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Gilded Age

A Staggering Spectrum

The Gilded Age was approximately from 1870-1900. In the years after the Civil War, America entered into an era of unprecedented advancement in both industry, technology, and travel. The transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 with much-needed improvements, making cross-country travel and expansion easier. The boom in rail travel made the railroad executives and their related business partners, such as steel and shipping tycoons, very, very rich. 


These men were there for the birth of the nation’s booming industrial expansion, and so were early winners in the game of control. All of the major industries were ripe to hold monopolies in their areas of business. But when power goes unchecked, abuses will certainly follow. The Gilded Age displayed both magnificent wealth alongside abject poverty in a staggering spectrum of the haves and have-nots. 


Women's Work

Woman herself must do this work; for woman alone can understand the height, the depth, the length and the breadth of her degradation."  - Elizabeth Cady Stanton

While NJ was the first state to allow women the right to vote in 1790, that right was stripped in 1807. Women could not vote again in NJ until the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. Monmouth County saw its share of social reform movements as suffragists embraced the call to action, "Deeds Not Words."

Prohibition Era

Nothing But Trouble...

Al Capone once famously said, "Prohibition has made nothing but trouble." There was a push by the "Bone-Drys" to ban alcohol, while the "Wets" wanted to leave the decision to drink alcohol to the individual. The contentious era began with the passing of the 18th amendment in 1919, banning the manufacture, sale, and or transportation of intoxicating liquors. The Volstead Act laid out the specifications for how this would be implemented in 1920.


Where there is a will - and there was a big will - there is a way. The ban resulted in a boom of bootleggers who illegally produced and transported the booze, and the “Roaring 20s” exploded with a colorful underground culture of speakeasies (secret drinking establishments), liberated flappers, moonshine, rum runners, and a rise in organized crime. In short, it didn’t quite work out the way it was intended to, and was overturned in 1933. 

Prohibition was known as President Herbert Hoover’s “noble experiment.” It was not a new idea - temperance groups have existed in America since the late 18th century. The measure can be looked at as a well-meaning attempt to reduce crime and help curb the social issues that stem from alcohol and alcoholism, or it can be viewed as a government overreach on the personal liberties of Americans. 

The Great Depression and
the New Deal

The Great Depression was the largest and longest economic downturn the country had seen then or since, beginning in the summer of 1929 and lasting through to 1941. Though largely misunderstood at the time and even since, there were many contributing factors. Most notably was the stock market crash in 1929, the banking panics that followed, and resulting  financial crises that had a global impact. The commercial banking system collapsed in 1933 as frightened bank customers pulled out their money to keep safely at home. FDR enacted the Emergency Banking Act, aimed at strengthening the banking system and restoring confidence in it by assessing the banks for financial stability before they reopened, now with the backing of the Federal Reserve to protect customers against losses. In his first fireside chat shortly after, he assured Americans that their money was safer in the bank than hidden away at home. It was a step in the right direction, however, many misguided legislative attempts to correct the economy were made by the Federal Reserve that had unintended negative consequences. 

Monmouth County was a typical reflection of the Depression as it affected the rest of the country. Unemployment rates were approximately 1 in 4, and all felt the sting of inflated prices. The Roosevelt administration set in motion a number of government projects intended to make life better for Americans during this difficult time. To learn more, the Monmouth County Clerk's Office put together a wonderful exhibit catalog called The Great Depression in Monmouth County, curated by archivist Gary Saretzky. It is an excellent comprehensive resource for learning about the effects of the Depression locally. 

To help offset the economic struggle of the Depression, the government created the Works Progress Administration with the goal to create jobs for the unemployed while strengthening the country. Roads and bridges were built, and artists were hired to create murals and sculptures to beautify public spaces and buildings. View the box below to learn about some New Deal projects in Monmouth County. 

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