Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform

The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform: Atlantic City, 1854-1920

Martin Paulsson
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform
    Book Description:

    Tracing the evolution of Atlantic City from a miserable hamlet of fishermen's huts in 1854 to the nation's premier seaside resort in 1910, The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform chronicles a bizarre political conflict that reaches to the very heart of Progressivism. Operating outside of the traditional constraints of family, church, and community, commercial recreation touched the rawest nerves of the reform impulse. The sight of young men and women frolicking in the surf and tangoing on the beach and the presence of unescorted women in boardwalk cafs and cabarets translated for many Progressives, secular and evangelical alike, into a wholesale rejection of socio-sexual restraints and portended disaster for the American family. While some viewed Atlantic City as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, others considered the resort the triumph of American democracy and a healthy and innocent release from the drudgery and regimentation of industrial society. These conflicting currents resulted in a policy of strategic censorship that evolved in stages during the formative years of the city. Sunday drinking, gambling, and prostitution were permitted, albeit under increasingly stringent controls, but resort amusements were significantly restricted and shut down entirely on Sunday. This policy also segregated blacks from the beach and the boardwalk. By 1890, more than one in five residents of Atlantic City was black, a uniquely high ratio among northern cities. While the urban economies of the north depended on immigrant labor, the resort economy of Atlantic City rested on legions of black cooks, waiters, bellmen, and domestic workers. Paulsson's description of African-American life in Atlantic City provides a vivid and comprehensive picture of life in the North during the decades following the Civil War.Paulsson's work, and his focus on changing social values and growing racial tensions, brings to light an ongoing crisis in American society, namely the chasm between religion and mass culture as embodied by the indifference to the sanctity of the Sabbath. In Atlantic City, churches mounted a nationwide effort to preserve the Christian Sunday, a movement that grew steadily after the Civil War. Paullson's account of modern Sabbatarianism provides fresh insights into the nature of evangelical reform and its relationship to the Progressive movement. Filled with over forty delightful historical photographs that vividly depict the evolution of the resort's architecture, political scene, and even swimwear, The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform is must reading for anyone interested in American mass culture, Progressivism, and reform movements. Paulsson has illustrated the story with over forty delightful historical photographs that vividly depict the evolution of the resort's architecture, political scene, and even swimwear.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6886-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Kuehnle Myth
    (pp. 1-13)

    The arrest of Mayor James Usry for bribery in July 1989 was to anAtlantic City Pressreporter merely the latest episode in an “unending tale of corruption” that began in Atlantic City before the turn of the century. In 1984 Usry’s predecessor, Michael Matthews, pled guilty to accepting bribes, and federal investigators revealed that he had connections to organized crime. Usry was the eighth mayor of Atlantic City to have been arrested or indicted by state or federal authorities since 1909, and there is a good deal more in the history of the resort that justified the reporter’s assertion...

  6. CHAPTER TWO From Pitney’s Folly to World’s Playground
    (pp. 14-56)

    Atlantic City presents a unique case study in urban development. Founded in 1854, lt began as a speculative real estate venture, a creature of the railroad and of outside investors. By 1870 it stood as it had been envisioned, a quaint seaside colony of Philadelphia. Its coming of age in the waning decades of the nineteenth century paralleled the growth of the resort industry and the industrial and social maturation of the country. But to say simply that Atlantic City was called into existence by the inexorable forces of industrialization and urbanization is to neglect the efforts and expectations of...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Robbery of the Sabbath
    (pp. 57-86)

    Social and political historians have continually seen World War I and the 1920s as critical turning points in American society, “the crisis of the Protestant establishment,” the time when Protestant churches became “sharply aware that their ancient sway over the nation’s moral life was threatened.”

    The debacle of Prohibition functioned both as evidence and cause of the churches’ loss of authority in a culture where urban values became primary. The decline of the Puritan Sabbath despite strenuous campaigns in its behalf, the emergence of new attitudes towards recreation despite old Puritanic suspicions of play, and the expansion of the amusement...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Low Resorts
    (pp. 87-115)

    The development of Absecon Island brought to the wilderness the amenities of urban life. It also brought its maladies. Gambling, prostitution, and the liquor traffic marked every stage of the development of Atlantic City. It was one thing to build a resort city on the wastes of a barrier island, and another to manage its attractions within accepted standards of social and civic morality. City leaders confronted this problem from the very beginning, but it became increasingly difficult as the city grew. The evolution of the liberal policy during the nineteenth century reflected changing life styles and recreational habits and...

  9. The following illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FIVE A Saturnalia of Vice
    (pp. 116-140)

    “I love Atlantic City,” declared newly elected governor John Franklin Fort in February 1908. The guest of the Atlantic City Board of Trade, he added: “Atlantic City lives all the time. One comes to this place, walks on the Boardwalk, … meets fine women, and goes back only to return again…. Tonight I say that everything you want which I can give you, after, of course, you have first applied to the legislature, everything you want which is in the best interests of business … I promise I will give you.”¹ Allowing for the flight of a banquet speech, Fort’s...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Reason: The Rise and Fall of Boss Kuehnle
    (pp. 141-178)

    In May 1909, Louis Kuehnle and Edward L. Bader of the Atlantic City Athletic Association announced that their baseball team, the Atlantics, would play Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics at the Inlet Field on the first Sunday in June. Kuehnle and Bader had visions of a major league franchise, and spared no expense to secure the best talent. Despite protests and demonstrations by the newly formed Lord’s Day Alliance, Sunday baseball was drawing huge crowds in Jersey City, in the nearby farm community of Egg Harbor, and in other parts of the state. In the city council, William Riddle introduced a...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Pharisees and Hypocrites
    (pp. 179-200)

    “I would rather see the people happy, tangoing on the beach,” said Mayor William Riddle in January 1915, “than to take a certificate from the ministers and the hotelkeepers’ association that I had a passport to Heaven for being a hypocrite.”¹ “Riddleism” was now the enemy in the great American resort. A year later, the embattled mayor went down to defeat at the hands of a coalition consisting of the beachfront, the evangelicals, the regular Republican organization, including Louis Kuehnle and the black Northside, a combination that would have been unthinkable only four years earlier. The municipal election of 1916...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-232)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-240)
  15. Index
    (pp. 241-246)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)