Past and Present
Edited By Marcin Grabowski, Krystof Kozák and György Tóth
The Wealth that Divided the Nation: Educational Uplift in the Farmers’ Movement of Gilded Age America
“Equal opportunities for all, special privileges for none.”
Based on the Jacksonian ideal of democracy, this credo first appeared in the Gilded Age, when it splendidly captured the spirit of an era in which the America of Tocqueville’s “general equality of conditions”1 was being replaced by “a nation of tramps and millionaires.”2 In the Gilded Age, the United States became more urbanized and industrialized and distribution of wealth in American society became more unequal than ever before. The new economic prosperity divided the nation and ignited a farmers’ movement that sought to uplift the countryside through education. As the San Francisco Call wrote in 1902, “A farm is a profitable investment when managed with industry, skill and intelligence, but a shiftless, improvident and unskillful man will not succeed at farming any better than he will succeed at other crafts.”3 This observation summarized the challenge that the American agricultural population was facing since the end of the Civil War. It was education.
Drawing on scholarly journals and monographs, in this article I will contend that the approach to education of the Grange and the Farmers’ Alliance, two major agricultural organizations, was very modern and efficient. They considered education as the most potent instrument that would eventually help to resolve the wealth gap problem in the United States. The most useful sources for my article were the publications of Charles Postel, James Ferguson, Theodore Mitchell, and Lawrence Goodwyn as all of them stressed...
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