Friday, August 26, 2005
A History Lesson
Did Progressives Destroy America?
From Daily Kos Blog
Fri Aug 26th, 2005 at 12:25:37 PDT
This seems to be a big question on the minds of conservatives these days. I challenge their romanticized version of an earlier time in America, one they have coated with a high gloss shellac, the pre-progressive era, the 1890's.
Photo archivist Otto Bettman collected and preserved thousand of visuals of the nineteenth century: children working long hours at dangerous industrial machinery, sick cows held up by straps for milking, pictures of shanty towns ridden with diseased children, raw sewage, and unemployed. He kept public service warnings from the 1800's warning against putrid milk, and epidemics spred by unsanitary food. Otto Bettman's book, "The Good Old Days-They were Terrible!" is my source fort his diary.
So, let's take a trip down memory lane, the way things used to be:
Adulteration of foodstuffs was problem and conventional practice in the 1880's. Alum, copper, and sulphur were often added to bread flour for preservatives. Coloring for candy was often toxic, sickening children and adults alike. "Bogus butter," a mixture of animal fats, calcium, or potatoes (whatever was on hand) was bleached and processed in disgusting conditions and repackaged by merchants and labeled as butter. Canneries operated under filthy conditions, and the process itself often was proven detrimental, through the use of chemicals added to preserve. Slop fed to cows often made the children sick.
Cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, Helena Montana, Leadville Colorado, generally suffered from putrid conditions. The air stank, refuse filled the streets, garbage and food refuse was dumped everywhere, the waste of humans and animals alike trickled through crowded streets. Unhygienic conditions on the streets were matched by interior conditions in workhouses, orphanages, factories, asylums, hospitals, and farmhouses. Life in the country did not proved an escape from unsanitary conditions; private wells were often contaminated by close proximity to barns, privies, and household refuse. Many homesteaders lived with farm animals in their homes during winter months.
Farm children found little time for school, the mind numbing work and drudgery of the farm leaving very little time for scholarly pursuits. The school year lasted barely twelve weeks. Attitudes of the farmers toward public school were not positive, indeed compliance meant less able farm hands. The "summer vacation" we are so familiar with is a concession made to farmers whose children were expected to work under gravest of conditions. Blacks in several states were by law, forbidden to enroll, and what colored schools were available came under assault through neglect or vandals. City schools were overcrowded, underfunded, dismal, dimly lit, unventilated, and places of rampant abuse and epidemic. In the cities, where many of the children worked long hours in the factories, as they crammed themselves into various crowded conditions, often slept their time in class. Education itself came in the form of memorization, children spending their days memorizing the spelling of words, facts, poems, or simple chastisements. Abuse was common, and children caught napping, or unable to perform tasks were often beaten or humiliated.
In the 1880's, about 40% of farmers were sharecroppers or tenant farmers. As owners mortgaged property and foreclosures took effect, many families would be put off the land. Refuse from animals and human alike polluted small lots owned by the majority of homesteaders. Diseases such as malaria and smallpox were rampant in the countryside, and country doctors were generally no more than charlatans and opportunists. Farm life was generally backbreaking, heartbreaking and subsistence. Stoves used to heat also caused smoky conditions inside, flies and mosquitoes were constant companions outside. Open-hearth fireplaces were dangerous, and women often suffered injuries and disfigurement doing the most basic of household chores.
Conditions on the farms were often tedious, backbreaking, and mind numbing, however the conditions of industry were often explicitly dangerous. Workers could be beaten, hours required were long, and pay was generally a pittance for work extracted by the worker. Workers were essentially a cog in the industrial wheel. Unventilated air exposed workers to coal dust, saw dust, steel shards, poisonous gasses, and high temperatures. Death and disability was common. In 1890, one of three railroad workers was injured, one in thirty killed. Safety equipment was unknown, and death of a worker was considered "his own bad luck." The garment industry offered squalid conditions in warehouses, or whole families were contracted to do piecework around the clock to simply pay rent. Children worked long hours, often sixteen hours a day, with little food, and dangerous conditions. Shanty towns were built atop slag heaps, often laborers and families lived in boxes, with rats and pests.The idea that women did not work is patently false. Pay for one male worker often was not enough to cover rent alone, much less food or clothing, and the majority of Americans, men, women and children worked day and night to survive. Children were oftened abandoned to the streets, to a life of exploitation and prostitution.
Bill Gates bought the Bettman Archives, now housed underground in Pennsylvania. It is imperative these documents are copied and brought into the public domain. The revisionist historians of the right can only do so if they accomplish the task of hiding our archives from public view. Please urge Bill Gates to bring the archives to the light of day.
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