Progressive Inequality

Progressive Inequality

David Huyssen
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wpmx7
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  • Book Info
    Progressive Inequality
    Book Description:

    The Progressive Era has been seen as a seismic event that reduced the gulf between America's rich and poor. Progressive Inequality cuts against the grain of this view, showing how initiatives in charity, organized labor, and housing reform backfired, reinforcing class biases, especially the notion that wealth derives from individual merit.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-41952-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. PROLOGUE: Fault Lines of Rich and Poor
    (pp. 1-10)

    On christmas day 1899 poor New Yorkers shuffled into Madison Square Garden by the thousands for an evening feast, their breath made visible in the freezing air. Delights awaited inside, where the Salvation Army had promised roast suckling pig, tart cranberry relish, piping hot coffee, and warm companionship to all, as well as an entertainment program of optical displays and musical performances. Those who glanced up before passing through the cold marble archways would have beheld the statue of the goddess Diana high atop the Garden’s tower, a vision of grace in the gloaming. The virgin huntress commanded the best...

  4. 1 Invading the Tenements
    (pp. 11-30)

    Just before dawn on May 31, 1894, Solomon Kleinrock’s liquor store at 129 Suffolk Street exploded. The flames flew down the tenement hallways in a deadly rush, climbing stairwells and dumbwaiters, writhing under doors and licking at lintels. The blast had reverberated through the rickety old house, startling Peter Rutz from sleep in his third-floor rear-apartment bed. Rutz went to his door to find the source of the commotion. “The minute I opened the door,” he later recounted, “I was blinded with smoke and dirt and blaze. I was chucked right clean back on the floor, and my wife commenced...

  5. 2 Bank on the Bowery
    (pp. 31-48)

    “Rome is a wonderful place,” wrote the twenty-five-year-old Stanford White to his mother on June 11, 1879.¹ In a letter otherwise devoted to describing his harried schedule, precarious health, and guilt over not having written sooner, the easy serenity of White’s admiration for the Imperial City reflected the impact it had on him: not immediately explosive, but deep and lasting.

    The Reverend Calvin White might have shared his great-grandson Stanford’s appreciation for cultural manifestations of imperial power, particularly in Rome. Born before the Revolutionary War in Upper Middletown, Connecticut, Calvin had graduated from Yale in 1786 to become a Presbyterian...

  6. 3 Prescribing Reform
    (pp. 49-62)

    Neither david h. king’s impunity as an absentee landlord nor the city’s response in evicting his tenants was unique, a fact demonstrated emphatically during the hearings of Richard Watson Gilder’s Tenement House Committee, which were held on seven days between November 13 and December 7, 1894.¹ The Committee members spent nearly a fifth of the hearings cross-examining tenement owners, agents, and collectors for buildings that had failed to meet sanitary standards, almost invariably in the wake of devastating testimony from one of the Committee inspectors describing the filth they had encountered in a given property. This pattern of testimony illustrated...

  7. 4 Loving the Poor with Severity
    (pp. 63-88)

    Witnesses for the prosecution mentioned twice during Adolph Hershkopf’s trial that the fraudster’s intended victim, the Niagara Insurance Company, had retained the De Forest Brothers law firm as general counsel. This fact went unreported in the press and understandably so—the witnesses noted it in passing, and it seemed peripheral to the substance of the case. On the other hand, omitting it left a rich source of ironic reflection untapped. Only three years earlier, in 1893, De Forest Brothers had been entangled with fraud on a much larger scale.

    Francis Henry Weeks, a former partner in the firm and uncle...

  8. 5 The Business of Godly Charity
    (pp. 89-106)

    A cheery atmosphere reigned inside Madison Square Garden on December 25, 1899. Salvation Army officers and police had maintained complete order throughout the basket-dinner giveaway during the morning and early afternoon. Consul Emma Booth-Tucker had stood for hours at the head of the orderly breadline, offering holiday wishes to the poor beneath American-flag bunting and fresh mistletoe as she distributed the baskets full of “fat chicken, potatoes, assorted vegetables, a can of prepared soup, a luscious plum pudding and plenty of fruit.”¹ During the evening feast, the cooks had fed thousands more people than originally anticipated, and the entertainments had,...

  9. 6 Reaching Out to the Rich
    (pp. 107-122)

    On december 9, 1909, eighteen-year-old Max W. Paley composed an earnest plea to Jacob Henry Schiff. “Dear Sir,” wrote the immigrant office clerk in meticulous cursive, “knowing how philanthropic you are in cases of need, I am taking the liberty of writing you. I have a sister who is now sixteen years of age and is badly in need of an operation. She has had a tube in her throat ever since she was a child of four.”¹

    Max’s sister Jennie was the baby of the family, the only daughter, and the only child born and raised in the United...

  10. 7 Between Empathy and Prejudice
    (pp. 123-134)

    Jacob henry schiff was perhaps not the likeliest of candidates to forge cooperative, interactive bonds with the poor. Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1847 to a line of prominent rabbis, intellectuals, and merchants, he could trace his lineage at least as far back as the fourteenth century, and his family had owned property in Frankfurt’sJudengassesince 1608; these were hardly humble origins. Schiff’s father, Moses, lived up to the name, demanding strict obedience in matters both religious and personal, and setting a stern example that would resonate with Jacob for life. Schiff became a man of compulsive routine...

