About This Site

During the Gilded Age (1866-1896), Americans faced enormous economic, social, and political upheaval. No place embodied the struggle more than Illinois. In the summer of 1896 William Jennings Bryan delivered his famous "Cross of Gold" speech to the delegates assembled at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago In his remarks the Nebraskan accepted his party's nomination to run for the presidency. He also scored the nation's established economic interests, as represented by the onerous gold standard. Like many other Americans who worked with their hands or hailed from rural districts, Bryan believed that American political institutions had turned their back upon farmers and workers. His campaign sought to reorient these institutions toward a more egalitarian course. Bryan's sensational oration placed Chicago, Illinois at the top of the news that day. But the city and state had already become fixtures in the public life of the Gilded Age. In 1871 the Great Chicago Fire reminded Americans that large cities were becoming important parts of their society, and faced their own dangers. In 1877 the case of Munn v. Illinois advanced to the United States Supreme Court, and brought the concerns of westerners and southerners at the margins of national economic development to the forefront of political debate. Wage workers also protested the developments of the Gilded Age and brought Illinois into the national spotlight. On May 4, 1886 several police officers were killed when a bomb exploded at a Chicago labor rally. The so-called Haymarket Affair saw eight avowed anarchists sentenced to death for the bombing. When Illinois Governor John Altgeld pardoned several of the condemned men, he effectively ended his own political career. In 1893 Ida B. Wells fled Tennessee for Chicago, where she continued her campaign to expose the practice of lynching in America. She joined a community of women activists that included Hull House founder Jane Addams and temperance crusader Frances Willard. The emergence of a national culture devoted to the lofty ideals of civilization also brought Illinois to prominence with the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, even as it pushed African-Americans, Native Americans and other groups to the margins of national life. In this period Dwight L. Moody also made Chicago a hub of the new fundamentalist movement in American Protestantism, opening the Moody Bible Institute on the city's north side and building a national evangelical empire. Illinois in the Gilded Age presents primary source materials that shed light on this period of the state's history, as well as discussions of the era in narrative and thematic formats.

Illinois in the Gilded Age partnered with scholarly publisher Alexander Stress Press to produce an expanded version of this website, which is available on a subscription basis. Please visit their website for more information.

Copyright and Terms of Use

Certain portions of the materials on this site are protected under copyright laws. These materials have been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, but may not be used for any commercial purpose. Permission to make a single copy of any material on this website through print, photocopying, or downloading to a computer terminal is granted without the need to seek prior consent, on the express condition that you properly cite the source in all copies.

To cite sources you should include all applicable and available information available regarding:

  1. Name of author, editor, compiler, arranger, translator, creator
  2. Title of song, section, poem, short work, letter within a larger book or journal
  3. Title of larger book or journal
  4. Name of editor, compiler, or translator, arranger
  5. Publication information for the print version (publisher location, publisher and date)
  6. Illinois During the Gilded Age Project
  7. Name of owning institution
  8. Date you accessed the source
  9. Direct link to the webpage or digitized item

For other uses of materials from the site (for example, commercial products, publication, broadcast, mirroring, reuse on a website, or anything else that does not fall under concepts relating to "fair use") you are required to seek permission from the appropriate source in advance. Contact information is given below. When requesting permission, please be prepared to refer specifically to the information you intend to use and provide details regarding your planned use.

Those inquiring about these uses should contact us.

Project Team

Drew VandeCreek, Project Director

Tara Dirst, Technical Coordinator (2005-2007)

Anitha Paruchuri, Web Developer (2005-2011)

Stacey Erdman, Digital Collections Curator

Nathan Books, Web Developer

Matthew Short, Metadata Librarian

Charles Larry, Graphic Designer (2005-2011)

Maria Dimanshtein, Graphic Designer (2013) 

Scholarly Contributors

Drew VandeCreek, Northern Illinois University

Jean Baker, Goucher College

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

Maureen Flanagan, Michigan State University

James Gilbert, University of Maryland-College Park

Patricia Schecter, Portland State University

Richard Schneirov, Indiana State University

Charles Postel, San Francisco State University

Jeffrey Chown, Northern Illinois University

Project Partners

Primary source materials featured on this site are derived from the collections of Northern Illinois University's Library, The Schingoethe Center for Native American Cultures at Aurora University, Illinois State University Library, The Joiner History Room at the Sycamore Public Library, the University of Chicago Library, and the Newberry Library.


Illinois Board of Higher Education, the Ruth McCormick Tankersley Charitable Trust, and the Dirksen Congressional Center.