I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here.
Comps Notes: Race, Gender, and Progressivism
John Whiteclay Chambers II, The Tyranny of Change: American in the Progressive Era, 1820-1920, Second Edition (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000).
Noralee Frankel and Nancy S. Dye, Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era (Lexington, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991).
George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York, New York: Basic Books, 1994).
Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995).
“The Progressive Era,” John Whiteclay Chambers II writes, “was a time of general awakening of social thought, a new spirit that had Americans thinking about their society in new ways, reexamining institutions, attitudes, and the culture itself.” (80) The historical debate over the character of this era, he argues, has raged on for decades due to disagreement over the essential essence of Progressivism and the environment in which it took place. Historians have continuously come to different conclusion on who enabled the changes to occur during the era and the impetus behind these actions. In the 1950s, Richard Hofstadter argued that it was a movement led by the middle-class in an effort to secure their class’ position in society. Gabriel Kolko asserted that corporations, intent on protecting their economic and societal interests, rather than the common folk were behind Progressivism. David Thelen theorized that radicals from different classes and ethnicities banded together to enact societal change. Samuel Hays emphasized the movement’s loyalty to the continuation of the rationalization and centralization of society. And in the 1980s, Martin Sklar attributed Progressivism to liberalism on the part of corporations. Daniel Rodgers even argues that a Progressive ideology did not exist, but was rather the amalgamation of existing ideologies.
The problem with these interpretations, according to Chambers, is that they do not fully take into account the contextual environment in which the Progressives were acting. Chambers goes as far as to question whether the time period, 1890-1920, should even be referred to as the Progressive Era. Instead of solely subscribing to the idea of Progressivism, Chambers chooses to analyze the period under the concept of what he calls interventionism. The interventionist interpretation, he argues, recognizes and allows for the acceptance that changes during this time were not the singular outcome of progressive accomplishment. Individuals from across the political spectrum—radicals, liberals, and conservatives—collectively began to react to the modernization happening around them. All three groups were questioning laissez faire doctrine and trying to figure out how to control the chaos being caused by industrialization. However, the concept of interventionism does not discredit or marginalize the importance of progressives during the era, as he argues they led the way in leading the country into the new modern era, but rather, allows us to more fully understand the environment in which they were conducting their efforts.
Interventionism seems to enable Chambers to accomplish two main objectives in The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1920. Firstly, it allows Chambers to tie the movement to the era directly preceding it, particularly in regards to the continuation of a frontier ideology as made famous in Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Chambers states that during this time “interventionists found a new frontier of activism and economic growth.” As with the western movement, Americans were, and perhaps still are, not content to idle in the status quo. Instead, they sought a new social frontier on which to paint their portrait of progress. This frontierism also ties into the second objective of interventionism in Chamber’s narrative, which is to allow for the inclusion of historical events that are not traditionally connected to the Progressive Era, such as the new surge in imperialism at the turn of the century and the United States’ involvement in World War I. Being a military historian, it can easily be deduced as to why Chambers would be eager to meld these types of historical events into the Progressive Era narrative. The inclusion of World War I and imperialism also elucidates Chambers’ enthusiasm with new trans-Atlantic history, particularly Daniel Rodgers’ Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age, published in 1998.
The most important innovation of the Progressive Era, Chambers argues, was that of the modern presidency. “Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson,” he writes, “took advantage of the centralizing forces of the period, the mass media, and the growth of foreign affairs to attract popular loyalty and enlarge the public’s expectations of presidential leadership.” (287) Increased federal government regulation of both the economy and society, which Eric Foner argued began during the Reconstruction Era, truly came into full-swing during the first few decades of the twentieth century.
