American Cultural History 1900 – 1909


FACTS about this decade.
  • 76,000,000 Americans in 46 states   (by the end of the decade.)
  • Policeman arrests woman for smoking in public 
  • $46,000,000+ in the U.S. treasury 
  • 8,000 cars – 10 miles of paved roads 
  • 1900 – Auto deaths 96; lynchings 115 
  • San Francisco Earthquake took 700 lives and cost over $4,000,000 in damage. 
  • Average worker made $12.98/week for 59 hours 
  • Life expectancy: 47.3 female, 46.3 male – 33.0 blacks 
  • Essay – Birth of the 20th Century

The purpose of this web & library guide is to help the user gain a broad Marion with mother and sisterunderstanding and appreciation for the culture and history of the 1900-1909 period in American history. In a very small way, this is a bibliographic essay. Though it is impossible to take you through the entire decade, we have attempted to find notable areas of interest and to select information that is still dear today, for example books we love – movies we watch – songs we sing – events we find interesting – people we admire. We want students to understand the world they live in today is connected to the happenings of the past.

To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through this page and the other decades of the 20th century and then visit the suggested links for more information on the decade. As you can see, the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  Some information is best viewed or read in books. This is where the real depth of information can be found. Then there is information that will be found only on the Internet. If you can add a valuable site or information to this page, we invite you to write.

Thanks for the visit.  ENJOY!

ART & ARCHITECTUREself-portrait by Sargent

The early twentieth century marked an era of beginnings and endings. Americans had yet to make their mark on the art scene. Many American artists went to Europe to paint.   Realism and  Impressionism artists of this period included  Eakins, Prendergast, and the famous portraitist Sargent [self-portrait to the left]. Painters like Winslow Homer, Charles Russell, and Frederic Remington painted America’s life and landscape.

Early modernists included Max Weber and Arthur Dove. The Ash Can School or Gritty City Art (urban realism) made its  way onto the scene in works like George Luks “Hester Street”,  John Sloan’s “The Wake of the Ferry”, Edward Hopper’s “The El Station,” and George Bellows’ “Penn Station”.  Charles Dana Gibson designed the Gibson Girls and these were published in McCall’s and Ladies Home Journal.  Many of these pictures were framed and hung in homes throughout the country.  George Eastman developed the lightweight, easy to use Kodak box and Alfred Stieglitz became the most renowned photographer of the period.

Frank Lloyd Wrightdesigned his beautiful low and straight lined homes. Pennsylvania Station and the Biltmore Estate and Vanderbilt 50-room New York City dwelling were designed by Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead, and White in New York. This decade marked the ending of Art Nouveau (1851 – 1914) and Modern Architecture (check out Craftsman style) . Americans began to recognize their past.  The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the president to declare national monuments to be historic landmarks.   New and popular Arts and Crafts Movement was created and gained enormous success during this decade.  Late in the decade, people could buy homes from Sears Catalog of Modern Homes .

Library of Congress browsing areas are:
    N – NX,  this area includes all forms of art and art history.

REF N6504.N67 1995 North American Women Artists Biographical information – entries up to 1 page in length. N6505.H64 1997 American Visions:  The Epic History of Art in AmericaExcellent historic look at arts and artists.  Many illustrations.REF NF1390.P53 The Dictionary of 20th Century DesignBrief entries on design and designers. NA 680.F72 1983 Modern Architecture 1885-1919 By decade, world architecture.  Photos, biographies of architecture.

Web Sites

  • Art Nouveau   |  A brief essay and examples of this art and architecture form.  
  • American Impressionism   |  Links the user to several artists of this period.
  • Museum of Modern Art | Be wowed by New York’s MOMA.
  • Modernist – Timeline   |  Includes important works and events.
  • National Museum of American Art | Tour through the Smithsonian’s museum – select Artworks or Galleries.
  • Great Buildings  | Links to historic buildings in America.  Search by building.
  • Visual Arts Timeline from 1904-1914  |  A brief timeline of world visual art including painting and sculpture, but also cartoons,photography, and architecture.


