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Amusing the Million: Mass Culture and Leisure at the Turn of the 20th Century: Resources and Links

Theme: Social Change and Social Reform
Topic: Amusing the Million: Mass Culture and Leisure at the Turn of the 20th Century
Date: July 12, 2006
Scholar: Brad Austin, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, History Department, Salem State College

Annotated Bibliography: Secondary Sources | Websites and Web Resources

Resources and Links compiled and annotated by Brad Austin, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, History Department, Salem State College, and the SALEM in History staff.

Annotated Bibliography

Compiled and annotated by Brad Austin, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, History Department, Salem State College and the SALEM in History staff.


Secondary Sources

Bailey, Beth. From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

This is a book about the “conventions” of dating among middle-class, white American teenagers during the twentieth century. Bailey doesn’t claim to describe actual practices, but, instead, she documents how establishment advisors (magazines, advice columnists, student newspapers, scientific experts, etc.) described what constituted “normal” and “acceptable” dating practices.  Students are usually fascinated by the ways Bailed connects larger global events such as the Depression, WWII, and the Cold War to American dating patterns. 

Boyer, Paul. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Important study about Americans' moral response to the city and resulting strategies for moral and social control among reformers in a nation shifting from one of small town ideals and "island communities" to one of urban dwellers. Focus on individuals and groups who feared changes wrought by immigration, urbanization, and religious and family disruptions and sought to influence behavior of city dwellers through planned efforts. He identifies a shift in the goals and methods of these reformers; from a moralistic approach to social control in the mid 19th century to a more sociologically- informed approach which was reflective of the newly recognized connection between the material world of city dwellers and the social and "moral" problems which plagued them.

Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Vintage, 1998.

In this book Brumberg offers an historical explanation for the focus many young women put on crafting the “perfect” body.  Brumberg argues that during the 1920s, American girls shifted their self-improvement strategies from internal concerns (character, reliability, intellect, etc.) to external concerns (makeup application, breast size, weight loss).  Brumberg also connects this shift to other large themes in American history, including the growing influence of “experts,” the role of mass media, and the importance of commercialism and advertising.  Sections of this book would be appropriate for high school students.  Teachers could certainly incorporate much of its information and many of its ideas into their lectures and class discussions.

Cooper, J.M. Pivotal Decades, 1900-1920. New York: W.W. Norton, 1990.

A solid, accessible examination of American life in the first two decades of the 20th century that brings to life the confluence and explosion of changes and major new considerations on all fronts. Cooper integrates and explores social, cultural, political and economic factors of the period deftly, bringing each to bear on the other. He argues that these two decades represent a "turning point" in American history, establishing an agenda that still dominates American life at the turn of the 21st century.

Cumbler, John T. Working-class Community in Industrial America: Work, Leisure and Struggle in Two Industrial Cities, 1880-1930. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1979.

            Case study of formal and informal working-class community organizations.

Dawson, Melanie. Laboring to Play: Home Entertainment and the Spectacle of Middle-Class Cultural Life, 1850-1920. Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama Pr., 2005.

A study of middle class parlor games and how they allowed men and women to contest Victorian restrictions on behavior. By the end of the century, the author argues, people were participating more in public recreation and leisure.

Hardy, Stephen and Ingham, Alan G. “Games, Structures and Agendy: Historians on the American Play Movement.” Journal of Social History 1983 17(2): 285-301.

A historiographical review of how historians have written about play in the context of sports, social and political history.

Hardy, Stephen. How Boston Played: Sport, Recreation and Community, 1865-1915. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1982.

Connects sports history to the larger context of urban and social history, focusing on Boston sports and recreation between the Civil War and World War I.

Kasson, John F. Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. New York: Hill & Wang, 1978.

This easy-to-read history of Coney Island interprets the amusement park as “a case study of the growing cultural revolt against standards of taste and conduct that would swell to a climax in the 1920s.” (p. 9) Includes lots of photos.

McBee, Randy D. Dance Hall Days: Intimacy and Leisure among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States. New York: New York U. Pr., 2000.

Examines the culture of dance halls among immigrant men and women and the role these public spaces played in working-class culture.

McCrossen, Alexis. Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000.

