Chapter 18 The Struggle for a Better Life

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Chapter 18

The Struggle for a Better Life

---This engraving is from a news magazine. It shows immigrants arriving in New York in the late 1890s.

In the 1800s, millions of immigrants came to the United States. They hoped to find a better life in the new land. Some of them settled in the West. But most of them came to the cities.

Americans from farms and villages also came to the cities, looking for jobs and a better life. The rapid growth of cities and industries brought new problems. Americans began to work to correct those problems.

  • How did most new immigrants live and work in America?

  • What problems developed for people in the cities?

  • How did reformers work to improve the lives of Americans?

Key Words

You will be using these words in this chapter. Look them up in the glossary at the back of Part 2.



labor union

A Nation of Immigrants

From the very beginning, the United States has been a nation of immigrants. Since the founding of the first colonies, people have left their homelands to immigrate to America. They come from all over the world, from many different ethnic backgrounds.

Immigrants Search for a Better Life

In the 1800s, life was not easy in Europe or in Asia. War, famine, drought, and poverty made life difficult for millions of people. Many were hungry and homeless.

The governments of many countries were cruel and harsh. For example, some European governments passed laws to segregate Jews. Those laws forced them to live in certain neighborhoods only, apart from others. They were denied the rights that others had.

In many countries, people were put in prison, tortured, or murdered because of their political beliefs.

Millions of people left Europe and Asia to seek a better life in the United States. Some came looking for land or jobs. Many came to find political or religious freedom.

During the 1840s, a large wave of immigrants arrived on America's east coast. They came mostly from northern and western Europe, from countries such as Ireland, England, France, Germany, and Sweden. They settled on farms in the Mississippi Valley. They also settled in the cities of the North.

On the west coast, thousands of immigrants arrived from China. The Chinese worked in the mining camps of California and laid down tracks for western railroads.


---Emma Lazarus was the daughter of a Jewish immigrant. She worked to improve the lives of immigrants. In 1883, she wrote a poem about the Statue of Liberty. The words below are from that poem. They are engraved on a plaque at the base of the statue.

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse from your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

A New Wave of Immigrants

Beginning in the 1870s, a second large wave of immigrants arrived in the United States. Many of them came from southern and eastern Europe.

The largest group of new immigrants came from Italy. The next largest group were Jews from eastern Europe, most of whom had fled from Russia to find religious freedom and jobs. The third largest group were Slavs from Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Bohemia. Other immigrants came from Greece, Portugal, Armenia, Turkey, Mexico, China, and Japan.

Leaving Home for America

To get to America, the immigrants crossed the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean on crowded steamships. Many came the cheapest way possible, as steerage passengers. Steerage passengers stayed in areas near the engines and the rudders of the ships.

Most Europeans entered the United States through Ellis Island, the port of entry in New York harbor. Asians entered through Angel Island, the port of entry in San Francisco Bay.

In 1886, the Statue of Liberty was raised in New York harbor. The statue became a symbol to arriving immigrants. It stood for the promise of a new land and a new beginning.

Starting a New Life as Americans

The new immigrants settled mainly in the cities. Most of them were very poor. They crowded into city slums run down and overcrowded areas and took whatever jobs they could get. They worked for long hours and low pay.

The immigrants worked in steel mills, laid railroad track, dug coal in mines, sewed clothes, cleaned streets, and worked in slaughterhouses, stockyards, textile mills, and factories. They helped build up America's industries.

Looking Back

1. Why did millions of people leave Europe and Asia in the 1800s?

2. What were immigrants to the United States looking for?

3. What hardships did immigrants face on the voyage to America?

4. What jobs did new immigrants find in America?


---In the 1800s, children worked alongside adults in factories. This photograph shows a young worker in a textile factory.

Workers Fight for Better Lives

Before 1800, most Americans worked for themselves. They were farmers, or they ran small businesses such as a store or a carpenter's shop. They might hire a few people who worked for wages.

When industries developed, ways of making a living changed. Most people no longer worked for themselves or for small businesses. Instead, they made their living by working for large corporations. They worked for wages in huge mills, canneries, and factories.

A Hard Way to Make a Living

Most industries paid wages that were very low. So, working for wages was a difficult way for people to make a living. In order to survive, everyone in a family went to work, including very young children. Even when every member of the family worked, many families had barely enough to live on.

During economic depressions, many businesses lost money. The owners of those businesses would then lay off some of their workers. Workers who were not laid off were given less pay than before.

Workers could not be sure of keeping their jobs even when business was good. Manufacturers laid off workers when their companies had made enough of certain products. Sometimes, workers were hired for only short periods of time.

