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Key Concept 6.3: The Gilded Age produced new cultural and intellectual movements, public reform efforts, and political debates over economic and social policies.

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Populism and the People's Party

Image to the right shows an 1896 Judge political cartoon where William Jennings Bryan/Populism is a snake swallowing up the mule representing the Democratic party.

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  • A body of dissatisfied people in the 1890's during an economic depression, the People's Party formed from mostly industrial and farm workers who shared similar views on labor and trusts.
    • The end of the Civil War combined with harsh drought drove Southern wheat to a limited supply, and cotton prices to a low. This pushed many farmers into poverty and affected other farm industries such as railroads workers and lenders.
  • The Populists were originally taken lightly before controlling the Kansas state legislature in 1890 and eventually forming a national party in 1892 through a merger between the Farmer's Alliance and the Knights of Labor.
    • Split between the "fusionists" and the "mid-roaders," the earlier believing that the populists should fuse with the Democratic party and the latter believing that the Democrats were more interested in destroying any third party.
  • In 1896 at the Populist Convention in St. Louis, fusionist and pro-silver Williams Jennings Bryan was nominated to run as both the Democratic and Populist candidate. This angered the mid-roaders.
    • Despite Bryan's nomination as the Populist candidate, he ignored many of the issues of the Populist platform and adhered to the Democrats. Upon losing the election in 1896, the fusionists were demoralized, and the loss of an already split party meant disbandment.
  • Populist ideas and influences surfaced in the next century. Progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt resurrected many Populist goals in new forms as he tentatively expanded federal regulations of business corporations.
Multimedia.pngSee William Jennings Bryan's Cross of Gold Speech, where he advocates the "free silver" movement that would change the gold-backed economy in the United States to counter the heavy debts on the farmers and laborers.

primary_sources.PNGDeclaration of Principles of the Progressive Party (1912 Progressive Party Platform).

Cartoon by Homer Davenport, published in New York Journal, 1896
Cartoon by Homer Davenport, published in New York Journal, 1896

primary_sources.PNGVisit 1896: A Chronology for a comprehensive collection of political cartoons associated with the 1896 presidential election pitting William Jennings Bryan against William McKinley.

I say it fearlessly, and it can not be denied, that reforms for which the masses have been clamoring for years--whether it be silver or labor or income tax or popular rights or resistance to government by injuction--had never been written, and might never have been written, into a Democratic platform, until the Populist party, 1,800,000 strong, thundered in the ears of Democratic leaders the announcement that a mighty multitude demanded these reforms.

Women and the Right to Vote

Portrait of Fola La Follette, 1918-20
Portrait of Fola La Follette, 1918-20

Fola La Follette was a labor and women's suffrage activist and daughter of Robert La Follette. Click here for more on the life and times of Robert La Follette from the University of Wisconsin.

Reforming Their World: Women in the Progressive Era from the National Women's History Museum.

Editorial Room at National Woman's Party Headquarters in Washington where the Suffragist is published (1919)
Editorial Room at National Woman's Party Headquarters in Washington where the Suffragist is published (1919)

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngOne Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview

Image to the right is entitled "The Age of Brass. or The Triumphs of Woman's Rights", an 1869 lithograph print published by Currier and Ives opposing women getting the right to vote

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rotating gif.gifGo to United States History II.9 for more on efforts by women to gain the right to vote.

History of Woman's Suffrage Movement from a website at the College of New Jersey.
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Wyoming: The Equality State from the Women of the West Museum.
external image Apoggiaturanotaton.pngSongs of the Women's Suffrage from the Library of Congress

Go here for the lyrics to three Songs of the Women's Suffrage Movement
  • Keep Woman in Her Sphere
  • The New America
  • Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?

primary_sources.PNGSuffrage Songs and Verses by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1911).


The Progressive Party, which Roosevelt headed in the "Bull Moose campaign" of 1912, also echoed many People's Party concerns. By constitutional amendment, direct election of U.S. Senatorsbecame law in 1912. Other Populist planks--particularly those calling for aid to farmers and employment on public works in time of depression--became reality during the 1930s, under the New Deal administrations of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt.

Local Concerns
National Concerns
Amendments Passed
The Progressives sought many local reforms such as theexpansions of high schools, the construction of playgrounds and other public areas, the suppression of red-light districts, and the replacement of urban politics with a more efficient form of self-government.
At the state level, Progressives issued minimum wage laws for female workers, provided industrial workman's compensation, regulated factory conditions, and restricted child labor.
The Progressives established federal regulation of the meat-packing, drug, and railroad industries, and strengthened anti-trust laws. Tariffs were also cut, banking systems were controlled, and working conditions for all people were improved .
Four constitutional amendments were adopted during the Progressive era, which authorized an income tax, provided for the direct election of senators, extended the vote to women, and prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.
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Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive party platform: