Important Figures of the Gilded Age & the Progressive Era
A list of 40 important figures of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era (from the 1870s to the 1920s) in the fields of business, politics, literature, and social reform.
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created April 27, 2017
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|Name||Portrait||Category||Occupation||Date of Birth||Date of Death||Description||Quote||Remembrance|
|Grace Abbott||Social Reform||Social worker; activist; educator||November 17, 1878||June 19, 1939||A lead social reformer who campaigned for the welfare of children and immigrants; Director of the child labor division of the U.S. Children's Bureau from 1917 to 1919.||"Justice for all children is the high ideal in a democracy."||Grace Abbott School of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha|
|Jane Addams||Social Reform||Social worker; political activist; author; lecturer; community organizer; public philosopher||September 6, 1860||May 21, 1935||The first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; Founder of the social work profession in the United States; Co-founder of the Chicago's Hull House, the first settlement house in the United States; Leader in women's suffrage.||"The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life."||Jane Addams Memorial Park in Chicago; Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago; Jane Addams Business Careers Center in Cleveland, Ohio; Jane Addams High School For Academic Careers in New York; Jane Addams Day - December 10th|
|Susan B. Anthony||Social Reform||Publisher; civil rights activist; editor; women's rights activist; journalist||February 15, 1820||March 13, 1906||Co-founder of the Women’s Temperance movement; Key supporter of women's suffrage; She played a significant role in the passing of the nineteenth amendment (1920) which gave women the vote.||"Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less."||Susan B. Anthony Award since 1970; Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, the first U.S. coin to honor a real woman; National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House; Susan B. Anthony Day - February 15|
|Chester A. Arthur||Politics||Lawyer; politician||October 5, 1829||November 18, 1886||21st President of the United States; He advocated for the cause of civil service reform and signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.||"Men may die, but the fabrics of free institutions remains unshaken."||Arthur Memorial Statue at Madison Square in New York City|
|William Jennings Bryan||Politics||Lawyer; orator; politician||March 19, 1860||July 26, 1925||Nebraska congressman who gave the famous “Cross of Gold” speech; The greatest champion of inflationary “free silver” around the turn of the century; "The Great Commoner" due to his faith in the wisdom of the common people.||"Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."||Bryan County, Oklahoma; Bryan Medical Center and Bryan College of Health Science in Lincoln, Nebraska; Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee; Omaha Bryan High School and Bryan Middle School in Bellevue, Nebraska; William Jennings Bryan House in Asheville, North Carolina|
|Andrew Carnegie||Business||Business magnate; entrepreneur; philanthropist||November 25, 1835||August 11, 1919||Founder and leader of the Carnegie Steel Company which later became the U.S. Steel Corporation; One of the nation’s first large-scale philanthropists; Founder of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, Carnegie Hero Fund, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, among others.||"No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it."||The dinosaur Diplodocus carnegiei at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Carnegie, Pennsylvania, and Carnegie, Oklahoma; Carnegiea gigantea, the Saguaro cactus's scientific name; The Carnegie Medal for the best children's literature published in the UK; Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education at Leeds Beckett University, UK; Carnegie Mellon University; Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston, Texas|
|Grover Cleveland||Politics||Lawyer; politician||March 18, 1837||June 24, 1908||22nd and 24th President of the United States who won praise for his personal honesty and campaigns against corruption and bribery; His inability to end the Depression of 1893 helped give rise to the Populist movement in the mid-1890s.||"A truly American sentiment recognizes the dignity of labor and the fact that honor lies in honest toil."||Grover Cleveland Hall at Buffalo State College; Grover Cleveland Middle School in Caldwell, New Jersey; Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo, New York; Cleveland, Mississippi; Mount Cleveland in Alaska; Cleveland Park near Washington, D.C.|
|Eugene V. Debs||Social Reform||Fireman; grocer; trade unionist||November 5, 1855||October 20, 1926||Trade Union leader, and five times Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America; Organizer of the 1894 Pullman Strike over pay cuts.||"While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."||Eugene V. Debs Home in Indiana; Debs, Minnesota; "Debs Place" in New York; Eugene V. Debs Cooperative House in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Beer brands "Debs' Red Ale" and "Eugene"|
|John Dewey||Social Reform||Philosopher; psychologist; educational reformer||October 20, 1859||June 1, 1952||One of the primary figures associated with the philosophy of pragmatism and is considered one of the fathers of functional psychology; A major voice of progressive education and liberalism.||"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."||John Dewey Society; John Dewey High School in New York; John Dewey Academy of Learning in Green Bay, Wisconsin; John Dewey Academy in Great Barrington, Massachusetts; John Dewey Elementrary School in Warrensville Hts., Ohio; John Dewey Elementary School in Flint, Michigan; John Dewey Middle School in Denver, Colorado|
