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In the Classroom > Course Overview

Course Central Question:
How did changes in lifestyle, economy and governance reflect the distinguishing characteristics of Deerfield's residents as well as their relationships with the land?

The Nile of New England:
A Study of the History of a Connecticut River Valley Town Over Three Centuries

Overview of Unit 3: The Progressive Era 1880 - 1920

Unit Length:8 lessons in 13 class periods (85 minutes each)

Teacher Background:
A Glimpse at the Nation 1880 - 1920

In 1800, the United States was a fledgling nation embarking on a brand-new experiment in republican government. Seventeen states hugged the eastern seaboard as explorers and settlers established territories in the west. A mere handful of manufactories in New England experimented with new machines and methods for textile production. The vast majority of people lived and worked on farms. The total population was less than six million. One hundred years later, seventy-six million people lived in the United States. The country spanned the continent and railroads linked the East and West Coasts. Almost half of all Americans living in the Northeast dwelt and worked in cities of more than 8,000 people. The same would be true for the nation by 1920. Millions of Americans migrated west or to urban centers. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans migrated to northern cities. Thousands of Native Americans experienced forced migration and relocation. Always a nation of immigrants, the United States experienced unprecedented immigration in this period. These newcomers flooded into cities and rural communities. They struggled to adapt to a new country while preserving their own distinct cultures, languages, and belief systems. Rapid advances in technology and industrialization changed and continued to change the way in which Americans lived and worked. Mass manufacturing made available cloth and ready-made clothing to consumers. Electric lighting and running water became more common, especially in urban areas.

These developments had a darker side, however. Men, women and children worked long hours in unsafe factories to meet the insatiable American appetite for cheap, mass-produced goods. Jacob Riis shocked viewers with his photographs of the living conditions among the urban poor. Lincoln Steffens' exposé on the political corruption in the nations' cities scandalized the country. Meanwhile, rural farmers struggled to keep their farms in the face of increased competition, costly machinery, and falling prices. The failure of post-Civil War Reconstruction to secure the rights and liberties of African Americans bore bitter fruit, especially in the southern states. The social and economic stresses that accompanied rapid industrialization took its toll on Americans in this period. American culture promoted the family circle as a haven from the pressures of urban and industrial life. Parents were urged to protect the innocence of their children from the harsh reality of the outside world for as long as possible. Men and women struggled with newly emerging gender roles and responsibilities as more and more women entered the work force through choice or necessity. Many Americans looked back with nostalgia to the country's pre-industrial past even as they celebrated the accomplishments of the twentieth century.

Key Content Ideas Covered in This Unit
National influences such as the economy, immigration, Western migration, the Civil War, and industrialization significantly changed Deerfield.

1. Labor demographic changes

  • Civil War casualties and increasing westward migration significantly reduced the number of working-age men in Deerfield.
  • After the Civil War, this reduction, together with a lessoned interest in farming, paved the way for land ownership to be transferred to the recently arrived Eastern Europeans.
  • Immigrants found employment opportunities in industry and agriculture.
  • A greater number of women entered the workforce.

2. Local Industry diversified because of customer demand, the availability of labor, and the variety and availability of resources.

  • Communities that had access to waterpower and steam power became increasingly industrialized.
  • Initially, industry grew in the places where natural resources were available. Mills needed water to power machines and access to convenient and reliable transportation to move raw materials and finished goods.
  • Industries such as paper, cutlery, and textiles developed in the region.
  • As the century moved on, changes in manufacturing technology and large-scale transportation allowed industry to move away from sources of waterpower and water transport.
  • New technology made it possible to farm larger tracts, resulting in fewer, larger farms.

3. In the United States, the Colonial Revival Movement emerged in the late 19th century as a response to industrialization, immigration, and mass manufacturing.

  • The Colonial Revival was a national movement characterized by nostalgia for an earlier period in American history, which was perceived to be simpler, healthier, and truer to the ideals of the nation. The growth of historic preservation, the founding of historical societies, the revival of "ancient" or "traditional" crafts, the re-creation of moments in history via historical pageantry, and an increase in writing about the past were all expressions of this trend.
  • Some Deerfield residents embraced the Colonial Revival. At the end of the 19th century, immigration and industrialization had changed the town's demographics. Facing a loss of economic and cultural control, residents on the Deerfield "Street" turned to history and tourism to revive both their income and their esteem.
  • Deerfield was a center of the Colonial Revival movement as is evidenced by the following:
    1. The founding of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association in 1870;
    2. The development, promotion, and presentation of three historical pageants after the turn of the century;
    3. The creation of Deerfield Industries, a collaborative group of artisans who embraced the arts and crafts ideals;
    4. The creation of the Deerfield Blue and White Society;
    5. The historical allegories and nostalgic themes in the Allen sisters' photographs;
    6. The origin of the Summer Institutes of Language and Romance.
  • Deerfield marketed its history to thousands of visitors. Many tourist services emerged such as the trolley, mountain houses, teahouses, and inns.
  • Throughout this period of rapid social and economic change the Deerfield Street changed comparatively little. Deerfield became a shrine to its 18th century past.

