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Dissent and Democracy in
U.S. History, 1880–1930
Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom

Dissent and Democracy in U.S. History,
Newberry Digital Collections for Classroom Use
What is dissent? What role has dissent played in the development of American democracy? The Oxford English
Dictionary helps us begin to answer the first question. The OED defines dissent as “difference of opinion or
sentiment; disagreement” and the “opposite of consent.” This document collection encourages teachers and
students to elaborate that definition and to develop answers to the second question by examining four case
studies in dissent from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These case studies represent four
very different forms of dissent: the mass demonstrations and violence of Haymarket, the parades and
petitions of the women’s suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, the pamphlets and clinics of Margaret
Sanger’s birth control crusade, and the free-speech forums and masquerade balls of the Dill Pickle Club.
These case studies, in their variety, allow us to consider the different forms that dissent might take, and the
different paths that these movements could follow within national history.
U.S. historians and political scientists often classify dissident movements along a spectrum from left to right,
with the left side encompassing Communists, socialists, and others committed to greater economic and
political equality, often achieved through government intervention, and the right side including those who
embrace capitalist economics with little or no state regulation. However, these categories become more
difficult to define in the area of civil liberties, which both the left and the right claim to embrace. For
example, today, the civil rights and reproductive rights movements are both identified with the left, while the
gun rights and pro-life movements are both identified with the right. In regard to these movements, neither
the left nor the right can be characterized as simply for or against government intervention.
In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed America, Michael Kazin identifies two axes through which to
interpret the history of leftist dissent in the United States. One axis concerns the relationships—and
differences—between the political left and the cultural left. By political left, Kazin refers to movements and
individuals, which advocate significant changes to national laws and, even, to the structure of government.
Examples from this document collection include the Workingmen’s Party platform and the suffragists’ efforts
to change voting laws. By cultural left, Kazin means the more amorphous, and often more widely accepted, set
of artistic and literary practices that express dissent from prevailing cultural norms. Examples from this
collection include the Dill Pickle Club records of “bohemian” life. As Kazin notes, there are plenty of
moments when political and cultural activity intersect, however there are also many moments when they
diverge and, as historians, it is useful to be able to distinguish between them. The second axis that Kazin
identifies describes a tension within the goals of leftist movements, whether they are primarily political or
cultural. That tension lies between, on the one hand, the desire to extend or protect individual liberties and,
on the other hand, the desire to achieve social equality and justice. There are times when achieving collective
good seems to require the sacrifice of individual freedoms and vice versa. Although Kazin writes specifically
of the left, his terms provide a useful framework for many of the documents presented here and can help us
formulate terms and questions for right-wing as well as left-wing movements.


Please consider the following questions as you review the documents
 Develop a definition of dissent based on your reading of these documents. What do the documents
have in common? How does the concept of dissent allow us to bring together documents that are, in
many ways, quite different?
 What forms has dissent taken in U.S. history? What are the objectives of the writers and
organizations represented in these documents? In what ways do they dissent from the political and
social conditions of their times? What are their methods for advocating change? What are their
relationships to mainstream American politics and culture?
 What is the role of dissent in a representative democracy such as the United States? Why have groups
of Americans chosen to go outside of official channels (e.g., elections) in order to try to reform
government and society? How have traditions of dissent changed the ways that Americans practice
 In what ways does the pursuit of individual liberty conflict with the quest for social equality and
justice? In what ways are these goals compatible?