The Progressives, themselves, states Chambers, were an assorted group of individuals coming from very different backgrounds and ideologies, and wishing to enact very diverse, sometimes contradictory, social changes. Their agenda of reform had four major, separate movements built into it. The first was that of the business regulation movement, which wanted to make businesses more socially accountable for their actions. The second movement was that of direct democracy. The third movement involved those fighting for social justice for the poor and disadvantaged, and the fourth movement was based on the desire for social control and unification of culture based on white, protestant values. In The Tyranny of Change, Chambers relies almost solely on the synthe’tization of works by other scholars on the time period. Chambers believes that the process of comprehending and analyzing the past is an open-ended, and thus he embraces both old and new historical scholarship in order to paint a fuller picture of the era. He is especially enthusiastic about the new social and cultural histories, which focus on human agency and the diversity of the movement’s participants and the changes they experienced as a result of the movement.
Like Lawrence Goodwyn, Chambers considers the agrarian movement to be a precursor to the Progressive Era. However, it does not seem that he has fully studied, or at least agreed with, Goodwyn’s conclusions, as he paints a rather traditional portrait of the Populists, particularly in his insinuation that William Jennings Bryan ran on a Populist platform in 1896. Chambers noticeably adopts John Bodnar’s findings about immigrants in The Transplanted, as he emphasizes that they were largely middle-class individuals, who moved to the United States collectively and often intended not to stay for long. Chambers also holds Jacqueline Jones’ study of African-American women in high regards. As in Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, Chambers talks about the communal solidarity amongst black women and the fact that they were more likely to work outside of the home than white women.
Like the articles in Gender, Class, Race and Reform in the Progressive Era, Chambers underlines the essentiality of women’s participation in the Progressivism campaigns. “Without the maternalist politics of the women activists at the turn of the century, the gradually emerging welfare state would almost certainly have been less responsive to the needs of women and children, for male politicians tended to be more concerned with issues that affected male voters,” (168) Chambers states. There were two main groups of female reformers: those that accepted the idea that women were different from men and chose to emphasize the need for female solidarity and women who rejected that they were different and campaigned for gender equality. Following the same conclusion as Chambers, Nancy S. Dye, one of Gender, Class and Reform’s editors, reiterates that the Progressive movement was spurned by the intense changes brought about by industrialization, corporatization, and urbanization. She also agrees that progressivism was a complex and varied movement that included many ideologies and goals. In Gender, Class, and Reform, the writers demonstrate that when the era is looked upon from a female perspective, one finds that it was largely shaped by a need to elucidate the changing relationship between public and private spaces, and that Progressivism and feminism were deeply linked. They wished to increase their power of the economic forces that were affecting themselves and their families. Most women reformers, particularly those from the upper- and middle-class, Dye argues were part of Chambers’ first group, as they continued to hold on to the vestiges of Victorian gender relations and were fully conscious of their gender differences. This devotion to archaic gender roles ultimately hurt the women’s movement during the Progressive Era, according to Dye because it kept women from breaking free from their stereotypical limitations.
The pieces featured in Gender, Class, Race, and Reform illustrate two main historical themes. Firstly, it accentuates the fact that the progressive experience was not universal, and that women from different races, classes, and ethnicities benefitted from and reacted to progressivism very differently. Secondly, the articles demonstrate that middle-class women were not often able to detach themselves from their own worldview in order to understand how their actions affected the lives of women of different races and lower statuses, and thus were never able to bridge the divide. In “Politicizing Domesticity: Anglo, Black, and Latin Women in Tampa’s Progressive Movements,” Nancy A. Hewitt shows how varied the experiences of women of different races were through a case study of Tampa, Florida at the turn of the century. The distinctive patterns of domestic life, she argues, that these women enjoyed directly affected the form of progressive action that they undertook. White women were more likely to still believe in the accuracy of separate male and female spheres, as well as public and private spheres, as they were less likely to work outside the home. Organizations such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, prided themselves on imbuing the public sphere with their private sphere morals, and were convinced that working-class home life was deficient and in need of moral intervention. The Latinos also continued to hang on to their traditional conceptions of gender roles and were able to benefit from organized financial pooling, while at the same time adopting a militant version of labor unrest. African American women lived in segregated neighborhoods and were more likely to rely on kinship networks, like those described by Jacqueline Jones.
