Nineteenth Century Reform Term Paper

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Nineteenth Century Reform

The nineteenth century, particularly between 1825 and the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the United States was in a state of reform. There were five key reform movements that made themselves present in America in the nineteenth century. There was the Utopianism/

Communitarian Movement, which established an ideal society separate from present politics. Educational reforms were important in the creation of taxes to support the public school system, higher education for adults, as well as mandatory education and attendance. The Temperance Movement urged abstinence from alcohol and the Woman's Rights Movement was vital in the improvement of the life of women politically, socially, and economically. It also included the battle forged for women's suffrage rights. Humanitarianism was improving the lives of those less fortunate.

Reform in the nineteenth century was generated by secular communities, which arose in the mid 1800s. The primary goal of these communities was to establish a new social order in society. They were mainly religious and secular colonies, in which the entire population of the community shared property and work. They utilized idealistic theories as their model rather than radical doctrines. Very few of these communal societies lasted throughout the 1850s. Those that did were prosperous and well governed. The communal societies in the early nineteenth century based their colonies on the utopian and socialist ideas that had emerged earlier in Europe.

This new way of thinking was considered by some to be transcendental. This new and open way of thinking can be credited for much of the change in the reform period of the nineteenth century. "The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is, anything positive, dogmatic, personal." (Emerson, 1). The opening of minds to new ways of thinking helped pave the way for major changes.

The struggle for free public schools, the elimination of tuition, and the passing of state laws for tax-supporting public schools were in effect as of the mid 1800s. It was absolutely critical that educational systems were set up in all states, in order to keep up with the growing population. However, many obstacles prevented such reformers from achieving their goals right off the bat. Hurdles such as the control of the government and their overwhelming power; the opposition that property owners had for paying taxes for schools they were not attending; the disagreement of prominent public figures; and the competition with private schools. Nevertheless, fight would continue.

As labor groups made their demands for a public school system, the pressure being exerted by governmental, cultural, educational leaders, and humanitarians grew, as did the progress of education in Europe. The North already had a public elementary school system, but only New England had a tax-supporting school system. The Middle States had charity schools set up for the poor. The developing West school system was extremely inadequate. Most of the money that was to be used for improving the schools was mismanaged. Those families in the West that did chose to send their children to school were often discriminated for such book learning.

Labor unions fought against the charity schools in the Middle States because they saw them as a defective form of learning. Wishing to reform them, they pushed for tax-supporting schools, which was the origin of another problem. Wealthy landowners, who mostly sent their children to private schools, didn't want to pay taxes to public schools that they weren't patronizing. But in 1832, New York set up a public elementary school system that lessened the taint of charity.

By 1821, the Women's Educational Movement was underway. The first all female college, Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, was established in 1832 by Mary Lyon. Other female colleges were founded in the years to follow, such as Elmira Female College in 1855 and Vassar Female College in 1865 both located in New York. Co-ed colleges began with Oberlin Collegiate Institute, Ohio in 1833, Antioch College, Ohio in 1853, State University of Utah in 1850, State University of Iowa in 1855, and the State University of Washington in 1861.

By the year of 1833, there were one million citizens between the ages of five and fifteen who were not going to school. In 1852 Massachusetts was the first state to make attendance mandatory. By the year of 1860, compulsory education was present in every state. In fact, the population was so overwhelming that they weren't enough schools for everyone who wanted to gain an education. In 1850, there were about 1 million white adult illiterates in the U.S. This started the Common School revival where thousands of new schools opened.


Alcoholism in the 1800s was viewed as a major social problem. The Temperance Movement's goal was to preach about the moderation of liquors. Societies first wished to gain personal pledges from people for moderation; they then pushed for abstinence, and eventually prohibition by law. The movement at first was only for the moderation of distilled spirits, but after 1836, it included all alcohol. The Temperance Movement also turned into a prohibition movement, as states wanted legislation to stop the sale of alcohol entirely. Mostly women who suffered the effects of their drunken husbands led this movement, but factory owners who suffered huge absentee lists on Mondays also supported it. The church also participated in the movement because they felt that drinking on Sundays was a violation of the Sabbath.

In 1848, at a time when well-educated or independent-minded women were still regarded as unnatural, reform was on the brink. The traditional view of women was soon challenged, and women found jobs in factories during the Industrial Revolution, and participated equally with men in Abolition and Temperance Movements. Women were especially important on the frontier. Many women came over from Europe as indentured servants, either willingly or unwillingly. Some took control of finances, the home, land, or even businesses after the death of their husbands. Some women even challenged the views of men in the church, such as Anne Hutchinson, and some were even put to death for witchcraft. Despite the traditional status of women, it was obvious that it had drastically changed during the 1800s. They spoke out against slavery, alcoholism, and female abuse. They set up their own schools in the early 1800s. Most of these radical women were harassed for such behavior. Women although, were so inferior to men they would do anything to get the rights they deserved on property, education, and suffrage. The Seneca Falls Convention was an effort to reform New York's laws for women, but soon it became nationwide. In 1839, Mississippi allowed women to hold property. In 1849, New York, Pennsylvania, and Indiana followed the lead of Mississippi, as well as California and Wisconsin in 1850. The New York Law however in 1849, stated that a woman could hold and control her own property at anytime, and at anytime she would not be associated with her husbands debts. Her husband though still had control of her earnings. This law was mainly directed to the wealthy.

Not only was the movement of Humanitarianism a movement to reform poorhouses and insane asylums, but it also included the Abolition Movement, the idea of doing away with slavery. Between 1824 and 1833 abolition became a prominent force in the anti-slavery movement. Abolitionists were sparked by the revivalism in New York City in 1824 and by success of the British with their anti-slavery movement in 1833. The main goals of the abolitionists were to free the black slaves and to educate them. The North had already done away with slavery after the Revolutionary War, mostly because of their moral and humanitarian reasons.

The biggest steps toward human rights of blacks were the 13th 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The 13th amendment made all blacks citizens of the United States. The 14th amendment granted them equal protection under the law. The 15th amendment gave black citizens the right to vote (U.S. Constitution, 1). These amendments paved the way for human rights of blacks by giving them the same rights as all Americans.

After 1833 abolition efforts flooded the entire nation. Lectures and sermons took place in churches, while newspapers printed articles written by many of the famous literary reformists. There were those, such as George Fitzghugh, who tried to rationalize slavery. "How slavery could degrade men lower than universal liberty has done, it is hard to conceive; how it did and would again preserve them from such degradation, is well explained by those who are loudest in its abuse. A consciousness of security, a full comprehension of his position, and a confidence in that position, and the absence of all corroding…

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