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The Progressive Era and the Family | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 28, 2020

https://mises.org/library/progressive-era-and-family

Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard

12/25/2020Murray N. Rothbard

[Originally from Joseph R. Peden and Fred R. Glahe, eds., The American Family and the State (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute, 1986).]

While the “Progressive Era” used to be narrowly designated as the period 1900–1914, historians now realize that the period is really much broader, stretching from the latter decades of the nineteenth century into the early 1920s. The broader period marks an era in which the entire American polity—from economics to urban planning to medicine to social work to the licensing of professions to the ideology of intellectuals—was transformed from a roughly laissez-faire system based on individual rights to one of state planning and control. In the sphere of public policy issues closely related to the life of the family, most of the change took place, or at least began, in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. In this paper we shall use the analytic insights of the “new political history” to examine the ways in which the so-called progressives sought to shape and control selected aspects of American family life.

ETHNORELIGIOUS CONFLICT AND THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

In the last two decades, the advent of the “new political history” has transformed our understanding of the political party system and the basis of political conflict in nineteenth century America. In contrast to the party systems of the twentieth century (the “fourth” party system, 1896–1932, of Republican supremacy; the “fifth” party system, 1932–? of Democratic supremacy), the nineteenth century political parties were not bland coalitions of interests with virtually the same amorphous ideology, with each party blurring what is left of its image during campaigns to appeal to the large independent center. In the nineteenth century, each party offered a fiercely contrasting ideology, and political parties performed the function of imposing a common ideology on diverse sectional and economic interests. During campaigns, the ideology and the partisanship became fiercer and even more clearly demarcated, since the object was not to appeal to independent moderates—there were virtually none—but to bring out the vote of one’s own partisans. Such partisanship and sharp alternatives marked the “second” American party system (Whig versus Democrat, approximately 1830 to the mid-1850s) and the “third” party system (closely fought Republican versus Democrat, mid-1850s to 1896).

Another important insight of the new political history is that the partisan passion devoted by rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans to national economic issues, stemmed from a similar passion devoted at the local and state level to what would now be called “social” issues. Furthermore, that political conflict, from the 1830s on, stemmed from a radical transformation that took place in American Protestantism as a result of the revival movement of the 1830s.

The new revival movement swept the Protestant churches, particularly in the North, like wildfire. In contrast to the old creedal Calvinist churches that stressed the importance of obeying God’s law as expressed in the church creed, the new “pietism” was very different. The pietist doctrine was essentially as follows: Specific creeds of various churches or sects do not matter. Neither does obedience to the rituals or liturgies of the particular church. What counts for salvation is only each individual being “born again”—a direct confrontation between the individual and God, a mystical and emotional conversion in which the individual achieves salvation. The rite of baptism, to the pietist, therefore becomes secondary; of primary importance is his or her personal moment of conversion.

But if the specific church or creed becomes submerged in a vague Christian interdenominationalism, then the individual Christian is left on his own to grapple with the problems of salvation. Pietism, as it swept American Protestantism in the 1830s, took two very different forms in North and South, with very different political implications. The Southerners, at least until the 1890s, became “salvationist pietists,” that is, they believed that the emotional experience of individual regeneration, of being born again, was enough to ensure salvation. Religion was a separate compartment of life, a vertical individual-God relation carrying no imperative to transform man-made culture and interhuman relations.

In contrast, the Northerners, particularly in the areas inhabited by “Yankees,” adopted a far different formof pietism, “evangelical pietism.” The evangelical pietists believed that man could achieve salvation by an act of free will. More particularly, they also believed that it was necessary to a person’s own salvation—andnot just a good idea—to try his best to ensure the salvation of everyone else in society:

“To spread holiness,” to create that Christian commonwealth by bringing all men to Christ, was the divinely ordered duty of the “saved.” Their mandate was “to transform the world into the image of Christ.”1

Since each individual is alone to wrestle with problems of sin and salvation, without creed or ritual of the church to sustain him, the evangelical duty must therefore be to use the state, the social arm of the integrated Christian community, to stamp out temptation and occasions for sin. Only in this way could one perform one’s divinely mandated duty to maximize the salvation of others.2 And to the evangelical pietist, sin took on an extremely broad definition, placing the requirements for holiness far beyond that of other Christian groups. As one antipietist Christian put it, “They saw sin where God did not.” In particular, sin was any and all forms of contact with liquor, and doing anything except praying and going to church on Sunday. Any forms of gambling, dancing, theater, reading of novels—in short, secular enjoyment of any kind—were considered sinful.

