to
African-Americans. The NAACP used the courts to try to get
better treatment, and very slowly (over the course of 60 years or
more) this approach achieved success.
*The NAACP mostly focused on the middle class, but in 1911 Black
workers in big cities formed the Urban League to focus on their
needs. It helped poor African-Americans buy clothes, send
their children to school, and find jobs. Both the NAACP and
the Urban League are still active.
*Other groups tried to win more rights and better treatment as
well. Jewish Americans formed the Anti-Defamation League in
1913 to protect Jews from violence (which was once a problem—not
only Blacks, but also Jews, were attacked in the 1908 Springfield
Race Riot), discrimination, and racial slurs (some of which are
*Asian-Americans also had little success in protecting their
rights in California. The Chinese Exclusion Act had made
immigration difficult for Chinese ever since 1882, but many
Japanese left their newly-opened country for America. Soon
many Californians feared that the Yellow Peril would undermine
their culture and take their jobs, or perhaps serve as spies for
Japanese imperialists. Soon California tried to limit the
rights of Japanese in America, including requiring them to attend
segregated schools in San Francisco after the Great Fire of 1906.
*This was seen as a deep insult by the Empire of Japan, which
complained to President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1907 they
reached the 'Gentlemen's Agreement,' under which the US would
protect the rights of Japanese-Americans (and not require their
children to attend segregated schools), while Japan would keep its
people from going to America unless they already had family
there—which led to a new custom of Japanese men marrying 'picture
brides' to create family ties between Japanese in Japan and
America. Japan did allow its people to keep going to Hawaii,
whence some did go to the rest of the United States.
*This agreement led to the Root-Takahira Agreement of 1908, in
which Japan and the USA agreed to recognise each other's
territorial claims in the Pacific and the Open Door in China.
*Despite this, in 1913, California passed a law allowing only
American citizens to own land. Because Asian immigrants
could not become citizens, many Chinese and Japanese lost their
land, unless they could put it in their children’s names (because
having been born in America, their children were American
*Mexican-Americans also tried to form groups to promote their
rights, but most of those formed in the early 1900s did not last
long. Their land was sometimes seized in the Southwest and
many Mexican-Americans were required to sign long-term labour
contracts much like those forced on African-Americans in the
South. In 1911 the Supreme Court outlawed these contracts.
*Furthermore, Mexican-American Octaviano Larrazolo was born in
Chihuahua, Mexico, but lived most of his life in New Mexico and
served one term as governor there (but was not nominated for a
second term because of his support for women’s suffrage). At
the age of 70, he was elected to the US Senate—the first
Hispanic-American to serve in that body—although he died only 6
months into his term.
*American Indians also formed groups to demand more rights, but
the groups they formed in the early 1900s did not last long,
either. By 1924, though, the Indian Citizenship Act finally
gave American Indians the right to be considered citizens and vote
in national elections (although they were still often prevented
from voting in local and state elections).
This page last updated Saint David's Day, 2021.