This was a time of change. The decade prior had been the days of Wyatt Earp and Jesse James, of Sitting Bull and Geronimo. But by 1889, the Wild West is shrinking, 50,000 people participated in the first Oklahoma land rush;the US population grew over 25% in 10 years;and more people than ever live in urban areas. By the 1890's, with the age of industrialization in full swing, people are just as likely to work in a factory as they are on a farm. The concept of social Darwinism was on the rise;a concept that while we all function within a society. We owe that society nothing, survival of the fittest. Though this might sound sever, this belief also meant that anyone could better themselves and their social standings if they had an innovative idea and a strong work ethic. By the turn of the century we would listen to our news on the radio instead of reading it in the newspaper, homes will be illuminated by light bulbs not lamps, largely thanks to the General Electric cofounded by Thomas Edison, and we would order our furniture and even our homes from Sears & Roebucks mail order catalogs.Despite the success of these well-known companies, the mid 1890's was a time of economic strife. In 1893 the US economy crashed because of two major factors;railroads and silver. The over production of railroads caused the bankruptcy of several rail road companies. These bankruptcies caused 500Sherman Silver Purchase Act. A law which increased the amount of silver the government bought. The hope was this would solidify or even strengthen the worth of silver. Instead, people feared that if silver prices fell, their money would be worth less. So many exchanged their silver notes in for gold bars. This was so common that eventually the Federal Gold Reserves were depleted to their minimum allowed holdings. The newspapers referred to the economic down turn as "The Panic of 1893". Within the year, 15,000 businesses closed and unemployment skyrocketed. Pennsylvania saw 25% unemployment, New York 35%, and in Michigan 43%. The US would remain in this depression until gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1896 and the Klondike Gold Rush revived the American economy.
Fashion tells a lot about the expectations of women of this day. The 1890's is sometimes referred to as the "mauve decade" because a new dye, mauve or lavender in color, was popular in women's fashion. At the start of the decade, elegance was most important, comfort was certainly not. Dresses were nearly the only option and seemed to be deliberately impractical. Puffy sleeves and voluminous layered shirts combined with corsets, created the thin waist, large bust look that was considered desirable. The more expensive A dress was, the more difficult it was to move in. signifying she was a lady of leisure. Once again, the logic being, a family was surly rich if the women did no work at all. Yet few women could afford such garments with a depression in full swing. The majority of women still wore dresses but attire became simpler and more practical;simpler, because it made the dresses cheaper;and more practical, because women needed to be able to work efficiently. Women's clothes became comfortable out of necessity not out of consideration for the wearer. All the same, by the close of the decade, women's fashion had changed considerably and proved liberating for the women.
The 1890's saw a huge surge in volunteerism in women's rights groups. Charity groups, suffragettes, alcohol temperance organizations, and the women's movement as a whole had existed for decades. Though the 1890's was not the birth of the women's movement, it did see a significant increase in participation and success of these groups. As women organizations grew in popularity, they became a politically influential. In 1890 the two largest women's suffrage organizations merged to create the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The group was lead by the famous Susan B. Anthony among others.
Strangely enough, it was not just work that changed women's fashion it was also the bicycle. Bikes were a new craze in the 1890's but the fashions of the day restricted a women's ability to ride. Because of this, bloomers, or loose fitting pants, became increasingly popular. Many in society frowned upon such attire, but the freedom a bicycle provided had too much allure for most and old fashion standards were discarded. With bicycles, women had an activity that provided both fun and independence. Bicycles became a symbol of the women's movement;they represented mobility, freedom, and, thanks to bloomer, a visible statement of liberty. Recreation activities became a mechanism of women's rights. During this decade, the first Women's Amateur Golf championship was held, the first women's intercollegiate basketball game was played, and two all-women ice hockey teams faced off in Philadelphia, Pa. Women were more active than ever. Sports teams, bike clubs and social groups provided an opportunity to discuss and unite over shared interest. Involvement in these groups often led to other social organizations.