The forms of sin that particularly agitated the evangelicals were those they held to interfere with the theological free will of individuals, making them unable to achieve salvation. Liquor was sinful because, they alleged, it crippled the free will of the imbibers. Another particular source of sin was Roman Catholicism, in which priests and bishops, arms of the Pope (whom they identified as the Antichrist), ruled the minds and therefore crippled the theological freedom of will of members of the church.

Evangelical pietism particularly appealed to, and therefore took root among, the “Yankees,” i.e., that cultural group that originated in (especially rural) New England and emigrated widely to populate northern and western New York, northern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois. The Yankees were natural “cultural imperialists,” people who were wont to impose their values and morality on other groups; as such, they took quite naturally to imposing their form of pietism through whatever means were available, including the use of the coercive power of the state.

In contrast to evangelical pietists were, in addition to small groups of old-fashioned Calvinists, two great Christian groups, the Catholics and the Lutherans (or at least, the high-church variety of Lutheran), who were “liturgicals” (or “ritualists”) rather than pietists. The liturgicals saw the road to salvation in joining the particular church, obeying its rituals, and making use of its sacraments; the individual was not alone with only his emotions and the state to protect him. There was no particular need, then, for the state to take on the functions of the church. Furthermore, the liturgicals had a much more relaxed and rational view of what sin really was; for instance, excessive drinking might be sinful, but liquor per se surely was not.

The evangelical pietists, from the 1830s on, were the northern Protestants of British descent, as well as the Lutherans from Scandinavia and a minority of pietist German synods; the liturgicals were the Roman Catholics and the high-church Lutherans, largely German.

Very rapidly, the political parties reflected a virtually one-to-one correlation of this ethnoreligious division: the Whig, and later the Republican, party consisting chiefly of the pietists, and the Democratic party encompassing almost all the liturgicals. And for almost a century, on a state and local level, the Whig/Republican pietists tried desperately and determinedly to stamp out liquor and all Sunday activities except church (of course, drinking liquor on Sunday was a heinous double sin). As to the Catholic church, the pietists tried to restrict or abolish immigration, since people coming from Germany and Ireland, liturgicals, were outnumbering people from Britain and Scandinavia. Failing that and despairing of doing anything about adult Catholics poisoned by agents of the Vatican, the evangelical pietists decided to concentrate on saving Catholic and Lutheran youth by trying to eliminate the parochial schools, through which both religious groups transmitted their precious religious and social values to the young. The object, as many pietists put it, was to “Christianize the Catholics,” to force Catholic and Lutheran children into public schools, which could then be used as an instrument of pietist Protestantization. Since the Yankees had early taken to the idea of imposing communal civic virtue and obedience through the public schools, they were particularly receptive to this new reason for aggrandizing public education.

To all of these continuing aggressions by what they termed “those fanatics,” the liturgicals fought back with equal fervor. Particularly bewildered were the Germans who, Lutheran and Catholic alike, were accustomed to the entire family happily attending beer gardens together on Sundays after church and who now found the “fanatic” pietists trying desperately to outlaw this pleasurable and seemingly innocent activity. The pietist Protestant attacks on private and parochial schools fatally threatened the preservation and maintenance of the liturgicals’ cultural and religious values; and since large numbers of the Catholics and Lutherans were immigrants, parochial schools also served to maintain group affinities in a new and often hostile world—especially the world of Anglo-Saxon pietism. In the case of the Germans, it also meant, for several decades, preserving parochial teaching in the beloved German language, as against fierce pressures for Anglicization.

