Who and What Changed America? A 20th Century Timeline

magazine just published its "25 Moments That Changed America" list, focusing on the 20th Century. I agree with most of the selections and am impressed with the essays that explain the choices.
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TIME magazine just published its "25 Moments That Changed America" list, focusing on the 20th Century. I agree with most of the selections and am impressed with the essays that explain the choices. I included a timeline of key moments as part of my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012). It includes key turning points in terms of movements, protests, legislation, elections, organizations and books and other cultural events. My list is longer than TIME's list, but there are quite a few overlaps in the two inventories. Here's my list of 150 key moments and events of the 20th Century:

  • International Ladies' Garment Workers Union founded.
  • New York State passes a landmark Tenement House Act.
  • Socialist Party founded.
  • W. E. B Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk published.
  • National Women's Trade Union League founded.
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) founded.
  • Upton Sinclair's The Jungle published.
  • Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act passed
  • La Follette's Magazine founded (later renamed The Progressive).
  • NAACP founded.
  • "Uprising of the 20,000": female shirtwaist makers in New York strike against sweatshop conditions.
  • Milwaukee voters elect Socialist Emil Seidel as mayor, elect a Socialist Party majority to the city council, and elect Socialist Victor Berger to Congress.
  • Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
  • Feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman publishes The Man-Made World, one of several of her books that advocate for women's economic and social freedom and redefine gender roles.
  • Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) beats William Howard Taft (Republican), Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive) and Eugene Debs (Socialist) for president.
  • Socialist Party has about 120,000 members, and 1,039 Socialist Party members hold public office, mostly in local cities and towns.
  • Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
  • Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize the Congressional Union, later known as the National Woman's Party, to organize for women's suffrage and women's rights.
  • Congress passes Clayton Antitrust Act to break up corporate monopolies.
  • Ludlow Massacre: John D. Rockefeller's private army kills thirteen women and children and seven men in a Colorado coal miners strike.
  • Fellowship of Reconciliation founded.
  • Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • United States enters World War I.
  • Palmer Raids begin: FBI arrests and deports radicals; seizes and shuts down radical publications.
  • Four million American workers (one of every five) walk out in a great strike wave, including national clothing, coal, and steel strikes, a general strike in Seattle, Washington, and a police strike in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Eugene Debs wins almost 1 million votes (6 percent) for president while in jail for opposing World Ware I.
  • American Civil Liberties Union founded
  • Nineteenth Amendment passed, legalizing women's suffrage.
  • Margaret Sanger founds American Birth Control League (later called Planned Parenthood).
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 limits the annual number of immigrants who can be admitted from any country to 2 percent of the number of people from that country already living in the United States in 1890, down from the 3 percent cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921.
  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded, the first African American labor union, founded.
  • The Great Depression begins in October.
  • Norris-LaGuardia Act passed, prohibiting federal injunctions in most labor disputes.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt elected president.
  • Myles Horton cofounds the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee.
  • Dorothy Day founds Catholic Worker.
  • San Francisco general strike.
  • Congress passes the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act
  • Congress passes the Social Security Act
  • Mary McLeod Bethune organizes the National Council of Negro Women.
  • Progressive unionists form the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) formed within the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
  • Southern Conference for Human Welfare founded.
  • Auto workers win a sit-down strike against General Motors in Flint, Michigan.
  • Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters wins contract with the Pullman Company.
  • Congress passes Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes the first minimum wage and forty-hour week.
  • Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) forms as an independent federation.
  • Saul Alinsky founds Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council in Chicago.
  • Congress passes the Alien Registration Act (Smith Act).
  • Woody Guthrie writes "This Land Is Your Land."
  • A. Philip Randolph threatens a march on Washington, D.C., to protest racial discrimination in defense jobs.
  • President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802 prohibiting racial discrimination in defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee. Randolph calls off the march.
  • U.S. troops enter combat in World War II.
  • Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) founded.
  • Winston Churchill's iron curtain speech in Missouri marks the beginning of the Cold War.
  • Largest strike wave in U.S. history.
  • Congress passes Taft-Hartley Act, which restricts union members' activities.
  • Jackie Robinson integrates major league baseball.
  • CORE begins Journey of Reconciliation (first freedom rides) to challenge segregation.
  • President Harry S. Truman desegregates the armed services with Executive Order 9981
  • Former vice president Henry Wallace campaigns for president on the Progressive Party ticket.
  • Harry Hay cofounds Mattachine Society, first homosexual rights group.
  • I. F. Stone founds I. F. Stone's Weekly.
  • Arthur Miller's play The Crucible premiers.
  • U.S. Supreme Court rules in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation is unconstitutional.
  • Montgomery activists organize bus boycott.
  • AFL merges with CIO to form AFL-CIO.
  • Daughters of Bilitis, founded, the first lesbian organization in the United States, founded.
  • C. Wright Mills's The Power Elite published.
  • Sierra Club gains national recognition for successfully protesting the construction of the Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.
  • Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy founded.
  • John Kenneth Galbraith publishes The Affluent Society.
  • Albert Bigelow--a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy who commanded three combat vessels in World War II--sets out from San Pedro, California, with four crewmen aboard the Golden Rule, a small sailboat, to protest nuclear testing in waters off the Marshall Islands, located in the western Pacific between Guam and Hawaii.
