50 Photos From American Life in the 19th Century

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1886: Delegates to the Knights of Labor convention

These women are delegates to the 1886 convention of the Knights of Labor, also known as Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor, in Richmond, Virginia. The group was one of the most important 19th-century American labor organizations. Founded by Uriah Smith Stephens and eight other Philadelphia tailors in 1869, the Knights proposed a platform that called for an end to child and convict labor, equal pay for women, a progressive income tax, and the cooperative employer-employee ownership of mines and factories.

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1886: A view of the state capitol building, Montgomery, Alabama

This photograph shows two important features of Montgomery in the mid to late 1800s: the historic capitol building, completed in 1851, and the Capital City Street Railway, also known as the Lightning Route. This was Montgomery’s city-wide streetcar system, which operated from 1886 until 1936. The city has a place in Civil War history, as the Confederate States of America was officially established there in February of 1861, and Montgomery was its headquarters until the rebel government moved to Richmond, Virginia, in May of that year.

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1887: A family of homesteaders in Nebraska

Another one of Solomon D. Butcher’s portraits of homesteading families, this one depicts the family of Jerry Shores in front of their home near Westerville, in Custer Country, Nebraska. Shores was one of a number of former slaves who homesteaded in the county. His property abutted that of his brothers, Moses Speese and Henry Webb (each had different last names, taken from their different owners).

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1889: A ramshackle homestead shack outside Guthrie, Oklahoma

The so-called Unassigned Lands was an area of the Oklahoma Territory opened to the Land Rush of 1889, a free-for-all homesteading event at which about 50,000 people lined up to race into the region to claim lots of up to 160 acres each. Harmon T. Swearingen, who had a photography studio in Guthrie and captured many images of the town as it grew, took this picture of homesteaders who took up residence in this shack outside Guthrie in order to certify their claim.

Source: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

1890: Outside the Pullman factory in Chicago

Engineer and industrialist George Pullman founded the Pullman Car Company in 1862 to manufacture railroad sleeping cars. In 1880, he built a “company town” called Pullman on Chicago’s Southside. Workers were housed in accommodations that included indoor plumbing and gas for heating and cooking, luxuries for the working class at the time, and the complex included ornamental gardens and parks.

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