In the last three decades of the nineteenth century, as Catholic immigration grew and the Democratic party moved slowly but surely toward a majority status, the Republican, and—more broadly—pietist pressures became more intense. The purpose of the public school, to the pietists, was “to unify and make homogeneous the society.” There was no twentieth century concern for separating religion and the public school system. To the contrary, in most northern jurisdictions only pietist-Protestant church members were allowed to be teachers in the public schools. Daily reading of the Protestant Bible, daily Protestant prayers and Protestant hymns were common in the public schools, and school textbooks were rife with anti-Catholic propaganda. Thus, New York City school textbooks spoke broadly of “the deceitful Catholics,” and pounded into their children, Catholic and Protestant alike, the message that “Catholics are necessarily, morally, intellectually, infallibly, a stupid race.”3

Teachers delivered homilies on the evils of Popery, and also on deeply felt pietist theological values: the wickedness of alcohol (the “demon rum”) and the importance of keeping the Sabbath. In the 1880s and 1890s, zealous pietists began working ardently for antialcohol instruction as a required part of the public-school curriculum; by 1901, every state in the Union required instruction in temperance.

Since most Catholic children went to public rather than parochial schools, the Catholic authorities were understandably anxious to purge the schools of Protestant requirements and ceremonies, and of anti-Catholic textbooks. To the pietists, these attempts to de-Protestantize the public schools were intolerable “Romish aggression.” The whole point of the public schools was moral and religious homogenization, and here the Catholics were disrupting the attempt to make American society holy—to produce, through the public school and the Protestant gospel, “a morally and politically homogeneous people.” As Kleppner writes:

When they [the pietists] spoke of “moral education,” they had in mind principles of morality shared in common by the adherents of gospel religion, for in the public school all children, even those whose parents were enslaved by “Lutheran formalism or Romish supersitition,” would be exposed to the Bible. That alone was cause for righteous optimism, for they believed the Bible to be “the agent in converting the soul,” “the volume that makes human beings men.”4

In this way, “America [would] be Saved Through the Children.”5

The pietists were therefore incensed that the Catholics were attempting to block the salvation of America’s children—and eventually of America itself—all at the orders of a “foreign potentate.” Thus, the New Jersey Methodist Conference of 1870 lashed out with their deepest feelings against this Romish obstructionism:

Resolved, That we greatly deprecate the effort which is being made by “Haters of Light,” and especially by an arrogant priesthood, to exclude the Bible from the Public Schools of our land; and that we will do all in our power to defeat the well-defined and wicked design of this “Mother of Harlots.”6

Throughout the nineteenth century, “nativist” attacks on “foreigners” and the foreign-born were really attacks on liturgical immigrants. Immigrants from Britain or Scandinavia, pietists all, were “good Americans” as soon as they got off the boat. It was the diverse culture of the other immigrants that had to be homogenized and molded into that of pietist America. Thus, the New England Methodist Conference of 1889 declared:

We are a nation of remnants, ravellings from the Old World. . . . The public school is one of the remedial agencies which work in our society to diminish this . . . and to hasten the compacting of these heterogeneous materials into a solid nature.7

Or, as a leading citizen of Boston declared, “the only way to elevate the foreign population was to make Protestants of their children.”8

Since the cities of the North, in the late nineteenth century, were becoming increasingly filled with Catholic immigrants, pietist attacks on sinful cities and on immigrants both became aspects of the anti-liturgical struggle for a homogeneous Anglo-Saxon pietist culture. The Irish were particular butts of pietist scorn; a New York City textbook bitterly warned that continued immigration could make America “the common sewer of Ireland,” filled with drunken and depraved Irishmen.9

The growing influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century seemed to pose even greater problems for the pietist progressives, but they did not shrink from the task. As Elwood P. Cubberley of Stanford University, the nation’s outstanding progressive historian of education, declared, southern and eastern Europeans have served to dilute tremendously our national stock, and to corrupt our civil life. . . . Everywhere these people tend to settle in groups or settlements, and to set up here their national manners, customs, and observances. Our task is to break up these groups or settlements, to assimilate and amalgamate these people as a part of our American race and to implant in their children. . . the Anglo-Saxon conception of rightousness, law and order, and popular government. . . . 10