  • College students in Greensboro, North Carolina, organize the first sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter.
  • SNCC founded.
  • CBS broadcasts Edward R. Murrow's Harvest of Shame documentary about miserable conditions for migrant farm workers.
  • Freedom Rides begin.
  • Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • U.S. Supreme Courts decides the Baker v. Carr case about political reapportionment, which led to what was then called the "one man, one vote" standard.
  • Michael Harrington publishes The Other America about widespread poverty.
  • Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring about dangers of pesticides.
  • Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) publishes its Port Huron Statement manifesto.
  • Bob Dylan writes "Blowin' in the Wind."
  • Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique published.
  • March on Washington for jobs and freedom.
  • John F. Kennedy assassinated.
  • Congress passes Lyndon Johnson's major antipoverty legislation, the Economic Opportunity Act.
  • Civil rights activists organize Mississippi Freedom Summer voter registration project.
  • Congress passes the Civil Rights Act.
  • Congress passed the Wilderness Act.
  • Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing U.S. combat troops in Vietnam
  • U.S. Supreme Court decides Griswold v. Connecticut, striking down prohibition of contraceptive use by married couples.
  • Watts riots in Los Angeles.
  • Congress passes the Voting Rights Act
  • Malcolm X assassinated.
  • United States sends troops to Vietnam.
  • First "teach-in" on the Vietnam War held at the University of Michigan.
  • The Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act sets the first federal automobile emission standards.
  • Betty Friedan cofounds National Organization for Women.
  • United Farm Workers union signs a contact with DiGiorgio Fruit Corporation after a strike and consumer boycott.
  • President Johnson appoints Thurgood Marshall as to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Riots in Detroit, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, and other cities
  • In Loving v. Virginia, U.S. Supreme Court finds the state anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage.
  • Tet offensive in Vietnam.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis during garbage workers strike.
  • Robert Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles during presidential campaign.
  • Congress passes Fair Housing Act.
  • The Santa Barbara oil well blowout spills over 200,000 gallons of oil into the ocean over eleven days.
  • Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village catalyzes the gay liberation movement.
  • First national Earth Day.
  • National Guard shoots antiwar protesters at Kent State and Jackson State.
  • Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) founded.
  • Congress passes the Clean Air Act
  • Congress passes the Occupational Safety and Health Act
  • Congress passes the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), requiring every federal agency to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for any legislation.
  • President Richard Nixon works with Congress to establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Dennis Hayes organizes a movement to unseat "The Dirty Dozen," twelve members of Congress with poor records on environmental policy.
  • Greenpeace activists sail from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Amchitka, Alaska, intent on stopping a scheduled U.S. nuclear test.
  • Congress passes the Consumer Product Safety Act
  • MS. magazine founded.
  • Congress passes Title IX of Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • DDT banned in the United States.
  • U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling legalizes abortion.
  • American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders.
  • Congress passes the Endangered Species Act.
  • Coalition of Labor Union Women founded.
  • Toxic Substances Control Act mandates the EPA to control all new and existing chemical substances being used in the United States.
  • Gay rights activist Harvey Milk elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
  • Congress passes the Community Reinvestment Act outlawing racial discrimination in lending (redlining).
  • Protests by residents of Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York, lead to revelations that up to 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been dumped in the canal by the Hooker Chemical Company from 1942 to 1952, causing significant numbers of birth defects, abnormalities in children, and miscarriages.
  • Congress passes Superfund legislation, which mandates cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites by the parties responsible.
  • Nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
  • Congress passes Superfund legislation, which mandates cleanup of abandoned hazardous waste sites by the parties responsible.
  • Ronald Reagan elected president.
  • Superfund is signed into law.
  • President Reagan breaks air traffic controllers strike.
  • AFL-CIO rallies 400,000 in Washington, D.C., on Solidarity Day.
  • Nuclear freeze rally in New York City draws 1 million people in association with the special session on disarmament at the United Nations.
  • Wisconsin becomes the first state to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • EMILY's List founded to expand campaign contributions to women and feminist candidates.
  • In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that sexual harassment is a form of illegal job discrimination.
  • Congress passes the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Service Employees International Union's Justice for Janitors campaign organizes thousands of low-paid, immigrant service workers in Los Angeles and other cities.
  • Riots occur in Los Angeles after a jury acquits four white Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of beating Rodney King.
  • Bill Clinton elected president.
  • Congress passes the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • The Violence Against Women Act tightens federal penalties for sex offenders, funds services for victims of rape and domestic violence, and provides for special training of police officers.
  • Students Against Sweatshops persuades Duke University to require manufacturers of items with the Duke label to sign a pledge that they would not use sweatshop labor--the first victory of the campus antisweatshop movement.
  • More than 75,000 human service workers are unionized in Los Angeles County.
  • Union and environmental activists join forces for the "Battle in Seattle" protests at World Trade Organization meeting to challenge free trade.
  • Vice President Al Gore wins the popular vote over George W. Bush in the presidential race. The U.S. Supreme Court overturns popular and Electoral College vote and gives Bush the presidency.

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His books include Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century, The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City, and The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.

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