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The American Experience
Teacher's Guide
Film Index
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Teacher's Guide feedback The film is organized in four chronological sections. This Film Index, describes the three-hour film in 20-minute segments, to access specific segments. You can build lesson plans around various topics (e.g., the role of women, immigration, the rise of technology) or events (e.g., the Boxer Rebellion, the Pennsylvania coal strike, the Galveston hurricane) or supplement the curriculum that you are currently teaching.

Part 1 | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Winter, Spirit of the Age

Segment One

Length: approximately 7 minutes
Starting image: David McCullough on screen

America 1900 is a time "of optimism, of hope, of buoyancy," tested by tragedies such as war, the assassination of the US president, and natural disasters.

Segment Two (begins at: 6 minutes, 51 seconds)

Length: approximately 6 minutes
Starting image: photograph of US Capitol

William McKinley faces personal challenges when his wife Ida suffers from epilepsy and depression after the death of both children. On the political front, anarchists murder Empress Elizabeth of Austria, the President of France, and the Premier of Spain. It is rumored that there are plots to kill the head of state of every Western country.

Segment Three (begins at: 13 minutes, 6 seconds)

Length: approximately 7 minutes
Starting image: archival film of a train

1900 is a time of technological, scientific, and industrial advances. Trains allow citizens to vacation in any part of the country. Household electricity and indoor plumbing revolutionize the way people live. New inventions include movie projectors, electric fans, phonographs, light bulbs, automobiles, and telephones. Americans believe that these inventions will make them smarter, happier, and healthier.

Segment Four (begins at: 20 minutes, 5 seconds)

Length: approximately 8 minutes
Starting image: period drawings of a telephone sign, mail tubes, and blimps

The new technology creates anxiety as well as optimism. San Francisco is regarded as one of the most modern cities and change is evident everywhere. The new technology brings new jobs as well as an increase in population. Fifteen thousand Chinese work on the railroads and live in an Asian ghetto within San Francisco. By 1900 half of the original forests in America are cut for lumber. Americans realize natural resources are finite. John Muir begins a wilderness movement that results in the formation of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. The environmental movement gains support in Congress. Many national parks are created and the Senate moves to protect the buffalo when a mere 400 remain.

Segment Five (begins at: 28 minutes, 28 seconds)

Length: approximately 9 minutes
Starting image: photographs of ships in San Francisco docks

America becomes a world power. America wins control of Spanish colonies on both sides of the globe, including the Philippines. Filipinos want independence but President McKinley decides to annex the country instead. Manila becomes a crucial link to the markets in the Western Pacific.

In 1900 war breaks out in the Phillipines. Antiwar sentiment grows with the support of Andrew Carnegie and other prominent businessmen. Sixty thousand American troops eventually fight in the Philippines, yet the war still continues. McKinley knows that his chances in the November election hinge on his ability to extricate America from this overseas war.

Segment Six (begins at: 37 minutes, 7 seconds)

Length: approximately 7 minutes
Starting image: drawing of Cupid pointing an arrow at a Gibson girl

The fantasy of the "Gibson Girl" (a stylish, independent woman) is created by magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. In reality, most women in 1900 are still dependent upon men. Women hope to marry well in order to better their lives, yet some women choose careers instead of husbands. Francis Benjamin Johnston pioneers a new career for women in photojournalism. Presidents Cleveland and McKinley pose for her. New technology for printing photographs in the press furthers her career. Soon photographs replace illustrations in the popular press. Johnston's photographs of soldiers, coal miners, and immigrants capture the look of 1900.


Part 1 | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Spring, Change Is In the Air

Segment Seven (begins at: 44 minutes, 5 seconds)

Length: approximately 12 minutes
Starting image: Washington, D.C. in the spring

McKinley runs for a second term as president. Most Americans still live in rural areas with no running water, indoor plumbing, or electricity. As machines replace farm workers and trains provide transportation, seven million people move to cities nationwide.

New York City is the country's largest city and the entertainment capital of America. Vaudeville performers such as Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields are popular. The play "Sapho" creates a scandal and the lead actress, Olga Nethersole is charged with "violating public decency." Peep shows, dime novels, and picture postcards depicting sexuality become popular. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seizes more than 19,000 photographs and 7,000 circulars, catalogues, songs, and poems it considers obscene. They also put Olga Nethersole on trial although she is eventually acquitted. "The Kiss"--a 16-second film--creates a sensation and the new medium of film gains popularity.

Segment Eight (begins at: 56 minutes, 36 seconds)

Length: approximately 4 minutes
Starting image: film of trolleys

Half a million immigrants arrive during 1900, part of the largest wave of immigration in American history. But nearly one-third return home. Millions of people move west looking for a better life and many immigrants become workers in America's industrial revolution. They work 12 to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, for as little as $1.35 a day. Thousands of people each year are maimed by machines, burned by molten steel, or buried by coal mine explosions.