Ardis Cameron argues in “Landscapes of Subterfuge: Working-Class Neighborhoods and Immigrant Women” that when one looks at the lives of working-class women at the time, one finds that their lives were the embodiment of the intersection between production and consumption. These women continued to believe in sexual differences between the genders, but believed that these differences were complimentary and allowed for each individual to effectively earn his or her keep in the new industrial climate. Women, for the first time, were playing large roles in the maintaining the positive fiscal conditions of their household. Children were also expected to earn their monetary share. In “Hull House goes to Washington: Women and Children’s Bureau,” Molly Ladd-Taylor demonstrates how middle-class women, pumped up on moral superiority, were not able to fully comprehend the effects that their legislation had on working-class families. The U.S. Children’s Bureau, which was run mainly by women, was founded in 1912 with two main objectives in mind: improve infant health and regulate child labor. The first focus of the Bureau was infant health, because, according to Ladd-Taylor, it had very little opponents, ensured women would continue to be in charge, and included women of classes. However, even with infant mortality, the initiatives were biased towards the middle-class who believed that the efficient reform of economics and environment would reap benefits across the board. In 1916 the Keating-Owen Act was passed, which reformed child labor. Middle-class women thought that child labor was an obvious travesty; however lower-class women did not view it as such as their household’s livelihood often depended on the income of their children. Taking away this income and not supplying a means to earn it in another way was devastating to many working-class families. Yet, middle-class women refused to see it in this light and instead marked it off as poor parenting.
African American women, as mentioned earlier, tended to rely more upon kinship networks. This reliance, as Rosalyn Terborg-Penn shows in “African American Women’s Networks in the Anti-Lynching Crusade” allowed them to effectively organize a grass-roots anti-lynching campaign that educated the masses about the social ills of this deadly practice. The movement, whose most famous contributor was Ida B. Wells, dared to contest the validity of the reasoning behind these lynchings. They tore apart the image of the black male rapist content on violating white women, and replaced it with an image of white citizens unjustly punishing men and women in order to scare other blacks into compliance. Although the movement never reached its goal of federal legislation, Terborg-Penn argues that they were successful because they were able to successfully sway white, popular opinion to abhor the practice. Finally, in “Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Transformation of Class Relations among Woman Suffragists,” Ellen Carol DuBois, uses the figure of Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to explain the differences between generations of suffragettes and the manner in which the Suffragist Movement failed to capitalize on a chance to bring the working-class firmly into the crusade. Blatch straddled the first and second generations of the Suffragist Movement. The first generation was concretely connected to Victorian gender codes and saw their activism as a way to act out their familial role in the public sphere. The second generation, which was born during the 1870s and 1880s, identified themselves not as mothers, but as workers, and thus thought that paid labor was their route to emancipation. By 1902, Blatch believed that the suffragist movement that had been founded by the first generation was in a rut and no longer spoke to the needs of young women. Blatch founded the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, which emphasized sisterhood across class borders. Despite their personal belief in sisterhood, DuBois argues that the relationships between women resembled more of a mother-daughter relationship, as the upper- and middle-class continued take on the leadership positions, which led to periods of conflict and cooperation amongst the women. Upper-class leadership became more thoroughly entrenched as the movement took on the militancy of labor groups. Blatch’s organization became the fashionable organization to join, and in 1910 Blatch dissolved the Equality League and founded the Women’s Political Union, which was led by solely upper-class women, marking the end of the suffragists’ attempts to bring working-class women into their ranks.
Women were not the only ones forced to reassess their gender roles during the Progressive Era. In Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, which is referenced by Chambers, Gail Bederman looks at the way in which middle-class met the challenges of modernization and working-class men and middle-class women vying for equality by reshaping their gender roles. Stuck between the Victorian ideals of the moral, self-restrained man and the more primitive, violent and sexual manliness associated with the lower-classes, middle-class men had to reconfigure a balanced version of manhood that would work for their new situations. Bederman states that past historians have categorized manhood or masculinity in two major categories. In the first category, historians assume that manliness is an inherent set of traits that are existent in all individuals of the male sex. The second category assumes that manliness is a culturally determined process. Citing Michel Foucault as her inspiration, Bederman rejects the idea that either of these categories fully explains manliness. Rather, manliness is an ideological discourse or process that is highly complex and continuously changing. All individuals are beholden to the particular form of gender discourse in which they are born, however, they have the ability to either embrace or reject this concept of discourse as well as to shape it.