|Emily Dickinson||Literature||Poet||December 10, 1830||May 15, 1886||One of the greatest female poets in the United States whose themes of death and immortality became very popular and influenced the development of modern poetry.||"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul - and sings the tunes without the words - and never stops at all."||Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Montana, Washington, and New York; The Emily Dickinson Journal; Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts; "The Belle of Amherst", a one-woman play|
|W.E.B. Du Bois||Social Reform||Sociologist; historian; civil rights activist; author; editor||February 23, 1868||August 27, 1963||An influential African-American activist who laid the framework for future civil rights movements; Leader of the Niagara Movement; Co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).||"A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills."||W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite in Massachusetts; The Du Bois center at Northern Arizona University; W. E. B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst|
|Thomas Edison||Business||Inventor; businessman||February 11, 1847||October 18, 1931||Pioneer of the mass use and distribution of electricity; One of the most prolific inventors, who developed many life-changing devices including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the electric light bulb.||"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."||Edison, New Jersey; Thomas Edison State University in Trenton, New Jersey; Edison State College in Myers, Florida; Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio; The Hotel Edison in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; Lake Thomas A Edison in California; Hotel Edison in New York; Asteroid 742 Edisona|
|Ralph Waldo Emerson||Literature||Essayist; lecturer; poet||May 25, 1803||April 27, 1882||A leading poet, Transcendentalist and influential philosopher; He espoused no fixed doctrine but expanded on ideas of freedom, nature and the possibilities of man.||"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."||Emerson Hall at Harvard University; Emerson Unitarian Universalist Association Professorship of Harvard Divinity School; Emerson String Quartet at Stony Brook University; Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize (awarded annually to high school students for essays on historical subjects)|
|Abraham Flexner||Social Reform||Educator; critic||November 13, 1866||September 21, 1959||An educator best known for his role in the 20th century reform of medical and higher education in the United States and Canada; Founder of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.||"Science, in the very act of solving problems, creates more of them."||Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education created by the Association of American Medical Colleges; Abraham Flexner Master Educator Awards created by the University of Kentucky College of Medicine; Abraham Flexner Way in Louisville, Kentucky|
|Henry Ford||Business||Entrepreneur||July 30, 1863||April 7, 1947||Founder of the Ford Motor Company; Sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production.||"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right."||Henry Ford Hospital, Henry Ford College, and The Henry Ford in Michigan; Henry Ford Elementary School in Redwood City, California and Dearborn, Michigan; Henry Ford Academy in Detroit, Michigan|
|James A. Garfield||Politics||Lawyer; politician; teacher; lay preacher||November 19, 1831||September 19, 1881||20th President of the United States, elected in 1880, who spent less than a year in office before he was assassinated. His accomplishments include a resurgence of presidential authority against senatorial courtesy in executive appointments, energizing American naval power, and purging corruption in the Post Office.||"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."||Garfield Monument at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco; James A. Garfield Monument in Washington, D.C.; James Garfield Memorial, Philadelphia; Garfield, Victoria, Australia|
|Samuel Gompers||Social Reform||Labor leader, cigar maker||January 27, 1850||December 13, 1924||Founder and the first president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), who promoted thorough organization and collective bargaining to secure shorter hours and higher wages.||"The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit."||Gompers Square in Washington, D.C.; Gompers Park in Chicago; Samuel Gompers Houses in New York|
|Ulysses S. Grant||Politics||Soldier; politician||April 27, 1822||July 23, 1885||18th President of the United States who played a pivotal role in the reconstruction period following the Civil War; Commanding General (1864–69) who led the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War.||"The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on."||Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington, D.C.; Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site near St. Louis, Missouri; Grant Park in Chicago; Ulysses S. Grant Centenary Association; Ulysses S. Grant's presidential library at Mississippi State University; Ulysses S. Grant Foundation|
|Benjamin Harrison||Politics||Lawyer; politician||August 20, 1833||March 13, 1901||23rd President of the United States and the grandson of ninth U.S. President William Henry Harrison; Hallmarks of his presidency included McKinley Tariff and Sherman Antitrust Act.||"We Americans have no commission from God to police the world."||Benjamin Harrison memorial statue at University Park in Indianapolis; SS Benjamin Harrison, a Liberty Ship; Benjamin Harrison Home in Indianapolis; Fort Harrison State Park in Lawrence, Indiana|
|Collis Potter Huntington||Business||Business magnate||October 22, 1821||August 13, 1900||A key figure in building the Central Pacific Railroad – the first transcontinental railroad, and other major interstate lines such as the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O).||“Whatever is not nailed down is mine. What I can pry loose is not nailed down.”||Collis P. Huntington Building – Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia; Huntington, West Virginia; Collis P. Huntington High School in Virginia; Huntington, Texas; Huntington Hotel in San Francisco; Huntington Free Library and Reading Room in New York; Collis P. Huntington State Park in Connecticut; Collis P. Huntington Academic Building and Huntington Dorm at Tuskegee University, Alabama; Collis Potter and Howard Edwards Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California|