PROGRESSIVES, PUBLIC EDUCATION, AND THE FAMILY: THE CASE OF SAN FRANCISCO

The molding of children was of course the key to homogenization and the key in general to the progressive vision of tight social control over the individual via the instrument of the state. The eminent University of Wisconsin sociologist Edward Alsworth Ross, a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt and the veritable epitome of a progressive social scientist, summed it up thus: The role of the public official, and in particular of the public school teacher, is “to collect little plastic lumps of human dough from private households and shape them on the social kneadingboard.”11

The view of Ross and the other progressives was that the state must take up the task of control and inculcation of moral values once performed by parents and church. The conflict between middle and upper-class urban progressive Anglo-Saxon Protestants and largely working-class Catholics was sharply delineated in the battle over control of the San Francisco public school system during the second decade of the twentieth century. The highly popular Alfred Roncovieri, a French-Italian Catholic, was the elected school superintendent from 1906 on. Roncovieri was a traditionalist who believed that the function of schools was to teach the basics, and that teaching children about sex and morality should be the function of home and church. Hence, when the drive for sex hygiene courses in the public schools got under way, Roncovieri consulted with mothers’ clubs and, in consequence, kept the program out of the schools.

By 1908, upper-class progressives launched a decade-long movement to oust Roncovieri and transform the nature of the San Francisco public school system. Instead of an elected superintendent responding to a school board elected by districts, the progressives wanted an all-powerful school superintendent, appointed by a rubber-stamp board that in turn would be appointed by the mayor. In other words, in the name of “taking the schools out of politics,” they hoped to aggrandize the educational bureaucracy and maintain its power virtually unchecked by any popular or democratic control. The purpose was threefold: to push through the progressive program of social control, to impose upper-class control over a working-class population, and to impose pietist Protestant control over Catholic ethnics. 12

The ethnoreligious struggle over the public schools in San Francisco was nothing new; it had been going on tumultuously since the middle of the nineteenth century.13 In the last half of the nineteenth century, San Francisco was split into two parts. Ruling the city was a power elite of native-born old Americans, hailing from New England, including lawyers, businessmen, and pietist Protestant ministers. These comprised successively the Whig, Know-Nothing, Populist, and Republican parties in the city. On the other hand were the foreign-born, largely Catholic immigrants from Europe, Irish, Germans, French, and Italians, who comprised the Democratic party.

The Protestants early tried to use the public schools as a homogenizing and controlling force. The great theoretician and founder of the public school system in San Francisco, John Swett, “the Horace Mann of California,” was a lifelong Republican and a Yankee who had taught school in New Hampshire before moving West. Moreover, the Board of Education was originally an all-New England show; consisting of emigrants from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The mayor of San Francisco was a former mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, and every administrator and teacher in the public schools was a transplanted New Englander. The first superintendent of schools was not exactly a New Englander, but close: Thomas J. Nevins, a Yankee Whig lawyer from New York and an agent of the American Bible Society. And the first free public school in San Francisco was instituted in the basement of a small Baptist chapel.

Nevins, installed as superintendent of schools in 1851, promptly adopted the rule of the New York City schools: Every teacher was compelled to begin each day by a Protestant Bible reading and to conduct daily Protestant prayer sessions. And John Swett, elected as Republican state superintendent of public instruction during the 1860s, declared that California needed public schools because of its heterogeneous population: “Nothing can Americanize these chaotic elements, and breathe into them the spirit of our institutions,” he warned, “except the public schools.”14

Swett was keen enough to recognize that the pietist educational formula meant that the state takes over jurisdiction of the child from his parents, since “children arrived at the age of maturity belong, not to the parents, but to the State, to society, to the country.”15

A seesaw struggle between the Protestant Yankees and Catholic ethnics ensued in San Francisco during the 1850s. The state charter of San Francisco in 1855 made the schools far more responsive to the people, with school boards being elected from each of a dozen wards instead of at large, and the superintendent elected by the people instead of appointed by the board. The Democrats swept the Know-Nothings out of office in the city in 1856 and brought to power David Broderick, an Irish Catholic who controlled the San Francisco as well as the California Democratic party. But this gain was wiped out by the San Francisco Vigilance Movement, a private organization of merchants and New England-born Yankees, who, attacking the “Tammany” tactics of Broderick, installed themselves in power and illegally deported most of the Broderick organization, replacing it with a newly formed People’s party.