During this decade newspapers changed to the four-column, tabloid style paper in 1900. Two newspaper magnates, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, turned producing newspapers into a war when they began adding special sections including sp

orts and multiple frame cartoon strips. The Christian Science Monitor was founded in 1908.

Many of the novelists produced ‘happiness novels’ because the women were the greater readers of fiction.  Best selling authors produced many fine books we still enjoy;  L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful World of Oz, Mary Johnson’s To Have and To Hold, Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Alice Hegan Rice’s Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and Owen Wister’s The Virginian.   Willa Cather,  [Pictured at left] Zane Grey,  William Dean Howells,   and Carl Sandberg were publishing.  As in other decades, books reflected the times in which people lived. Notable books covered topics like big business, urban problems, racism, women’s issues and worker’s problems.

Library of Congress browsing areas include:
    PS – American Literature
    Z – books and libraries

Books That Define the Time
  • History of Woman Suffrage, 1881-1902 | Susan B. Anthony
  • Sister Carrie (1900)  | Theodore Dreiser
  • Frank Norris (1901) | Frank Norris
  • The Souls of Black Folk (1903)  | W.E.B. Du Bois
  • The Shame of the Cities (1904)  | Lincoln Steffens
  • The History of the Standard Oil Company (1904) | Ida Tarbell
  • The Jungle (1906) | Upton Sinclair
  • The Great American Fraud (1906)  | Samuel Hopkins Adams

Books Covering the Period 

E173.A793 Annals of America , volumes 11-12 essays by important personages of the period.

REF 1003.2.C66 1993 American Literacy 4-6 page essays on 50 books that defineAmerican culture.

REF Z1219.C96 1905 (annual) Book Review Digest Indexes and abstracts book reviews.  Use it to locate books written during the period and their reviews 


  • Best Sellers of 1900s | Lists of books / authors arranged by year.
  • Gutenberg Project | Out of copyright electronic full-text books. Use the search menu or Etexts Listings to find authors or titles you would like to access.
  •  Bartleby Project   |  Books online – classics.


The decade brought progressive education.   Annual teacher pay during this decade was  $325.  At the University of Chicago laboratory school the first elementary school was founded by John Dewey.  Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori became known for her new teaching method.  High schools had become popular 20 years before and junior high schools were a few short years away.  The biggest problem was population growth because of the influx of immigrants to America. Teacher education improved during this decade and testing became the norm.  In 1900 the Association of American Universities was formed to promote high standards among colleges.

Philanthropists like Rockefeller, Phelps-Stokes, and others encouraged the education of Afro-Americans, but the South and part of the North continued the practice of racial segregation in education.  Mary McLeod Bethune, Educator opened the first Negro Girls School.

Library of Congress browsing areas are:
    LA – LB,  this area includes books about education.  Use the catalog for further readings.

LA216.C73 1990 American Education :  The Metropolitan Experience 1876-1980

REF E173.A793 Annals of AmericaREF E174.D52  Dictionary of American History

E187.97.B34H35 1989  Mary McLeod Bethune 

LA11.L8 1972 Our Western Educational Heritage


Fads of the day:
  • Ping pong – invented in Britain in the 1890s it was an inexpensive mimic for lawn tennis, played by the rich.
  • Speeding –  The element that made motoring sport was its dangerous speeds.  By 1906, 15 states had speed limits of 20 miles per hour.  Whee!
  • The American Boy – 1900 Theodore Roosevelt, excellent article about the American Boy becoming the American Man.


REF E169.1.P19 1991  Panati’s Parade of Fads, Follies and Manias 

E 169.1.R7755 1964  Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America 

E169.1.S9733 1984  Culture as History : The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century 

The fashion of at the turn of the century was formal and romantic.  Men wore long slim trousers with a bit of fullness at the top.  A cap with goggles and a linen duster made up the motoring outfit.  Shoulders were broad and padded.   The lightweight, cotton knit shirt became popular for beach and sports wear.   Women wore the high, straight-front corset with long hips making the waist as small as possible.  Garters came in during this decade.  The skirt grew shorter to accommodate stepping onto the new automobiles and trolley. The popular hobble skirt measured a yard around, necessitating a knee-high slit at the side to make walking possible.   The high buttoned shoe lasted during this decade.  Bobbed hair made its appearance by the end of this decade.  Hats were large.  People were very clothes conscious and clothes were ‘costumy’.  All in all, a great decade to shop!   And, these styles led to those of the 1920s.

