The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 18 The Age of The City


Chapter 18 Main Themes:


  1. The social and economic lure of the city attracted both foreign and domestic migrations, and these newcomers adjusted to city life in ways that transformed their new urban homes.


  1. Rapid urban growth forced adaptations to severe problems of government mismanagement, poverty, crime, inadequate housing, and precarious health and safety conditions.


  1. The urban environment served as the locus for new philosophical ideas, expanded leisure opportunities, fresh approaches to education, rapid expansion in journalism, and a new consumerism.


  1. The new order of "high" urban culture inspired both serious writers and artists to render realistic portrayals of the seamy side of city life, while many middle- and upper-class Americans were engaging in expanded forms of leisure and entertainment.


A thorough study of Chapter 18 should enable the student to understand:


  • The patterns and processes of urbanization in late-nineteenth-century America.


  • The changes in the pattern of immigration in the late nineteenth century, and the native response to these changing patterns.


  • The new economic and social problems created by urbanization, and the technological responses to these problems.


  • The relationships of both urbanization and immigration to the rise of boss rule.


  • The early rise of mass consumption and its impact on American life and leisure.


  • The changes in leisure and entertainment and the growth of mass-culture opportunities including organized sports, vaudeville, movies, and other activities.


  • The impact of new mass communications technologies on the character of urban life.


  • The main trends in literature and art during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


  • The impact of the Darwinian theory of evolution on the intellectual life of America.


  • The profound new developments in American educational opportunities, particularly for women.





Blackface   Term for heavy makeup applied to whites (and even to blacks) to darken their skin to appear black in minstrel shows. Al Jolson, arguably the most famous minstrel singer of his time, was a white man who used blackface.


Dime Novels   Cheaply bound and widely-circulated books at the turn of the century. Dime novels became popular after the Civil War and frequently contained detective stories, tales of the "Wild West," sagas of scientific adventure, or novels of "moral uplift."


Immigrant Ghettoes   Close-knit ethnic neighborhood enclaves within cities.


Suburb   A residential area adjacent to, and dependent on, a city. In some cases, suburbs are absorbed into the city as it grows; in other instances, suburbs form their own municipal governments or draw services from county governments.


Tenement   Originally a term for any building in which multiple families resided, tenement eventually came to refer to the overpopulated slum housing available to new urban immigrants.


Triple Deckers   Term used to describe the cheap three-story wooden buildings available for immigrant housing at the turn of the century.


Urban   Unless otherwise specified, a Census Bureau term referring to any city or town with a population exceeding 2,500. The term must be used with care because this definition includes many places normally thought of as small towns. The "urban" developments described in this chapter occur mostly in big cities with populations exceeding 100,000.


Vaudeville   A form of theater adapted from the French and consisted of a variety of acts such as musicians, comedians, magicians, and jugglers. Vaudeville was the most popular urban entertainment of the early twentieth century.