Skip to content


Choose a Chapter | Purchase the eBook

1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Emergence of Urban America
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

The Emergence of Urban America - Document Overview

» Return to Document Reader
» Worksheet

During the second half of the nineteenth century, two revolutions—the scientific and the urban-industrial—transformed social and intellectual life. The prestige of science increased enormously as researchers announced a dazzling array of new discoveries. Remarkable new technological developments—the telegraph, railroad, and electric dynamos and lights—and spectacular achievements in industrial engineering such as the Brooklyn Bridge and majestic skyscrapers provided conspicuous physical evidence of the transforming effects of science.

Modern scientists opened up a gulf of doubt about many inherited truths and spiritual convictions. When the English biologist Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the New York Times reported that the book contained "arguments and inferences so revolutionary" that they promised "a radical reconstruction of the fundamental doctrines of natural history." Darwin's provocative thesis argued that the "modification" of species occurred through ceaseless process of "natural selection." This challenged the biblical story of all animal species originating in an act of divine creation that forever fixed their forms. In Darwin's world, new species were not "special creations" of God; they emerged randomly from the struggle for existence. Natural selection, he implied, was arbitrary, capricious, and devoid of ultimate meaning—a long, gradual process of intense competition and hereditary development without divine plan or purpose.

Darwin's concept of evolutionary change challenged established beliefs about nature and about providential design and life processes. "If this be truth," growled one college president, "let me live in ignorance." As time passed, however, more and more people accepted many aspects of evolutionary naturalism. "This scientific current," a writer in the North American Review concluded, "is moving more or less all schools of thought." Sociologists such as William Graham Sumner promoted what came to be called Social Darwinism, arguing that just as "survival of the fittest" was the balancing mechanism in the natural world, so, too, should unfettered competition and free enterprise determine the fate of human society.

While Darwinism and modern science were overturning intellectual life, an ever-accelerating urban-industrial revolution was transforming social life. In 1860 there were but sixteen cities with populations over 50,000; in 1910 there were well over eighty. Between 1870 and 1920 almost 11 million Americans left farms and rural villages for the cities, and even more urban newcomers arrived from abroad. Wave after wave of foreigners flowed into American cities, and the immigrants tended to come from eastern and southern Europe and Asia rather than Britain and western Europe. This so-called new immigration generated ethnic and religious tensions that prompted efforts to restrict the flow of "strange" newcomers.

By the end of the nineteenth century, American commentators were expressing concerns not only about the influx of "aliens," but also about the debilitating effects of rapid urban development and rising prosperity. The industrial revolution had brought spreading material comforts, yet it also fostered moral complacency and even "decadence." Many observers feared that city-dwelling men, who now worked in offices rather than on farms, were losing their virility. As "the rich become effeminate, weak, and immoral," a prominent doctor claimed, the "lower classes, taking advantage of this moral lassitude, and led by their savage inclinations, undertake strikes, boycotts and riots." Another concerned observer claimed that most middle-class businessmen "have bodies that disgrace them. Everywhere you see fat, clumsy, unsightly bodies; stooped, flabby, feeble bodies."

Theodore Roosevelt shared such anxieties and led a national movement promoting a "strenuous life" for Americans in an effort to revive masculine virtues. He and others touted vigorous exercise and combative sports as an especially powerful antidote to urban ills. "Physical exercise," declared the publisher of Physical Culture Magazine, "is destined to effect the regeneration of the Caucasian race." Through athletic participation, another sports advocate insisted, young men develop "all the 'manly' attributes—glorious strength and skill and endurance."

Football became an especially popular instrument of revived manhood. The novelist Willa Cather observed that intercollegiate athletics were "the one resisting force that curbs the growing tendencies toward effeminacy" among young American men. Football, she added, was especially rejuvenating because it "is a game of blood and muscle and fresh air." By the end of the nineteenth century, virtually all high schools and colleges sponsored football teams.


Section Menu

Organize

Learn

Connect

Multimedia

Norton Gradebook

Instructors now have an easy way to collect students’ online quizzes with the Norton Gradebook without flooding their inboxes with e-mails.

Students can track their online quiz scores by setting up their own Student Gradebook.