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Overview

The Victorian era corresponds with the reign of Queen Victoria in England from 1837 to 1901. The period is beloved for its attention to high morals, modesty and proper decorum, as inspired by the Queen and her husband, Prince Albert. The Victorian era was also an optimistic time in which scientific and industrial invention thrived. Developments in printing produced a proliferation of Victorian scrap art, cards, and magazines. The importance placed on civic conscience and social responsibility engendered notable developments toward gender and racial equality, such as the legal abolishment of slavery in America. In addition, humanitarian and religious organizations such as the Salvation Army reflected the Victorian concern for the poor and needy of the period.

Elsewhere around the globe, the Regency era saw the independence of several South American countries including Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile. Spain experienced a revolution, resulting in the reinstatement of the Constitution of 1812. In 1829, the Peace of Adrianople ended the Russo-Turk War and Turkey acknowledged Greek independence.

In America, the Victorian era is captured in the gun-slinging, trail-blazing culture of the "Wild West", especially during the gold rush of the late 1840s. The period was also marked by tragedies such as the forced relocation of the Native American peoples along the Trail of Tears in 1838 and the war with Mexico over the Western frontier during the 1840s. Perhaps the most devastating event of the era was the American Civil War that nearly ravaged an entire nation in the 1860s. Prompted by the abolitionist efforts of Frederick Douglass (pictured at left), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown, the Northern Union and South Confederacy launched battle at Fort Sumter in 1861. For nearly four years, the North and South engaged in a war that claimed the lives of over half a million Americans. The war finally ended in 1865, with the surrender of the Confederacy and the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.

At home in the United States, race relations of a different kind led to internal conflict in the West. The Chinese were the first Asians to arrive in large numbers to the United States in the nineteenth century. By 1849, tens of thousands had left China from Hong Kong to migrate to countries throughout the world, including the sugar plantations of Hawaii and to the Pacific Northwest for the Gold Rush. Others came to America to labor on the railroads, farms, lumber mills, hop fields, coal mines, and salmon canneries. Thousands of Chinese "coolies", as they were called, were recruited especially to help build the Northern Pacific Railroad which spanned the United States. However, the white settlers in the West soon began to despise and resent the Asian newcomers. In the South, the Delta Chinese arrived in the years immediately after the Civil War to work on the cotton plantations and then opened groceries. Being neither black nor white in the Jim Crow South, the Chinese navigated a confusing, sometimes inconsistent set of racism, exclusion, segregated schools, laws and social mores. The Chinese were denied equal education and minimal wages, were banned from testifying in court, were forced to live in ethnic enclaves away from the rest of society, and were victims of riots and anti-Asian violence, including the Chinese Massacre of Los Angeles in 1871. Hatred against the Chinese reached such a boiling point that in 1882, Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited all immigration of admission of unskilled Chinese laborers for ten years, alongside a ban against "lunatics, idiots, convicts, persons likely to become public charges." The Act was renewed in 1892 and the ban made "permanent" in 1902.

Antebellum reform birthed the Women's Suffrage Movement. Women such as Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Abby Kelly, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone and Sojourner Truth began campaigning for women to participate equally with men in the great reform movements of the day, including anti-slavery and temperance. The early feminists demanded a wide range of change in the social, moral, legal, educational, and economic status of women. The right to vote became the central focus after the Seneca Falls Convention, through the efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. After seven decades of struggle over the issue, the right to vote was finally granted to women by constitutional amendment in 1920.

Across the ocean, China experienced the Opium War, the dramatic rise of nationalism, and the Boxer Rebellion. Ireland suffered a devastating five-year famine, which claimed over one million souls. European nations also engaged in the Crimean War, the Franco-Prussian War, and numerous revolutions at home. Relentless domination by British, French, and German colonists in Africa, known as the Scramble for Africa, culminated in such events as the Boer Wars, Jameson Raid, and the Berlin Conference.