Monthly Archives: September 2017

Volume II, Issue 1. Historical Connections: From the Local to the Global


Our first issue in Volume II of Journeys into the Past features a number of articles that delve into the connections between local and global  histories.  Students in Dr. Offenburger’s two classes, the American West (Spring 2016) and Gilded Age America (Fall 2016), wrote several papers on a number of subjects, including two local historical sites, the McGuffey House and the Doty Homestead. This issue contains excellent samples that addressed these local interests as well as the broader historical themes of each respective class.  This issue also features two photo essays, by HST honors students Jacob Bruggeman and Rachel Wydra, on their recent travels.  Undergraduate Summer Scholar Matthew Kline writes about one part of his study of the Cold War, a memoir found at the Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies, and how it illuminates the cultural aspect of that conflict.  Finally, Jacob Bruggeman contributes a short op-ed and book review on the Humanities Center’s 2017-18 theme, “Urban Futures.”

Book Review: Ghetto and Place

Mitchell Duneier, ­Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

Review by Jacob Bruggeman

“Today, the ghetto has become grist,” writes Mitchell Duneier in his new book, Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea, a grist “for the most advanced experimental and statistical methods bent on measuring change in the short to medium term.”[1] Duneier is not too concerned with the ‘short to medium term’; rather, he is interested in the long term, and the equally interested in the weight of the long past.

Ghetto presents an abridged five-hundred-year history of ghettos, the beginnings of which he traces to a Venetian island.[2] Duneier, despite his introductory use of Venetian history, explains the history of the ghetto in the context of American cities, and with specific reference to communities of blacks that lived within them. The work is bounded by chapters on Nazism and the history of the Ghetto in Europe, and Duneier’s own analysis of the ghetto in his closing chapter, “The Forgotten Ghetto.” In between its European origins and Duneier’s theorizations about its future, the concept of the ghetto is presented through four chapters on the two cities of Chicago and Harlem, and four scholars who studied and lived within them. Specifically, Duneier focuses on Chicago in 1944, Harlem in 1965, Chicago, again, in 1987, and Harlem, again, in 2004. As mentioned above, his analyses of each city are presented through the lives and works of innovative scholars and activists, namely Horace Cayton (a sociologist of Chicago’s South Side), Kenneth and Mamie Clark (two (married) psychologists and educators who founded the Harlem Youth Opportunities Board, and both of whom were involved in the Civil Rights Movement), William Julius Wilson (a renowned sociologist and University Professor at Harvard), and Geoffrey Canada (an influential activist, educator, and President of the Harlem Children’s Zone), all of whom correspond chronologically with Duneier’s chapters on Chicago and Harlem. These four scholars each evaluated the state, and thus definition, of the ghetto differently, leading Duneier to extrapolate from each “the significance […] for understanding the situation of poor blacks today.”[3]

Duneier complicates the history of the American ghetto with ambiguity, conveying all the different histories that are built into today’s ideas of what a ghetto is, and thus reminding the reader of the historical diversity behind phrases such “segregated housing patterns,” “racial residential segregation,” and the word “ghetto” itself.[4] In all its variations, though, Duneier outlines nine ways in which—both as a built space and explanatory concept—has contributed to the perpetuation of “restriction[s],” “prejudice,”[5] “[control of black communities] by outside institutions,”[6] and the “intergenerational phenomenon” of the ghetto as “as expression of a series of vicious cycles within the realms of education, work, family life, violence, and local politics.”[7] Using Chicago and Harlem, but to a greater extent the four scholars operating within the two cities themselves, Duneier demonstrates that ghettos—or at least the normative conception of “the ghetto”—are not concrete, but in fact as multifaceted and dynamic as the communities they house.

As social scientists and urban planners move forward in what might be called the “Century of Cities,” embarking, as they will, on projects of “renewal” and “regeneration,” remembering the rich histories of American ghettos might steady their hands as they take a seat at the drawing board, and perhaps, as Duneier delimits the concept of the ghetto, even lead them to realize the limits of social science.



[1] ­Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), 228.

[2] Ibid., ix.

[3] Ibid., 222.

[4] Ibid., 220.

[5] Ibid., 223.

[6] Ibid., 225.

[7] Ibid., 227.

A Century of Cities

Eugène Hénard, ‘The Cities of The Future’, published in American City, January 1911.

By Jacob Bruggeman

The human era—the Anthropocene—continues to alter the Earth through its intensifying industries. Beginning from a desire to break humanity out of its centuries-old earthbound constraints, we have organized ourselves in economies, most of which have produced steep climbs in human productivity. Productivity, growth, and ever-expanding economies: these are the principal aims of the modern age. In aiming for indefinite—though somehow “controlled”—growth, we foolishly flail our arms as if reaching for the stars. In extending our arms upward as if to grasp the Elysian dreamlands of indeterminate economic growth, we blind ourselves to the dystopian dealings down on Earth.

The loci of our economies—and thus the hubs of human economic activity—are our cities. Humanity has become an urban species: our urban space now house more than half of humanity.[i] We build, create, and produce for neither ourselves nor our neighbors; while our labors and their fruits drift elsewhere, we drive to the supermarket. This is both the beauty and terrifying truth of a globalized economy. It is a simultaneously sad and necessary truth that the ease with which many of us move through the world is paralleled in another place by unthinkable struggles. Those within the upper global wealth percentiles live in paradises when compared with others’ daily trials of poverty. Almost unconsciously consuming food and water, returning to safe—sometimes “smart”—shelters, those of us enriched by the globalized economy are too preoccupied with its trappings to commit to memory that most other people are occupied with finding the food, water, and shelter we take for granted. In fact, a small sliver of humanity, mostly housed in Silicon Valley, has altogether moved beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Replacing “self-fulfillment” with “self-transcendence,” some of modernity’s brightest minds strive for their own immortality, all the while failing to see the more visible challenges posed by daily preventable deaths of people without water, food, and shelter.

The 21st Century is a century of cities, and so we must critically examine how urban life and city designs contribute to the dystopic realities of many peoples’ lives. This is manifest in the massive amount of resources inhaled by our cities, typically replaced only by an exhalation of pollution and waste. Aside from the problems (such as pollution) cities project elsewhere, there are problems within our cities themselves: crime, decrepit infrastructure, economic injustices, failing educational systems, and racial tensions, just to name a few.

This year Miami University’s Humanities Center has dedicated its annual Altman Program to such a critical examination through its selection of the 2017-2018 theme, “Urban Futures.” This year’s Altman Program will bring top scholars of urban design, sociology, and urban history, and creative thinkers of many crafts, to Miami University to work through the challenges facing humanity’s urban futures, and, just maybe, to imagine better, safer, more sustainable pathways into urban futures of our own design.

The immensity of the trials facing our cities—economical, environmental, and social—require more than innovative public policy: they demand radical ideas, impossible solutions, and hope.  Last year marked the quincentenary anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. Writing of the idea of utopia in an essay at the end of a quincentenary edition of More’s Utopia, Ursula K. Le Guin notes that “Utopia is the application of man’s reason and his will to the myth (of the Golden Age), man’s effort to work out imaginatively what happens – or might happen – when the primal longings embodied in the myth confront the principle of reality.”[ii] As we confront the issues inherent in today’s dominant urban models—and thus those of the underlying capitalistic economic model as well—we ought to color our plans with a hue of Utopian thinking. Indeed, if understood to be possible paths of action and not one-way highways, radical imaginings of tomorrow might present unthought of routes to more sustainable and equitable urban futures. Such urban futures, and the routes we take to reach them, might transform the century of cities into one of sustainable—not indefinite—prosperity.

[i] “World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More than Half Living in Urban Areas | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” United Nations, United Nations, 2014.

[ii] More, Thomas, et al. Utopia (London, United Kingdom: Verso), 166.

A Snapshot from the Cultural Cold War

The official pamphlet of the American Exhibition in Moscow.

By Matthew Kline

The Cold War was a strategic and ideological battle between the superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States that took place in the aftermath of World War II. Pitting Leninist Communism against Western Capitalism, it divided the world into spheres of influence, with a “Third World” battleground from which the superpowers vied for influence. Nowhere was this battle for ideals was more apparent than during the American-Soviet Exhibitions of 1959. Held in New York City and then Moscow, this exchange of cultural, scientific, and educational material between the superpowers represented the first direct contact between American agents and the local population without Soviet media interference and vice versa. While overshadowed by the more tense events in the Cold War such as the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1959 American-Soviet Exhibitions were nonetheless vital in understanding the complex nature of the tenuous nature between the two superpowers.

John Thomas, a Russian-speaking guide working in the RAND Corporation’s Social Science Division, served at the Exhibition in Moscow and left an eyewitness account of his time.  His 100-page account was recently found at Miami’s Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies among other materials as the Center prepared for a move to new space.  Thomas’s account provides an intriguing, first-person snapshot of the cultural Cold War:  he writes at one point that “it was as if the Soviet people had saved their questions for some forty years and at last had a chance to ask them.”

Thomas worked at the display of voting machines, which he jokingly wrote “might have been considered one of the hardship posts.”  One of the first items that Thomas remarks on is the cordial nature of the conversations between the Americans and the Soviets, a warm surprise to him at the time, particularly after tickets went on general sale, allowing non-elites to visit. Thomas provides details of the American exhibit, including a contemporary kitchen complete with popular food brands and appliances (this kitchen would later feature in the famous impromptu debate held in front of it between Nikita Khrushchev and VP Richard Nixon). U.S. officials wanted to place an emphasis on everyday American life, illustrating to the Soviet people of the lavish lifestyle of the west. Thomas noted the curiosity of the general public, most of them completely unfamiliar with American culture due to Soviet censorship. Swarms of people of all types from across the Soviet Union, from Kiev to Leningrad came to view the exhibition, and by the end of the presentation more than two million people had witnessed it. The wide array of individuals in attendance was highlighted by clothing from all across the Soviet Empire, and the broken Russian speaking abilities of Soviet minorities also attested to the wide makeup of attendees.

Thomas also remarked on the social machinations living under Soviet rule: the Soviet government apparently sent activists to humiliate the guides at an exhibit of the voting machines where he was stationed, ostensibly to discredit the democratic system that was alien to Soviet Russia. Aggressive in nature, this didn’t prove to be the norm as many people came with genuine questions of American society, such as queries about living standards, education, and the image of Russia itself in the United States. The sharp divide in the societies between the two countries was made readily apparent when Soviet citizens discussed passports and the freedom of movement throughout the country, which proved to be much more restricted in the Soviet Union as opposed to the United States. The discussions between the Americans and Soviets during the exhibition illustrated that while they were enemies, both sides had many of the same values and interests, highlighted by the mutual concern of racial discrimination, the dislike of government overreach, and religious interests. Thomas articulates this as much by writing “some non-Russian visitors, such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks, inquired about domination of national minorities by the national dominant group in the U.S.” By the end of the exhibition, both sides were able to put a real face on their adversary unhindered by nationalist propaganda.

Overall, the exhibition was a success, allowing not only the leaders of the two hostile nations to interact on friendlier terms, but also allowing the general public of both countries to learn about their respective cultures. Thomas’ excellent summary of the exhibition also gives us a glimpse of life in the Soviet Empire, how one American encountered it, and how he perceived its more restrictive society. It was also significant for being the first meaningful step at peaceful coexistence, as former Moscow correspondent for NPR Gregory Feifer notes the exhibition “marked an iconic episode of detente at the height of the Cold War.” This sharp contrast between the two superpowers, while successful in beginning the first steps to establishing a dialogue in the Cold War, displayed that mutual understanding would still be far off. Proving this, Thomas concludes his account by discussing all of the ways the Soviets attempted to discredit or dampen support for the exhibition, such as arguing with exhibition guides, criticizing the integrity of the American set-up, and even artificially limiting the ticket sales for the event. While this often-obscured chapter of the Cold War was one of the first real attempts at peace, tensions would still continue to increase before real diplomacy would take hold.


Digging Into the Costa Rican Past

By Rachel Wydra

Santiago, who goes by “Santi,” is seven. He has recently learned the phrase “Come on!”. It is a useful English phrase for a Costa Rican child to learn, especially one who is surrounded by American college students. Santi has endless energy. His buzzing imagination is always coming up with a new game to play. Playing hockey in my host family’s living room can be exhausting when the humidity is heavy and the heat seeps deep into your bones. But after I left Costa Rica in January of 2017 I longed for those long nights running around after Santi, talking about life with his parents over a cup of coffee, and jumping up on a chair when the inevitable frog appeared in a corner of the kitchen.

When I returned to Miami for the spring semester my heart was still in the small Central American country. As I sat in my history honors class, trying to come up with an idea for my thesis, the scent of vigorones wafting onto the beach and the friendly face of the owner of my favorite smoothie stand were still fresh in my mind. So I did what I do best. I followed the research rabbit hole and uncovered a rich and fascinating history. Most Americans know little to nothing about the history of Costa Rica. Most don’t know that the small country fought a short Civil War in 1948. It was an earlier conflict in the Cold-War era of Latin America. I dug further and found that the Popular Vanguard Party (PVP), formerly known as the Communist Party of Costa Rica, was a major actor in the forty-four day conflict. Opposing them was the United States-backed National Liberation Army, the winning side. Within the PVP, women, especially teachers, played a large role. I had my topic. I would research women and activism in Costa Rica in the era leading up to the Civil War.

Within just eight months I was able to return to the country I had fallen in love with to conduct research for my senior history honors thesis. This August I spent nine days in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, digging into the country’s past. Most of my time was spent delving into documents from the early twentieth century in the country’s National Archives. I also visited a couple museums, the National Institute of Women (INAMU) and the National Public Library for my research. Throughout my journey I acquired a rich collection of both primary and secondary sources. I dug into the writings of political activists Carmen Lyra and Luisa González, uncovered government communication regarding communist activity, learned about the legacy of these women, and fell in love all over again with Costa Rica.

When the Archives were closed for the weekend I headed to Puntarenas to visit my host family, my original inspiration for this project. It was a bizarre feeling to walk the streets of the sleepy beach town again. I hadn’t expected to return here so soon after I left. The reunion with my host family was a joyous one. They met my sister Cara, my travel companion. I cherished the short time I spent with my familia tica. It felt right to re-visit the place and the people that had inspired my research. The great thing about historical research is that I visit Costa Rica every time I sit down to work on my thesis. The way I see it, I get to spend my senior year in the beautiful country, even as I sit in King Library. Pura Vida.

A candid shot captured by my host father of myself (left), my sister Cara who is a sophomore a Miami (right), and my host brother Santi (front). Santi hates pictures and wants to return to building his castle and playing in the waves.

San Jose is nestled in a mountainous region. The walk to the Archives from my hotel was less of a walk and more of a hike but there were gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding landscape.

In the midst of one of the torrential downpours that San Jose is famous for we popped into the Jade Museum, which is devoted to Pre-Columbian history of Costa Rica. The indigenous population that inhabited Costa Rica prior to the arrival of the Spanish created tools, art, and jewelry out of jade found in the region.

This is a photo of myself outside the National Museum in San Jose. The museum is housed in a military fort from the early twentieth century. After the 1948 Civil War Costa Rica abolished its military with hopes of a peaceful future.

I was excited when I found this photo in the National Museum of one of the women I am researching.

The Archivo Nacional de Costa Rica, the National Archives in English, resembles a spaceship but the building is devoted to housing documents from Costa Rica’s past. I spent most of my time here digging up Costa Rica’s fascinating history.

This is my visitor pass that was needed for entry into the National Archives. My Spanish skills certainly grew through interactions with archivists. I am now Facebook friends with a woman who works in the Archives.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary School in San Jose is decorated by this painting of the history of the school. My research focuses on women teacher activists so it was amazing to see an artistic work depicting Costa Rican educational history.

Clash of cultures! Throughout the twentieth century, the Costa Rican Communist Party was in contact with communist parties from around the world, including nearby Mexico. My sister and I dined at a Mexican restaurant in San Jose where I photographed this painted skull decoration, associated with the Day of the Dead. We ate pan de muertos, the Mexican bread consumed on the holiday.

Though I was in Costa Rica during the rainy season, I was still able to enjoy one of Puntarenas’s signature sunsets. As the ticos (people of Costa Rica) say, pura vida or life is good.







Elsewhere and Back Again

By Jacob Bruggeman

Why do we travel? Temporarily transporting ourselves to foreign places, regardless of how far removed from home they may be, is both exciting and frightening, and quite often time-consuming. To travel is to break routine, to take a willing step out of the common steadiness of the household, striding apace with the human urge to explore.

Most of the time I’m content to move within the spaces I’ve carved out for myself in the communities I love and live within. I think this a shared sentiment: we love our homes because our memories tie us to them. Memories of being, of experiencing a space, personalize, they superimpose peoples’ past interactions with structures and the memories of those interactions. Places are pieces of our identities, they are, as Michel de Certeau wrote, “fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read.”[1] There is a distinctiveness to each of our home spaces, a uniqueness imbued in everyone’s domestic experience, such that the home can only ever be alien to others, even those with whom we might share our home space. Our homes are exclusive, the stories within their pages entirely our own, illegible to those who would try and read them.

Despite the comfort and ease of my own homebound ‘histories’, I never fail to agreeably, even eagerly, exit the home: to embrace an opportunity to travel. I crave the sense of belonging inherent in many communities—and I thrive because of the networks I craft within them—yet I yearn for novelty, and I never shy away from exploring a new corner of the modern world. Indeed, instead of the place itself, its architecture, foodways, and the people populating it, sometimes I most look forward to the ambiguities—the unknowability of the place, the not-now of its histories and its future—and a familiar hesitancy to map the unmapped. Just as the home is steeped in individuality, so too are the places we travel to. Our travel to certain places, and the time we spend in them, constitutes a web of histories in that place, memories and sentiments unknown to all others.

This summer I had the pleasure of writing many personal, micro-histories of cities, parks, museums, and of doing so in gatherings of others doing the same. It was a summer of mapping for myself many corners of the world. In this photo essay, I will try to convey some simulacra of those ‘histories’, and hope that they call you to write, and thus to experience, your own.


In early June, I spent a week in New York City with the 2017-2018 cohort of History Scholars at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  (See my essay on it here:

History in These Times

) Having never before been to New York City, I made the trip out east three days before the start of the History Scholar program. My dad, an endearing man he is, made the trip with me. Though we spent the entire weekend together, this particular night was wonderful. Earlier on we saw the play version of Orwell’s 1984, and, having so much to discuss, we decided to make the long walk from Times Square (we were staying in a hotel on 45th and 7th) across the Brooklyn Bridge, and from there walk another mile or to eat at a to-die-for pizzeria. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more enjoyable walk, nor company with whom to share it.


During the same week in New York, I repeatedly lost myself in Central Park. On several occasions throughout the week, I spent hours meandering in the foliage. Absent my ambitions, worries, and all the cares in the world, I danced atop the park’s many protruding rocks, spent countless moments people-watching with new friends, all our lips childishly stained from snow cones. I tried to capture the joy I felt in those hours with pictures and poetry both, but the carefree jollity I felt in the Big Apple’s greenery was simply fleeting. Whenever I try to remember that feeling, I always find myself returning to this photo of Balto’s statue in Central Park. I can describe neither its draw, nor its relationship to my experiences in Central Park, but maybe that’s because its meaning is as fleeting as the experiences themselves.


The History Scholar cohort had the incredible opportunity to peruse the Gilder Lehrman archives. Appraised as “priceless” by multiple accounts, every shelve in their archives houses irreplaceable artifacts. One such artifact is pictured above. Yes, that is a lock of hair, and it belonged to James Madison.


A week or two after returning from New York, I made my way down to Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference on economics. Having arrived about 7 hours before the conference commenced, I stowed my bags away in my hotel’s lobby and left to explore the city. I walked about 11 miles in the following hours, all of which I spent admiring Atlanta’s abundance of public sculptures, some Southern food, and several museums. I can’t remember the name of the building pictured above, but I clearly recall its brutal, brown, spire-like ornamentation striking me in its contrast with the clouds. For the remainder of the three days I had in Atlanta, I used up most of my free time by walking back to this building, sitting in a bench under its shadow, and reading through materials for my summer research. I hope to one day return to that oddly memorable, well-shaded spot.


In late June I spent a week in week in Washington, D. C., as a participant in on one of the American Enterprise Institute’s summer honors programs. In the evenings after our lectures and dinners, small groups of us broke off from the whole and explored our nation’s capital. The program I participated in was centered around pluralism in America, and was led by a kind, brilliant scholar from Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. John D. Inzau, whose new book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference, served as a touchpoint for our discussions. Exploring the National Mall one evening, I decided to linger around the WWII Memorial. A dozen minutes or so later, I was lucky enough to witness these two young girls meet each other as they dipped their hands in the Memorial’s pool.


Two or three nights later, I visited my favorite memorial in Washington, the Korean War Memorial. My Grandfather, Tullio Joseph Buccitelli, fought honorably in the Korean War. He earned a Bronze Star for his bold honesty, and a Purple Heart after he was wounded by shrapnel from a mortal shell barrage. Winding through Washington that evening, I couldn’t shake a revived sorrow I felt at his loss over three years ago, and wished that he were there with me, laughing, naturally arching his unusually bushy eyebrows, coloring my understanding of that Memorial with histories of his own.


As my week in D. C. came to a close, I went to the Hirschhorn with some good friends. One such friend, Garret, is pictured above on the right; my dopey figure is on the left. Garret is a loyal lad to people and ideas both, one who trades in timeless aphorisms, who treads above fads and fiercely defends the things he holds to be true and good. Though we disagree often, I always look forward to meeting Garret throughout the year. We put pluralism into practice.


In early August, I traveled out to Portland, Oregon, to kick-off a year-long ISI Honors Scholar Fellowship. I spent a week on the West Coast discussing ideas about American Founding, the trappings of good government, and the human condition. In our free time, we enjoyed the wonderfully weird city of Portland, particularly its cultural offerings. Pictured above is the Portland Museum of Art, a surprisingly splendid museum, filled with some stunning Expressionist and Post-Expressionist art, and an equally impressive collection of Modern Art.


While moving through the museum’s exhibits, I snapped this picture as I looked over balcony on the fourth floor. For some reason, I found it enchanting.


All my summer travels said and done, I attended the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Little Italy in mid-August. While not traveling and at home in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, I spent every Monday and Tuesday in Senator Sherrod Brown’s as a constituent services intern. My appreciation for Cleveland grew considerably during those Mondays and Tuesdays, and renewed my love for the city I call home.

[1] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, Berkeley 1984), 108.

Urban Development of Oxford Village During the Gilded Age

Construction Workers with Cement Mixer on High Street, Oxford, OH, 1916.

By Sophia Szeles


Most of America transformed greatly during the Gilded Age due to significant technological innovations of the time, and the city of Oxford was no exception. An Ohioan community even more rural and remote then than it is today, Oxford existed in the 19th century as a small town inhabited mostly by craftsmen, lumberjacks, and agriculturalists. The way Oxford residents lived was completely revolutionized by the turn of the century thanks to the construction of the railroad and several industrial mills as well as the introduction of electric light. Although the benefits of this innovative period of time are now apparent, these benefits were sometimes not always clear to people living at the time. Progress was desired by those who could see its long-term advantages, but reviled by others who felt it impeded upon their daily lives. However, as time went on, more people began to envision the lasting opportunity and increased quality of life new technologies would allow them. Citizens’ attitudes about progress and development changed just as much as Oxford itself changed during the Gilded Age.

In 1817, Miami University donated a plot of land to Oxford Village that would come to be known as Outlot #2.[1] This land was designated as a public cemetery but was destined to become so much more. By 1853, Junction Railroad Company proposed to construct a railroad in Oxford, but the plan entailed laying track right through the Old Yard. Although they were not fond of the idea, the Oxford Village Council agreed to allow the railroad be routed through the cemetery under certain conditions outlined in a contract.[2] Unfortunately, the ambiguity of said conditions led to decades of problems for Oxford residents.