Documents 1, 2, 3, and 4
“Attention Workingmen! Great Mass Meeting Tonight at 7:30 O’clock at the
Haymarket.” 1886.
Newberry Call No. VAULT Ruggles 12
C. Bunnell. “After the Riot: The Shadow of Death” and “Police Charging the
Murderous Rioters.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. May 15, 1886.
Newberry Call No. A 5 .34
Michael J. Schaack. Anarchy and Anarchists. A History of the Red Terror and
the Social Revolution in America and Europe. 1889. Title page and
frontispiece, 50–52, and 578.
Newberry Call No. J 29 .795
Nineteenth-century employers often expected workers to spend 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week on the
job. In the 1880s, anarchists, unionists, socialists, and reformers organized a national effort to demand an
eight-hour workday. During the first week of May 1886, 35,000 Chicago workers walked off of their jobs in
massive strikes to protest their lengthy work weeks. Some of these strikes involved violent skirmishes with
the police. At least two strikers were killed on May 3. In response, the next evening, roughly 1,500 people
gathered at the West Randolph Street Haymarket, a market on the edge of the city where people bought hay
for their horses. Although the May 4 rally featured fiery speeches from the city’s leading anarchists and labor
leaders, it was a peaceful gathering. As the rally drew to a close, hundreds of policemen moved in to disperse
the crowd. Someone threw a bomb at the police brigade, killing one officer instantly. The police responded
with a barrage of bullets. An unknown number of demonstrators were killed or wounded. Sixty police officers
were injured and eight eventually died. Politicians and the press blamed anarchists for the violence. Although
there was no evidence linking specific people to the bomb, eight men were convicted of murder on the basis
of their political writings and speeches. Four men were executed; one committed suicide. The trial was later
considered grossly unjust and, in 1893, the Illinois governor granted absolute pardon to the three, remaining
imprisoned defendants. The labor organizations, however, were severely damaged and the anarchist
movement never recovered from the trial. The documents that follow include representations of the
Haymarket events in a New York newspaper and passages from a history written by Captain Michael Schaak.
Schaak commanded a Chicago Avenue police station in 1886 and played a large role in the arrests and
prosecutions of anarchists following the Haymarket violence. Schaak included in his book the published
principles and constitutions of several radical parties, such as the Workingmen’s Party of the United States,
excerpted below. He also reproduced Judge Joseph E. Gary’s instructions to the jury, or guidelines on
reaching a verdict.


Questions to Consider
1. Examine the broadside advertising the Haymarket rally. What can you learn about the rally’s
audience and purpose from this broadside?
2. Examine the illustrations of the Haymarket events from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
How did this newspaper portray the events to a national audience? Do the illustrations
encourage readers to sympathize with the police or the demonstrators? On what grounds?
3. What are the principles and goals of the Workingmen’s Party, as outlined in this document?
Which, if any, of their goals do you consider reasonable? Which, if any, do you consider
4. How does the judge instruct the jury to consider the constitutional right to freedom of speech?
What are the limitations on this right, according to the judge? How does he define accessory? To
what extent does he consider accessories culpable for a crime?
5. Does Schaak’s position as police chief appear to affect his presentation of the issues and events?


Documents 5, 6, 7, and 8
Illinois Association Opposed to the Extension of Suffrage to Women.
“Woman’s Protest Against Woman Suffrage.” 1909.
Newberry Call No. J 325 .64
Letter from Margery Currey to Eunice Tietjens, August 8, 1912.
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS Tietjens Box 4, Folder 237.
John T. McCutcheon. “There Ought to be Schools for the Instruction of
Women Voters.” June 16, 1913.
Newberry Call No. John T. McCutcheon Papers, Box 7, Folder 188.
Alice Duer Miller. “Introduction,” “Representation,” and “Why We Oppose
Votes for Men.” In Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times.
1915. pp. 20–21 and 50.
Newberry Call No. 4A 17680
In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right to vote to women throughout the
United States. The amendment represented the culmination of a long and uneven campaign to achieve
women’s suffrage. Women had not possessed the right to vote (or, for the most part, to own property) under
British colonial rule and, following the American Revolution, federal and state governments kept those
restrictions in place. (The one exception was New Jersey, which allowed women to vote until 1807, when an
amended voting law barred them.) A persistent, if small, minority advocated for women’s suffrage throughout
the first half of the nineteenth century and gained prominence with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention on
women’s rights. However, the suffrage movement stalled during the Civil War and, afterwards, split over
support of the Fifteenth Amendment, which extended suffrage to African American men, but not to any
women. The movement overcame its divisions in the late 1880s and moved forward through the following
decades by pursuing both state and federal reform. Residents of Illinois saw the results of this incremental
approach: in 1891, the Illinois state legislature granted women the right to vote in school elections and, in
1913, it extended this right to presidential and local elections.
The documents that follow represent both pro- and anti-suffrage positions. Chicago novelist Caroline F.
Corbin led the fight against suffrage in Illinois. She established the Illinois Association Opposed to the
Extension of Suffrage to Women (IAOESW) in 1897 and, in this 1909 letter to state legislators, makes the
case against suffrage. On the other side of the debate, Margery Currey writes to her friend Eunice Tietjens
about marching in a suffrage parade during the Progressive Party convention in August 1912. (Former U.S.
president Theodore Roosevelt had formed the Progressive Party that summer after losing his bid for the
Republican Party presidential nomination. Roosevelt agreed, with some reluctance, to support women’s
suffrage in his campaign. But in any case, he lost the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.) The cartoon by
John T. McCutcheon appeared in the Chicago Tribune five days after the Illinois House of Representatives
approved women’s suffrage in Illinois. Finally, Alice Duer Miller’s book of poetry Are Women People? featured
work that she had published the previous year in the New York Tribune. Miller skewered the self-proclaimed
populism of President Wilson and others who professed a commitment to representative democracy yet
opposed women’s enfranchisement.