Bad Working Conditions

Many factories and mills were kept running day and night. Hundreds or thousands of people worked each shift set of work hours. Most of the work was done with machines. Workers were expected to work faster and faster. Men, women, and children worked 10 to 13 hours a day, six days a week.

Working conditions were unhealthy and unsafe. Factories were cold in the winter and hot in summer. They did not have enough light. Often, the machines used were dangerous. Many workers were injured or killed in accidents.

The Rise of Labor Unions

Workers usually took whatever the owners of a company offered. Workers could not ask for higher pay, shorter working hours, or safer working conditions. If the workers thought they were treated unfairly, they often were afraid to complain. Workers who complained were usually fired.

Workers began to realize that they needed to join together. Alone, they had no power against company owners. But together they could refuse to work go on strike until the owners gave them what they asked for. They began to form workers' organizations. Those organizations were the first American labor unions.

In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed. A federation is an organization of groups that join together to support each other. The AFL was an organization of unions. The workers in each union did the same kind of work. For example, plumbers were in one union. Printers were in another. And iron and steel workers were in another.


Collective Bargaining

The AFL tried to get what workers wanted through collective bargaining.

Here is an example of collective bargaining: Suppose that workers at a company want higher pay. They all belong to a union. People who represent that union and people who represent the company meet together. The union representatives tell the company how much pay the workers want. The company representatives say how much the company is willing to pay.

If the two sides do not agree, they bargain. Each side tries to get the best deal it can. But the two sides also try to reach a compromise. To do that, the union might agree to accept less than it asked for. And the company might agree to pay more than it first said it would.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the workers may decide to strike. In that case, they will not work until the company reaches an agreement with them.

Companies Fight the Unions

In the 1880s and 1890s, unions went on hundreds of strikes. The companies fought to break defeat the unions. In most cases, the companies won over the strikers by hiring strikebreakers non union workers to do the jobs of the striking workers. Or companies waited out strikes. When strikers ran out of money, they had to go back to work.

Some strikes were violent. Battles broke out between strikebreakers and striking workers. Companies hired guards or called in state or federal troops who fought the strikers. Many people were injured or killed in the fighting.

The Homestead Strike

One of the most violent strikes was at the Carnegie steel plant factory in Homestead, Pennsylvania. In 1892, the company cut the wages of the workers at the plant. The iron and steel workers' union planned a strike against the company.

The company hired strikebreakers. A wire fence was put up around the plant to keep out the strikers. Then 300 guards were hired to protect the strikebreakers and the plant.

The guards were brought to the plant in the middle of the night. But the workers found out they were coming. The furious workers met the guards and a violent battle broke out. Sixteen people were killed.

The Pennsylvania National Guard then surrounded the plant and arrested strikers. The strike continued for over four months. It ended when the strikers ran out of money. The company took back some of the workers. But it refused to hire back strikers who belonged to the iron and steel union. The union was broken.

The defeat of the union at Homestead made it difficult for unions in the years ahead. It took more than 20 years for unions to become strong.

Looking Back

l. How did the growth of industries change the way people made a living?

2. What was factory work like in the 1800s?

3. How did workers try to improve their wages and working conditions?

4. How did companies fight the unions?


Problems in American Government and Life

As industry grew in America, serious problems also grew. The owners of industry became rich and powerful. They used their wealth to bribe corrupt government leaders. At the same time, many Americans, especially workers in the cities, were living in poverty.

Corruption in Government

Corruption was a problem in state and federal government after the Civil War. It continued after reconstruction was over.

Most city and state governments of the mid-1800s were controlled by a few powerful politicians. They used illegal business deals to make money. For example, New York City was controlled by William Boss Tweed. Through bribery and threats, Tweed and his supporters the Tweed Ring gained control of the city government. Money that was voted to build hospitals and to help the poor went instead to make the Tweed Ring rich.

In the federal government, the spoils system led to more corruption. That was the system of giving public jobs as political rewards. After a presidential election, most workers in federal jobs were fired. The new President then appointed friends, relatives, and party supporters to those jobs.

Most people appointed through the spoils system did not have the training to do their jobs. And some were dishonest. They used their jobs to become rich.

Business Leaders Control American Life

Corruption in business was also a problem. Big businesses owned most of the country's wealth. Their leaders used money to bribe or pressure government officials. In that way, big business could control what laws were passed.

Businesses were beginning to control American life. They gained monopolies on products that were necessary for living and then set high prices for those products. The cost of living rose. Some Americans could no longer buy the things they needed.