|Helen Keller||Social Reform||Author; political activist; lecturer||June 27, 1880||June 1, 1968||She overcame the dual disability of deaf blindness to champion the deaf people; A supporter of the American Socialist Party.||"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."||Helen Keller Day - June 27; Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama; Numerous streets around the world are named after her|
|William McKinley||Politics||Lawyer; politician||January 29, 1843||September 14, 1901||25th President of the United States who led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintained the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of inflationary proposals.||"War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed."||National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Library and Museum in Niles, Ohio; 20 Ohio schools and several other schools in the U.S. bear his name, including the President William McKinley High School in Hawaii; Denali National Park was known as Mount McKinley National Park until December 2, 1980|
|Andrew W. Mellon||Business||Banker; businessman; industrialist; philanthropist; art collector; politician||March 24, 1855||August 26, 1937||United States Secretary of the Treasury (1921–32) who reformed the tax structure of the U.S. government in the 1920s; His benefactions made possible the building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; One of the wealthiest people in the United States in the mid-1920s.||"Give tax breaks to large corporations, so that money can trickle down to the general public, in the form of extra jobs."||Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; US Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC-717); Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium and Andrew Mellon Building in the National Gallery of Art; Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain in Washington D.C.|
|J. P. Morgan||Business||Financier; banker; art collector||April 17, 1837||March 31, 1913||He built a financial empire based on banking and investment, and arranged the biggest mergers of his day; A key player in the formation of great corporations such as General Electric and the US steel corporation; He saved the nearly bankrupt federal government in 1895 by loaning the Treasury more than $60 million.||"Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see farther."||Cragston Dependencies; Gemstone morganite; The Morgan Library and Museum in New York|
|Frank Norris||Literature||Journalist; novelist||March 5, 1870||October 25, 1902||An American author whose notable work include McTeague (1899), The Octopus: A Story of California (1901), and The Pit (1903).||“The People have a right to the Truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”||Frank Norris St. in San Francisco; McTeague's Saloon in San Francisco|
|George Pullman||Business||Engineer; industrialist||March 3, 1831||October 19, 1897||Designer and manufacturer of the Pullman sleeping car, a luxurious railroad coach designed for overnight travel; In 1894 workers at his company initiated the Pullman Strike, which was a turning point for US labor law.||“She'll tell you, we climbed trees to get here."||George M. Pullman Educational Foundation; Pullman, Washington; Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, New York|
|Jacob Riis||Social Reform||Social reformer; journalist; photographer||May 3, 1849||May 26, 1914||He wrote and photographed the poverty of New York, helping to expose squalid social conditions; He endorsed the implementation of "model tenements" in New York.||“In self-defence, you know, all life eventually accommodates itself to its environment, and human life is no exception.”||Jacob Riis Park, Jacob Riis Triangle, Jacob Riis Settlement House, and Jacob Riis Playground in Queens, New York; Jacob Riis Community School in New York; Jacob Riis Public School in Chicago; Riis Park in Chicago|
|John D. Rockefeller||Business||Business magnate; philanthropist||July 8, 1839||May 23, 1937||Founder of the Standard Oil Company, University of Chicago, Rockefeller University, Central Philippine University, General Education Board, and Rockefeller Foundation; The wealthiest American of all time, and the richest person in modern history.||"If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success."||Rockefeller University; Rockefeller Foundation; Rockefeller Chapel in University of Chicago; Rockefeller Hall in Case Western Reserve University Physics Department; Rockefeller Hall in Cornell University Physics Department; Rockefeller Hall in Vassar College; Rockefeller Hall in Spelman College|
|Theodore Roosevelt||Politics||Author; conservationist; explorer; historian; naturalist; politician; soldier||October 27, 1858||January 6, 1919||26th President of the United States, whose "Square Deal" sought to protect American consumers, regulate big business, conserve natural resources, and help organized labor; His Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine asserted American influence and power in Latin America.||"Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."||Mount Rushmore Memorial; USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71); Roosevelt Road in Chicago; Theodore Roosevelt street and monument in Yalta; Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in New York; Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; Theodore Roosevelt Lake and Theodore Roosevelt Dam in Arizona|
|Elizabeth Cady Stanton||Social Reform||Writer; women's rights activist; abolitionist||November 12, 1815||October 26, 1902||A leading figure of the early women's rights movement, whose Declaration of Sentiments is often credited with initiating the first organized women's rights and women's suffrage movements in the United States.||"The best protection any woman can have... is courage."||Elizabeth Cady Stanton House in Seneca Falls; Elizabeth Cady Stanton House in Tenafly, New Jersey; USS Elizabeth C. Stanton (AP-69)|
