The New Gilded Age: America Then, America Now

Edward O’Donnell – Holy Cross College

In recent years a spate of books and articles have been published with the phrase “New Gilded Age” or “Second Gilded Age” in their title. All examine current social, political, and economic problems in the United States (growing income inequality, Wall Street malfeasance, and vehement anti-immigrant sentiment—just to name a few) with an eye toward the first Gilded Age (1870-1900). That was a period when America experienced astonishing growth in prosperity, population, and industry, but also urban squalor, political corruption, worker exploitation, Robber Baron ruthlessness, and an alarming growth in the gap between rich and poor. This presentation will examine this first Gilded Age and the key issues it raised, as well as how out of its turmoil the U.S. entered a period (The Progressive Era) marked by wide-ranging reform movements. During the last portion, Professor O’Donnell will offer a comparison between the first Gilded Age and our current situation.