Businesses were polluting air and rivers with wastes from factories and mills. They also continued to pay low wages to the workers whose long hours of hard work made the business leaders rich.

Cities' Problems Grow

Problems in cities became worse. Roads, sewers, and buildings needed improvement. Drinking water was not safe. Crime increased-especially in the poor areas.

Poor areas of the cities had the most problems. Tenements there were fire hazards. They had no heat or running water, they were overcrowded, and they were infested by rats.

There was no public health care system, so many children in poor areas of the cities were sickly. A study done in Chicago found that more than half the babies in one area died before they were a year old.

Many of the children who did survive left school as soon as they were old enough to work. Sometimes, children as young as five years of age were put to work to help support their family. They had no chance to receive an education, so they had no hope of ever getting a job that paid well. They faced a lifetime of hard work and poverty.

Looking Back

1. How were government and business corrupt?

2. What was the spoils system?

3. What problems did cities face in industrial America?


---In the 1800s, many poor families lived in city slums. The family here lived in this one room.

Reformers Work to Solve Problems

Reformers had seen problems in America and had been working to solve them since the early 1800s. Near the end of the 1800s, groups of government and social reformers began to work together. Those reformers believed that progress changes to improve life could be made. They were called progressives for that reason.

Social Reforms Improve People's Lives

Some reformers worked for social reform. They helped the poor by working on such social problems as poverty and lack of health care. Social reformers worked to get city governments to clean up slums and improve housing. They also worked to improve life for city children.

Jane Addams was a leader of social reform. She moved into a Chicago slum. There, she opened a settlement house in 1889 called Hull House. A settlement house is a community center. It offers many kinds of free services. Hull House workers took care of children so that mothers could work. Hull House teachers gave classes in English and health. And there was free medical care.

By 1900, there were over 100 settlement houses like Hull House in poor city neighborhoods.

Political Reforms Control Corruption

Progressives believed that one way to improve government was to give the people more of a voice in running it. The people could then get rid of corrupt officials and keep them out of office.

Progressives worked for political reforms such as the recall, primary election, and initiative.

The recall is a special election in which people can vote to remove an official from office. For example, if people decide their mayor is harming the city, they can vote to remove him or her.

In a primary election, people in each political party vote for the candidates who will run for government offices. Party leaders used to make those choices.

An initiative is a suggestion for a state law that comes from the people, instead of the state legislature. People vote on the initiative in an election. If the majority vote for it, the initiative becomes law.

Reforms in the Federal Government

In 1881, the new President, James Garfield, was assassinated. He was killed by a man who had not been given a job through the spoils system. Chester Arthur, who then became President, and Congress worked to bring about reforms.

They passed the Civil Service Act of 1883. That Act created the civil service system. Under that system, people who want government jobs must pass tests to prove they can do the jobs. Once hired, they are not let go after elections.

Looking Back

1. What did social reformers do to improve people's lives?

2. How did progressives reform government?

3. How did the civil service system help control the spoils system?


The Right to VoteĀ­ Progress and Problems

Some reformers saw problems in America involving the right to vote. The reformers tried to solve those problems. Reformers worked to make sure there were voting rights for two groups of Americans: women and Blacks.

Women Fight for the Right to Vote

Women had first demanded the right to vote in the 1840s. But those women had little support. At that time, most people believed that a woman's place was at home. They believed that women understood little about life outside the home-in the "man's world" of politics, government, and business.

Some women did not accept that view, and they continued to fight for the right to vote. After the Civil War, some women began to organize a women's suffrage movement. Suffrage means vote. Those suffragettes organized in every state.

Some States Give Women the Vote

The suffragettes' early victories were in the West. In 1870, Wyoming became first to give all women the right to vote. By 1900, women were voting in Idaho, Utah, and Colorado as well.

Suffragettes Fight for a Voting Amendment

By 1910, suffragettes such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul were pressuring Congress. They wanted an amendment added to the Constitution to give women the right to vote throughout the country. Women marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., and spoke again and again with members of Congress. But women would have to wait ten more years before winning their goal.

Some Blacks Lose the Right to Vote

The Fifteenth Amendment gave Blacks the right to vote in 1870. But in the 1890s, southern states found ways to keep Blacks from voting.

Some states began to force Blacks to pass a literacy test before voting. A literacy test proves whether or not a person can read. Many Blacks had never learned to read, so they failed the test.

Some states charged a poll tax a fee that a person must pay before voting. Most Blacks in the South were poor. They could not afford to pay the poll tax.

