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If, as may have been the case, the initial effort to establish a model or training school in the mid-1880s was premature, that of the early 1890s was not. Indeed, despite some appearances to the contrary, it came at what proved to be a very important and opportune moment both for ISNS and the state of Iowa. 

As the nineteenth century drew toward its close, the transition from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial one, under way across the nation for decades, was accelerating as were the myriad of strains and tensions on communities and individuals that were its corollary. Less than twenty percent of Americans were urban at mid-century, but that number had risen to approximately a third in 1890 and would reach roughly fifty percent by 1910. Urban growth was the product not only of a shift of rural Americans to towns and cities but also of an increasingly controversial influx of immigrants estimated at about twenty-five million between the close of the Civil War and the outbreak of World War I. The nation’s economy, especially the industrial sector, was expanding dramatically despite profound inequities in the distribution of wealth, an inadequate money supply, and devastating agricultural problems especially in the South and West. Many Americans, while appreciating material progress, found it difficult to cope with the scope and nature of the changes swirling about them and their anxiety, alienation, and frustration manifested itself in the 1890s in political schism and the emergence of a significant third party, widespread and frequently violent labor unrest, and racial and socio-cultural conflicts out of which emerged nativist societies, efforts to restrict immigration, and additional legislation curbing the civil and political rights of minorities. The problems inherent in change were compounded in 1893 when the United States plunged into a protracted depression that proved to be the worst in its history to that date.

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