Social Reforms in the 1800's

Trifeena James
Mr. Cates- pd.

Social reform movements became extremely popular during this time period. Many people began to realize the many different inequalities that different people were facing. The reforms discussed are all well-known and have made a lasting impact on the United States. To this day, they have morphed our society into one of freedom and justice.

Prison and Asylum Reform

     This movement began when Dorothea Dix encountered the horrid conditions within jails in Massachusetts. She saw that the mentally ill were in the same households as actual criminals. Convinced that she could make a difference, Dix worked to get better conditions for the retarded. This led to the establishment of hospitals specialized for these people. But when these hospitals had become overcrowded and understaffed, Dix once again worked to make sure the mentally ill were treated in the right way of peace and enjoyment rather than disciplined into obedience. This reform also led to better conditions for criminals in the prisons. Instead of being punished alone, they were educated on what was right and encouraged to be better civilians.

     This reform works to get the mentally ill out of harsh prisons and into facilities that helped them get better through peaceful remedies of comfort and enjoyment. The reform also tries to get better conditions for the criminals in the prisons to not be only punished.

      Dorothea Dix started out the reform when she was visiting prisons in Massachusetts. Seeing the insufferable conditions, Dorothy worked to improve the situation for the mentally ill and getting them into specialized facilities. Working with federal officials, changes were made for the betterment. Dorothy Dix is the main person leading the reform, succeeding in her work.

     The reform has helped the mentally ill escape the cruel conditions of the prison in to a more peaceful environment of renewal and healing. Hospitals have been built to assist these people and guide them through their many problems. Prisoners are also getting to live in somewhat better conditions. Rather than just being punished to obey orders, they are getting educated on being a good citizen and leaving the ways of crime.


     Many Americans were noticing how much alcohol people were really consuming. They began associating the overconsumption with all the social problems that were starting to appear. Many women and preachers told the people of all the terrible effects of alcohol abuse and how they need to work to end the disaster.

     The reform hopes to reduce the problems that alcohol abuse is causing by limiting the amount of alcohol one can consume, stop alcohol sales, and even get people to give up the drinks.

     Lyman Beecher, a well-known minister, has worked hard to preach to the people the evils of alcohol. He stated that those who drank were, “neglecting the education of their families and corrupting their morals.”

     Another person who worked toward the Temperance reformer is Neal Dow from Maine. Rather than just having lower alcohol consumption, Dow worked to outlaw the sales of of alcohol. His efforts have resulted in the Maine Law of 1846 which outlawed the selling of alcohol in Maine state. Now after this law passed, outlawing alcohol sales has become a huge goal for the reform. Now, more states are gradually starting to pass laws that outlaw or strictly restrict alcohol sales.

     As of now, the Maine Law of 1846 has outlawed alcohol sales in Maine. Now more states are starting to follow the state’s footsteps. More people are beginning to believe in the temperance reform and are joining forces to end the harsh effects of alcohol on today’s society.


     The public education system in America is quite poor, not being able to teach its pupils to its fullest capabilities. Immigration started to increase and this increased the demand for jobs. Now many reformers argue that a stronger education will lead to the next generation becoming good workers and citizens. Many believe this is true, yet many children work in the factories or the family farm. Most just want their children to accomplish simple skills such as read the Bible, write, and do basic mathematics. Education was more popular in the North than in South. This was because of the very first settlers educating their children on their religion so that they should not stray from it. Many of the school teachers are untrained men, waiting for better opportunities to come to them. The school houses are small and not very stealthy. Students range from many ages and backgrounds as well as personal abilities. Small textbooks are available, providing minimum resource to the teachers. Since there is such a social diversity in the States, with different people of different backgrounds getting different levels of education, there is an imbalance in the system. Girls are able to receive education, but often they are in school for shorter amounts of time staying at home to support the family.

      The Common-School Movement works to have all children educated in the same way, regardless of their background and class. The reform also works to build colleges for women and schools for African Americans as well as the disabled.

      Horace Mann was initially a reformer who strongly supported equal education for all. He then became the first secretary of education in Massachusetts in the year of 1837. During his term, Mann doubled the school budget and helped teachers to earn better wages. He created a longer school year and also built the first school for specializing in teacher training. Mann’s beliefs and strategies have spread across the nation and now they stand as a standard for this movement. In 1853. Mann built Antioch College in Ohio as a school for both men and women since many women are discriminated when enrolling into higher education establishments.