Class issues underlay most changes in gender discourse, and at the turn-of-the-century middle-class men were turning to a variety of strategies to maintain their social status. Traditional, Victorian manhood, was increasingly under fire and thus had to be reshaped in order to enable the survival of this cultural subset of the population. In Manliness and Civilization, Bederman focuses on the use of racial dominance and civilization discourse to restructure middle-class manlihood. Much of the racial dialogue revolved around conceptions of social and biological evolution. By using the image of the evolutionary ladder, these men and women demonstrated how racial difference, civilization, and manliness advanced together, she argues. Bederman accomplishes this study by closely analyzing the cultural contributions of four individuals: Ida B. Wells, G. Stanley Hall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Theodore Roosevelt. Bederman examines the works of these individuals, as well as first-hand commentary and manuscripts from the time period to illustrate the manner in which the racial/gender dialogue could be used to serve a variety of aims.
Ida B. Wells, as earlier mentioned in Terborg-Penn’s article in Gender, Class, Race, and Reform, was the major figure behind the anti-lynching campaign. Lynching, as presented by Southern whites and accepted by Northerners, was the ultimate display of white, manly power, as it brought control to the sexually promiscuous and out-of-control black rapist hungry and justice for the white women, for whose blood they thirsted. Wells knew that the only way to end lynching was to bring white Northern attention to the subject and to make them realize that it was morally unjust. Bederman contends that Wells purposefully manipulated the manliness discourse surrounding lynching by showing whites that it was an example of unrestrained, brutal, primitive manliness that threatened the progress of civilization. Wells’ tactics did get the attention of whites and led to the eventual downfall of lynching; however, she did not succeed in totally separating ideas of manliness from lynching, as her message hit the public at the time when Victorian, restrained manliness was falling out of favor and the sexual, violent, and primitive manliness was becoming more popular.
This primitive manliness was championed by the prominent psychologist and educator, G. Stanley Hall. Hall was an advocate of a virile education that avoided over-civilized effeminacy. Hall believed that civilization had become too cushy, and was undermining manlihood, making men weak and causing them to suffer from neurasthenia. Hall’s displeasure with Victorian values of self-restraint was rooted in his experiences surrounding masturbation as a youth. Hall’s dissatisfaction was shared with other men of his generation. Hall believed in the concepts of developmentalism and racial recapitulation, that is to say he believed that all races went through the same stages of development, including a primitive stage. White boys were examples of this stage of primitivism, as were lower races, which never moved beyond this stage. Boys should be able to fully vent their savage and violent nature so that they could then properly move to the higher stages of evolutionary manhood, which were characterized by a self-restraint. Westerns, which celebrated rugged individualism and the manly struggle and conquering of the wilderness, were exemplary sources of imaginative fuel for young boys, as love stories were for girls, argued Hall.
As Hall used racial and gender discourse to reshape manhood, Charlotte Perkins Gilman used it to reshape womanhood. Bederman states that Gilman’s feminism was securely based in a white supremacist view of civilization. Gilman believed that those of lower races, such as negroes, had the right to right to the best of their potential, but that they were so far behind evolutionary that this potential would not even be close to that of the white man or woman for many generations to come. Gilman changed the discourse of the advancement of civilization to revolve around race, instead of gender. Gilman believed that the Victorian conception of separate spheres made no sense and had a negative impact on civilization. Having experienced the awful confines of marriage, which had led her into a bout of neurasthenia, Gilman was convinced that the sexeo-economic ideology of separate spheres forced women to develop their sex traits at the expense of their race traits and the distortion of the natural, evolutionary system. Gilman argued that the fall from evolution occurred when men decided to transform themselves from a woman’s equal into the male rapist, intent on choosing those women that he could easily dominate. Allowing women to once more attain the role of sexual selector would restore balance to society and allow for the civilized advancement of the white race.