Questions to Consider
1. What reasons do the anti-suffrage petitioners give for opposing women’s suffrage? What do they fear
will be the consequences of extending the vote to women?
2. Describe Currey’s account of marching in the suffrage parade. What is her tone? What made the
experience so significant and, in her words, “splendid”?
3. Examine McCutcheon’s cartoon. What makes the cartoon funny? What arguments does the cartoon
implicitly present?
4. How does Miller make the case for women’s suffrage in her poems? What is her tone?
5. Compare the different forms of political dissent represented by these documents. Which do you find
most effective? Why are they effective?


Documents 9 and 10
Margaret Sanger. What Every Girl Should Know. 1922 [originally published
1912–1913]. pp. 4–5.
Newberry Call No. Case HQ57 .S28
Margaret Sanger. Family Limitation. 1914. p. 3.
Newberry Call No. Case HQ766 .S32
Margaret Sanger led the twentieth-century movement to make birth control and sex education legal and
accessible to women in the United States. Sanger was born in New York State in 1879. At that time, the
Comstock law (1873) made it a federal crime to distribute or sell birth control devices or to send information
about birth control through the mail. The law was named for Anthony Comstock, a devout Christian who
was appalled by the amount of prostitution in New York City following the Civil War. Comstock argued that
birth control led to promiscuity and, therefore, should be banned. Sanger reached the opposite conclusion.
She watched her mother suffer and eventually die from the physical toll of eleven childbirths and seven
miscarriages. When she later became a nurse in New York City, she saw countless other women experience
similar physical and emotional problems due to unwanted pregnancies. To Sanger, a woman’s right to
determine whether and when she became pregnant was a fundamental condition of her freedom and
In the 1910s, Sanger published a series of essays on reproduction and birth control and found herself indicted
for obscenity. Those charges were eventually dropped. So Sanger pushed the envelope further by opening a
clinic in Brooklyn to instruct women in the use of contraceptives. Neighborhood women, mostly Italian and
Jewish immigrants, many accompanied by their children, formed long lines down the sidewalk. In nine days,
the police had shut down the clinic and arrested Sanger on charges of distributing contraception. She was
sentenced to 30 days in the county penitentiary. Over the following decades, Sanger continued her campaign
to legalize birth control and sex education in the United States and abroad. Her organization eventually
became Planned Parenthood. The Comstock law remained in effect until 1965, when the Supreme Court’s
decision in Griswold v Connecticut made birth control legal for married couples. Sanger died the following year.
The Court declared the remaining provisions of the Comstock law unconstitutional in 1983.
Sanger’s birth control crusade offers an example of dissent that does not fit neatly into the familiar political
spectrum. Sanger was a Socialist. However, historian Jill Lepore argues that her campaign to legalize birth
control and promote sex education was not, during her lifetime, primarily identified with either the left or the
right. It had supporters as well as critics from both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Only in the
1980s, when the legalization of abortion became a defining issue for both Republicans and Democrats, did
birth control and sex education become consistent targets of conservatives. Right-wing groups have recently
vilified Sanger as promoting eugenics, the now discredited, often racist, science of improving the human race
through breeding. Sanger did entertain some eugenics ideas, but she denounced Nazi eugenics programs and
insisted that individuals—not the state—should have the power to make reproductive choices. During her
lifetime, Sanger enjoyed the support of many members of the African American and immigrant communities.
African American leaders invited her to open a clinic in Harlem in 1929 and both W. E. B. DuBois and
Martin Luther King endorsed her work.


