Between contested elections and global crises, seemingly every political issue today is seen as a “threat to our democracy.” But despite the general consensus on the desirability of democracy in the West, this system of the people and by the people has not been without its detractors. A century ago, the Russian-born anarchist, Emma Goldman (1869-1940), was the embodiment of a threat to American democracy. Her motto was “Death to Tyranny! Vive l’Anarchie!” As an anarchist, Goldman was against all forms of political authority, and for this she drew the ire not only of the American government, but of her native Russia as well.
As scholars who have long been immersed in this pivotal period, we were excited to learn of the lavishly produced HBO series The Gilded Age. With the exception of the fabulously successful feature film Titanic in 1997, ours is a historical period that is often overlooked in popular culture. So we were delighted when The Gilded Age generated advance reviews in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Washington Post. We hoped it would bring attention to the period we find so important in our history, especially for the light it can shed on present day problems and issues—both how they were created and how they might be remedied.
Elisabeth Israels Perry never met her paternal grandmother, Belle Linder Israels Moskowitz, who died in 1933 after complications from an accident. Getting to know her as both a family member and a historian proved complicated, since Moskowitz kept incomplete records of her life and her son disposed of most of what was left after she passed away. But Moskowitz was so central to public life in New York (city and state) and so important to the national Democratic Party during the early twentieth century that once Perry decided to write a biography of her grandmother, she found her everywhere.
With centennials in 2019 and 2020 approaching, scholars are working to present the suffrage movement and its legacy in new ways. To date, most studies focus on national or state leaders who directed major organizations or accomplished well-known achievements. They often overlook local activism and less publicized campaigns that broadened the suffrage movement’s support base among ordinary Americans in cities and towns, particularly activism to interest the working class, a growing segment of the population whose endorsement was important to making the campaign less marginal and more mainstream.
Jeffrey Ostler once stated that the contentious field of Populist studies was, “one of the bloodiest episodes in American historiography.” The historiographical debate over Populism is, to say the least, long and nuanced. Historians as different as Richard Hofstadter, Walter Nugent, Lawrence Goodwyn, Elizabeth Sanders, Michael Kazin, John Judis, Jan-Werner Muller, Charles Postel, and Omar H. Ali (to name just a few) have all found different ways to interpret Populist movement of the nineteenth century and populism more generally. Yet what is particularly fascinating about the subject of Populism is that despite this considerable amount of scholarship, historians disagree over the most basic definitions and characterizations of Populism.
historians. So when I came across a story of divorce and abandonment involving economist George Gunton, one of my research subjects, my work received some personal background that I didn’t expect. In piecing together newspaper reports and letters that George’s wife Amelia sent to Columbia University professor Edwin Seligman, I found out that Gunton had been illegally married to two women at the same time, deserting Amelia and leaving her nearly destitute.
At every turn, the traveling circus in the United States was an exercise in hyperbole and spectacle; the Barnum & Bailey circus did, after all, refer to itself as the “Greatest Show on Earth!” To Americans, spectacle and power were nearly synonymous, and the circus was an incomparable experience and a force to be reckoned with. The circus, through methods sometimes as simple as using opera chairs, came to serve as a symbol of the United States’ industrial prowess and ever-growing significance on the world stage.