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Putting It All Together

The following activities will help demonstrate to students the contributions, activities, and influences of the Vanderbilts and others who came to define the Gilded Age.

Activity 1: How the Other Half Lived
Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the following aspects of life during the Gilded Age: occupations, transportation, housing, leisure activities, and fashion. Concentrating on the last two decades of the 19th century, have each group research its category to discover the practices of both the wealthy and the average citizen. Ask each group to select a spokesperson to summarize the findings for the class. Finally, hold a general classroom discussion on the differences between the lifestyles of the wealthy and the average citizen during the Gilded Age.

Activity 2: Researching Personalities from the Gilded Age
Have students choose a wealthy individual or family, other than the Vanderbilts, from the Gilded Age. Ask them to conduct research on their life and legacy and prepare a short report. If possible, have students try to find out similar information about an important person in their own community or region during the same period. If any places associated with that person still exist in the community, arrange for students to visit and incorporate what they learn there in their report.

Activity 3: Philanthropy in the Local Community
Discuss with students the concept of philanthropy and have them list several examples. Encourage them to consider national, state, as well as local level efforts. Working in groups of three or four, have them select and visit a local organization--museum, hospital, university, library, or social club--that receives substantial philanthropic gifts. Ask each group to interview someone from the organization and try to find answers to the following questions: How have philanthropic donations benefited your organization? What philanthropists (individuals or businesses) have made major donations? Has their contribution been publicly recognized (e.g. through a plaque, name of a building, etc.)? Why and when did they or do they make their donations? Have the groups share their reports with the class and then discuss how their community as a whole benefits from philanthropic gifts.

 

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