The Junction Railroad Company contract aimed to protect the interests of Oxford residents, but it was not entirely successful in this endeavor. Specifically, it failed to provide any guidance as to what should become of the rest of Outlot #2 and how removal of the affected deceased was to be achieved. The contract stated,

“[Junction Railroad Company] before making their road through said Grave Yard shall make satisfactory arrangements with persons having friends buried therin, the graves of whom may be disturbed by the construction of said road, which shall not exceed sixty feet through said Grave Yard.”[3]


This stipulation appears to have required the Junction Railroad Company to assume the responsibility of arranging the removal of the deceased from the lot. However, upon closer examination, the statement does not clarify the definition of “satisfactory arrangements.” This led the railroad company to demand that relatives of the deceased remove the bodies by any means necessary without offering guidance or instruction on how they should go about doing so. Aside from demanding that the bodies be moved from the portion of the lot through which the track would run, the railroad company had no further involvement in actually planning the removals. This left many Oxford residents looking for answers as to whom should take financial responsibility for the removals and where workers willing to perform the removals could be found due to the questionable ethicality of disturbing the dead. Additionally, the aforementioned stipulation only required removal of the bodies from the part of Outlot #2 affected by the construction of the railroad. This raised questions regarding whether all of the bodies in Outlot #2 should be removed and whether the site should continue to be used as a cemetery. These questions would not receive any definitive answers for another 35 years, resulting in decades of unfriendly town meetings and blunt newspaper editorials.[4]

Lack of cooperation from town officials, disputes over money and responsibility, and ethical controversies contributed to financial difficulties, emotional distress, and general frustration among Oxford residents.  These issues were largely due to the lack of another public cemetery.  Residents who could not afford to purchase expensive private cemetery plots had no choice but to reluctantly inter their loved ones in the Old Yard, which had fallen into extreme disrepair upon the completion of the railroad. Meanwhile, residents with no connection to the Old Yard became disgruntled over its mere existence because it was such an eyesore.[5] To remedy this situation, the Oxford Village Council called a meeting with the Oxford Township Trustees in 1877, imploring them to condemn the Old Yard and establish a new public cemetery.  A transcription from this meeting reads, “The Township Trustees were not disposed to do anything about vacating the old graveyard.”[6] Therefore, it is likely that the Township Trustees felt that the Oxford Village Council was solely responsible for any problems that arose as a result of the railroad agreement, and the Township Trustees did not want to be held legally or financially responsible for a problem in which they were not initially involved. Additionally, it would have been difficult to vacate the cemetery at this time due to the unwillingness of public committees to provide funds to assist families who could not afford to have relatives exhumed and were also unwilling to pay for the removal of the deceased who had no surviving relatives.[7]

More than a decade later, town officials came to the consensus that Miami University should be financially responsible for the removal of the remaining bodies, and this caused turmoil between members of the Miami Board of Trustees.[8] Opinions were split again with foundations in ethics, money, and responsibility. The Oxford News published an editorial in 1887 that wrote of Miami Board of Trustees’ President Herron, “In its present condition the old graveyard was a disgrace to both Oxford and the University. He did not see how anyone who had friends buried there could rest until they were interred elsewhere.”[9] President Herron was more than willing to pay for the removal of the bodies due to the irreparable state of the land. He thought it was in everyone’s best interest, including the deceased’s, to vacate the land as a cemetery and designate it for a different use. However, the same editorial gave accounts from Mr. Owens and Mr. P.W. Smith, also Miami Trustee Board members, that read,

“Mr. Owens was opposed to the Board paying any money out for [the removal of bodies], and he would not vote for any such expenditure. Mr. P. W. Smith was also opposed to it. He did not favor the Board’s having anything to do with the matter. The Board of Trustees of Miami University should…have too much honor and dignity to go about and dig up dead bodies. He knew of many who objected very seriously to having their dead disturbed, and had notified the Council on behalf of certain ones, not to move their friends.”[10]


This quote points out another serious issue, being that some Oxford residents believed disturbing the eternal rest of the dead was morally wrong and so objected to removing the bodies of their loved ones based on beliefs alone. The emotional and financial strain felt by the families and friends of the deceased interred in Outlot #2 was a direct result of the deal made with the Junction Railroad Company. The failure of the Oxford Village Council, the Township Trustees, and the Miami Board of Trustees to take any responsibility for the continued grief and frustration experienced by the citizens of Oxford contributed to some public opposition of pursuing more public works projects reflective of progress in the future.

After a tumultuous few decades, the many issues brought about by the construction of the railroad were resolved through various agreements,[11] and the town was ready to yet again pursue innovation via the construction of a flour mill on Outlot #2. In May of 1888, The Oxford News informed citizens, “Despite the discouraging remarks of the few ‘chronics’ Oxford is to have a steam flouring mill.”[12] This statement likely referred to P.W. Smith and his supporters, who morally objected to removing all of the deceased from the lot unless absolutely necessary, and in this case, wanted the land to be designated as a public park.[13] Also referencing incidents surrounding opposition, another article read,

“While many offered encouragement, there were not a few who did everything in their power to discourage Mr. Keller. But Mr. Keller was too clear-sighted to heed the remarks of these barnacles and offered to erect a first-class rolling mill in this city if the people would subscribe $1,000 to the expense.”[14]


After experiencing decades’ worth of issues that arose from Oxford’s last major construction project, some residents would have been understandably hesitant to begin another project similar in scale and on similar terms. However, some residents were extremely excited about the project, particularly agriculturalists who produced large yields of wheat and corn. An article in The Oxford News stated,

“The people of Oxford feel a particular interest in this mill and all seem to be joyful over the successful termination of their efforts in the project. Mr. Keller will have the support of the entire community who in turn will be benefitted beyond measure by the presence of this industry in our midst.” [15]


Oxford residents likely felt a particular interest in the project for a variety of reasons. Being a rural farming community, Oxford agriculturalists relied heavily on their crop yield for income. After harvest, they would then have to find a merchant willing to purchase from them at a fair price. The flour mill provided agriculturalists who produced wheat and corn an opportunity to sell their crop directly to the owner of the mill, Mr. Keller. This alleviated some stress from farmers scrambling to find a buyer at the end of the season. Oxford residents likely also realized how lucrative the mill would be for the town as a whole.  Although it was a large investment funded partly by the town, the investment was certainly worth the return in the years to come.  An article by The Oxford News stated, “The capacity of the mill will be 75 barrels per day.”[16] Another article stated, “On the first floor…is a receiving elevator with a capacity for elevating 250 bushels each hour. In the basement is all the shafting connected with the engine; also corn bolters and shellers with a capacity of 1,000 bushels per day.”[17] The yield of flour the mill could produce was quite impressive and would require a massive amount of crop to do so. The flour produced at the mill was sold locally and also allowed Oxford to participate in trade more than ever before. The large output of product the flour mill produced also created new job opportunities for residents. Oxford citizens now had the opportunity to be employed in an industrial setting. In fact, the mill was so successful, Mr. Keller looked into expanding the work force almost immediately after the mill was finished. An article stated, “The services of six men is required to run the mill. At present, it will only be run during the daytime, but should trade demand, a night force will be secured.”[18] Anticipating this, Mr. Keller had the mill equipped with capabilities for electric light, which would lead to Oxford’s next big project the following year. The industrialization of agriculture via the flour mill allowed Oxford more opportunities than one could have conceived, including increased revenue, expansion of trade, new job opportunities, and the town’s introduction to electric light.

In 1889, the Oxford Electric Light Station was constructed on Outlot #2, just to the south of the flour mill.[19] Although the purpose for its construction was to power electricity at the flour mill, the electric light plant brought with it the potential to one day power the whole town. Even before its rise to popularity, Mr. Keller realized the value and importance of electricity. The Oxford News wrote, “The entire building and engine room will be lighted by electric light. Mr. Keller regards this light as the only safe one to use in a mill, and has signified his intention of having that invention at any cost.”[20] Mr. Keller’s high regard for electricity is significant because, at this point in time, electricity had not even made its major debut at the Chicago World’s Fair. It would have been the highest luxury to own an establishment powered by electric light. In a report of progress, The Oxford News wrote, “What have we accomplished? …not the least of all we have eradicated the old graveyard and made room for a first-class steam roller flouring mill. …And now the people demand electric light, and they will have it.”[21] Overall, Oxford residents were quite impressed with the improvements the town made and quickly forgot the strife they endured when dealing with the construction of the railroad. After the construction of the Oxford Electric Light Station, Oxford residents were so enthused with the progress the town was making, it was decided that even more establishments would open on Outlot #2 by 1908, including a saw mill and an ice plant.[22] By the end of the Gilded Age, one plot of land managed to catapult Oxford into the future and its residents never looked back.