The People’s party ran San Francisco with an iron hand for ten years, from 1857 to 1867, making secret nominations for appointments and driving through huge slates of at-large nominees chosen at a single vote at a public meeting. No open nomination procedures, primaries, or ward divisions were allowed, in order to ensure election victories by “reputable” men. The People’s party promptly reinstalled an all-Yankee school board, and the administrators and teachers in schools were again firmly Protestant and militantly anti-Catholic. The People’s party itself continually attacked the Irish, denouncing them as “micks” and “rank Pats.” George Tait, the People’s party-installed superintendent of schools in the 1860s, lamented, however, that some teachers were failing to read the Protestant Bible in the schools, and were thus casting “a slur on the religion and character of the community.”

By the 1870s, however, the foreign-born residents outnumbered the native-born, and the Democratic party rose to power in San Francisco, the People’s party declining and joining the Republicans. The Board of Education ended the practice of Protestant devotions in the schools, and Irish and Germans began to pour into administrative and teaching posts in the public school system.

Another rollback began, however, in 1874, when the Republican state legislature abolished ward elections for the San Francisco school board, and insisted that all board members be elected at large. This meant that only the wealthy, which usually meant well-to-do Protestants, were likely to be able to run successfully for election. Accordingly, whereas in 1873, 58 percent of the San Francisco school board was foreign-born, the percentage was down to 8 percent in the following year. And while the Irish were approximately 25 percent of the electorate and the Germans about 13 percent, the Irish were not able to fill more than one or two of the twelve at-large seats, and the Germans virtually none.

The seesaw continued, however, as the Democrats came back in 1883, under the aegis of the master politician, the Irish Catholic Christopher “Blind Boss” Buckley. In the Buckley regime, the post-1874 school board dominated totally by wealthy native-born, Yankee businessmen and professionals, was replaced by an ethnically balanced ticket with a high proportion of working-class and foreign-born. Furthermore, a high proportion of Irish Catholic teachers, most of them single women, entered the San Francisco schools during the Buckley era, reaching 50 percent by the turn of the century.

In the late 1880s, however, the stridently anti-Catholic and anti-Irish American party became strong in San Francisco and the rest of the state, and Republican leaders were happy to join them in denouncing the “immigrant peril.” The American party managed to oust the Irish Catholic Joseph O’Connor, principal and deputy superintendent, from his high post as “religiously unacceptable.” This victory heralded a progressive Republican “reform” comeback in 1891, when none other than John Swett was installed as superintendent of schools in San Francisco. Swett battled for the full reform program: to make everything, even the mayoralty, an appointive rather than an elective office. Part of the goal was achieved by the state’s new San Francisco charter in 1900, which replaced the twelve-man elected Board of Education by a four-member board appointed by the mayor.

The full goal of total appointment was still blocked, however, by the existence of an elective superintendent of schools who, since 1907, was the popular Catholic Alfred Roncovieri. The pietist progressives were also thwarted for two decades by the fact that San Francisco was ruled, for most of the years between 1901 and 1911, by a new Union Labor party, which won on an ethnically and occupationally balanced ticket, and which elected the German-Irish Catholic Eugene Schmitz, a member of the musician’s union, as mayor. And for eighteen years after 1911, San Francisco was governed by its most popular mayor before or since, “Sunny Jim” Rolph, an Episcopalian friendly to Catholics and ethnics, who was pro-Roncovieri and who presided over an ethnically pluralistic regime.

It is instructive to examine the makeup of the progressive reform movement that eventually got its way and overthrew Roncovieri. It consisted of the standard progressive coalition of business and professional elites, and nativist and anti-Catholic organizations, who called for the purging of Catholics from the schools. Particular inspiration came from Stanford educationist Elwood P. Cubberley, who energized the California branch of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae (later the American Association of University Women), led by the wealthy Mrs. Jesse H. Steinhart, whose husband was later to be a leader in the Progressive party. Mrs. Steinhart got Mrs. Agnes De Lima, a New York City progressive educator, to make a survey of the San Francisco schools for the association. The report, presented in 1914, made the expected case for an “efficient,” business-like, school system run solely by appointed educators. Mrs. Steinhart also organized the Public Education Society of San Francisco to agitate for progressive school reform; in this she was aided by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

Also backing progressive reform, and anxious to oust Roncovieri, were other elite groups in the city, including the League of Women Voters, and the prestigious Commonwealth Club of California.