4. Reform movements around the issues of safety, health, and suffrage flourished.

  • During the 19th century, a wide variety of reform movements flourished including temperance, educational reforms (Americanization), suffrage, and abolition. While the nature of the reforms being advocated changed over the course of the century, the impetus to reform stayed constant.

5. During the Progressive Era, there was growth in technology, industry, accessibility to information, the middle class, and an evolution of women's roles inside and outside the home.

  • The 20th century began with women enmeshed in the 19th-century concept of the "cult of domesticity," which dictated their appropriate roles and proper sphere, limiting their opportunities in life. In the early 19th century wives and mothers were seen as protectors of democracy and perpetuators of the ideals of the new United States. By the turn of the 20th century, women were also responsible for preserving the family unit and protecting it from the potentially disruptive influences of an increasingly urban and industrial society. The role of women was slated to change.
  • The availability of manufactured goods rapidly increased. The middle class grew, and consumer culture evolved as products became more affordable and available.
  • Technology changed the home environment, the workplace, and the roles of men, women, and children. It also provided opportunities for leisure.
  • There was an explosion of information. Newspapers and advertising grew, and new communication mediums such as radio and the telegraph developed.
  • World Fairs were held to demonstrate the positive advances in industry.
  • Controversy arose surrounding Deerfield's definition of itself and what it wished to become.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

  1. There are many resources one can use to learn about a community.
  2. There were numerous factors that drew immigrants to Deerfield and the Connecticut River Valley.
  3. Immigration reshaped the demographics and culture of Deerfield and the Connecticut River Valley.
  4. The results of the Civil War affected the demographics of Deerfield and the Connecticut River Valley.
  5. The Colonial Revival movement flourished during this period.
  6. Industry and technology reshaped life in Deerfield and the Connecticut River Valley.
  7. South Deerfield became more influential as its industry and population expanded.
  8. The expansion of communication and transportation impacted the daily lives of the people of Deerfield and the Connecticut River Valley.
  9. Social change brought about by industrial development and immigration resulted in the creation of social clubs and reform movements.

Students will be able to:

  1. Analyze a variety of images and documents;
  2. Make inferences from their readings and articulate causality;
  3. Hear and transcribe the stories of "newcomers" (do oral histories);
  4. Present learned information to their peers;
  5. Locate historical evidence on a web site to support their presentations;
  6. Create a newspaper, album, or scrapbook page to archive using their writings, drawings, and projects.

End Product of the Unit: Throughout the unit the class will create three artifacts - a newspaper, a scrapbook, and an album. An expected outcome of the lesson is for each student to prepare an item for one of these collections.

Unit At-A-Glance (lesson titles link to lessons)

# Lesson Content Covered Skills Covered
1 A Snapshot of the Connecticut River Valley - 1880 How technological improvements reshaped the Connecticut River Valley landscape.  

National Trends Create Regional Change: Agriculture Gives Way to Industry


How national and regional industrial development changed everyday life.  
3 Immigration in the Connecticut River Valley Eastern European immigration to the Connecticut River Valley; national and regional response to these "newcomers."  
4 Deerfield Debates Its Future: Education Effects of technological development, industrial growth and changing population on education.  

Deerfield Debates Its Future: The Colonial Revival


Colonial Revival as a response to cultural changes caused by technological development, industrial growth, and changing populations.  
6 Deerfield Debates its Future: What Constitutes Progress? Deerfield's trolley debate and the diverse opinions it brought to the fore. Includes conflicting economic, social, and aesthetic views.  

Victorian Philosophies in the Connecticut River Valley: The Connection between Mind, Body, and Spirit


Late 19th century concepts of physical and spiritual health. Includes spiritualist and conservation movements, health tonics, the perceived relationship between climate and physical well being.  

Putting It All Together: Creating an artifact


Taking understandings from Units 1-7 and putting them together into a documentary artifact (newspaper, scrapbook, etc) that reflects the period.  

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