Outlot #2 began as something as simple as a public cemetery. By the end of the Gilded Age, it had transformed into the modern epicenter of town. Those living in Oxford during the later half of the 19th century witnessed the town transform before their eyes, whether they willed it or not. Although residents faced decades of frustration, confusion, and tribulation as a result of change, they continued to gamble on progress in hope of a better future. It is much easier to appreciate progress upon reflection than it is to live through the turbulent times in which progress is being made. Oxford residents persevered through uncertainty and stress in the name of change to create a better life for themselves and for future generations to come.

[1]  Sylvia Ferguson, Burial Grounds of Oxford, Ohio 1817-1987 (Oxford: The Smith Libra ry of         Regional History, 1989), 2.

[2]  Ferguson, 13.

[3]  Junction Railroad Company Contract, October 4, 1853, in Ferguson, 143.

[4] Ferguson, 27.

[5] Ferguson, 27.

[6] Law Committee Report, June 1887, in Ferguson, 27.

[7] The Oxford News, April 1887, in Ferguson, 27-34.

[8]  Oxford Village Council proposed to give the donated land back to Miami University if the Miami Board of Trustees would agree to pay for the removals. The Oxford News, April 9, 1887, in Ferguson, 33.

[9]  The Oxford News, April 9, 1887, in Ferguson, 33.

[10] The Oxford News, April 9, 1887, in Ferguson, 34.

[11] Miami University Board of Trustees agreed to pay for half of the expense of removing the bodies not exceeding 150 dollars. Oxford Village Council would pay the remaining expense. Removal totaled roughly 305 dollars. Council Minutes, July 16, 1888, found in Ferguson, 42.

[12]  The Oxford News, May 19, 1888, in Ferguson, 40.

[13]  The Oxford News, May 7, 1887, in Ferguson 35.

[14]  “Progress,” The Oxford News, September 15, 1888, in Ferguson, 43.

[15]  The Oxford News, May 19, 1888, in Ferguson, 40.

[16]  The Oxford News, May 19, 1888, in Ferguson, 40.

[17]  “Progress,” The Oxford News, September 15, 1888, in Ferguson, 44.

[18] “Progress,” The Oxford News, September 15, 1888, in Ferguson, 44.

[19] “1892 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map,” in Ferguson, 45.

[20] “Progress,” The Oxford News, September 15, 1888, in Ferguson, 44.

[21] “Progress,” The Oxford News, September 15, 1888, in Ferguson, 43.

[22] Ferguson, 45.

The Santa Fe Trail: An Unintended Form of Exile

Magoffin, Susan Shelby. 1827 – 1855. Photograph, ca. 1850. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. N12846.

By Kaylie Schunk

What is the cost of adventure? Many sojourned west for opportunity and for the supposed right to harness uncultivated lands and resources. In the case of Susan Shelby Magoffin, she was a young newlywed with a sense of adventure. However, the West is not the romanticized place of Magoffin’s imagination. Through the source of Susan Shelby Magoffin’s diary from 1846-1847, the Santa Fe Trail, and the west generally, prove to be a place of isolation from family, gender, culture, state, nation, and God as she attempts to survive the conditions of the journey but more importantly, the departure from her emotional attachments. Additionally, with this isolation, Magoffin demonstrates a genuine fear of the unknown in her isolated state, which relates to the hesitation and apprehension of many women as they went west.

Initially, Magoffin is euphoric as she explores the west with her new husband. She describes herself as “a wandering princess” (Magoffin 11) who sleeps surrounded by the flowers her servants have picked for her[1]. However, Magoffin’s tone changes as she realizes that westward exploration and her husband’s engagement in trade causes a disconnection from the familiar, which is replaced by a region that is completely foreign and unknown. This fear of the unknown is demonstrated throughout her travels. As they settle in for the night at Big John’s Spring, she “could not suppress the fear, or rather the thought of some wilt savage or hungry wolf might be lurking in the thick grape vines, ready the first advantageous moment to bounce upon my shoulders” (Magoffin 18).[2] Magoffin is vulnerable in her new surroundings as she tries

to console her fears of being attacked in this unfamiliar region. Other women, who had traveled West, Furthermore, her fear over her new surroundings causes a demonstration of the sublime, which is common during the period of nineteenth century Romanticism. Magoffin describes Big John’s Spring as “romantic” as she is in awe of this new landscape (Magoffin 18).3 The only means to subdue this anxiety of this expansive and foreign landscape is by her dog. He “kept strict watch for Indians, bear, panther, wolves, &c. and would not even leave my side as if conscious I had no other protector at hand” (Magoffin 78).4 Therefore, Magoffin’s vulnerability and fear is due to her inability to understand her surroundings. She is left with only her dog, as a source of familiarity, to protect her from these foreign experiences and forces on the Santa Fe Trail.

Likewise, Magoffin’s isolation from her family has left her vulnerable and lonely on the Santa Fe Trail, which is similar to many women who explored the frontier. First, Magoffin uses letters as a way to express her new experiences on the Santa Fe Trail. After “seeing the little [buffalo] calves[,] I sat down immediately and wrote to Papa” (Magoffin 45).5 Letters are her way of keeping connected her family, despite her isolation. “Though I cannot hear from home, it is gratification to know that I can send letters to those who will take pleasure in reading them” (Magoffin 63).6 However, Magoffin’s consolation from these letters deteriorates as she continues to not hear back from her family. Like other women of the frontier, Magoffin felt disconnected from her life back home. “Towards the conclusion of the diary, she states, “I do wish I could have a letter from home; how lonely it is, week after week & month after month, and I hear nothing more than if I ever belonged to their numbers” (Magoffin 236).7 Magoffin’s adventure with her new husband cannot satisfy her isolation from her family. Similarly, “Journalist Eugene Victor Smalley was appalled by the isolation of homesteaders…‘Each family must live mainly to itself, and life, shut up in the little wooden farmhouses” (Hine and Faragher 363).8 While Magoffin was not living on a permanent homestead and she did not have her own family with her husband, isolation was evident for frontier settlers. Furthermore, Magoffin is more isolated than women who were living on permanent residences. She does not have any children to tend to, and Magoffin is never able to have a sense of permanence and home. She is only aware of what and who, especially her family that she left behind.

Magoffin’s vulnerability due to her isolation from her family leads to her apprehension for her family members on the trail, which does not save some from leaving her anyways. Magoffin is fearful of the West’s ability to cause isolation every time her husband goes hunting for buffalo. “It is a painful situation to be place in, to know that the being dearest to you on earth is in momentary danger of loosing his life, or receiving for the remainder of his days…a tormenting wound” (Magoffin 44).9 Magoffin has given up her family and her sense of security for her husband. Due to this sacrifice and her devotion to him, she is in constant dread when he hunts. The West has shown her the reality of isolation. Furthermore, he is one of the only forms of security that she has left because he was in her life prior to this journey. Her husband serves as a mediator between Magoffin’s past and their future in the unknown West. Therefore, she is forced to be reliant on him. Similarly, the women of the West were heavily reliant on their husbands. While most women did not choose to journey west, they had to trust their husbands as they chose this new life for their families.

Furthermore, Magoffin’s fear of loss for her family on the Santa Fe Trail is not unwarranted. While her husband proves to survive the conditions of the trip, her unborn child does not survive the journey. “I should have been a happy mother, but… Providence has interposed and by an abortion deprived us of hope” (Magoffin 67).10 Through this miscarriage, Magoffin cannot even rely on the most intimate of familial relations in the West. Rather, her unborn child’s emphasizes her own isolation as she is not able to sustain life within her. Magoffin is not even able to have her own family to ease the loneliness feels from her isolation from her family back home. This resonates with a boy “of southwestern Kansas” who asked, “Will we always have to live here…and will we have to die here, too?” (Hine and Faragher 364).11 The feeling of isolation and loneliness was common for children, along with their mothers. This child and the unborn Magoffin demonstrate the theme of seclusion that children inherited from their parents, especially their mothers. This unborn child was never given the chance to make connections to others and to ease the loneliness of his or her mother. This shows the effect of the West on isolation as it caused apprehension for families, especially for the women, and it led to a succession of loneliness.