|Harriet Beecher Stowe||Literature||Author; abolitionist||June 14, 1811||July 1, 1896||Abolitionist and author best known for her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which depicted life under slavery and contributed to turning public opinion in the North against slavery.||"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone."||Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Ohio, Maine, and Connecticut; Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in Michigan|
|William Howard Taft||Politics||Politician; educator; chief justice||September 15, 1857||March 8, 1930||Theodore Roosevelt’s handpicked successor; 27th President of the United States; He legislated against monopoly trusts and advanced other progressive causes.||"Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever."||William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Cincinnati, Ohio; William Howard Taft Road in Cincinnati, Ohio; William Howard Taft High School in San Antonio, Texas, New York, and Chicago; William Howard Taft Charter High School in Woodland hills, California; William Howard Taft Elementary School in Boise, Idaho|
|Frederick Winslow Taylor||Business||Mechanical engineer; management consultant||March 20, 1856||March 21, 1915||Mechanical engineer who became famous for his work on improving efficiency in business; "Father of the scientific management & efficiency movement"; "Father of industrial engineering".||“In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.”||Taylor Society|
|Mark Twain||Literature||Writer; humorist; entrepreneur; publisher; lecturer||November 30, 1835||April 21, 1910||Real name: Samuel Langhorne Clemens; "Father of American literature" who coined the phrase Gilded Age in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873); His famous works include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).||"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."||Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut; Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada; Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site and Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Missouri; Mark Twain Riverboat in California; Mark Twain Elementary School in Niles, Illinois; Mark Twain Intermediate School 239 in New York|
|Booker T. Washington||Social Reform||Educator; author; civil rights leader||April 5, 1856||November 14, 1915||The dominant leader in the African American community between 1890 and 1915, who advocated an incremental approach to improving education and life prospects of African Americans; Adviser to the Presidents Roosevelt and Taft.||"Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome."||Booker T. Washington, a Liberty ship; Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County, Virginia; Booker T. Washington State Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Booker T. Washington Memorial at Hampton University; Booker T. Washington Monument at at Tuskegee University; Booker T. Washington Institute; Booker T. Washington Park in Malden, West Virginia|
|George Westinghouse||Business||Entrepreneur; engineer||October 6, 1846||March 12, 1914||Inventor of the air brake for trains and pioneer of the electrical industry, whose electricity distribution system, based on alternating current, became the dominant source of electricity in America and the whole world.||"If someday they say of me that in my work I have contributed something to the welfare and happiness of my fellow man, I shall be satisfied."||Westinghouse Park and George Westinghouse Bridge in Pittsburgh; George Westinghouse, Jr., Birthplace and Boyhood Home in Central Bridge, New York|
|Walt Whitman||Literature||Poet; essayist; journalist||May 31, 1819||March 26, 1892||Poet who provided a bridge between transcendentalism and realism; He published Leaves of Grass (1855) and revised this great American epic throughout his life; "Father of free verse".||"Be curious, not judgmental."||Walt Whitman Bridge crossing the Delaware River; Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas, Texas; Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland; Walt Whitman High School and Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington, New York|
|Wright Brothers||Business||Editor/printer/publisher; bicycle retailer/manufacturer; airplane inventor/manufacturer; pilot trainer||Orville: August 19, 1871; Wilbur: April 16, 1867||Orville: January 30, 1948; Wilbur: May 30, 1912||Orville and Wilbur successfully made the first powered air flight in 1903. They continued to develop airplanes ushering in a new world of flight.||"If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance."||Wright Brothers Medal; The Wright Brothers – The Invention of the Aerial Age at Smithsonian Institution; Wilbur Wright Birthplace Museum; Wright Aeronautical Engineering Collection at the Franklin Institute; Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina; Wright Brothers Middle School in Dayton, Ohio|
|Woodrow Wilson||Politics||Politician; educator||December 28, 1856||February 3, 1924||28th President of the United States; A leading progressive, who passed many progressive bills, including a graduated income tax, Federal Reserve Act, anti-trust legislation, and federal support for agriculture and the beginnings of a welfare state; He established an activist foreign policy known as "Wilsonianism".||"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."||Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; Woodrow Wilson Hall at Monmouth University; Rambla Presidente Wilson in Uruguay; Pont Wilson and Boulevard du Président Wilson in France; Woodrow Wilson Monument in Prague; Woodrow Wilsonsquare in Belgium|
|Cornelius Vanderbilt||Business||Business magnate; philanthropist||May 27, 1794||January 4, 1877||Business magnate who amassed his fortune through his dominance of railroads and shipping; He built and controlled many of the most significant railroads in America, such as the New York Railroad and the Grand Central Terminal.||"You have undertaken to cheat me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I'll ruin you."||Vanderbilt University; Numerous Vanderbilt houses built by the Vanderbilt family, including the Biltmore Estate|