At the behest of Mrs. Steinhart and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which contributed the funds, Philander Claxton of the U.S. Office of Education weighed in with his report in December 1917. The report, which endorsed the Association of Collegiate Alumnae study and was extremely critical of the San Francisco school system, called for all power over the system to go to an appointed superintendent of schools. Claxton also attacked the teaching of foreign languages in the schools, which San Francisco had been doing, and insisted on a comprehensive “Americanization” to break down ethnic settlements.

The Claxton Report was the signal for the Chamber of Commerce to swing into action, and it proceeded to draft a comprehensive progressive referendum for the November 1918 ballot, calling for an appointed superintendent and an appointed school board. This initiative, Amendment 37, was backed by most of the prominent business and professional groups in the city. In addition to the ones named above, there were the Real Estate Board, elite women’s organizations such as the Federation of Women’s Clubs, wealthy neighborhood improvement clubs, and the San Francisco Examiner. Amendment 37 lost, however, by two to one, since it had little support in working-class neighborhoods or among the teachers.

Two years later, however, Amendment 37 passed, aided by a resurgence of pietism and virulent anti-Catholicism in postwar America. Prohibition was now triumphant, and the Ku Klux Klan experienced a nationwide revival as a pietist, anti-Catholic organization. The KKK had as many as 3,500 members in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1920s. The anti-Catholic American Protective Association also enjoyed a revival, led in California by a British small businessman, the anti-Irish Grand Master Colonel J. Arthur Petersen.

In opposing Amendment 37 in the 1920 elections, Father Peter C. Yorke, a prominent priest and Irish immigrant, perceptively summed up the fundamental cleavage: “The modern school system,” he declared, “is not satisfied with teaching children the 3 Rs . . . it reaches out and takes possession of their whole lives.”

Amendment 37 passed in 1920 by the narrow margin of 69,200 to 66,700. It passed in every middle- and upper-class Assembly District, and lost in every working-class district. The higher the concentration of foreign-born voters in any district, the greater the vote against. In the Italian precincts 1 to 17 of the 33rd A.D., the Amendment was beaten by 3 to 1; in the Irish precincts, it was defeated by 3 to 1 as well. The more Protestant a working-class district, the more it supported the Amendment.

The bulk of the lobbying for the Amendment was performed by the ad hoc Educational Conference. After the victory, the conference happily presented a list of nominees to the school board, which now consisted of seven members appointed by the mayor, and which in turn appointed the superintendent. The proposed board consisted entirely of businessmen, of whom only one was a conservative Irish Catholic. The mayor surrendered to the pressure, and hence, after 1921, cultural pluralism in the San Francisco school system gave way to unitary progressive rule. The board began by threatening to dock any teacher who dared to be absent from school on St. Patrick’s Day (a San Francisco tradition since the 1870s), and proceeded to override the wishes of particular neighborhoods in the interest of a centralized city.

The superintendent of schools in the new regime, Dr. Joseph Marr Gwinn, fit the new dispensation to a tee. A professional “scientist” of public administration, his avowed aim was unitary control. The entire package of typical progressive educational nostrums was installed, including a department of education and various experimental programs. Traditional basic education was scorned, and the edict came down that children should not be “forced” to learn the 3 Rs if they didn’t feel the need. Traditional teachers, who were continually attacked for being old-fashioned and “unprofessional,” were not promoted.

Despite continued opposition by teachers, parents, neighborhoods, ethnic groups, and the ousted Roncovieri, all attempts to repeal Amendment 37 were unsuccessful. The modern dispensation of progressivism had conquered San Francisco. The removal of the Board of Education and school superintendent from direct and periodic control by the electorate had effectively deprived parents of any significant control over the educational policies of public schools. At last, as John Swett had asserted nearly sixty years earlier, schoolchildren belonged “not to the parents, but to the State, to society, to the country.”