In addition, Magoffin is similar to other women of the West because she was rarely in the company of women. For many women of the frontier, “the companionship of other women was hard to come by” (Hine and Faragher 363).12 This contributed their loneliness because they did not have people to talk about their mutual interests with, and there was no one they could relate to. Magoffin becomes of the very women present among the numerous military men. At the military ball, she was “surrounded by the Gen. and officers of his staff” (Magoffin 143).13 Furthermore, the tension resulting from the lack of women causes potential conflict. A soldier “had written to his wife all about me, and I am afraid the poor woman…will… be tempted to kill me” (Magoffin 146).14 The lack of women in the West caused potential marital problems for the many wives who did not make the journey with their husbands. While he may be a soldier and not a typical frontiersman, the presence of women, especially in the years of early expansion, were very rare. In turn, this caused men to flock to these women similar to these soldiers. Men were so desperate for female presence that prostitution became rampant in the mining camps. Therefore, this trend of flocking to women, due to their rarity, was a common theme of the West due to female isolation and male for that matter.

Along with social isolation, women like Magoffin had to adjust to the isolation from their state and, sometimes, country, which caused loneliness due to their strong state and national identities. Magoffin was from Kentucky and persistently compared the West to her home state and tries to being Kentucky to the West. When she reaches Santa Fe, she believes that through “a Yankee’s ingenuity and Kentuckian’s taste” she “can make it a beautiful place” (Magoffin 142).15 However, by the end of her travels, she is also isolated because of her identity as an American. This is seen by her acknowledgement of the lag in news traveling from the United States.  She feels disconnected to the United States because “’tis too soon for us to have received the news from the U.S.” (Magoffin 149).16 Furthermore, the Magoffins are isolated and targeted due to their citizenship statuses as Americans. An uprising in Mexico caused the Magoffins to flee because “for without doubt ‘tis the intention of nearly every one of them to murder without distinction every American in the country” (Magoffin 192).17 The Magoffins were in a country that were not welcome in, which caused them to become isolated and targets for potential violence.

Lastly, Magoffin’s journey on the Santa Fe Trail caused an isolation from her faith, which differs from many of the frontier communities of the nineteenth century. The traveling schedule was one obstacle for Magoffin. “Did I not in the very beginning [of the journey] forget-yes, and how can I be pardoned for the great sin-that it was the Holy Sabbath” (Magoffin 31).18 She is so busy trying to adjust to this new lifestyle that she forgets some of her foundational practices. She claims that she is “sinful, my flash prone to evil” (Magoffin 195).19 However, she does make an effort to redeem herself for being “thoughtless,” but it is strained due to the clash of Catholicism and Protestantism (Magoffin 31).20 In the Mexican territory, the faith is predominately Catholic. Magoffin is Protestant, which caused her to have to pray in a Church she did not understand. She believed that it was just as worthwhile to worship within herself in a church of another denomination as long as she was worshipping. She asserted that she “attended mass…, not for show, but to worship God” (Magoffin 214).21 This new form of faith and the journey’s contribution to Magoffin isolating herself from God, does not parallel to most nineteenth century frontiersmen. Rather, they found solace through the religious communities they built. “Common beliefs and rituals helped to build sustaining bonds of affection. Religion was the greatest ally of the pioneers in the formation of western communities” (Magoffin 365).22 Perhaps, Magoffin was not given the chance to build up a sense of community through religion. Due to the short durations, in which, she was in a region, she may not have been able to form a bond through religion because of time. However, she would have had to join fellow Protestants to help create such a community, which was dominated by Catholicism.

While it may appear to be a romantic idea to travel to the West, it was certainly not what Magoffin and other women of the West believed it would be. Rather, the West proved to be a place of uncertainty and loneliness as these women were isolated from their families and often their own gender. This caused a deficit in socialization as women could not find others to relate to. Furthermore, Magoffin and women of the period dealt with how to reconcile their identities for their home state and, in some cases, country. It proved to be difficult for the West to surpass the esteemed homelands of these frontier women, which contributed to their loneliness. Also, American citizenship was a cause for isolation in Mexican territories, especially during the Mexican-American, which is the backdrop of Magoffin’s testament. Lastly, there was spiritual isolation for Magoffin that was not necessarily true for women on the frontier. Magoffin struggled to balance faith as she traveled, and she had to practice her faith in another domination’s church. Therefore, she was, again, unique and isolated from the population around her. Conversely, the people of the West saw their loneliness and used religion as a means to form much needed communities. Therefore, the life of Magoffin and many women who traveled west was veiled by a sense of adventure and wonder. When in reality, it was a period of hardship, seclusion, and lonesomeness.




Hine, Robert V. and John Mack Faragher. The American West: A New Interpretive History. New

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000


Magoffin, Susan Shelby. Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico. Edited by Stella M. Drumm. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962

            [1]. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 11






            [2].Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 18


  1. Ibid.


  1. Ibid., 78.


  1. Ibid., 45.




  1. Ibid., 45.


  1. 6. Ibid., 63.


  1. Ibid., 236.


  1. Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, The American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 363.



  1. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 44.


  1. Ibid., 67.



  1. Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, The American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 364.


  1. Ibid., 363.


  1. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 143.



  1. 14. Ibid., 146.



  1. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 142


  1. Ibid., 149


  1. Ibid., 192



  1. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 31.


  1. Ibid., 195.


  1. Ibid., 31.


  1. Ibid., 214.
  2. Susan Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), 365.

The Doll House: Wealth and Women in the Gilded Age

By Kevin O’Hara

The Duchess of Marlborough, circa 1903.

“It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; [dolls] cannot ‘do’; they can only be done by.”[1] In the Gilded Age, a woman of high-society was much like a doll. Dressed in her finest gown, a woman would take the arm of her husband and display her family’s wealth for all the world to see. If a woman desired respect, she did not take issue with society’s requirements of her, whether those requirements included the way she should dress or the way she should speak. The use of imagery and detailed accounts in Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s The Glitter and the Gold emphasizes the Gilded Age’s fixation on appearing wealthy and demonstrates how women were used to affirm a family’s affluence.

The memoir’s title symbolizes how the flashy characteristics of the Gilded Age did not always indicate true prosperity. Prior to the foreword, Balsan includes the famous quote, “All that glisters is not gold.”[2] In quoting Shakespeare, Balsan connects the phrase to her book’s title, indicating that not everything is as it appears to be. During the Gilded Age, people of every class distinction worked to imitate higher powers. For example, the poor worked to live like the rich, while the rich worked to match aristocratic elites. This way of life, known as “pecuniary emulation,” indicates “those who purchased goods in order to mimic the habits of wealthier people.”[3] Living this way not only showed the greediness of people, but it also caused many to waste time and money on unneeded trinkets. Instead of educating themselves, focusing on the morals of faith and spirituality, or spending quality time with friends and family, individuals led their lives as if putting on a show was the answer to living a happy, healthy life. Hence, not all of idealized aspects of the Gilded Age were as exceptional as they appear to be, especially when the owners of such riches felt they had something to prove. Yet, while many of these people bought clothes, carriages and jewels to portray their so-called-capital, many families went beyond such means, even changing the architecture of their homes to simulate an air of majesty.

In the descriptions of her various homes, Balsan states that her mother would go about “ransacking the antique shops of Europe, [returning] with pictures and furniture to adorn the mansions it became her passion to build.”[4] It seem excessive for Balsan’s family to own multiple homes, but her use of the word ransacking also indicates a violent desire to seize the furniture, as if Balsan’s mother is conquering something by doing so. This desire for rich looking furniture demonstrates the Gilded Age’s unhealthy obsession with possessing and emulating wealth. Additionally, Balsan and her mother had an obvious interest in the eighteenth-century court of King Louis XVI, going so far as acquiring “the beautiful… commode… made for [the king’s wife,] Marie Antoinette.”[5] To copy the lifestyle of a king and queen who were accused of living a lavish, greedy lifestyle while their subjects went hungry shows that there is a lack of understanding for the important things in life. Rather than using the money to help charity, or spending time in orphanages or hospitals, families like the Vanderbilts worried more about what people thought of their homes and lifestyles. The classical poet Du Fu realized this problem best when he wrote, “Crimson mansions reek of wine and meat, while on the road lie frozen bones. Rich and poor but a foot apart…”[6] Unfortunately, these ideals did not disappear as the Gilded Age went on, but instead flourished as elite families found new ways to display their wealth.

