History:the Gilded Age/early Progressive Era.

Quick overview:

  1. This assignment is designed to have you apply knowledge of the Gilded Age/early Progressive Era
  2. This assignment involves some research into a (fictional) family and putting yourself in their shoes by applying real historical knowledge.

The Premise: The year is 1903 and you are a member of a family living in America. You will write a family letter to a relative you have not seen in about 20-25 years.  Your letter writer will catch their family member up with the major events of the family’s lives as they relate to major historical changes the US has gone through since that time.

Starting the Project. Please review the Writing Project Rubric associated with this assignment (listed under “Rubrics” on the class D2L page.

Select one of the fictional families listed at the end of this document. Research similar people from that time period. Use the details I provided below to develop a more complete biography of the family that informs the letter you are writing. Feel free to include reasonable and accurate details that will make your paper interesting.

I recommend that you use the reference librarians in Walker Library to help you find good information. A concerted, planned research effort is much better than just typing a phrase into Google. Keep track of sources you use for the bibliography/works cited page. Please use more than just the textbook! Please use reliable historical sources and not the first thing that comes up on a Google search.

Completing the Project. Take the information you’ve gathered and begin drafting the letter. Your final letter should be 1,000-1500 words long and tell the story from that person/family’s perspective. They don’t need to know everything; they will write what is relevant to them and their experiences and observations. Avoid trying to “laundry list” events. Focus on key events/themes relevant to that family. For instance, a family living in a major American city would likely comment on factories and urban living; a rural family more on crops and farming.

The last section of your letter should begin, “We think our experiences are/are not different from most Americans because…”

On the page after your submission, and before the works cited/bibliography page, Write a one-paragraph explanation of what made a family like the one you chose interesting to you as you researched it. What unique things about US history does this family’s experience tell us?  This is not part of the assignment word count.


Key to Doing Well

You will do well on this assignment if you address the major elements of historical understanding that we have been talking about. Show what has changed over time and how the historical events you describe are significant.

Final Notes

  • Your family does not have to be rich or incredibly successful. Write realistically.
  • Although your letter writer would not use citations, and may not have perfect writing/spelling skills, as an MTSU student you will!
  • Although your letter write would not have a bibliography/works cited page with their letter, as an MTSU student you will!

Families to Select From                                                            

Alexanders, William and Cordelia, are a black family (their family tree includes mixed-race and former slaves) from Boston. Both are in their mid/late 40s, born and raised in Boston. Clifford is a school principal; Adele was a teacher before they married. They were able to give their children, ages ranging from pre-teen to young adult, a decent education. They are avid followers of Booker T. Washington’s teachings, though their children have started reading WEB DuBois’s writings on race.

Bambridge family born and raised outside of Chicago, Illinois. The father, David (age 45), is a clerk for a railroad’s business office; mother Harriet (age 40) stays at home and is involved in women’s groups in her spare time. They have three older children, one son and two daughters (no children died in infancy).

Bowmans. William Bowman is a successful businessman. He is about 55 years old. He was able to start a business after the Panic of 1873 and expand it during the 1880s. He now employs hundreds of workers in his factories and production shops in New York. His wife, Lucinda Black, 45 years old, is from an “old money” Pennsylvania family. They have one large house in the city and a couple of vacation homes. They have even traveled to Europe with their servants and their four children (the oldest now in college).

Carran, Tom and Clair. Brother and sister, ages 28 and 25. Their family emigrated from Ireland in the late 1880s after their family’s farm was lost to a British landlord. They have a basic education, reading and counting. Tom and Sybil have stayed together as they travel around the country in search of work, but neither has a career to speak of.

Chapman, Gertrude was born in the late 1860s in Ohio, to a middle-class family of Yankee heritage. Her father is a Union veteran and a farmer, her mother the daughter of a small businessman. Her family was never wealthy but had enough money to send her to college. Gertrude became a teacher after college, and has not (yet) married. She now works for charities that aid the poor.

Ophelia and William Manchin are a black family from the plantation belt of Mississippi, currently sharecropping on the land of a white cotton farmer. They were young children during the Civil War, so technically they were born in slavery. Their kids were born in the 1870s and 1880s, and a couple died as infants or young children.

Mathews Family. Jesse Mathews was born in 1850 and served briefly as a soldier late in the Civil War. He is married to his second wife, Frances or Fanny, who was born about 1860. They are white tenant farmers in northern Alabama. Their children range in age from mid-20s (from Jesse’s first marriage) to infancy.

Tahkawin, aka “Tabitha Rivers.” A Lakota Sioux woman, born 1880. Tahkawin was born on a Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. As a girl, she was taken from her reservation and sent to the Carlisle boarding school in Pennsylvania for a while. She returned to her family in the mid-1890s, who now owns some land due to the Dawes Severalty Act.

Wolfson, Rivka (“Rebecca”). single woman in her early 20s. She migrated from Lithuania (then part of Russia) after anti-Jewish attacks on her village. Although her family had some education in Russia, she is a factory worker in New York’s Garment District.

Wu, Shien-Biao. About 30 years old, born in China. He came to the US as a “businessman” but has been a day laborer in California and other western states. He has a wife and family in China, but has only seen them once since coming to the US.

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