Questions to Consider
1. Why does Sanger believe that it is important for women to have accurate information on
reproduction, birth control, and venereal disease? What relationships does she perceive between birth
control and women’s freedom?
2. Why does Sanger believe that working women should not have more than two children? How is
economic class relevant to the issue of birth control?


Documents 11, 12, 13, and 14
Dill Pickle Club entrance photograph. n.d.
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS, Dill Pickle, Box 2, folder 32.
“A Night in Bohemia: The Dill Pickle Masked Ball.” 1916.
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS, Dill Pickle, Box 2, folder 188.
“Anti-War Dance.” [1929 or 1935].
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS, Dill Pickle, Box 1, folder 33.
“Is Free Love Possible?” [1930].
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS, Dill Pickle, Box 2, folder 152.
The Dill Pickle Club was established by the labor activist Jack Jones around 1914 on Chicago’s Near North
Side. It was a social club in the broadest sense of the term, by turns coffeehouse, nightclub, lecture hall, art
gallery, and performance space. The club hosted lectures and debates (some serious, some not), concerts and
plays, dances and parties. It attracted free-thinking, nonconformist artists and intellectuals known as
Bohemians. (The term Bohemian comes from the association of “gypsies,” or Romani people, with an anti-
establishment, vagabond life and with the Eastern European region of Bohemia, now part of the Czech
Republic.) The Dill Pickle Club was not an elite or exclusive environment, but instead offered patrons the
thrill of meeting people from different economic, educational, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. Socialites could
mingle with factory workers, professors with activists, writers with prostitutes. The Dill Pickle was not alone
in promoting nonconformist thought and expression; rather, it was one of about 200 free-speech forums that
flourished in Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century. A random selection of lecture titles from
the 1910s and ‘20s gives a sense of the club’s wide-ranging topics: “Is Jazz Better than Opera?” “Is
Monogamy a Failure?” “Nuts I Have Known,” “Evolution and Revolution,” “Who’s Responsible for the
Depression,” “Why Bolshevism Succeeded in Russia.” Some of these lectures were given by local professors
and doctors, others by popular nonacademic speakers, such as attorney Clarence Darrow and anarchist
Emma Goldman. The club was popular with celebrated writers such as Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg,
and Ben Hecht. However, the Dill Pickle struggled to survive the Great Depression and closed in the mid-
1930s under pressure from tax auditors and moralists.
Questions to Consider
1. The Dill Pickle Club changed sites a few times, but settled in this basement on Tooker Place, off
Dearborn, not far from the Newberry Library. What does this photograph of the entrance tell you
about the club? What does the door’s famous inscription, “STEP HIGH STOOP LOW LEAVE
YOUR DIGNITY OUTSIDE,” suggest about the atmosphere that Jack Jones wanted to create?
2. Examine the flyer for the Dill Pickle’s Masked Ball. Masquerades were among the clubs most
frequent and most popular events. What will be the ball’s special features? What do you think the
promise of “A Night in Bohemia” might have meant to people who went to the dance? Why do you
think costume balls were so popular among Dill Pickle patrons?
3. Examine the flyers for the anti-war dance and the free love debate. What do these flyers suggest
about bohemian culture, or the culture of dissent, in Chicago during these decades?
4. What are some of the relationships and differences between political and cultural forms of dissent, as
suggested by these documents?

Selected Sources
Mary Chapman. “‘Are Women People?’: Alice Duer Miller’s Poetry and Politics.” American Literary History
18:1 (Spring 2006).
James R. Green. Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing That Divided
Gilded Age America. 2006.
Newberry Call No. HD8085.C53 G74 2006
Michael Kazin. American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. 2011.
Jill Lepore. “Birthright: What’s Next for Planned Parenthood?” New Yorker. Nov. 14, 2011.
“Margaret Sanger.” MMWR Weekly. Dec. 3, 1999.
Outspoken: Chicago’s Free Speech Tradition. 2004.
PBS. American Experience: The Pill.
Janice L. Reiff, Ann Durkin Keating, James R. Grossman, eds. The Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2004.


