After the Civil War had ended, several soldiers had returned home to find their places of living destroyed. Most of these people returned to practically nothing. The United States had to rebuild itself, and this rebuilding was called Reconstruction. Today historians refer to this era of reconstruction as the part of the Gilded Age. Many people had to pickup and start all over again, while others continued their quests of expanding. Expanding by taking control over the land or by expanding their beliefs, either way lives of these people reflected the social tensions of the Gilded Age.
Philip H. Sheridan, who was one of the heroes of the Civil War, was a soldier who had started his career on the frontier and would return there after the war to help the United States in expanding its territory by having to combat many Native Americans in doing so. Sheridan was an extremely important person who helped conquer the frontier. Sheridan believed in the freeing of black slaves, and decided that he would help protect the blacks now that they were free. He expresses his opinion about what is done to black people in Texas by commenting that the “black codes are a policy of gross injustice toward the colored people on the part of the courts, and a reign of lawlessness and disorder ensued.”(10) Sheridan’s defense of the black cause much tension in his life, in Texas, that he was later reassigned to command the Department of the Missouri. (11) In 1869 when Grant had became President; he appointed Sheridan lieutenant governor and command of the Division of Missouri. Sheridan’s past on tactics for attacking the Indians made him the best man for the job in defending the western frontier. Much of Sheridan’s life involved being enrolled in the army and defending the frontier. He is also known for the quote “ The only good Indian is a dead Indian”, which he became synonymous with. (13) Sheridan’s life practically evolved around the Indian warfare and the tensions that surrounded it. His ethics and tactics of Indian warfare were often questioned, leaving him to defend himself against his critics quite often.
Another lifestyle that had taken on the challenges of living a successful life was that of being a doctor. Susan LaFleshe Picotte was one of these doctors; but for Susan to be a successful doctor, she had to overcome many more obstacles than other people did. As you see, becoming a doctor is one difficult task at hand, but being a woman who was Indian was another. Susan was a Siouan-speaking Omaha, who had migrated to Nebraska because of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. (24) Susan’s life was different than the rest of the people in her tribe; she was one of the firsts not to have any piercing or any tattoos as Indians did back then. One other unique characteristic of Susan was that she wanted to continue her education to eventually become a physician. So on October 12, 1850 Susan was accepted to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. (26) She finished her schooling and soon became the physician of her old reservation. Susan did anything she could to help her patients, including going house to house from sunrise to sunset providing care for her patients. Susan was up to her knees in patients and was taking care of all of the 1,244 tribal members on the reservation. (28) She was an extremely hard working woman of this age. Susan had to deal with other problems other than medicinal purposes. She had to deal with the fact that her tribe was constrained to its reservation. Susan also had to overcome the tensions at home and on the reservation with liquor, for she believed that it was one of the leading causes of death even before her husband succumbed to the effects. (32) Susan became politically involved and helped her tribe as much as possible, it must had been very difficult for someone of her stature to be looked at differently for her race and not for who she was.
Sarah Christie Stevens was another woman who had to overcome adversity and survive in a man’s world. Sarah was a teacher in several institutions, including one in Beloit. She lived here from 1869 to 1871 while her brother finished school. So for that time she taught at the grade schools of the town only making four dollars a week. (42) Sarah had to overcome what every other woman had to and that were working for lower wages than any male would, at first they wouldn’t even let women teach at schools. Later she had to also overcome the fact that it was difficult to find a college that would even accept women, to help teach classes, but with Sarah’s persistence she eventually accepted to teach at the Congregationalist institution in North field, Minnesota in 1873. (43) In 1890 Sarah overcame all of the odds and became one of the first women to become a school superintendent.
Henry McNeal Turner was bishop for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This church is where Turner is known best today, for helping to promote the sending black Americans back to Africa. (57) Henry had to deal with one problem every day of his life, and that was that he was black. Black’s back in the Gilded Age were looked down upon. So after President Lincoln had proclaimed the Emancipation Proclamation, Turner was one of the firsts to head south after the Civil War and preaches the good news of the freedom granted to old slaves of the south. Throughout his life, Turner had to live with predisposition that people had about black people. Turner helped fight against segregation. He would help lead the way to ending Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, along with poll taxes. All of this is what Henry had to deal with, for it was difficult being a black man in a white man’s world.
One person who didn’t feel much of the social tensions until later in his life was John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller didn’t start out a wealthy man; he worked hard at everything he did. He didn’t waste money nor time on anything that didn’t need it. Rockefeller soon became one of the richest people of the world. It is said that in”1913 his assets were worth over $900 million, and $1 then was worth $6 today. At this point his fortune was growing at a rate of $100 a minute, which amounts to over $50 million a year.”(81) It was not long until many people came to realize how powerful he really was, and when this happened the government came knocking on his door. The problem with being such a powerful and well-known man is that it becomes very difficult having your own private life. People were always trying to find out the littlest information about John and the Standard Oil Trust, but he kept his privacy so tight that the only way his son could speak to him at work was by writing a letter. (83) Privacy always was important to him and was kept it that way to insure the safety of his family and his business. He had to overcome the social tensions of the press making him into something he wasn’t; therefore had to defend himself against the public. One could imagine how high the level of stress was for him during the fall of his Standard Oil Trust company, but it must have hurt to have everything you worked for divided up into different companies.
Stephen Crane was a young talented writer with a great imagination for war. He was the youngest in his family of fourteen. Crane was what you could call a rebel, went against his parents and did everything they didn’t want him to do. One family friend of the Cranes points him out as “ the outcast son of a minister”(92) Stephen had many problems with his parents, and these tribulations were always around. He had different beliefs than his parents which caused much tension in the household. When he was eight his father died of a heart attack, so by the age of fourteen he was violating all rules of his mothers and cared no more. In1891, at the age of 19, Crane went to work for his brother’s newspaper. By 1892 he had started his own novel about a slum girl named Maggie. (92) In March of 1893 the novel was finished and was soon published by himself. (93) The book sales were stale, and soon became disappointed. His new book “Red Badge of Courage” sold like crazy and soon became famous. Crane had to deal with all this fame and glory which drew much tension on his life. He disliked all of tension that was put upon him to produce another best seller, maybe this was the leading cause of his death at such a young age rather than contributing it to the booze and cigarettes.
As you see every person was faced with different tensions during the Gilded Age, either striving to be something or trying to keep their life together. Either way the period still put tension on their lives.