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The Age of Reform: Social Reform.

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1 The Age of Reform: Social Reform

2 The Reforming Spirit During the early to mid-1800s, a new spirit of reform spread across America. The men and women who led the reform movement wanted to extend the nation’s ideals of liberty and equality to all Americans. They brought changes to American religion, politics, education, art, and literature. Some reformers sought to improve society by forming utopias, communities based on a vision of a perfect society. Founded on high hopes and impractical ideas, few utopian communities lasted more than a few years. The Shakers, the Mormons, and other religious groups also built their own communities, but only the Mormons established a stable, enduring community.

3 The Religious Influence
The reform efforts of the early 1800s found inspiration in a religious revival known as the 2nd Great Awakening. Religious leaders had begun to worry that all of the scientific advancements had led people to stray away from organized religion. Preachers travelled from town to town, holding revival meetings, and spreading the message that God’s love and redemption were open to everyone. They rejected the old Calvinist tradition that only a chosen few were destined for heaven. Any true Christian who lived well and worked for justice could go to heaven. Many were inspired to become involved in missionary work and social reform movements as a result.

4 War Against Alcohol Another reform movement fueled by the 2nd Great Awakening was the temperance movement. Public drunkenness was common in the early 1800s, and alcohol abuse was widespread. Many reformers blamed crime, poverty, and mental illness on alcohol abuse. They called for temperance, or moderation in drinking habits. The American Temperance Union attracted more than a million members within a year of its formation encouraging people to “take the pledge” not to drink. Many states and localities banned the sale of alcohol.

5 Reforming Education In the early 1800s, only New England provided free elementary education. In other areas parents had to pay fees or send their children to schools for the poor – a choice some parents refused out of pride. Some communities had no schools at all. The leader of educational reform was Horace Mann, a lawyer who became head of the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837. During his term Mann lengthened the school year to 6 months, made improvements in the school curriculum, doubled teachers’ salaries, and developed better ways of training teachers. He also helped found the nation’s 1st state-supported normal school, a school that trained teachers.

6 Education for Some By the 1850s most states had accepted 3 basic principles of public education: schools should be free and supported by taxes, teachers should be trained, and children should be required to attend school. However, these principles did not immediately go into effect. Most females received a limited education because of the belief that a woman did not need an education to become a wife or mother. In the West, where settlers lived far apart, many children still had no school to attend. African Americans, even those who were free, had few opportunities to go to school most everywhere.

7 Higher Education Dozens of new colleges and universities were created during the age of reform. Although most admitted only white men, higher education slowly became available to groups who were previously denied the opportunity. Oberlin College of Ohio, founded in 1833, admitted both women and African Americans. In 1837 a teacher named Mary Lyon in Massachusetts opened Mount Holyoke, the 1st permanent women’s college in America. The 1st college for African Americans, the Ashman Institute, opened in Pennsylvania in 1854.

8 People with Special Needs
Some reformers focused on the challenge of teaching people with disabilities. Thomas Gallaudet developed a method to educate the hearing impaired. Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe developed books with large raised letters that people with sight impairments could read with their fingers. Few reformers accomplished more than Dorothea Dix who found her calling after visiting a Boston jail where inmates were locked in small, dark, unheated cells. Among the inmates were mentally ill women who had not committed any crime. Children, debtors, and the mentally ill were all treated like hardened criminals. Her reform efforts brought substantial change in the penal system and in mental health care across the United States which aimed to rehabilitate prisoners rather than just locking them up.

9 Cultural Trends The American spirit of reform influenced transcendentalists, who stressed the relationship between humans and nature as well as the importance of the individual conscience. Writers such as Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau were leading transcendentalists. Each used their writing to urge people to act. Thoreau even went to jail for his refusal to pay a tax to support the Mexican War! Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the most successful book of the mid-1800s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which explores the injustice of slavery – an issue that took on a new urgency during the age of reform.

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