1.2: Visions of Social Structure

Guiding Question: Using the evidence found in the documents linked below, what could historians learn about cultural attitudes about class, work, and social obligation in the late 19th century?

In particular, what do each suggest as answers to questions such as: Is it good or bad to be wealthy?  Does a rich person owe anything to society in general? Should the government do anything about wealth? poverty?  How does one “get ahead” in the U.S. in the Gilded Age?  What moral obligations, if any, go with possessing wealth?  Is there a role for church in the lives of the rich? the poor?

Before class:

READ Each person will read at least two documents.  Your team is responsible for assigning  the readings to ensure that each document has multiple readers.  Use Canvas/Group to email your team.

BRING A Completed HARD COPY TO CLASS.  Print this document, 1.2 homework template, and fill in information that pertains to your two readings. You will find that your reading will make more sense if you do a brief search to find out who the author is.   Bring your completed copy to class, ready to turn in.  

REPORT Prepare to report to your team on the documents you read.


a. Eugene Debs, “What Can We Do For Working People?” Unsigned article attributed to Debs, published in Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine (Terre Haute, IN), 14 (April 1890): 291-293.

b. William Graham Sumner, What Social Classes Owe Each Other, 1883, excerpt.

c. Andrew Carnegie,  “Wealth,” North American Review, 148 (June 1889): 653-665, excerpt.

d. Russell Conwell, “Acres of Diamonds,” speech given “over 5000 times at various times and places from 1900-1925” (American Rhetoric), excerpt.

e. Thorstein Veblen, Theory of the Leisure Class ,excerpt. (It may be helpful to know that Veblen was often bitingly sarcastic—and used big words. Look them up.)

f.  Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives,, excerpt, 1890. 


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