A history of the “day of rest” in America and their contested state in the 19th century. This book examines the debate over commercialized leisure and the religious ideas of Sundays as a day of rest.

Nasaw, David. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. New York: Basic Books,1993.

This book describes the various urban amusements popular in the first two decades of the 20th century, including movie theaters, amusement parks, baseball parks, world’s fairs and dance halls. Nasaw argues that these public entertainments brought together working- and middle-class men and women, but generally excluded African-Americans.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.

Comprehensive history of the United States from Reconstruction to the end of the first World War. Interpretive bent is toward seeing the U.S. as poised on the brink of destruction during this period in which so many changes and challenges faced the American people. More emphasis on social history than political or economic.

Steven Riess, ed. Major Problems in American Sport History: Documents and Essays (Major Problems in American History Series). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

This is the best, single source for primary and secondary sources on American sports history.  It covers everything from Native American games through the influence of television on American sporting cultures.  Its section on race and sports in the post-WWII era is especially powerful, with great readings from Muhammad Ali and others.  Edited by one of the most prominent historians of American sports, this is the one book that teachers wanting to incorporate sports and recreation into their lessons must have.

Rosenzweig, Roy. Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City,1870-1920.  Cambridge, England: Cambridge U. Pr., 1983.

            Case study of working-class recreation and leisure in the city of Worcester.

Schuyler, David. The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition of City Form in 19th Century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Looks at urban planning and specifically the creation of parks as a way to mitigate the problems of urbanization.

Websites and Web Resources

The American Experience: Coney Island: PBS

The website for the PBS/American Experience documentary on Coney Island. Includes photographs, a historic timeline and a brief teachers’ guide.

“America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915," Library of Congress/American Memory

This collection of turn-of-the-century digitized films includes video of some of the Coney Island amusements. (To locate, do a keyword search for “Coney Island.”) Two Library of Congress/American Memory Collections which include still photographs from Coney Island include:

Also of interest may be “Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the 20th Century” (, a collection of primary and secondary sources relating to the traveling entertainment and education programs popular in the early 20th century.

“Class and Leisure at America’s First Resort: Newport, Rhode Island, 1870-1914," University of Virginia

This website explores upper class leisure at Newport, Rhode Island around the turn of the 20th century, through maps, photographs, architecture and secondary sources. An interesting comparison to Amusing the Million. Also of possible interest on the University of Virginia/American Studies website is an online exhibition about the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition ( and its social, political and cultural legacy.

Children in Urban America Project, Marquette University

This is a fascinating online archive of primary sources (photographs, letters, oral histories, newspaper clippings, etc.) relating to children in urban America in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the topics covered is Play & Leisure. Much of the material is from the Midwest, but is still relevant. The site is fully searchable and includes recommended secondary reading.

Gender Equity in Sports, University of Iowa

The University of Iowa has one of the strongest women’s history programs in the country, as well as a real commitment to the study of American sports.  It is not surprising, then, that UI hosts one of the most informative web sites on Title IX legislation.  Often updated, this site includes nice chart summary of the road to the Title IX legislation and the modifications to it since its inception.  It also includes the official language of the legislation and the laws several states have passed along the same lines.

Lesson Plan: “Having Fun: Leisure and Entertainment at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”
EdSiteMent/National Endowment for the Humanities

This is a lesson plan for grades 6-8 on early 20th century leisure, utilizing primary sources from the Library of Congress American Memory collection.

Magazine of History, Organization of American Historians

This edition of the Organization of American Historian’s Magazine of History is a fantastic resource for teachers wanting to incorporate American sports history into their classes.  With a brief historiography of American sports and essays ranging from the British colonial sporting legacy to the Negro Leagues (baseball), this edition will help teachers get “up to speed” on several topics rather quickly.  Additionally, it includes five interesting lesson plans and numerous primary sources.  This is a scholarly resource, and the quality shows.

North American Society for Sport History

This is the official web site for the North American Society for Sport History.  It offers annotated links to other web sites related to North American sports, and it also includes a useful scholars database.

World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893
Illinois Institute of Technology

This website has full-text searchable and digitized versions of four books written in 1893 and 1894 about the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The books include lots of contemporary photographs, maps, descriptions and analysis of the exposition.


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