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Middle-Class Providence, 1820-1940

Middle-Class Providence, 1820-1940

John S. Gilkeson
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 394
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  • Book Info
    Middle-Class Providence, 1820-1940
    Book Description:

    This book inquires into what Americans mean when they call the United States a middle-class nation and why the vast majority of Americans identify themselves as middle class.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5435-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Americans have long believed that theirs is a middle-class society. In February 1940, with nearly 15 percent of the work force unemployed, a Roper poll commissioned byFortunemagazine reported that 79 percent of the respondents considered themselves middle-class. Few of those polled, even among factory workers, assigned themselves to the “working” or “laboring” class; even fewer still assigned themselves to the “upper” class. As the magazine’s editors concluded, the United States was “a middle class country,” one in which the average American “regards himself as ‛middle class.’ ” This book traces the development of middle-class consciousness from its origins...

  5. 1 The Stable, Industrious, Sober Middle Classes of Society
    (pp. 12-54)

    In the late summer and fall of 1835, townspeople in Providence and four other communities in Rhode Island heeded the summons of local notables to assemble at public meetings at which they frowned “into silence and utter contempt, the unholy efforts and projects of those reckless fanatics,” the abolitionists, whose vitriolic denunciations of slavery had riled southerners and threatened to “let slip the dogs of civil war.” Braving the contempt of their social betters were shopkeepers, artisans, and itinerant agents bent on organizing a network of antislavery societies. In their attempts to turn public opinion against slavery, these intrepid abolitionists...

  6. 2 Middle-Class Culture in the Process of Formation
    (pp. 55-94)

    “Society,” declared the Select Committee of the Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers in 1852, “is composed of three classes—the rich, the poor and the middling. In New England, a smaller proportion of the first two classes are to be found than in any other place. It is the influence, therefore, which is exerted by the middling class,” among which the members of the Mechanics’ Association proudly numbered themselves, “that is most felt in the community.” This celebration of the antebellum North as a middle-class society, rare in the 1830s, had become commonplace by the 1850s. In the previous...

  7. 3 Capital and Labor
    (pp. 95-135)

    Antebellum middle-class consciousness presumed a harmony of interests among all producers, whether self-employed or wage earners with aspirations to self-employment. Typical of this producerism was the Mechanics’ Association, whose 508 members in 1857 represented more than 110 different trades. But this presumed harmony of interests splintered after the Civil War. After growing to number more than 750 members in the early 1870s, the Mechanics’ Association declined rapidly. Even before the panic of 1873, its annual lecture series lost money and was suspended. The generous gift of its library to the embryonic Providence Public Library removed one of the major attractions...

  8. 4 The Club Idea
    (pp. 136-174)

    “The opening of the twentieth century found the club idea firmly established in the minds of all classes of society, irrespective of nationality, condition or sex,” declared the manual of the Congregational Club of Rhode Island in 1910. It had not been so as recently as 1875, when the club was founded. If the late eighteenth century was the heyday of the English club, the years between the Civil War and the First World War marked “the Golden Age of fraternity” in the United States, as clubs, lodges, and other leisure associations multiplied rapidly in cities and towns across the...

  9. 5 Corporate Greed and Partisan Exigency
    (pp. 175-214)

    Although it was the smallest state in the Union, Rhode Island in 1905 boasted a political system “grounded on the lowest layer of corruption” yet uncovered by muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens. A widely traveled reporter, Steffens had seen a lot of corruption, but it all paled in comparison to the system that flourished in Rhode Island. In other states, he explained, “the corruptionists buy the people’s representatives. In Rhode Island, they buy the people themselves.” Characterizing Rhode Island as “an oligarchy,” Steffens charged that the “best people” had acquiesced in this corruption. Yet many of the state’s “best people” were...

  10. 6 Substitutes for the Saloon
    (pp. 215-261)

    In 1883 the Reverend Frederic A. Hinckley announced a new strategy in the long middle-class campaign against the saloon. Instead of trying “to suppress the devil,” reformers should “undermine him. When he sets up a dance-hall where vice reigns, suppose we set up a dance-hall where virtue reigns. When he sets up a grogshop, suppose we set up a coffee-room, not in the third story, not where you have to use a telescope to find it, but where it will stare you in the face, invite you in, and make you feel at home.” Hinckley was far from the first...

  11. 7 Individualism Run Rampant
    (pp. 262-299)

    In 1911 Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, “partners for life” in industrial engineering, moved their large family to Providence. While Lillian pursued a Ph.D. in Applied Management at Brown, Frank “systematized” production at the New England Butt Company, the manufacturing firm founded in 1842 by abolitionist Nicholas B. Fenner. In his thirteen months at New England Butt, Gilbreth pioneered a number of techniques of “scientific motion study,” including the first “route models,” or process flow charts, and the first “micromotion” studies. Thanks to his efforts, the time required to perform certain industrial operations was cut by three-quarters. Before coming to Providence,...

  12. 8 Consumers Organize
    (pp. 300-347)

    In the years between the 1880s and the 1930s, Single Taxers, Christian socialists, prohibitionists, and other kindred spirits championed nonpartisanship and political independence in a vain attempt to re-create the antebellum moral community. Settlement and recreational reformers, adapting themselves to occupational differentiation if not to the pluralism of American society, attempted to reconstruct a fragmented urban society around settlement houses, institutional churches, socialized schools, and other neighborhood centers. Still other middle-class groups, among them businessmen, social workers, architects, and city planners, struggled to reintegrate their society along functional lines. Adopting corporate models, they turned to federation, which appeared to offer...

  13. 9 The Middle Classes on the Eve of the Second World War
    (pp. 348-356)

    The Great Depression, which threw millions of Americans out of work and threatened the material possessions and savings of millions more, raised fears about the survival of the middle classes. By 1935 observers as diverse as the native-born radical Alfred Bingham and the Italian-born Marxist Lewis Corey were warning of the dangers of fascism in the United States. Millions of Americans appeared to be rallying to the vague programs of demagogues like Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin who promised a return to a society consisting of independent producers, broad ownership of property, and widely dispersed power. Though coming at...

  14. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 357-370)
  15. Index
    (pp. 371-380)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)