Segment Nine (begins at: 1 hour, 6 seconds)

Length: approximately 12 minutes
Starting image: Utah mountains

America runs on coal; immigrants move west to areas rich in coal. Fuel companies recruit workers from Europe, paying their way to America in exchange for work in the coal mines. There are no federal mine regulations, few state laws, and no unions in Utah.

The story of the Louma family is an example of the danger of coal mining. At 10:20 a.m. on May 1, 1900, a coal mine explodes in Scofield, Utah--the most violent explosion America had ever known. Two hundred men are killed, leaving behind 107 widows and 268 children. "Remember the Scofield Disaster" becomes the rallying cry when miners attempt to organize a union. Relief for the widows and orphans comes in from Nevada, North Dakota, and New York City, but members of the U.S. House of Representatives reject a plea for aid because, they say, there is no precedent for such action.


Part 1 | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Summer, A Great Civilized Power

Segment One

Length: approximately 4 minutes
Starting image: Fourth of July fireworks

In July 1900 the US census totals 76 million. There are more telephones than bathtubs, more blacksmiths than doctors, only eight thousand cars, and less than 10 miles of concrete roads in the entire country.

1900 is an election year and the great question is: Who will lead the nation? McKinley chooses Theodore Roosevelt as his presidential running mate. The selection strengthens McKinley's campaign. However, the crisis brewing in the Pacific challenges his hopes for re-election.

Segment Two (begins at: 4 minutes, 36 seconds)

Length: approximately 5 minutes
Starting image: Chinese landscape

The story of Eva Price, a missionary caught up in the political upheaval in China, begins. The Chinese Revolution begins. A mysterious sect called the Boxers views America as an imperial power exploiting China. Its members believe that missionaries are being used to open up new markets in China. To prevent this, they burn churches and exterminate missionaries.

Segment Three (begins at: approximately 10 minutes)

Length: approximately 13 minutes
Starting image: waves seen through a porthole

The Paris Exposition in the summer of 1900 attracts over 57 million people from around the world. At the Exposition American businesses promote their products. The exposition also promotes the myth of white superiority.

Across America this belief is popularized through songs, theater, and vaudeville, all of which portray African Americans as ignorant, foolish, and childlike. After the Civil War, African Americans had voted, sent representatives to Congress, served as sheriffs and justices of the peace. By 1900 all of that had come to an end. In the South, segregation and "Jim Crow" regulations restrict civil rights and prevent African Americans from voting. White Southerners resort to lynching and other acts of terrorism. The last remaining African American congressman, George White, introduces a bill to make lynching a federal crime, but the motion is defeated.

Booker T. Washington, author of the well-known autobiography Up From Slavery, freates the Tuskegee Institute in 1881, dedicated to teaching African Americans practical skills. Washington urges his followeres to create businesses and to become a self-reliant people. In 1900 a new African American leader emerges. W.E.B. Du Bois believes that without political power African Americans will never achieve equality. Du Bois wants to fight injustice with scholarship and reason. By 1899 he is a professor at Atlanta University but witnessing a vicious crime--the lynching of African American Sam Hose--changes his mind about fighting bigotry through writing. This causes a split between Du Bois and his mentor Washington.

Segment Four (begins at: 23 minutes and 19 seconds)

Length: approximately 12 minutes
Starting image: newspaper headlines about the Boxer Rebellion

In China the Boxer Rebellion spreads. Peking is under siege. Americans and their families are trapped inside the city. On June 13 the Boxers cut the telegraph wires connecting the foreign compound to the outside world. In response, President McKinley pulls his troops out of the Philippines and sends them to China without consulting Congress. This sets the precedent for later US Presidents to take similar actions. By the end of June, 2,500 American soldiers leave Manila to join an international army whose mission is to end the Boxer Rebellion and rescue the hostages.

By the summer of 1900 vacations have become part of American life. The 4,000 millionaires in the United States live like kings and vacation in ornate "cottages" in Newport. The music of John Phillip Sousa and outdoor band concerts are popular. The music industry is born out of these concerts and songs become commodities. Sheet music allows a song to be written in New York and be popular in San Francisco within a week. The biggest hit of 1900 is the "Maple Leaf Rag" by African American musician Scott Joplin.

Segment Five (begins at: 35 minutes and 12 seconds)

Length: approximately 5 minutes
Starting image: headlines

The siege in Peking continues. In 1898 American soldiers fight for the first time outside the western hemisphere and participate in an international effort to save the hostages held in Peking. The hostages begin to starve as they wait for the Allied soldiers to come to their rescue. Theodore Roosevelt defends McKinley's decision to send troops to China. The Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, challenges the Republican party's vision of a more militant America. Bryan runs on an anti-imperial platform, determined not to be beaten by McKinley as he was four years before. Roosevelt campaigns successfully for himself and McKinley.

