1878-1899: Lifestyles, Social Trends, and Fashion: Chronology

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1878-1899: Lifestyles, Social Trends, and Fashion: Chronology




  • Native Americans continue their struggles against confinement on reservations.
  • The first American-made bicycle goes on the market. Bicycling becomes a fad. Cycling clubs hold parades and meets, and by 1882 there are some twenty thousand cyclists in the United States.
  • 10 Jan. Sen. Aaron A. Sargent (R-Cal.) introduces a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution on the floor of the U.S. Senate, where it is defeated by a vote of 34-16. The amendment is reintroduced in each succeeding Congress until it is finally ratified in 1920.
  • 28 Jan. The first commercial telephone exchange begins operation in New Haven, Connecticut. It serves twenty-one telephones.
  • 15 Oct. The first electric-power company, the Edison Electric Light Company, is formed to serve Fifth Avenue in New York City.


  • Fox hunting in the British manner is a popular recreational activity among the upper classes of Long Island, New England, the Philadelphia suburbs, Virginia, and Maryland.
  • The first system of public electric street lights is installed in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • The Boston Cooking School opens.
  • Frank W. Woolworth opens his first five-and-ten-cent store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. By 1895 he has a chain of twenty-eight stores and by 1911 more than one thousand.
  • 14 Jan. Chief Joseph, called the Indian Napoleon by the U.S. press, eloquently addresses cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats about the war with the Nez Percé and his peoples suffering. The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it, he admonishes.
  • 15 Feb. Female attorneys win the right to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • 7 May California adopts a new constitution, which includes a provision forbidding employment of Chinese laborers. Between 1850 and 1882 some three hundred thousand Chinese immigrate to the United States, settling mostly on the West Coast.


  • The 1880 census lists the U.S. population at 50,155,783. New York is the first state to reach a population of more than 5 million people.
  • Approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population is illiterate, a decrease of 3 percent since 1870.
  • Social critic Henry Georges Progress and Poverty, an analysis of urban life, becomes a best-seller.
  • Founded in Great Britain in 1865, the Salvation Army opens its first American branch in Philadelphia.
  • 1 Mar. The Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional to exclude African Americans from jury duty.
  • 31 Mar. Wabash, Indiana, becomes the first U.S. city to be entirely lighted by electricity.
  • 17 Nov. The United States and China sign the Chinese Exclusion Treaty, which gives the United States the right to limit or suspend the immigration of Chinese but not to exclude them entirely.


  • Suffragists and womens rights advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joselyn Gage publish the first two volumes of their History of Woman Suffrage.
  • The first central electric-power plant is constructed on Pearl Street in New York City.
  • 21 May Clara Barton founds an American branch of the International Red Cross, established in Europe in 1863, and serves as its president until 1904.


  • When a reporter for the Chicago Daily News asks William H. Vanderbilt, owner of the New York Central Railroad, whether he is operating his railroad for the good of the public or his stockholders, Vanderbilt responds, The public be damned! For many the phrase comes to typify the arrogance of the barons of industry during the so-called Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.
  • 2 Feb. The Reverend Michael Joseph McGivney founds the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal benefit society of Roman Catholic men, in New Haven, Connecticut. The group is chartered on 29 March.
  • 6 May Congress passes the first Exclusion Act, banning for ten years all further Chinese immigration, including immigrant workers wives, thus driving many of the Chinese living in western states to return to China.


  • Demorests magazine reminds its readers, Many a mans heart has been kept from wandering by the bow on his wifes slipper. During the 1880s, experts explain that a womans feminine appearance helps to tame a mans roaming eyes and baser passions.
  • 24 May The Brooklyn Bridge, connecting Manhattan and Long Island, is officially opened.
  • 4 July In North Platte, Nebraska, William Codys Buffalo Bills Wild West Show gives its first performance. A former buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, and army scout, Cody tours with the popular show in the United States and abroad. Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull, who has returned to Dakota country in 1883, travels for a time with the show.
  • 15 Oct. The Supreme Court overturns the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which forbade segregation or discrimination in public accommodations, ruling that the government can outlaw state-imposed discrimination but not that of individuals or private businesses.
  • 18 Nov. U.S. and Canadian railroads adopt a system of standard time zones to solve schedule problems caused by the unsystematic setting of local times.


  • Delegates at an international conference in Washington, D.C., establish a worldwide system of standard time zones with the prime meridian passing through the British Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.
  • In the United States some fifty thousand people own bicycles, and racing and touring clubs flourish in every major city.
  • A group of suffragists founds the National Equal Rights Party and nominates Mrs. Belva A. Lockwood of Washington, D.C., as its presidential candidate. The first woman to run for president, Lockwood is nominated again in 1888.
  • Anti-Catholicism figures in presidential politics as Protestants accuse Catholics of plotting against secular schooling. By 1880 the Catholic Church was the largest religious body in the United States, with more than 6 million communicants.
  • At the annual Knights of Labor convention the first Monday in September is designated as Labor Day. In the late 1880s several states make the day an official holiday, and in 1894 it becomes a legal holiday for federal employees.
  • 5 Aug. The cornerstone for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is laid on Bedloes Island (later Liberty Island) in New York Harbor.