     William Holmes McGuffey plays a huge role in this movement without being so directly involved with it. McGuffey, being an educator and Presbyterian minister, put together textbooks for the American public education system. The many pieces in the textbooks were selected from British and American literature. The reading teaches children about morals, social values, literature and reading.

     Many changes in education have occurred as a result of this movement. The school budget in Massachusetts was doubled and teachers’ salaries were raised by the first secretary of education, Horace Mann. Horace Mann also built the Antioch College in Ohio as a coed school because many women are not able to go to higher institutions of education. Many of Mann’s ideas were accepted throughout the country as well as in Latin America and in Europe. The idea of a common school for all is the set standard for the education reform throughout the US.


     Many people support the Abolitionist cause but for different reasons. The Quakers test slavery religiously with ministers preaching that slavery is morally wrong. Other abolitionists want to rid of slavery because the ideals of the Declaration of Independence convey that all men are equal. Then there were the few who were just persuaded into the cause. Now with this diversity of reasons also comes with a diversity of results. Some think that ending slavery would mean African Americans to be treated the same as white Americans, having full social and political status, but others are against giving full social and political equality to the Africans. Some want to free the Africans then send them back to Africa to begin new colonies there. Abolitionists work to end slavery completely in the US and free all African American slaves.

      Many people used their talents to spread work about the abolitionist cause. Horace Greeley, a newspaper editor, is a strong messenger by writing about abolition in the New York Tribune. William Lloyd Garrison wrote and published the well known abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. He is one the most outspoken leaders of the movement. Besides publishing this newspaper, Garrison also co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, a group that works to get immediate emancipation and full equality for African Americans.

     Women also work for this movement. Angelina and Sarah Grimké, sisters of a family that did own slaves, did not support their parents’ decision on owning slaves. Rather, the two went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to join the abolitionist cause. Angelina wrote a pamphlet called Appeal to the Christian Women of the South to have other women join the movement. The pamphlet became quite famous, resulting in the sisters traveling around and becoming the first women to speak in front of the men and women of the Anti-Slavery Society. Later, in 1839, the sisters along with Angelina’s husband Theodore Weld, wrote the book “American Slavery As It Is”, and this book has eventually become very popular and an important writing of its time.

     The Underground Railroad is helping slaves escape from the South to the North. Brave conductors, such as Harriet Tubman, were able to return to the South multiple times. Although there are many things still standing in the way between freedom and captivity, abolitionists work hard to end the harsh human suffering of slavery.

Women's Rights

     Women's rights first came about just after the American Revolution. But at the time, that wasn't the biggest concern. Now currently, when women are very involved with the different social reforms taking place now, this movement has been on the rise. Women are now learning more skills to successfully organize and work in a movement.

     The movement works to get women the same rights as men such as voting and property ownership. There are many people disagreeing on the goals of this movement. Some say that women have the same rights as men, just they are interpreted differently. Others want to rid of the untrue stereotypes and show that women can reach their goal of equality with persistence and hard work.

     Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a well-known leader of this movement. She, along with her friend Lucretia Mott, organized the Seneca Falls Convention as the first public meeting discussing women's rights. She was the main author of the Declaration of Sentiments. She had encountered many situations in life in which she was discriminated just because of her gender. As a result, she joined and strongly contributes to this movement.

     Another important women's rights leader is Susan B. Anthony. She is acknowledged for transforming this movement into a political matter. Anthony strongly believes that men and women should be treated the same in work and in all serious occasions. She is currently working on getting people' signatures so that a new property ownership law may pass.

     The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments truly gathered more women into this movement to support it. Although no laws have been passed yet, the reform is truly working hard for laws to be passed regarding women being able to vote and having equal property rights as men.

So which reform should our family join?

     I believe that we as a family should support and join the Education reform. I, as one of three children and being the oldest, do see that children are not getting enough education to fully succeed in life. This is just what the reform works toward- that all children are able to be educated with the same education that the wealthy are receiving. The reform's leader, Horace Mann, has worked hard to fulfill this idea and now, other nations are following him. The reform has now set this idea as the standard of the reform. In addition to children's education, the reform is also building higher education institutions for women and even schools for African Americans. Overall, this is the cause of all fighting for equal education for all. All in all, I believe we should follow this reform.

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