The control that Balsan’s mother had over Balsan’s early life illuminates how women were used to further their family’s place in society during the Gilded Age. At one point, Balsan says, “it was [my mother’s] wish to produce me as a finished specimen framed in a perfect setting, and that my person was dedicated to whatever final disposal she had in mind.”[7] The wording of this example is shocking, Balsan making it sound as if she was a doll to be dressed and manipulated in whatever way her mother saw fit. Even more, the idea that Balsan would use the word dispose to explain what her mother would do with her once she was older is disheartening. Balsan is treated like an object, practically a canvas to be painted by her mother; A mother who had been given the role of an insensitive artist, presenting her own daughter to be sold off instead of thrown away. Much like the poor overemphasized the need for baubles to look wealthy, Balsan’s mother placed Balsan’s societal worth over her feelings as an individual. This twisted idea of worth resulted in Balsan being adorned in “pearls [that had] nineteen rows,”[8] as well as wearing dresses that she referred to as costumes throughout the book, each element more excessive than the last. Interestingly enough, the ways in which families showed their lavish lifestyles was seen as normal enough to be given a name during the Gilded Age.

Thorstein Veblen, the same sociologist who coined the term “pecuniary emulation,” later created the notion of conspicuous consumption. Veblen stated that conspicuous consumption was when “particular types of carriages, clothing, or even diseases (such as gout from rich eating) served to demonstrate social position.”[9] By riding in specific coaches, wearing certain clothes and eating excessive amounts of foods, families established their rank above one another. Not only would this incite jealousy from less fortunate people, but it would also allow families to show off their fashion-forwardness. Balsan verifies this when she says that she and her husband, “elaborately bedecked in ruffles and lace, drove back and forth in stately barouches”[10] along paths in Hyde Park, London. When people saw how fashionable Balsan and her husband were, they would attempt to dress and act like them, regardless of how living that way might have affected their wallets or well-beings. Although fashion was an important component to the institution of a family’s honor, it was not the only thing a woman had to master in order for she and her family to climb the ranks of society.

Balsan’s marriage to the Duke of Marlborough displays the ways in which women were expected to act in order to assure their family’s prominence in society. After Balsan gave money to workers without jobs, Balsan says that the Duke “resented such independent action and that had [she] committed lèse majesté [treason] it could not have been more serious.”[11] The fact that Balsan’s husband disliked her charitable deed so much as to compare it to treason speaks volumes of the Gilded Age’s views on women stepping out of their so-called-places in society. Nowadays, doing service is something that is looked at positively, regardless of gender. Back then, the idea of a woman distributing finances and conducting operations outside of the home not only seemed ludicrous to men, but it also embarrassed them. This truth is plainly evident in the Duke’s response to his wife’s generous donation. However, the Duke putting Balsan in her place comes as no surprise considering the fact that both his family and her own made it clear that her only duty was to fill and ensure a prosperous household. For example, right after the Duke and Balsan were married, “both sides of the family were evidently equally concerned with the immediate necessity of an heir to the dukedom, and were infecting [Balsan] with their anxiety.”[12] As if having gotten married at the age of eighteen and moving across the Atlantic wasn’t stressful enough, Balsan was immediately pressured into consummating her marriage and giving the Duke an heir. Especially during a time in which sex and the human body was not readily discussed, it is not shocking that Balsan was uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is ironic that once Balsan finally gave birth to two sons, she was given no “more than the accredited hours an English nurse allows a mother the privilege of her children’s company.”[13] So, not only were women like Balsan kept from doing male-oriented work, but they were also reserved from taking care of the very jobs they brought into the world. Thus, elite women went through life not only looking like dolls, but they also played the parts of a doll. Much like their porcelain counterparts, women could not move unless instructed, nor speak unless given voice. Such truths make it understandable as to why Balsan separated from the Duke of Marlborough as soon as she could.

The productive life that Balsan lead after her divorce from the Duke of Marlborough proves that the Gilded Age’s emphasis on achieving wealth, as well as the pressure women faced in attaining such riches, was trivialized by what women accomplished once they were able to act independently. After realizing “how precariously [women’s] lives depended on their husbands,”[14] Balsan went to work and was said to have “done more to advance the cause of female suffrage in Britain than the violent combined efforts of the militant suffragettes.”[15] Balsan’s work with suffragettes reveals how a woman could be amicable, well-respected and dignified while going out and making changes in the world. Once Balsan was freed of her husband’s oppression, she was able to use her sociability in a productive and progressive way. Instead of organizing a dinner party, picking out the finest dress, or worrying over what her husband would think of what she had done, Balsan kicked down the walls of society’s metaphorical dollhouse and lived a true, full life. Moreover, Balsan proved the capabilities of well-educated, enlightened women when she prepared a lecture “based on medical facts and public health statistics which took [her] three weeks to write and an hour to read.”[16] Women like Balsan who made successful advancements in society during the Gilded Age are few and far between, but there is something to be said for the fact that Balsan was able to make an impact upon a world that was otherwise very afraid of feminine power. By working hard, having courage and being kind, Balsan proved that women are not just dolls to be dressed up and put on display. Women were never meant to be manipulated and put on the symbolic shelf once men were done playing with them. Women were, and still are, an intelligent and powerful group that should have never been placed beneath men’s wealth and society’s expectations.

In conclusion, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan’s illustrious descriptions and perspectives in her memoir The Glitter and the Gold verifies how people of the Gilded Age were absorbed in appearing wealthy. Furthermore, her discussions expand upon how women were unfairly objectified in exhibiting their family’s fortunes. It is important to recognize how wrong people were to place quantity before quality, often treating their families as dolls to be ogled at. No human should ever be treated in such a manner, nor be forced to do anything they don’t want to do. Those kinds of games should remain a part of childhood, locked away within the gilded rooms of elaborate dollhouses, while real life should be celebrated and the mistakes of the past should be taught as lessons to be learned from.


[1] Rumer Godden, “Quotes About Dolls,” Goodreads Inc., 2016, 6 December, 2016.

[2] William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (Act II, Scene 7), quoted in Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1953).

[3] Rebecca Edwards, New Spirits: Americans in the “Gilded Age” 1865-1905 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 111.

[4] Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1953), 6.

[5] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 9.

[6] Du Fu, quoted in Rebecca Edwards, New Spirits: Americans in the “Gilded Age” 1865-1905 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 113.

[7] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 21.

[8] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 57.

[9] Edwards, New Spirits: Americans in the “Gilded Age” 1865-1905, 111.

[10] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 79.

[11] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 107.

[12] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 61.

[13] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 107.

[14] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 150.

[15] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 180.

[16] Balsan, The Glitter and the Gold, 189.

U.S. Expansionism in the Gilded Age: Arguments in Political Cartoons

By Santiago Martinez

Louis Dairymple. “School Begins.” Puck. (Keppler & Schwarzmann, New York: 1899).

Two cartoons from different magazines published in New York, New York in 1899 took different stances on U.S. expansionism. A piece by Victor Gillam from Judge named “A Lesson for Anti-Expansionists”[1] sends a pro-expansion message, while Louis Dairymple’s “School Begins”[2] from Puck takes a decidedly negative stance. Both cartoons come in the year that the United States routed Spain in a ‘splendid little war’, which left the United States with a number of colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific as well as an undeniable place among the world powers. There were no longer any doubts that the United States was taking its imperialist policies beyond the western frontier and across the waters, as it had in annexing Hawaii in 1898. Some, like Gillam supported U.S. foreign policy, while others, like Dairymple saw imperialism’s unpleasant repercussions. So, how do political cartoons from the era of US imperialism in the Gilded Age show positive and negative views of expansionism? In order to unpack the symbolism and meaning of each illustration I will compare the depiction of the shared cenral figure, Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam represents the U.S. in both cartoons, but with different objectives. He is dressed almost exactly the same in each, but his weight, how he’s interacting with other characters, and the objects he carries differentiate him and therefore the respective artist’s intentions.

Victor Gillam. “A Lesson for Anti-Expansionists.” Judge. (Arkell Publishing Company, New York: 1899).