Costumes / Fashion

REF GT610.M46 1990  Men’s Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century 

GT605.W5  1963 Five Centuries of American Costume

GT605.H35 1992 Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing

  • Early 20th Century Fashion    |  Links to world wide fashion at the turn of the century (Edwardian period).  Good ones.
  • Twentieth Century Western Costumes    |  History / Timelines.
  • American Vintage Clothing – 1900-1909


Many changes during this time were brought about through advances in technology.  The turn of the century decade began one of transition and progress and is considered the first decade of materialism and consumerism.  The Industrial age was in full swing, mass production made prices fall to all time lows. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs were read more than any book other than the bible. Teddy Bears became a fad started from a cartoon of a bear with Teddy Roosevelt  (Letter’s to his Children) (1902) and were mass produced in 1905.Roadtrip during the first decade. During this decade, safety in food processing and the environment became issues and laws were enacted. There were hundreds of job openings for a typewriter secretary.  Radio broadcasts and transportation, especially automobiles, ships, and trains, changed the way people viewed their world.

During this decade the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk,  the first cross country auto trip took 52 days (love this site).  During this decade the Louisiana Purchase Exposition opened in St. Louis and people flocked to see it.  Cadillac was founded and Henry Ford  provided the first affordable car ($700-900). The Sunday drive became a national pastime.  The Jim Crow laws segregated national baseball (along with everything else) during this decade and Negro baseball teams remained until the early 60s..  

The Presidents were McKinley, [assassinated in 1901] Roosevelt, and Taft.


Library of Congress browsing areas :
     E -F – U.S. History   [ Remember, history covers all areas of the library.]

Events and Issues

  • Urban population growth – The urban poor – Disease and filth.
  • Big business  – Monopolies, extortion rates for goods & services – Industrial growth triples
  • Big 3 companies -U.S. Steel, Standard Oil and American Tobacco 
  • Child labor and workers issues
  • Segregation worsened.  1904 – U.S. Supreme Court – African Americans denied the vote
  • Transportation closed the travel gap across the country
  • Carrie Nation begins her crusade against liquor
  • The Food and Drug Act passed by Senate – 1906
  • Environmental concerns   – Newlands Reclamation Act – 1902
  • Public Health advances – Yellow Fever Commission – 1900
  • Immigration issues  (Ellis Island)

  Links to Decade News.

  •  www-VL | Excellent history links, by year.
  • Turn of the Century    |  From Reconstruction to WWI
  • The History Net   |  Searchable database for articles of interest.  Use your keywords.
  • Historical Atlas of the 20th Century   |  Collection of maps and stats of the 20th century.
  •  American Memory |  Pictures and essays from Library of Congress.
  •  Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children   |  Illustrated by Roosevelt – great site to visit.
  •  American History Guide – 1865- present   |  Kingwood College History Web Guide.
  •  The History Channel   |  Speeches, people and places in American History.
  • Timeline 1900-1909  |  timeline.


Most “people” will be found under their discipline. Here are books and links to important people of the decade and century.

Links Biography Index | Biography of over 15,000 famous persons. Genealogy Guide | Helpful in locating past people, places and events.
Information Please Biographies | Search by keyword.


REF N7593,C93  Dictionary of American Portraits

REF E176.D563 Dictionary of American Biography

REF E176.W64 1897-1942 v.1 Who Was Who in America


Leisure time during the first decade of the twentieth century was spent at family get-togethers, baseball, picnics, long Sunday drives in the horse and carriage (or the new family car). In the evenings families gathered around the piano for a sing-along. Sheet music to popular songGreat grandmother Manville = second row, lefts sold over a million copies. Song pluggers carried pianos on their horse-drawn carts and performed for crowds who bought this music from these vendors or dime stores.  Barbershop Quartets harmonized on Saturday nights. Sweet Adeline was one of the most popular songs of the decade.  Nickelodeon was new hottest rage beginning in 1905.  The films were often naughty and men frequented these penny arcades. Nickel arcades came along soon where you paid a nickel to enjoy a short moving picture projected onto a screen. These were enormously popular.  There were 10,000 in operation within 3 years.

