Which Moments Changed America?

Yesterday Time published a list of moments in the 20th century that “changed America,” as nominated by a group of twenty-five historians: “Many of those moments are easy to name: the assassinations, the invasions, the elections. Many are more subtle, their impact visible only in hindsight.”

Click here to the read the full list, but here’s a sampling of four moments:

Victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy
Victims of the 1911 tragedy – Library of Congress

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Catches Fire (March 25, 1911)

“The tragedy was exasperated by the failure of the U.S. government to protect its citizens who were working in deplorable conditions, but it was difficult for anyone who saw the corpses lined up on sidewalks waiting for identification to deny the need for labor reform and improved fire safety equipment. The deaths unified female labor reformers of the Progressive era.” (Michele Anderson, 2014 Gilder Lehrman National History Teacher of the Year)

Thomas Dorsey Invents the Gospel Blues (1932)

“[The success of ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’] stimulated an entirely new music industry—the gospel blues…. That tiny, inauspicious moment in 1932 created a subtle yet profound change in American life, ultimately producing musical anthems of powerful personal, moral, and political transformation.” (Jon Butler, Yale professor and president of the Organization of American Historians)

The birth control pill is approved (May 9, 1960)

“Americans began to think differently about sex, contraception and about women’s capacity to control their own bodies and participate as truly equal members of society. Sex uncoupled from procreation, the freedom to choose when and if to become a mother, the ability for a woman to plan her life without fear of an unwanted pregnancy getting in the way—these opened the door for the liberation of women.” (Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard professor and author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family)

The Immigration and Nationality Act Is Signed (October 3, 1965)

“The 1965 act was meant to promote family unification, level the field for lawful entry and ease the way for foreign-born professionals. Fifty years later, its impact can be seen at all levels of society. Today over 40 million foreign-born individuals live in the United States, about three-quarters of whom have legal status. They and their American-born children comprise nearly 25% of the U.S. population.” (Vicki L. Ruiz, University of California-Irvine professor and president of the American Historical Association)

What do you think: What surprised, impressed, or discouraged you about this list? Which moment would you add?

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