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New Primary Source Set: Reformers and Gangsters in American History from Antebellum to Prohibition

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[caption id="attachment_9933" align="alignright" width="300"]Front page of the New York’ newspaper The Sun. Features pictures of the Vesper Club gangmen with bylines touting their complete rehabilitation into society. Front page of the New York’ newspaper The Sun. Features pictures of the Vesper Club gangmen with bylines touting their complete rehabilitation into society.[/caption]

Students are often intrigued by individuals who question authority and seek change. The following three sub-sets of sources support the case that reformers who desired change impacted American society resulting in the rise of organized crime.

The first set on the Antebellum Era features a time when Americans voiced their concerns and unhappiness with the U.S. government and American society. The set of documents provided could be used to enhance Reform Era lessons. Documents range from a photo of Dorothea Dix to a print of the fictional character Uncle Tom.

The second set, featuring primary source documents from the Women’s Rights Movements, involves key figures and major public struggles that women faced such as the Suffrage and Temperance movements. Major figures focused on include Stanton, Chapman, and the like. The set has an unique perspective as students are exposed to the more day to day realities of women living in the United States during the 1880s-1920s. In addition, the materials can be used to compare and contrast the lives of other groups of women: immigrant women, African-American women, and working class women.  

The final set focuses on the Temperance Movement, the anti-alcohol sentiments that developed in the United States beginning in the early 19th Century and ultimately led to the formation of the movement and an unforeseen outcome: the dramatic rise in organized crime. The primary source documents include a letter written to Abraham Lincoln, propaganda posters from the time, and a podcast recording pertaining to a modern day journalists extensively researched theory of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.

The possibilities for classroom instruction and exploration are boundless with a primary source collection of this size. Students could focus on one subset or compare and contrast similarities between each movement to make connections and generalizations about each era.  

View more details, and download or access the primary source set online.

Emerging America brings this primary source set to you thanks to the outstanding primary sources and materials provided free by the Library of Congress. The set was developed during 2015 History in Motion courses offered by the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources at the Collaborative for Educational Services.

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Karen Albano

History eNews Editor, Emerging America
Karen Albano began working with the Emerging America program in 2015. She is currently the editor of the weekly History eNews, and has contributed to many facets of the Emerging America program, including developing curriculum, improving the accessibility of the website to educators, and overseeing social media outreach.