ETHNORELIGIOUS CONFLICT AND THE RISE OF FEMINISM

Women’s Suffrage

By the 1890s, the liturgically oriented Democracy was slowly but surely winning the national battle of the political parties. Culminating the battle was the Democratic congressional victory in 1890 and the Grover Cleveland landslide in the presidential election of 1892, in which Cleveland carried both Houses of Congress along with him (an unusual feat for that era). The Democrats were in way of becoming the majority party of the country, and the root was demographic: the fact that most of the immigrants were Catholic and the Catholic birthrate was higher than that of the pietist Protestants. Even though British and Scandinavian immigration had reached new highs during the 1880s, their numbers were far exceeded by German and Irish immigration, the latter being the highest since the famous post-potato-famine influx that started in the late 1840s. Furthermore, the “new immigration” from southern and eastern Europe, almost all Catholic—and especially Italian—began to make its mark during the same decade.

The pietists became increasingly embittered, stepping up their attacks on foreigners in general and Catholics in particular. Thus, the Reverend T.W. Cuyler, President of the National Temperance Society, intemperately exclaimed in the summer of 1891: “How much longer [will] the Republic . . . consent to have her soil a dumping ground for all Hungarian ruffians, Bohemian bruisers, and Italian cutthroats of every description?”

The first concrete political response by the pietists to the rising Catholic tide was to try to restrict immigration. Republicans successfully managed to pass laws partially cutting immigration, but President Cleveland vetoed a bill to impose a literacy test on all immigrants. The Republicans also managed to curtail voting by immigrants, by getting most states to disallow voting by aliens, thereby reversing the traditional custom of allowing alien voting. They also urged the lengthening of the statutory waiting period for naturalization.

The successful restricting of immigration and of immigrant voting was still not enough to matter, and immigration would not really be foreclosed until the 1920s. But if voting could not be restricted sharply enough, perhaps it could be expanded—inthe proper pietist direction.

Specifically, it was clear to the pietists that the role of women in the liturgical “ethnic” family was very different from what it was in the pietist Protestant family. One of the reasons impelling pietists and Republicans toward prohibition was the fact that, culturally, the lives of urban male Catholics—nd the cities of the Northeast were becoming increasingly Catholic—evolved around the neighborhood saloon. The men would repair at night to the saloon for chitchat, discussions, and argument—nd they would generally take their political views from the saloonkeeper, who thus became the political powerhouse in his particular ward. Therefore, prohibition meant breaking the political power of the urban liturgical machines in the Democratic party.

But while the social lives of liturgical males revolved around the saloon, their wives stayed at home. While pietist women were increasingly independent and politically active, the lives of liturgical women revolved solely about home and hearth. Politics was strictly an avocation for husbands and sons. Perceiving this, the pietists began to push for women’s suffrage, realizing that far more pietist than liturgical women would take advantage of the power to vote.

As a result, the women’s suffrage movement was heavily pietist from the very beginning. Ultrapietist third parties like the Greenback and the Prohibition parties, which scorned the Republicans for being untrustworthy moderates on social issues, supported women’s suffrage throughout, and the Populists tended in that direction. The Progressive party of 1912 was strongly in favor of women’s suffrage; theirs was the first major national convention to permit women delegates. The first woman elector, Helen J. Scott of Wisconsin, was chosen by the Progressive party.

Perhaps the major single organization in the women’s suffrage movement was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1874 and reaching an enormous membership of 300,000 by 1900. That the WCTU was also involved in agitating for curfew, antigambling, antismoking, and antisex laws—ll actions lauded by the women’s suffrage movement—s clear from the official history of women’s suffrage in the nineteenth century:

[The WCTU] has been a chief factor in State campaigns for statutory prohibition, constitutional amendment, reform laws in general and those for the protection of women and children in particular, and in securing anti-gambling and anti-cigarette laws. It has been instrumental in raising the “age of protection” for girls in many States, and in obtaining curfew laws in 400 towns and cities. . . . The association [WCTU] protests against the legalization of all crimes, especially those of prostitution and liquor selling.16

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Author:

Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.

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