LO II: Discuss the rapid growth of cities
forced people to contend
with problems of housing,
transportation, water, and
The technological boom in the 19th century contributed to the growing industrial
strength of the United States. The result was rapid urbanization, or growth
of cities, mostly in the regions of the Northeast and Midwest.
IMMIGRANTS SETTLE IN CITIES
of the immigrants who streamed into the United States in the late 19th century became city dwellers because cities were the cheapest and most convenient places to live. Cities also offered unskilled laborers steady jobs in mills and factories. By 1890, there were twice as many Irish residents in New York City as in Dublin, Ireland. By 1910, immigrant families made up more than half the total population of 18 major American cities. The Americanization movement was designed to assimilate people of wide-ranging cultures into the dominant culture. This social campaign was sponsored by the government and by concerned citizens. Schools and voluntary associations provided programs to teach immigrants skills needed for citizenship, such as English literacy and American history and government. Subjects such as cooking and social etiquette were included in the curriculum to help the newcomers learn the ways of native-born Americans. Despite these efforts, many immigrants did not wish to abandon their traditions. Ethnic communities provided the social support of other immigrants from the same country. This enabled them to speak their own language and practice their customs and religion. However, these neighborhoods soon became overcrowded, a problem that was intensified by the arrival of new transplants from America’s rural areas.
MIGRATION FROM COUNTRY TO CITY
Rapid improvements in farming technology
during the second half of the 19th century were good news for some farmers
but bad news for others. Inventions such as the McCormick reaper and the
steel plow made farming more efficient but meant that fewer laborers were needed
to work the land. As more and more farms merged, many rural people moved
to cities to find whatever work they could.
Many of the Southern farmers who lost their livelihoods were African
Americans. Between 1890 and 1910, about 200,000 African Americans moved north
and west, to cities such as Chicago and Detroit, in an effort to escape racial violence,
economic hardship, and political oppression. Many found conditions only somewhat
better than those they had left behind. Segregation and discrimination were
often the reality in Northern cities. Job competition between blacks and white
immigrants caused further racial tension.
As the urban population skyrocketed, city governments faced the problems of how to provide residents with needed services and safe living conditions.
When the industrial age began, working-class families in cities had two housing options. They could either buy a house on the outskirts of town, where they would face transportation problems, or rent cramped rooms in a boardinghouse in the central city. As the urban population increased, however, new types of housing were designed. For example, row houses—single-family dwellings that shared side walls with other similar houses—packed many single family residences onto a single block. After working-class families left the central city, immigrants often took over their old housing, sometimes with two or three families occupying a one-family residence. As Jacob Riis pointed out, these multifamily urban dwellings, called tenements, were overcrowded and unsanitary. In 1879, to improve such slum conditions, New York City passed a law that set minimum standards for plumbing and ventilation in apartments. Landlords began building tenements with air shafts that provided an outside window for each room. Since garbage was picked up infrequently, people sometimes dumped it into the air shafts, where it attracted vermin. To keep out the stench, residents nailed windows shut. Though established with good intent, these new tenements soon became even worse places to live than the converted single-family residences.
Innovations in mass transit, transportation systems designed to move large numbers of people along fixed routes, enabled workers to go to and from jobs more easily. Street cars were introduced in San Francisco in 1873 and electric subways in Boston in 1897. By the early 20th century, masstransit networks in many urban areas linked city neighborhoods to one another and to outlying communities. Cities struggled to repair old transit systems and to build new ones to meet the demand of expanding populations. WATER Cities also faced the problem of supplying safe drinking water. As the urban population grew in the 1840s and 1850s, cities such as New York and Cleveland built public waterworks to handle the increasing demand. As late as the 1860s, however, the residents of many cities had grossly inadequate piped water— or none at all. Even in large cities like New York, homes seldom had indoor plumbing, and residents had to collect water in pails from faucets on the street and heat it for bathing. The necessity of improving water quality to control diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever was obvious. To make city water safer, filtration was introduced in the 1870s and chlorination in 1908. However, in the early 20th century, many city dwellers still had no access to safe water.
At first, most city firefighters were volunteers and not always available when
they were needed. Cincinnati, Ohio, tackled this problem when it established the
nation’s first paid fire department in 1853. By 1900, most cities had full-time professional
fire departments. The introduction of a practical automatic fire sprinkler
in 1874 and the replacement of wood as a building material with brick, stone, or
concrete also made cities safer.
As problems in cities mounted, concerned Americans worked to find solutions. Social welfare reformers targeted their efforts at relieving urban poverty.
THE SETTLEMENT HOUSE MOVEMENT
An early reform
program, the Social Gospel movement, preached salvation
through service to the poor. Inspired by the message of
the Social Gospel movement, many 19th-century reformers
responded to the call to help the urban poor. In the late
1800s, a few reformers established settlement houses,
community centers in slum neighborhoods that provided
assistance to people in the area, especially immigrants.
Many settlement workers lived at the houses so that they
could learn firsthand about the problems caused by urbanization
and help create solutions.
Run largely by middle-class, college-educated women,
settlement houses provided educational, cultural, and
social services. They provided classes in such subjects as
English, health, and painting, and offered college extension
courses. Settlement houses also sent visiting nurses into the
homes of the sick and provided whatever aid was needed to
secure “support for deserted women, insurance for bewildered
widows, damages for injured operators, furniture
from the clutches of the installment store.”
Settlement houses in the United States were founded by
Charles Stover and Stanton Coit in New York City in 1886.
Jane Addams—one of the most influential members of
the movement—and Ellen Gates Starr founded Chicago’s
Hull House in 1889. In 1890, Janie Porter Barrett founded
Locust Street Social Settlement in Hampton, Virginia—the
first settlement house for African Americans. By 1910,
about 400 settlement houses were operating in cities across
the country. The settlement houses helped cultivate social
responsibility toward the urban poor