Music reflected the events changing in the world outside. In My Merry Oldsmobile, Come Josephine in My Flying Machine, and Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis announced the changes brought about by automobiles and airplanes.  Songs like Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home and The Darktown Strutters Ball echoed the racial prejudices of the period.

During this decade, radios brought music to the country and in 1903, the hand-cranked victrola went on the market and many Americans listened to recordings of opera stars. Broadway musicals flourished.   Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan opened on Broadway. The Ziegfeld Follies (later, but still Ziegfeld) began in 1907.  The waltz was replaced with ballroom dancing (Take time to watch the finale, too).  And my favorite, the beer songs like Under the Anheuser Bush. Many memorable  Vaudeville songs were performed at this time, including She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage .  By the 1900s, Scott Joplin (Maple Leaf Rag) had made ragtime popular by bringing it out of the red-light district onto the legitimate stage.  AND, don’t forget the silent films.


Library of Congress browse area: M  –  Instrumental and vocal music     ML- Literature of Music

; text-align: left;”>REF ML200.H15 1996 
A Chronicle of American Music 1700-1995 Arranged by year, historical highlights, world cultural highlights, American art and literature, music – commercial and cultural.
REF ML197.S634 1994 Music Since 1900 Arranged by day, includes important premiers and musical events.
REF ML128.S37L4 1984 The Great American Song Thesaurus Arranged by year, summary of world and musical events, list of important songs.
REF ML390.S983 1986 Show Tunes 1905-1985 Features important composers.  Lists their shows and the published music for each show.


American Popular Music 1900-1950   |  A look at the music and the times.  History of Ball Room Dancing   |   An essay on the topic – with photographs.
Mudcat Song Files  |  Wonderful collection of lyrics, searchable by keyword
Brief Timeline of American Literature, Music, and Movies 1900-1909 | Tie it together. Froggies’ Novelty Song Files   |  First third of the century – songs & lyrics. 



REF PN2189.L85 1983 Twentieth Century Theatre A theater buff’s bible.  This book lists and describes by year premiers, productions, revivals, events, births/death/debuts in both America and Great Britain.
REF PN1993.5.U6H55 The Transformation of Cinema Volumes 1 and 2 are needed to cover this decade.  A great source for information about early cinema.  Photographs.
REF ML390.S983 1986 Show Tunes: 1905-1985 Limited because it only covers only Jerome Kerns and Irving Berlin from this era.  Worth a look for these two – because it lists plays, performances, theater information, and published songs.
The list below represents a sampling of what was happening in the cinema industry.  New ground was broken with each new film.   Books are the best means of learning more on this topic or see the films themselves:  Some listed below..
  • The Gay Shoe Clerk – a kiss on film – shows ankle – flaunts Victorian period..
  • The Great Train Robbery – Edison’s film. Most commercially successful of the pre-Griffith era.  Analyses the train robbery and bandit get-away.  Realism on film.
  • The Life of an American Fireman – SOURCE: Edison Films, February 1903, pp. 2-3. “In giving this description to the public, we unhesitatingly claim for it the strongest motion picture attraction ever attempted in this length of film. It will be difficult for the exhibitor to conceive the amount of work involved and the number of rehearsals necessary to turn out a film of this kind.”
1905 Nickelodeon (nickel theater) opens in Pittsburgh.
1908 National Board of Censorship is formed to establish uniform guidelines for state and local censors.
1909 Motion Picture Patents Company pools patents on motion picture equipment and attempts to freeze out competitors.
1904 Jerome Kern  had over 50 shows being performed, including The Great White Way, Fascinating Flora, The Orchid, and The Earl and the Girl starring Eddie Foy.
- 1909 Irving Berlin – Shows included The Boys and Betty, The Girl and the Whiz,  The Jolly Bachelors, Ziegfeld Follies.

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