The Uncle Sam from the Judge is depicted chronologically, showing the maturation and then growth of the U.S. with his weight, which coincides with the increasing square mileage of the nation and its territories. The chronology begins in 1783, the year in which the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, granting the U.S. its sovereignty. At this point, Uncle Sam is shown as a helpless, but optimistic looking toddler representing 349,845 square miles in 13 states. From there, Uncle Sam grows into a young boy with an axe in 1803, a soldier with a musket in 1819, and a middle-aged man in 1861 with a top hat and goatee. In 1898 Uncle Sam is looking more corpulent, representing 48 states and territories, including Hawaii, totaling roughly 3,601,270 square miles. Finally, in 1899, the year in which the U.S. gained Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa from Spain after a quick and decisive war, Uncle Sam appears absolutely bloated. In this depiction Victor Gillam is clearly showing that U.S. expansionism has merely been a process of maturation, from a small toddler to a stout, confident-looking old man, “showing how Uncle Sam has been an expansionist first, last, and all the time,” reads the caption. This Uncle Sam surely represents all the excesses of successful capitalism. Nothing in this cartoon points to the negative side effects of the U.S.’s rampant expansionism, showing only how the U.S. has led a healthy, bountiful life. Dairymple’s 1899 depiction of Uncle Sam is quite different, far from overweight; this man is gaunt and towers menacingly over his class. He is undoubtedly portraying Uncle Sam and U.S. expansionism negatively. However, an analysis of Uncle Sam’s relationship with the other characters in this cartoon is more relevant to determining the artist’s message.

Uncle Sam’s interactions with other characters also provide evidence of support as well as condemnation of U.S. expansionism in Gilded Age periodicals. Dairymple’s cartoon is a depiction of a classroom in which the states and territories are represented as children and Uncle Sam is the draconian-looking teacher, peering down at his pupils through a pair of spectacles that give him a more scholarly appearance. Uncle Sam’s posture and age is juxtaposed with the youth of his subjects, which indicates a paternalistic and authoritarian relationship. This is especially meaningful when considering who’s in the first row. Four darkly colored, wild-looking children representing the Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba sit stubbornly, scornfully or fearfully on their bench as the caption reads, “Now, children, you’ve got to learn these lessons whether you want to or not! But just take a look at the class ahead of you, and remember that, in a little while, you will feel as glad to be here as they are!” The class ahead refers to the children labeled with states who sit obediently going about their studies. The four children at the front represent an average depiction of the heathen, uncivilized races that the U.S. encountered in its imperialistic ventures. This motif and the associated paternalistic themes are pervasive throughout the Gilded Age and well into the 20th Century. The artist seems to be questioning the U.S.’s ability to colonize these people through a subtle message that appears on the blackboard, which explains that while “consent to be governed” is a nice sentiment, a people must be caught up by a benevolent teacher before they can be allowed to make an informed decision on their own sovereignty. The Platt Amendment later confirmed this impression in 1903, when it denied Cuba true sovereignty for decades. This artist’s satire matches that of Rudyard Kipling who wrote “The White Man’s Burden” in 1899, which directly opposed U.S. hegemony in the Philippines. The artist understood that U.S. imperialism unfairly treated other cultures. As a lingering example of this, a Native American sits by the door alone trying to read a book, which is upside-down. This perfectly illustrates how the Native American tribes faced relocation to isolated, desolate reservations and then disaffection. A Chinese boy waits at the door, obvious foreshadowing by Dairymple, which came to pass a year later when the U.S. became involved in the international effort to stop the Boxer Rebellion and force open the coveted Chinese markets. While “School Begins” work was completely anti-expansionary, “A Lesson for Anti-Expansionists” seems to be the exact opposite. Providing a pro-imperialism argument, in this case, is impossible to do when taking into account the American treatment of the subjugated people. There is no racial component in Gillam’s work apart from the hand marked China, which does happen to be at the bottom of the hands though this does not necessarily mean anything because England, the fattest and presumably the most successful of the hands, is third from the bottom. The crux of Gillam’s pro-expansion argument lies in the caption below the outstretched hands, “now all the nations are anxious to be on friendly terms with Uncle Sam.” Now it is clear that Gillam is suggesting that U.S. imperialism has gained the country respect, or at the very least, fear, from the other world powers. Expansion has been the U.S.’s answer to posturing itself strongly and successfully on the world stage. Of course, the U.S. would not be a credible power if it weren’t for the powerful military it wielded, which is represented by the battleship under the 1899 Uncle Sam’s arm as he contemplates the groveling hands.

The objects Uncle Sam clutches, namely the battleship, cigars and the big stick are highly symbolic and aid the artists’ respective view of expansionism. Gillam, with his positive interpretation of American imperialism has the 1899 Uncle Sam carrying a battleship, representing naval power, which is a precursor for imperialism. Naval powers like England and Spain capitalized on the ability to secure trade routes and deploy troops and supplies across the oceans with their vast fleets. The U.S. proved its naval supremacy in the Spanish American War at Manila Bay and Santiago, Cuba where it decimated the outdated Spanish Pacific and Atlantic fleets. The battleship Uncle Sam holds is painted white, which was the Navy’s peacetime color in this era, but it invariably evokes the Great White Fleet which sailed around the world in 1907-09, solidifying America’s maritime supremacy and thus its position as a world power. The cigars that the 1898 and 1899 Uncle Sams are smoking symbolize imported tobacco products from newly acquired tobacco and cigar producing territories; an admittedly small element, but important nonetheless as it reveals the importance of business, specifically through trade, when it comes to imperialism. “1899 – the U.S. has come into possession of VALUABLE COLONIES,” reads the caption with an emphasis on the capitalized words. In “School Begins” Uncle Sam wields a switch and has a book on his desk about self-governance. The book is clearly ironic because the U.S. isn’t actually promoting self-governance when it holds colonies against their will without any representation in the national government or any kind of self-determination for that matter. The switch wielded by Uncle Sam in “School Begins” merely symbolized the violent nature of American expansion, that is, until 1900 when Teddy Roosevelt first said “speak softly and carry a big stick and you will go far.” The switch now can be interpreted as the ‘big stick’, which became highly symbolic of American imperialism, especially after the Philippine Insurrection and the American forays into Latin America after the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine was adopted. This is another example of how a political cartoon can gain new meaning long after it has been published. In summary, both cartoons depicted objects that contained powerful symbolism, like the battleship, the cigars, the book, or the switch. The objects are important tools for furthering the artist’s interpretation of U.S. expansionism. These objects have taken on greater symbolism since the cartoon was published.

Uncle Sam represents the United States in both cartoons, but with different objectives. He is dressed almost exactly the same in each, but his weight, how he’s interacting with other characters, and the objects he carries differentiate him and therefore the respective artist’s intentions. The corpulence of Gillam’s 1899 Uncle Sam is a testament to the success of capitalism through imperialist policies, while the gaunt, towering figure of Dairymple’s 1899 Uncle Sam appears much more menacing to the cowering, defiant children that represent newly acquired territories. Gillam’s 1899 Uncle Sam is portrayed as a desirable ally to other world powers due to his naval prowess and imperial expansions, while Dairymple’s seeks to ironically teach the heathen races about self-governance. The accessories of Gillam’s Uncle Sam symbolize American military and economic power. The violent side of imperialism is alluded to by Uncle Sam’s ‘big stick’ in “School Begins.” Both authors used elements that gained credence and symbolism long after the works were published. Dairymple’s blackboard satire became U.S. policy when the Platt Amendment was signed in 1903 and Gillam’s white battleship’s symbolism grew after the Great White Fleet completed its world tour in 1909. These examples prove that political cartoons can be used to understand forthcoming historical events and not just immediate or previous ones. The foreshadowing and subtler features of these cartoons were justified time and again shortly after they were published. This makes these cartoons, both from 1899 relevant to the entire Gilded Age as it allows us to understand how Americans made arguments on both sides of the expansionism debate. Gillam’s pro-expansion piece glossing over the negative implications of imperialism in order to justify a policy that put profit and power ahead of people is a perfect parallel to the Gilded Age. Gilded, after all, refers to the gold covering or pleasant farce that masked the plight of the working class and minorities during this era. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner coined the term in 1873, decades before these cartoons appeared in their respective magazines or when historians agree the Gilded Age actually ended. In order to fully appreciate American Gilded Age society, one must consider society holistically. This study of two opposing political cartoons has revealed how society was torn. History proves that the United States has never truly been united in its endeavors; during the Gilded Age, issues like suffrage, labor rights, regulations, and equality divided the nation just as much as debates concerning expansionism.

[1] Victor Gillam. “A Lesson for Anti-Expansionists” Judge. (Arkell Publishing Company, New York: 1899).

[2] Louis Dairymple. “School Begins” Puck. (Keppler & Schwarzmann, New York: 1899).