Blacks Are Segregated

Southern states also passed laws to segregate Blacks from Whites. For example, Blacks were not allowed to mix with Whites on railroad cars. Blacks could not go into restaurants or theaters used by Whites. Blacks and Whites had separate schools, parks, prisons, and graveyards.

The NAACP Is Organized

Reformers of both races were outraged by the attempts to control Blacks and take away their voting rights. They began to fight to restore freedom and rights for Blacks.

In 1909, W.E.B. Du Bois, a Black historian and educator, helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP. The group began a fight for civil rights reforms-a fight that has continued into the present.

Looking Back

1. How did suffragettes work for women's right to vote?

2. How did southern states keep Blacks from voting?

3. What is the NAACP?


Chapter 18


Facts First

Complete each sentence, by choosing the correct ending.

1. During the 1800s, the United States

a. did not allow immigrants into the nation.

b. received millions of immigrants.

c. allowed only immigrants from Europe.

2. To reach America, immigrants often

a. traveled on crowded steamships.

b. paid a lot to travel in comfort.

c. flew by airplane.

3. Most immigrants settled

a. on farms.

b. in small towns


4. Most immigrants worked

a. on farms.

b. in mines, factories, and mills.

c. at easy jobs that paid a lot of money.

5. To improve their working conditions, workers

a. went on strikes and joined labor unions.

b. opened their own businesses.

c. went to work on farms.

6. Their pay and working conditions made immigrants

a. rich and comfortable.

b. poor, sickly, and overworked.

c. well educated and well paid.

7. Progressives were people who

a. worked to improve life in America.

b. fought against social reform.

c. got rich from corruption in government.

8. Suffragettes were women

a. who suffered from poverty.

b. who worked for women's voting rights.

c. who became strikebreakers.

Word Check

Write the meanings of these words. Then use them in sentences.



labor union


Skill Builder

Find out about one of the reformers below. Then report what you learned.

Jane Addams

Robert La Follette, Sr.

Carrie Chapman Catt

Jacob Riis

W.E.B. Du Bois

Upton Sinclair

Samuel Gompers

Lincoln Steffens

Chapter 18 Notes

Read over the chapter. Find answers to these questions:

1. Describe the life of an immigrant in an American city of the late 1800s.

2. How did collective bargaining sometimes help factory and mill workers?

3. Explain each of these reforms:

a. recall

b. primary election

c. initiative

4. How did some states try to keep Blacks separate from Whites?

Be a Historian

Interview someone who belongs to a union. Teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and factory workers often belong to unions. Ask that person these questions:

1. What union do you belong to?

2. What kinds of workers belong to your union?

3. What do you like about being a union member?


Unit 6

What Do You Know?

Use words below to complete each sentence.



Great Plains




labor unions




1. Thousands of settlers were carried west by during the late 1800s.

2. Many western grew up along the railroads.

3. Farming on the became possible because of inventions such as the steel plow.

4. Plains Indians were forced to move onto .

5. New kinds of , such as the automobile, changed the way Americans traveled.

6. Some companies formed trusts to try to end .

7. Millions of from Europe and Asia came to America seeking a better life.

8. Workers formed to fight for better pay and working conditions. 9. People who worked to end corruption in government were called

10. Suffragettes helped women win the right to .

What Do You Think?

Poverty is still a serious problem in America today. The government spends millions of tax dollars to help the poor lead better lives. Some people argue that the government is doing too much to help the poor. They believe the poor should do more to help themselves. What do you think?

Skill Builder

Between 1867 and 1912, 12 states entered the Union. Those states are listed below. Abbreviations are shown after their names.

Make a map of the United States showing those states. Write the name or abbreviation of each state on the map. Also write the year each state entered the Union.

  • Nebraska (NE) 1867

  • Idaho (ID) 1890

  • Colorado (CO) 1876

  • Wyoming (WY) 1890

  • North Dakota (ND) 1889

  • Utah (UT) 1896

  • South Dakota (SD) 1889

  • Oklahoma (OK) 1907

  • Montana (MT) 1889

  • New Mexico (NM) 1912

  • Washington (WA) 1889

  • Arizona (AZ) 1912

Unit 6 Notes

Look over the unit to find answers to these questions:

1. How were railroads important to the settlers and towns of the American West?

2. What made it possible for settlers to farm the Great Plains?

3. How did inventions like the electric light, telephone, and automobile change America?

4. Explain each of these big business terms:

a. corporation

b. monopoly

c. trust

5. Why did labor unions develop? How did they use collective bargaining?

6. How did reformers improve government and make it more democratic?

Word Builder

Write a story about someone who came to America as an immigrant in the 1800s. Use as many of these key words as you can.

Key Words


labor union






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