  • In Our Country, an attack on immigration, Josiah Strong gives voice to the nativism that is on the rise across the United States.
  • 24 Jan. The New Orleans Exposition opens. A third larger that the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia in 1876, it is the largest worlds fair held in the United States, but it is later eclipsed by the still-larger Worlds Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.
  • 21 Feb. The Washington Monument is dedicated in Washington, D.C. It is opened to the public on 9 October 1888.
  • 25 Feb. Congress outlaws the fencing of public lands in the West to prevent special interests from expanding their holdings by restricting access to water sources.
  • 26 Feb. Under pressure from the Knights of Labor, which charges that American employers are bringing in foreign workers as strikebreakers, Congress passes the Contract Labor Act (also called the Foran Act), outlawing alien contract labor.
  • 3 Mar. The U.S. Post Office inaugurates special-delivery service.


  • Coca-Cola is introduced in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • 1 Jan. The first Tournament of Roses parade is held in Pasadena, California, organized by Char es Frederick Holder, a naturalist and the founder of the Valley Hunt Uub. Club members decorate their carriages with flowers for the parade, and a variety of athletic events round out the day.
  • 4 Sept. Geronimo of the Chiricahua Apaches surrenders at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, signaling the end of armed resistance in the American Southwest.
  • 28 Oct. President Grover Cleveland unveils and dedicates the Statue of Liberty.


  • The U.S. Postal Service begins free mail delivery in communities often thousand or more people.
  • The General Allotment Act, or Dawes Act, passes in Congress, dividing reservation lands into family parcels and allowing the sale of lands deemed surplus to non-Indians.
  • Congress passes the Hatch Act, which provides annual funding for the establishment and operation of an agricultural research and experimentational office in each state that has a land-grant college.
  • The American Protective Association, which becomes the largest anti-Catholic organization in the United States, is founded, consolidating a rising wave of nativism in the wake of massive immigration from southern Europe. At its height its membership reaches one hundred thousand.
  • Theodore Roosevelt calls for the formation of a Boone and Crockett Club to further the protection of American wildlife.


  • The electrified street railway is perfected in Richmond, Virginia, revolutionizing mass transportation within cities and to suburbs.
  • 12 Mar. Four hundred people die during a thirty-six-hour blizzard that shuts down New York City and its environs, destroys millions of dollars worth of property, and virtually cuts off the city from the outside world. Messages to Boston are relayed via London.


  • The Sons of the American Revolution, an exclusive society of white descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers, is founded. The Daughters of the American Revolution is formed the following year.
  • Americans smoke 2.1 billion cigarettes a year, a tenfold increase from 1881.
  • Frances Willard, president of the Womans Christian Temperance Union, publishes her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years.
  • Jane Addams founds Hull-House, a settlement house in a Chicago slum neighborhood.
  • The Singer Manufacturing Company becomes the first company to market an electric sewing machine in the United States.
  • 22 Apr. Thousands of people participate in the Oklahoma land rush to establish claims on 1.9 million acres of land that the federal government bought from the Creeks and Seminoles.
  • 31 May In Pennsylvania the rain-swollen Conemaugh River breaks through a dam above Johnstown, destroying four valley towns, covering Johnstown in thirty feet of water, and killing nearly twenty-three hundred people.


  • The 1890 U.S. Census puts the population of the United States at 62,947,714. Nearly 17 million people live west of the Mississippi, three times the U.S. population in 1803, the year the Louisiana Purchase made a large portion of that western land part of the United States.
  • About 13.3 percent of Americans are illiterate, a decrease of 3.7 percent since 1880.
  • Roughly twenty-three thousand children work in southern factories.
  • Journalist Jacob Riis educates the American public about life in urban slums in his groundbreaking book How the Other Half Lives.
  • Smoking cigarettes in public becomes socially acceptable for men during the 1890s, but it is still unacceptable for women.
  • The two-step becomes the most popular dance, replacing dances such as the polka, the galop, the reel, and the quadrille.
  • 10 Feb. About 11 million acres of Lakota land ceded to the United States in 1889 is opened for general settlement.
  • 15 Dec. Sitting Bull is shot and killed in a scuffle with tribal policemen who are trying to arrest him for leading the Ghost Dance movement, a religious revival founded on the belief that a deliverer from the spirit world will restore the Lakotas dominance over the plains and make them impervious to whites rifle bullets.
  • 29 Dec. More than three hundred Ghost Dancers led by Chief Big Foot are massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in western South Dakota.


