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America 1900 | Article

Other Notable People


John Muir
John Muir took it upon himself to impress his fellow countrymen with the importance of preserving and respecting what he saw as a rapidly dwindling natural bounty. Often referred to as the "father of wilderness," Muir had long before devoted his life to documenting the wonders of nature. A native of Scotland, Muir emigrated to Wisconsin in 1849. Intent on becoming an inventor, he was temporarily blinded by an industrial accident in 1867. Nearly losing his vision became a transforming experience for Muir who emerged from his blindness ever more keen to the splendor of the natural world around him. Eager to witness nature in her various guises, Muir undertook a 1,000 mile hike from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. By 1868, he had emigrated to California where he would spend the next decade honing his skills as a horticulturist and publishing articles extolling the beauty of places like Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada. Largely at his urging, Congress established Yosemite National Park in 1890 and created the National Forest reserves in 1891. By 1900, America could boast of 5 national parks. In 1892, Muir founded the Sierra Club with the intent of rallying like-minded individuals to speak out on behalf of conservation. Among those impressed by Muir's writings was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt confessed great admiration for "Our National Parks," the book Muir had begun in 1900. The book would remain in print throughout the 20th century.

Carrie Nation 
Standing at nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 180 pounds, Carry Amelia Moore Nation, Carrie Nation, as she came to be known, cut an imposing figure. Wielding a hatchet, she was downright frightful. In 1900, the target of Nation's wrath was alcoholic drink. Nation, who described herself as "a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what he doesn't like," felt divinely ordained to forcefully promote temperance. A brief marriage to an alcoholic in the late 1800's fueled Nation's disdain for alcohol. Kiowa, Kansas was the setting of Nation's first outburst of destruction in the name of temperance in 1900. Between 1900 and 1910 she was arrested some 30 times after leading her followers in the destruction of one water hole after another with cries of "Smash, ladies, smash!" Prize-fighter John L. Sullivan was reported to have run and hid when Nation burst into his New York City saloon. Self-righteous and formidable, Nation mocked her opponents as "rum-soaked, whiskey-swilled, saturn-faced rummies." 

While Carrie Nation was certainly among their most colorful members, the members of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874, left more in their wake than strewn glass. Once the largest women's organization in the country, the WCTU concerned itself with issues ranging from health and hygiene, prison reform, and world peace. 

Leon Czolgosz 
As a young man, Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901) worked in a wire mill in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a good employee, retaining his job even through an economic depression. In 1898 he suffered a breakdown, and returned to the family farm. He made trips to hear the anarchist leader Emma Goldman speak, and approached several anarchist groups, who rebuffed him. In 1901, Czolgosz moved to Buffalo, New York, site of the Pan American Exposition. There, in a receiving line on September 6, he shot President McKinley two times. Czolgosz--who gave his name to police as Fred Nieman, or Fred Nobody--later stated in reference to his decision to assassinate McKinley, "I didn't believe one man should have so much service, and another man have none." After a brief trial, Czolgosz was convicted. He was executed on October 29, 1901.

John Mitchell
In Pennsylvania's coal fields, anthracite miners in 1900 had grown to become suspicious of anybody wearing a suit. They came to regard a well-dressed man as one who would be taking something away from them. So, in 1900, when they heard how 29-year-old John Mitchell, resplendent in his Prince Albert suit and jeweled ring, was going to be fighting to improve their lot, they may not have known what to think. But Mitchell knew what he was talking about. He could point to his own stooped shoulders as evidence that he knew well the horrors of the coal mines. Mitchell was only 12 when he himself went into the mines to work. Over time, he established himself as a union organizer and by 1898 was elected president of the fledgling United Mine Workers union. 

"Johnnie Da Mitch," as he was known, faced an uphill battle in organizing a diverse and distrustful lot of men. Mine owners vowed to never recognize the union and exploited simmering ethnic prejudices to create dissension. By September 1900, though, conditions in the mines were so deplorable that Mitchell knew it was time to act. "We have reached the point where we must either advise the miners...to continue working under these unjust and tyrannical conditions or counsel a strike." Mitchell worked feverishly to organize 150,000 miners, each barely hanging on financially and fully dependent on the mining companies. 
Mitchell's union was asking management for a 20% wage increase across the board. 

Monday, September 17, was selected as the strike's start date. As the days stretched into weeks, fewer and fewer men could be found at work in the mines. While the general public sided with the miners, Mitchell knew this sentiment could change when colder weather and coal shortages arrived. With a presidential election less than 6 weeks away, the plight of the miners became a political issue. McKinley's "full-dinner pail" looked empty in light of the conditions endured by those at the bottom of the labor ladder. The President pressed for negotiations. 

By late October, Johnny Mitchell had what he thought was a good deal. The coal companies had agreed to a 10% pay increase, but still refused to recognize the union. Ever a moderate, Mitchell advised union members to accept the offer. While falling short of its stated objectives, Mitchell declared that the strike was groundbreaking as the "most remarkable contest between labor and capital in the industrial history of our nation."

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