  11. 8 The Limits of Private Philanthropy
    (pp. 135-150)

    An undated manuscript among Lillian Wald’s papers gives a fine indication of her driving perspective on social reform. One could, she wrote, “generalize on intemperance, immoralities, physical poverty and heroic virtues—all the so called problems of the ‘other half ’ but this more scientific information you may obtain from theorists and students who can … arrive at conclusions in labeled and classified order.” This ostensibly “Progressive” approach did not appeal to her. “To me,” she insisted, “my neighbors are throbbing and vital men and women,” not the products of “scientific information,” rather “a procession of friends.” They were immigrant...

  12. 9 Killing Workers for Profit
    (pp. 151-164)

    The triangle waist company fire on March 25, 1911, which killed 146 garment workers, mostly young women and girls, stands out as an iconic moment of violence in the history of American workplaces. Unsurprisingly, the Women’s Trade Union League’s annual report for 1911 to 1912 minces no words in expressing hatred for that particular firm and its directors. Yet the report’s authors also made a point of casting their furious gaze through the flames of the Asch Building to an earlier moment, writing, “There is no block in the city of New York which the League members remembered,before the...

  13. 10 The Primacy of Property
    (pp. 165-180)

    In the summer of 1909, shortly before studies of their working conditions appeared, New York garment workers began to reject the existing systems of industrial organization. When employers fought back, they did so not by denying the workers access to spittoons, shortening bathroom breaks, or demanding unpaid overtime at the risk of injury. They used naked force, and depended on prevailing leeriness in the general public toward striking workers and the immigrant working poor as rowdy harbingers of social chaos to shelter themselves from serious public criticism or scrutiny. They supplemented their disproportionate access to state sources of violence and...

  14. 11 Sisters in Struggle
    (pp. 181-200)

    A month and a day after Mary Dreier’s spurious arrest, and after weeks of primarily capital-directed street violence centering just north of Washington Square Park, an extraordinary instance of cross-class cooperation took place in midtown Manhattan. Society matron, suffrage activist, and millionaire widow Alva Belmont commandeered the Hippodrome, a mammoth theater spanning Sixth Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets, for an event meant to publicize the general strike of New York’s shirtwaist industry that had begun two weeks earlier. Speakers included various clergy, union leaders, and Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association...

  15. 12 To Cooperate or Condescend
    (pp. 201-212)

    Financial industry workers sometimes referred to J. P. Morgan by the nickname “Jupiter,” the Latin cognate of the all-powerful, thunderbolt-wielding Greek god, Zeus.¹ In most accounts of the Uprising, his daughter Anne Morgan enters the narrative not so differently than Athena, Zeus’s daughter—sprung fully formed into the world, with no possible explanation of her prior development.² This is misleading, for Anne Morgan had, in fact, spent the better part of two years before the strike becoming increasingly involved in campaigns to improve workplace conditions, wages, and benefits for a variety of workers. She did not, as Margaret Dreier Robins...

  16. 13 Sisters at Odds
    (pp. 213-226)

    The carnegie hall meeting’s express purpose was to protest police brutality and miscarriages of justice in the police courts, where at least two magistrates, Cornell and Barlow, seemed bent on punishing strikers regardless of evidence. The initial public or ganizing committee for the event included the same combination of “mink brigade” allies, suffragists, and union activists that spearheaded the effort to have volunteer nonpicketers serve as witnesses in court, most notably Belmont, Morgan, and Eva McDonald Valesh, the close confidante of Samuel Gompers who had been assisting with strike publicity.¹ The move for a public meeting made good strategic sense:...

  17. 14 Hard Fists, Short Fuses on the City Rails
    (pp. 227-244)

    A little after half past four o’clock, in the brisk predawn air of Thursday, October 26, 1916, an ice-delivery man named John Mittlekauf was driving past Lenox Avenue and 110th Street when he saw a group of men dashing from the subway station. His eyes followed them as they vaulted over the Central Park wall and disappeared into the shrubbery.¹ Mittlekauf turned back to the road, but only got a block farther before he felt a powerful detonation behind him.

    Dynamite deposited under the edge of the subway platform ripped through the concrete, tore up the roadbed, bent a steel...

  18. 15 Making the World Safe for Inequality
    (pp. 245-272)

    New yorkers were still washing newsprint off their fingers from the celebratory reports of the August 7 arbitration deal and labor peace when T. P. Shonts dropped a public relations bomb: he announced that under the terms of the city’s contract with the I.R.T., New York would have to pay the cost of the strike on the surface lines, which he estimated at an alarming $1,520,000 for N.Y. Railways alone.¹ This, of course, would be only a fraction of the total cost to the public, because any agreement on the city’s part to pay would establish a basis for claims...

  19. EPILOGUE: Recognizing Class in Ourselves
    (pp. 273-280)

    Describing american inequality as tragic has its dangers. As literary critic Terry Eagleton observes, the concept of tragedy is so powerfully bound up with a sense of inevitability that describing events or conditions as tragic risks divesting their human protagonists of agency.¹ Tragedy in this vein conveys notions of transhistorical essentialism in place of contingency, hopelessness in place of idealism, and conjures spectres of human incapacity before the gods: we are but mortals, our victories and defeats foretold by the Fates, products not of our will, but of theirs. It should be evident that such a bleak notion of tragedy...

  20. Abbreviations
    (pp. 281-284)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 285-360)
  22. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 361-364)
  23. Index
    (pp. 365-378)