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Reform Movements of the 19th Century

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Chris Heinz

History 201

Section 003

April 11, 2008

Reform Movements of the 19th Century

During the 19th century, there were many changes in America. In the 19th century, Americans began to view their society as imperfect, and began to try and make their society better for all citizens. Many movements arose to address the major social problems in America. These movements included: the new religious movement, the temperance movement, the abolitionist movement and the women’s right movement. Other movements included the Great Graham Cracker Crusade, the education reform, and the prison and mental health reforms. Each of these reforms helped influence the later reforms, and each reform was vital to America’s growth in the 19th century.

One of the first new movements in the 19th century was the new religious movement. America was trying to become more religious and during this time, several new religions were formed. The first major group was the Utopian societies, which “looked to replace the competitive individualism of American Society with a purer spiritual unity and group cooperation.” One of the most famous and longest lasting utopian communities was the Shakers. The Shakers became popular after the death of their founder Ann Lee. There were about “20 communal settlements [founded] based on [her] teachings… her followers sometimes shook in the fervent public demonstrations of their faith.” Unlike other communities at the time, the women were granted “unusual authority and equality.” This equality that was granted to women made these settlements favorable. On the other hand, the members of these communities lead lives of celibacy so the men and women lived in two different dormitories, ate at two different tables and worked in tow different places. The Shakers were though one of the longest lasting Utopian communities, lasting until the early 21st century when the last one finally closed down.

One of the most prominent religions formed during this time was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, formed by a man named Joseph Smith. The Mormons became very prominent during the 19th century because it “placed little emphasis on predestination and proclaimed that salvation was available to all.” Furthermore, the Mormon religion was popular amongst most middle class citizens because the “Mormon culture upheld the middle-class values of hard work, thrift and self control.”

The religious movement was based on the idea that people could exercise their own free choice. People’s salvation was achieved on their own. During the 19th century people began to believe in the “we can do it our selves”, “fix it on our own” ideas. It was these ideas, and the ideas that if we do things pleasing to God we can get into Heaven that lead to an increase in Shakers and Mormons. The religious movement had “Biggest impact among women… [giving the] women more status [and] purpose.” Women for the first time began taking on greater roles in the churches, serving on the church on the church staff and began leading the churches.

The biggest movement in the 19th century was the temperance movement. After the Revolution, “Alcohol consumption soared. By the 1830’s the average American consumed four gallons of absolute alcohol a year.” The problem with alcohol in the 1830’s and 1840’s were the financial effects on the families. On payday, it was not uncommon for the men to go to the bar and drink and gamble their whole paychecks away. This was hurtful on the wives and children because of the financial strain, but also because the instances of domestic violence on both women and children. The “social costs for such habits were high: broken families abused and neglected wives and children, sickness and disability, poverty and crime.” Furthermore, the temperance movement was “supported by factory owners who had massive absenteeism’s on Monday’s” because of the employees drinking habits the day before. The movement was “lead largely by the clergy, the movement first focused on drunkenness and did not oppose moderate drinking, but in 1826 the American Temperance Society was formed. Approximately 5000 local temperance societies were formed over the next decade. By 1845, the national alcohol consumption had decreased to below two gallons a year.” Because of the effects of alcohol on the women and children, the main supporters of the temperance movement were women. The temperance movement was so effective that in 1919, there was a ban on all alcohol.

The third reform movement in

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