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Farmers in the Gilded Age

120 min


  • Students will trace factors contributing to the farmers’ unrest in the period following the Civil War
  • Students will evaluate and compare primary source documents relating the concerns and objectives of farmers in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
  • Students will understand the farmers’ sense of disempowerment and what they did about it.
  • Students will identify constitutional principles and essential virtues at issue in the controversies related to farmers in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

  • Homestead Act of 1862
  • Deflation
  • Rebate
  • Wall Street
  • Interest rates
  • Tariff
  • Trusts
  • Eastern interests
  • Xenophobia
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Scapegoats
  • Antebellum
  • Sharecroppers
  • Peonage
  • Granger movement
  • Munn v. Illinois (1877)
  • Farmers’ Alliance
  • Predatory
  • Subtreasury plan
  • Inflation
  • Subsidy
  • Agrarian
  • Free silver
  • Populist Party
  • Coxey’s Army
  • American Federation of Labor
  • Sherman Silver Purchase Act (1890)
  • Wilson-Gorman Act (1894)
  • Federal Farm Loan Act (1916)

  1. Divide the class into two document groups. One half of the class will receive copies of Handout B: “National Grange Meeting,” Handout C: Farmers Alliance platform, Texas (1886), and Handout D: Mary Elizabeth Lease Speech (1890). (These documents are short.) The other half of the class receives a single, longer document, Handout E: The Populist Party Omaha Platform (1892) (Consider subdividing within each document group to provide for working groups of 3 – 5). Also provide each student with a copy of Handout G: Graphic Organizer: Comparing Reformers. Students work with their groups to analyze the document assigned, discuss its review questions, and fill in their row(s) of Handout H.
  2. In a jigsaw strategy, reassign students to new groups in which there is at least one person who studied each of the documents. Have students share their responses so that everyone completes the rows for Handouts B, C, D, and E on Handout H. Their discussion should center on comparing and contrasting the documents, not simply sharing facts to fill in the table.

  1. Distribute Handout F: Farm Wife, 1900. Have students read the excerpts of the author’s account of her life. Discuss the review questions.
  2. Use Handout H: Debrief Questions to conduct a discussion in which the whole class engages in analysis of constitutional principles and essential virtues as they are reflected in the farmers’ revolt of the Gilded Age.

  1. Investigate the life and contributions of Mary Elizabeth Lease.
  2. For further reading, Brooke Speer Orr, “Mary Elizabeth Lease: Gendered Discourse and Populist Party Politics in Gilded Age America.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 29 (Winter 2006–2007): 246–265. Brooke Speer Orr earned her Ph.D. from George Washington University in 2002. Her dissertation was a biographical study of Mary Elizabeth Lease. She is currently an assistant professor at Westfield State College in Massachusetts. 1. “Mary Never Said It; Mrs. Lease Says She Never Gave Utterance to the Expression: ‘Raise Less Corn and More Hell,’” Topeka State Journal, May 25, 1896;

Student Handouts

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