  • In 1891 alone 560,319 immigrants arrive in the United States; more than 3.6 million arrive during the decade.
  • 16 Jan. The Lakotas surrender, ending the last American Indian war.
  • 22 Sept. Nine hundred thousand acres of Oklahoma land ceded to the federal government by the Sauk, Fox, and Potawatomi tribes are opened for general settlement.


  • The Chicago Tribune reports that mobs have lynched 241 African Americans in 1892 alone.
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett publishes Southern Horrors, her first separately published exposé of lynching in the American South.
  • The boll weevil arrives in Texas, probably from Mexico or Central America, and spreads throughout the South, causing severe damage to U.S. cotton crops.
  • The term The 400 comes into use as a description of the New York elite after social arbiter Ward McAllister is asked to shorten an invitations list to match the four-hundred-person capacity of the Astor ballroom and comments that there are only four hundred persons in New York society.
  • George W. G. Ferris designs the Ferris wheel and builds the first one for the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
  • 1 Jan. The federal government opens its immigrant receiving station on Ellis Island in New York Bay; it closes on 12 November 1954, after processing some 20 million immigrants.
  • 15 Oct. The 1.8-million-acre Crow Indian reservation in Montana is opened for general settlement.
  • 20-23 Oct. Dedication ceremonies are held for the Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago.


  • Frederick Jackson Turner delivers his famous speech on The Significance of the American Frontier to the American Historical Association.
  • Whitcomb L. Judson secures a patent for his zipper, a series of hooks and eyes fastened with a slider. The modern mesh-toothed zipper is patented in 1913.
  • 1 May The Worlds Columbian Exposition is opened to the public.
  • 24 Aug. A cyclone kills about one thousand people and causes major damage in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.
  • 16 Oct. More than one hundred thousand people take part in the Cherokee Strip land rush in Oklahoma, staking claims to 6 million acres of land that the federal government bought from the Cherokees.
  • 18 Oct. Lucy Stone, abolitionist and president of the American Woman Suffrage Association, dies at age seventy-five.
  • 7 Nov. Women are granted the vote in Colorado.


  • 8 Jan. A fire at the Worlds Columbian Exposition destroys several major buildings. A fire on 7 February virtually destroys another building, and a third, on 5 July, consumes many remaining buildings.
  • 27 Aug. Congress authorizes the first graduated income tax, which the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional in 1895.


  • Jane Addamss Hull-House Maps and Papers, a sociological report on the living conditions of the poor in Chicago, is published.
  • Ida B. Wells-Barnett publishes A Red Record, an exposé of three years of lynchings in the southern states.
  • Magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibsons depictions of slim, small-waisted women with pompadour hairstyles begin to have a major influence on womens fashions.
  • Womens bicycling skirts are shortened to one or two inches above the ankle.


  • The first of many bills to impose a literacy test on immigrants is introduced in the Congress. Such a test, wrote the congressional committee that recommended it, would shut out those classes of immigrants which . . . contribute most heavily to pauperism and crime and juvenile delinquents.
  • Fannie Farmer publishes The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which becomes popular nationwide because of Farmers no-nonsense approach to food preparation, including exact measurement of ingredients.
  • Bicycle manufacturing is a $60 million business in the United States.
  • 4 Jan. Utah becomes a state, with a constitution making it the second state to allow women to vote.
  • 18 May In its ruling on Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court establishes the separate but equal doctrine, which holds that segregation is legal if equal facilities are provided for both races.
  • 1 Oct. The U.S. Postal Service establishes rural free delivery.


  • Chief Joseph again travels to Washington, D.C., to complain about white encroachment on reservation lands. He then goes on to New York City, where he participates in the dedication of Grants Tomb and has a place of honor in the parade.
  • The Tremont Street subway opens in Boston. The first practical and successful underground railway line, it is completed in 1898 and runs for 1.8 miles. (The Boston subway system eventually extends to twenty-two miles.)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Martin of New York City host a lavish party, turning the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom into a replica of the Palace of Versailles. Mrs. Martin attends the ball dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots and wearing a necklace once owned by Marie Antoinette. Although conspicuous consumption has characterized the Gilded Age, the Martins spending is judged excessive even by those standards, and the Martins are the focus of so much disapproval in the press that they go to live in England.


  • Fannie Farmer publishes Chafing Dish Possibilities, another popular cookbook.
  • 18 Feb. Frances Willard, president of the Womans Christian Temperance Union, dies at age fifty-nine.


  • The movement to bring science into the American home adopts the name home economics.
  • Manhattan has 1,140 acres of parkland, mostly in Central Park. Social reformers nationwide are working to create parks and playgrounds that are accessible to all city dwellers.

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1878-1899: Lifestyles, Social Trends, and Fashion: Chronology

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1878-1899: Lifestyles, Social Trends, and Fashion: Chronology