At the turn-of-the-century, Bederman writes, that Theodore Roosevelt was the epitome of American manhood. He combined the high merits of the Victorian man with the violent masculinity of primitive man. In Roosevelt’s actions and writings he advocated the western way of life as described in Turner’s thesis. The wilderness, according to Roosevelt, was a place in which men could exercise and prove their manliness. Roosevelt often showed off his primitive side by way of publicized hunting trips. Roosevelt was also an advocate of white supremacy and believed in the process of racial suicide. In The Winning of the West, Roosevelt argued that Americans had developed into a new race by way of conquering the west’s people and nature. The inferior races had stepped aside to allow the whites to live out their rightful destiny. Roosevelt believed that the shedding of Native American blood was regrettable, but necessary for the advancement of civilization. It was in this kind of conquering that manlihood was nurtured. Once the frontier was closed, Roosevelt believed that Americans had to turn to imperialistic measures in order to avoid effeminacy and racial decline. In “The Strenous Life,” Roosevelt emphasized the fact that it was races that had fallen into decadency that lost their power and ability to advance civilization, and thus Americans must avoid falling into this trap.
Homosexual men during the time period were not immune to this gender discourse. They too had to grapple with the gender norms set before them by society and decide to what extent they would adhere to them and in which ways they would challenge them. George Chauncey argues that the gay male world, particularly in New York City, thrived in the public sphere during the Progressive Era. In Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, Chauncey seeks to reintroduce people to the colorful world of male homosexuality in New York at the turn-of-the-century by reconstructing its spatiality, culture, and internal dialogue. The gay world has been almost completely ignored by historians, Chauncey writes, with the exception of some European historians, such as Randolph Trumbach and Alan Bray, who have investigated and uncovered a prosperous gay community in eighteenth century Britain. Historians has overlooked gay history largely because it is believed to not have existed; this belief, Chauncey asserts, is the product of the repression of gay society during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, followed by the electrifying resurgence of gay culture during the 1960s. Historians have also missed the interesting potential of the topic because they have not known where to look for evidence of its existence.
Chauncey uses a vast amount of primary research from the time period, including interviews, newspaper articles, court cases, cartoons, advertisements, and bulletins, combined with secondary sources, mainly on gender and urban history, to piece together a narrative that effectively discredits three main myths that have developed about the gay men before their liberation in the second half of the twentieth century. The first of these myths, as Chauncey categorizes them, is that of isolation. It is popular belief that the social atmosphere of the early twentieth century was so fervidly anti-gay that it was not possible for gay men to openly seek each other out for socialization or comfort, subsequently leading to most gay men leading lonely lives. The second myth is that of invisibility, and contends that even if gay men were able to gather they did so in a covert manner, which was undetectable to the outside world and often to the very gay men that were seeking out companionship. And the third myth that Chauncey seeks to dismiss is that of internalization, or the idea that gay men took the medical and social dialogue at the time, which diagnosed homosexuality as a perverse disease, to heart, leading to self-hatred and melancholia. These three myths, Chauncey smartly points out, can be summarized with the metaphor of “the closet.”
