History 44


Bossism, Urban Reform and Lincoln Steffens

rev for 2/4/98
*this segment of the class will consider Steffens as muckraker, then examine the accuracy of his portrait of bossism and the cities in light of what occurred in the years 1900-1920.
I. Steffens
*Steffens importance:
In the mid-1980s Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bud Dwyer shot himself to death before a news conference at the State Capitol, after writing to the news media to look beyond his suicide to the true story he wanted told. His conviction on federal bribery conspiracy charges the previous December, he explained, had been "political persecution" by the jury, news media, and the FBI, and of "vicious," "vindictive" men from ex-Governor Dick Thornburgh down. His suicide would draw attention to the corruption of the entire system. He was going to die in office, he wrote citing Lincoln Steffens
Shame of the Cities, "to 'see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn itself through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride."
**although with less dramatic effect, Steffens' account of urban corruption in
Shame of the Cities has been a textbook staple since its appearance more than 90 years ago. Reexamine by looking first at Steffens career, then his indictment of American cities
I. Steffens
A. Steffens career and influence (paper)
Shame of the Cities "Shame of Minneapolis" in Fitzatrick, Muckraking
1. what explantions does he rule out?
2. what are the problems: commercialism? party loyalty? lawbreaking?
3. His postion? advocate? scientist? journalist?
4. what makes
Shame distinctive as "muckraking"
II. Bossism and Urban Reform: Steffens Reconsidered
*as with economic situation generally, "progressivism" was a response to a series of dramatic developments which had produced something quite new in the form of the "modern" U.S. city. For contemporary discussion by an English observer see James Bryce,
American Commonwealth (1888), chs. 58-68.
B. "Bossism" history and development
*look at reasons bossism developed, to become a distinctive aspect of the American cities during the 1880s and 1890s. Question the "bossism" "reform" dichotomy that has dominated interpretation in this area.
C. "Reform"
*urban reform: changing interpretations. Since the 1950s have been a succession of implicit and explicit challenges to Steffens.
1. Hofstadter,
Age of Reform
2 a. Hays, Samuel "The Politics of Reform,"
Pacific Northwest Q [xerox file level III]
b. Weinstein, James "Organized Business and the City Commission and Manager Movements,"
Journal of So. History 28 (1963), 166-82 [also chapter 4 in his The Corporate Ideal]
3. Rice, Bradley R.
Progressive Cities: The Commission Government Movement in America 1901-20 (1977). JS342.R55
Schiesl, Martin J.,
The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Administration and Reform in America 1880-1920 (Berkeley: U. Cal, 1977) JS309.S34
**examination of different views and
Shame of Cities by looking at different forms and stages of "reform" from "goo goos" (good government) of the 1870s-90s to the "city commission and management" movement.
1. Civil Service and :"goo goo" reform.
2. "Democratizing" (initiatives, referendum, etc.)
* split between ""social" and "structural" reform. (see Hollis, M.
Reform in Detroit: Hazen S. Pingree and urban politics (1969) [JS838 .H64 ), ch. 8
3. City Manager and Commission.
a. Galveston and its legacy
2. relation between "commission" and "city manager"
3. the crusade and crusaders
4. consequences and legacy.
Written by Robert Bannister, for classroom use in History 44, Swarthmore College. May be reproduced in whole or part for educational purposes, but not copied or distributed for profit.