Brief Timeline of American Literature and Events

Pre-1650 1650 1700 1750 1800 1810 1820 1830 1840
  1850 1860 1870 1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Literature, Music, and Movies
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s
Political and Social History Literature
  • Franco-Prussian War.
  • John D. Rockefeller founds the Standard Oil Company.
  • Territory of Utah gives full suffrage to women; the first election in which they vote occurs on 1 August
  • Congress enacts the "Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870" or "Enforcement Act" to stop southern white resistance to the power African Americans have gained during Reconstruction. 
  • 22 June. Department of Justice is created.
  • 5 December.  When the 41st Congress meets, every state is represented, the first such Congress since 1860.
  • Birth of Frank Norris in Chicago (d. 1902) 
  • Emerson, "Society and Solitude" 
  • Scribner's Monthly (1870-81) 
  • Bret Harte, The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches

  • 3 March. The Indian Appropriation Act of 1871 marks a step backward as it makes tribal members wards of the state rather than preserving their rights as members of sovereign nations.
  • 8 October. Chicago is almost destroyed by fire.  See the "Great Chicago Fire" website (image courtesy of this source.)Chicago Fire, 1871
  • Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man 
  • 8 July. Tweed Ring exposed in the New York Times and is overthrown.
  • Edward Eggleston, The Hoosier Schoolmaster 
  • Henry James, Watch and Ward (in Atlantic; book form, 1878) 
  • Birth of Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser
  • Howells, Their Wedding Journey; becomes editor of The Atlantic Monthly (1871-1881)
  • Whitman, Democratic Vistas and A Passage to India 
  • Louisa May Alcott, Little Men
  • 1872
  • 5-6 June. The Republican party meets in Philadelphia and nominates Grant for re-election to the presidency. Meeting in Baltimore on 9 July, the Democrats nominate Horace Greeley. 
  • The Credit Mobilier Scandal erupts when the New York Sun reports news of events during the building of the transcontinental railway. Massachusetts congressman and shovel manufacturer Oakes Ames and the Union Pacific Railway had created a company called Credit Mobilier of America, which was awarded all construction work for building the Union Pacific line west of Nebraska.  Ames sweetened the deal by giving shares in the company to many government officials, including both of U. S. Grant's vice-presidents.  Congress ultimately pays $94 million to the company for work worth $44 million. 
  • Grant wins the presidency by a landslide, gathering 3,597,132 votes to Greeley's 2,834,125.
  • Twain, Roughing It 

  • Birth of Paul Laurence Dunbar (d. 1906)
  • 3 March. Homesteaders willing to plant trees on their land are granted an additional quarter section (160 acres). 
  • Congress votes itself a 50% salary increase and makes the increase retroactive for two years, an action that causes such an outcry that the raises are rescinded.
  • 18 September. Financial Panic of 1873 begins with the failure of Jay Cooke and Company after years of inflation, speculation, and the overproduction of paper currency. The Stock Exchange closes for 10 days. 
  • Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology.
  • Howells, A Chance Acquaintance 
  • Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age 
  • Birth of Willa Cather (d. 1947) 
  • Louisa May Alcott, Work 
  • The Delineator (1873-1937) 
  • 1874
  • Women's Christian Temperance Union founded in Cleveland.
  • 8 May. Massachusetts limits women's working days to 10 hours, a significant reform.
  • First Impressionist exhibition in Paris.
  • Barbed wire becomes available, thus making possible the inexpensive enclosure of grazing lands in the west. 
  • Featuring educational as well as religious lectures, the Chautauqua Movement begins at Lake Chautauqua, New York. 
  • Samuel Tilden becomes governor of New York.
  • Birth of Ellen Glasgow (d. 1945)
  • Civil Rights Act states that no citizen can be denied equal use of public facilities. 
  • Second Sioux War erupts after the Sioux refuse to sell lands north of the Platte to the federal government. 
  • The Supreme Court decision of Minor v. Happersett allows states to set suffrage requirements and denies women voting rights.
  • Bret Harte, Tales of the Argonauts 
  • Louisa May Alcott, Eight Cousins 
  • Howells, A Foregone Conclusion
  • 1876
  • Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone. 
  • 25 June. Ignoring warnings of a massed Sioux army of  2,000-4,000 men, Custer and 250 soldiers attack the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Big Horn.  Custer and all of his men die in the attack. Sitting Bull escapes to Canada, returning to the United States in 1881 as a participant in wild west shows.
  • Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. 
  • In an election marred by fraud, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) is elected president over Democrat Samuel J. Tilden after compromising with southern Democrats over the restriction of Reconstruction. Tilden receives 4,284,020 popular votes and Hayes receives 4,036,572. (Visit the Harper's Weekly site for an overview of the election, political cartoons, and other information.)
  • Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer 
  • Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Centennial Edition) 
  • Melville, Clarel (poem) 
  • James, Roderick Hudson 
  • Louisa May Alcott, Silver Pitchers and Independence (containing "Transcendental Wild Oats"); Rose in Bloom 
  • Birth of Jack London, Sherwood Anderson
  • 1877
  • 29 January. The Electoral Commission Bill authorizes a committee of 15 to decide the election between Hayes and Tilden.  The committee's  votes split along party lines.  On 3 March, Hayes is announced as President after House Republicans agree, among other concessions, to pull Federal troops from the South. On 5 March, Rutherford B. Hayes is inaugurated as President of the United States (1877-81). 
  • Nez Perce war. After a battle between Nez Perce forces under Chief Joseph and those of Col. Miles in Idaho, Chief Joseph's band is sent to a reservation in Oklahoma 
  • 14 July. The Great Strike of 1877 begins with railroad workers  walking out; later, workers from other industries will follow. (Accounts from Harper's Weekly)
  • Thomas Alva Edison patents the phonograph. He demonstrates the device on 7 December at the offices of the Scientific American in New York.
  • James,The American 
  • Jewett,Deephaven
  • December 17. Mark Twain gives his infamous "Whittier Birthday Dinner Speech" in front of an assembled multitude of literary dignitaries.
  • 1878
  • 15 October. Although he has not yet perfected the incandescent light bulb, Edison establishes Edison Electric Light Company in New York City (Almanac of American History 338).
  • Women's Suffrage Amendment is introduced into Congress but fails. 
  • The Timber and Stone Act permits the cutting of timber on public lands to increase the cleared acreage for farmers; timber lands are sold for as little as $2.50 an acre.
  • The Northern Cheyenne escape from their reservation in Oklahoma in an attempt to reach their lands in Montana Territory.
  • The first central switchboard for telephone service in New York City is opened. 
  • James, The Europeans; (Daisy Miller)
  • Using first carbonized cotton and then carbonized bamboo for a filter, Edison invents a functioning light bulb.
  • A bill to restrict Chinese immigration is passed by Congress but vetoed by President Hayes. 
  • Hearing rumors that Kansas had been set aside for settlement by former slaves, between  7,000 and 15,000  African Americans move to Kansas; they are called "exodusters" after their exodus into the dusty lands of Kansas.
  • James, Daisy Miller
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