One of the main themes in the book is the analysis of the evolution of the public spheres in which gay men were able to congregate, all of which tended to intertwine with those associated with the lower-class. The earliest neighborhood that Chauncey describes is that of the bowery or red-light district in New York City, which he describes as “fairy resorts.” The red-light districts were created by the middle-class, Chauncey argues, in order to create a spatial demarcation between the middle- and lower-class, as well as immoral and moral behavior and institutions. The intermingling of gay men, particularly fairies, with working-class men in the saloons of this area illustrates the fact that gay men were tolerated and not isolated. The existence of an urban bachelor culture also enabled a homosexual culture to develop outside of the reaches of traditional, familial conventions. Men often met in public spaces such as parks and restrooms, when official public spaces became less-fairy friendly during the 1910s. In the 1920s, Greenwich Village became the center of homosexual culture, its acceptance of artists and eccentricity acting as welcoming factors. During Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, gay culture enjoyed its highest degree of public popularity, as the legislation’s cultural disruption led many middle-class individuals to explore the seedier side of the city. Drag balls and other gay cultural events became wildly popular with the general populace. Chauncey refers to this phenomena as a “pansy craze.” During Prohibition, the lower-class moved into the position of power in the entertainment industry, which gave gays the opportunity to represent their culture on their own terms to the middle-class. Outrage by those in power over the excesses that Prohibition had spawned, including the homosexual visibility, led to the repeal of the legislation followed by regulations devised to recast the lines between acceptable sociability and moral degeneracy. Chauncey concludes that the new regulations in the 1930s, some of which forbid the public intermingling of homosexuals, created a state-made closet into which gays were stuffed for the next several decades.
The most compelling part of Chauncey’s argument is that which revolves around the analysis of the progression of gender concepts and terminology amongst gay men and the “normal” citizens that interacted with them. This progression is one that evolved from gayness being constructed as a gender issue to it being strictly connected to sexuality. In the late nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, “fairy” was the term given to men who chose to present themselves as physically and socially effeminate. “Queer” was used to describe those men that were attracted to other men, but were outwardly “straight.” Straight at this time was akin to “normal.” Chauncey contends that the biggest difference between male culture then and today was that men could participate in sexual acts with other men without being considered gay, as long as they were not in the position of penetration during the act. Fairies were considered to be a third gender, a female subculture, thus it was acceptable for men to act out their dominance on these fairies and to gain pleasure from them without forfeiting their manhood. However, as middle-class men entered a period of anxiety in regards to their manliness, which Bederman thoroughly describes in Manliness and Civilization, they began to see fairies as a threat. They were the epitome of the effeminate male that middle-class men were terrified of becoming. It is at this point, Chauncey writes, that sexual male friendships devolved and a binary between homosexuality and heterosexuality was created. Now instead of gayness being associated with one’s gender, it was instead associated with one’s sexual orientation. Any sexual activity with an individual of the same sex deemed a man a homosexual. Consequently, those homosexual men who were more manly in conduct, which had been known as “queers” in earlier years, became increasingly embarrassed by the negative publicity “fairies” were bringing to their ilk, and decided to adopt the term “gay” as an identification marker. Chauncey’s demonstration of the fear that men displayed in the 1930s, and even today, towards homosexuals reveals the fact that the men in Bederman’s Progressive Era were not successful at developing, or at least were not confident in their ability to develop, a strong, impenetrable manhood, as it seemingly was vulnerable to contamination from even the most glancing contact with the gay world. Chauncey, Bederman, and the contributors to Gender, Class, Race, and Reform in the Progressive Era illustrate the fact that the changing conditions outlined in The Tyranny of Change were not limited to the political world, but, rather, had a profound effect on the psyches of individuals and caused many to reassess the physical and ideological environments in which they lived.
- Title: The revival of an ancient skin game / Keppler.
- Creator(s): Keppler, Udo J., 1872-1956, artist
- Date Created/Published: N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1912 July 17.
- Medium: 1 photomechanical print : offset, color.
- Summary: Illustration shows President Taft as the biblical figure Jacob wearing robes labeled “Progressivism” and goat skins labeled “Delegates”, kneeling before the Republican elephant labeled “G.O.P.” as the aged biblical figure Isaac, who is feeling the skins worn by Taft. To the left is a steaming dish of “Savory Politics” that Jacob presented to Isaac; standing in the background are three men, two are identified as “Barnes” and “Sherman”, and standing just right of center is Elihu Root as the biblical figure “Rebekah”, who looks anxious at the approach of “Teddy” as the biblical figure Esau, with a deer over his shoulders labeled “Popularity”.