Segment Six (begins at: 40 minutes, 38 seconds)

Length: approximately 8 minutes
Starting image: disaster headlines

On August 13 the international army frees the hostages in China after 55 days of siege. The Chinese seek their revenge on missionaries in outlying areas. At the end of August the assassination of King Humbert I of Italy causes alarm for McKinley. Anarchists also attempt to kill the Prince of Wales and the Shah of Persia. Anarchists target McKinley because they believe the governments of the West will crumble without leaders. Leon Czolgosz, son of immigrants, begins a plot against McKinley.


Part 1 | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Fall, Anything Seemed Possible

Segment One (begins at: approximately 50 minutes)

Length: approximately 6 minutes
Starting Image: fall foliage in Washington, DC

The presidential candidates of 1900 spend more money on their campaigns than any previous candidates. By September, thanks to Roosevelt's strenuous campaigning, the Republicans appeared to be taking the lead. Bryan begins to attack McKinley's alliance with big business. In September, coal miners in Pennsylvania threaten to walk off the job. This gives Bryan an opportunity to unseat McKinley. Throughout 1900 labor disputes arise. Workers demand better working conditions and higher pay. John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers, tries to organize a strike in the Pennsylvania coal fields. However, uniting the miners is an enormous challenge for Mitchell because the workers are divided along racial and ethnic lines.

Segment Two (begins at: 56 minutes, 12 seconds)

Length: approximately 13 minutes
Starting image: seagulls along the shore

Reports of a hurricane building in the Gulf of Mexico go unheeded by tourists in Galveston, Texas. By the afternoon of September 8, the hurricane has washed out bridges. The trains are no longer running and there is no way to get off the island. By the next day one-sixth of the population of Galveston has perished and nearly half of the homes in Galveston have been destroyed. It is the worst natural disaster in America's history.

Days after the storm Clara Barton and the Red Cross arrive to tend the wounded and homeless. Aid pours in from around the country. McKinley orders troops to Galveston with tents and emergency supplies. In the face of this overwhelming disaster the people of Galveston begin to rebuild their city. Isaac Cline, head of the National Weather Service in Galveston, suggests building a protective sea wall to save the island from further destruction. This becomes the biggest wall built in America to date. It is three miles long, 100 feet wide and 16.5 feet high, and still stands today.

Segment Three (begins at: 1 hour, 10 minutes)

Length: approximately 10 minutes
Starting image: photographs of coal mines

On September 17 the United Mine Workers strike throughout northeastern Pennsylvania, demanding recognition of their union and a living wage. J. P. Morgan Enterprises controls virtually the entire anthracite coal region. Although Mitchell has only convinced 9,000 men to officially join his union, 90,000 men stay out of the mines the first day of the strike. By the end of the week, 120,000 miners join the strike and well over 90 percent of the mines close. Yet the mine owners refuse to negotiate, choosing instead to wait until the workers come back to work out of necessity.

Although some miners actually begin to starve as the strike continues into October, they hold on. As coal becomes scarce, prices skyrocket. With the election and the cold weather coming on, the strike becomes a campaign issue. With Bryan's campaign against big business, McKinley feels he must step in and end the strike. The mine owners offer a wage increase but refuse to acknowledge the union. Mitchell rejects the offer. On October 28, just one week before the election, the mine owners make a new proposal. They still refuse to recognize the union but they offer a larger pay increase. Mitchell accepts and the strike is over. In the fall of 1900 Mitchell leaves the region with over a 100,000 men organized into a national union. With the miners' strike over, Bryan has nothing left to run on. McKinley wins the election of 1900 easily. Prosperity has carried the day. The policy of the Republican party--building an industrial powerhouse at home and expanding the American power abroad--becomes the policy of the nation.

Segment Four (begins at: 1 hour, 20 minutes)

Length: approximately 10 minutes
Starting image: The White House

Congressman George White does not run for office again. Across the South, African Americans have been kept from the polls by new laws, intimidation, and violence. In his farewell speech, White challenges his colleagues for the first time about the injustice African Americans are forced to suffer. It will be the last speech that any black man will give to Congress for the next 28 years. In 1900, America appears to have everything--prosperity, technology, and hope. At midnight on December 31, 1900, Americans welcome the 20th century. On September 6, 1901 Leon Czolgosz shoots William McKinley as the president shakes hands with well-wishers at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The president dies on Friday, September 13. For two days the Exposition dims its lights. Then as the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, makes his way to Washington, the Exposition re-opens its doors and shoots fireworks over Lake Erie.


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