American reform movements in the early to mid 1800’s strived at improving our developing society. America was growing larger, and with the expanding population, many new ideas sprang up. Conflicting opinions between the people of the United States caused the emergence of an Age of Reform, where people tried to change things such as the educational system and women’s rights. These movements were the result of our nation’s self-determination and interest in improving the society we live in.
Between the 1820’s and 1860’s, Americans were trying new things and promoting different ideas and ways of thinking. Once such idea is that of a utopian society. A utopian society, simple put, means a perfect society. There are many examples of experiments at utopian society in the 1800’s.
George Ripley endeavored to create one of the first utopian societies in West Roxberry, Massachusetts. The community was called Brook Farm, and was established in 1841. Everyone in the community shared labor and leisure time equally. Ripley believed that leisure was the most important step to understanding yourself. The problem with Brook Farm was that the residents ended up believing in a form of communism, despite its objective of being a community where the individual would be able to become ‘whole’. A fire late in 1847 caused the community to disband and separate. Brook Farm is important because not only was it one of the first utopian society experiments in the 1800’s, but it proved that people were confident about trying new things. Critics of Brook Farm said that the point of the community was nothing more than the desire to become better than other people. This demonstrates that (even though it failed) Brooke Farm was created solely for the purpose of bettering the way in which people lived.
In 1948, John Humphrey founded another utopian experiment in Oneida, New York. This was another important utopian society experiment in the 1800’s. In this society, children were raised by the whole community, and businesses were run by the whole community. In other words, everyone who lived there was part of one big family. The Oneida experiment grew fairly large over 30 years, including over 200 people. Oneida challenged traditional practices, and it represented the views of many Americans during the time. Oneida’s fault lied in the fact that is was easily targeted by critics as an excuse to bypass conventional monogamy.
Another example of a utopian experiment is the Mormons. The Mormons began when Joseph Smith published a book called The Book of Mormon. Mormonism began to gain followers, but was never truly accepted in the United States. Joseph Smith was persecuted due to such Mormon beliefs as polygamy. After Joseph Smith was arrested and killed, the Mormons found haven in present day Salt Lake City. There, they created their own form of a utopian society. Although Mormonism is still around today, it is not in wide practice. Mormonism is another example of people trying to raise the standard of society for the better.
The Age of Reforms also brought new hope to women’s rights. Women had often played a lesser role in societies around the world, especially in America. They were never involved in politics and nearly all women at the time stayed home to take care of the house chores. The women’s rights movement that arose in the 1920’s really started during the Age of Reforms, in the 1800’s.
The Women’s rights reform began in 1840, at a London convention concerning slavery, when two abolitionists were turned away because they were women. From that point on Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt that they need to achieve equal rights for women. Headed with the slogan, “all men are created equal,” a movement was launched for woman suffrage. On July 19, 1848, a convention was called in Seneca Falls. It was a retelling of the Declaration of Independence, and stated that all men and women are created equal.
It was not until the 1920’s that women were finally given the right to vote. Women were beginning to become more scholarly, and many bold steps were made by women, such as keeping maiden names or getting higher jobs. The women’s rights movement demonstrates that steps were taken in order to improve the quality of life for women.
Religions are founded on the principle of education of others as well as education of one’s self, yet before the 1800’s America was a largely uneducated country. Few if any philosophers existed, and adept teachers were rare. The 1800’s brought an education revolution upon America, due mainly to the new ideas and concepts being envisioned at the time. Education was becoming a top priority and the Age of Reforms brought an educational system to America.
During this period, the most influential person dealing with educational reform was Horace Mann. Horace Mann believed that “education was the only way to ‘counterwork this tendency to the domination of capital and the servility of labor’” (Brinkley 337). Mann recognized that the strongest backing of democracy was education. Horace Mann is known foremost for the great amount of changes he brought to the Massachusetts school system, making it a much more education-friendly environment.
All across America public support for school systems was increasing. Elementary schools were now commonly found from town to town as opposed to the rarely seen schoolhouses of the past. Due to America’s diversity as a nation, along with the fact that by the mid-1800’s there was no set of standards concerning schools, each state’s educational system was different. In the West, where not much land was settled and pioneering was still taking place, accessing schools was still a difficult task. In addition to that, the teachers weren’t even well-taught themselves compared to those in New England. In the South, the slavery system forbade black education. Besides that, very little of the white population went to schools anyway. Establishing school systems in these areas was a tricky job. Despite problems in the South and West with education, America had grown into a more learned nation. Over 80% of the population (excluding the slavery population) were literate, compared with a much lower literacy rate prior to the 1800’s. Americans had once again worked hard in order to enhance their societies’ standards.
The Age of Reforms was a period in which many changes were made to improve the way in which people lived at the time. Utopian experiments were attempts at creating a flat out perfect sociological structure. Reforms in women’s rights made strides in making basic civil liberties available to not just men, but females as well. Lastly, reforms in the educational systems of America provided more hope for future generations by making our country a more intelligent nation. All of these accomplishments demonstrate how the Age of Reforms was a period in which America improved by leaps and bounds in the process of turning it into what we know it as today.