ument 1: “A
wberry Call N
Attention W
Ruggles 12

!” 1886.


ument 2: C.
y 15, 1886.
wberry Call N
. Bunnell. “A
No. A 5 .34
After the Ri

iot: The Sha adow of Deaath.” Frank k Leslie’s Illuustrated New


ument 3: C.
y 15, 1886.
wberry Call N
. Bunnell. “P
No. A 5 .34
Police Char

rging the Murderous Riioters.” Fran ank Leslie’s

Illustrated NNewspaper. .

ument 4: M
volution in A
wberry Call N
Michael J. Sch
America and
No. J 29 .795
haack. Anar
d Europe. 18

archy and An
89. Title pa
narchists. A
ge and fron
A History of t
f the Red Ter error and thee Social


ument 4: M
volution in A
wberry Call N
Michael J. Sch
America and
No. J 29 .795
haack. Anar
d Europe. 18

archy and An
89. p. 50.
narchists. A A History of t f the Red Ter error and thee Social

ument 4: M
volution in A
wberry Call N
Michael J. Sch
America and
No. J 29 .795
haack. Anar
d Europe. 18
archy and An
89. p. 52.
narchists. A A History of t f the Red Ter error and thee Social


ument 4: M
volution in A
wberry Call N
Michael J. Sch
America and
No. J 29 .795
haack. Anar
d Europe. 18

archy and An
89. p. 578.
narchists. A A History of t f the Red Ter error and thee Social


ument 5: Ill
inst Woman
wberry Call N
linois Assoc
n Suffrage.”
No. J 325 .64
ciation Oppo

osed to the Extension oof Suffrage tto Women. “Woman’s

ument 6: Le
wberry Call N
etter from M
No. Midwest M
Margery Cur
MS Tietjens B
rrey to Euni
Box 4, Folde
ice Tietjens,
er 237.
, August 8, 11912.

Document 6: Letter from Margery Currey to Eunice Tietjens, August 8, 1912. Transcript.
Newberry Call No. Midwest MS Tietjens Box 4, Folder 237.
Have you read Chicago news? Do you realize that we have had the first suffrage parade in Chicago! To be sure, it was really an
escort for the women delegates to the Progressive Convention, and was brought together on 24 hours’ notice, but we
marched, and we carried yellow banners, and we heard a woman second the nomination for president, and we heard Roosevelt
and other convention speakers come out roundly for a definite program of labor legislation such as has never been done
before; and “Votes for Women” goes into the platform! I was never so busy and so exuberant in my life as during this
convention week. These have been memorable days—and nights, too—full of wonderful constructive work. It will all be over
Saturday night, after Mrs. Robins gives a dinner at the City Club for her sister, Mary Dries, who is a delegate to the National
Progressive Convention How those words have become charmed. You never felt such a spirit as that which pervaded the
convention. Well, you see I am a maniac—but it was splendid! My work has been to me a well of mineral water, and a band of
music, and a ride on an aeroplane.
The friend you speak of came into the office—attended the salon—and Floyd administered aid and comfort. He liked her all
Sincerely yours,
Margery Dell
August Eighth


ument 7: Jo
e 16, 1913.
wberry Call N
ohn T. McCu
No. John T. M
utcheon. “T

There Ough
Papers, Box
ht to be Scho
7, Folder 18
ools for the I
Instruction of Women VVoters.”


ument 8: Al
mes. 1915.
wberry Call N
lice Duer M
No. 4A 17680
Miller. “Intro

oduction.” In n Are Wommen People? ? A Book of RRhymes for

r Suffrage

ument 8: Al
mes. 1915. pp
wberry Call N
lice Duer M
. 20–21.
No. 4A 17680
Miller. “Repr

resentation.” ” In Are Woomen Peoplle? A Book oof Rhymes ffor Suffrage


ument 8: Al
ymes for Suff
wberry Call N
lice Duer M
ffrage Times
No. 4A 17680
Miller. “Why
s. 1915. p. 50

We Oppose
e Votes for MMen.” In Ar Are Women PPeople? A BBook of

pp. 4

ument 9: M
wberry Call N
Margaret San
No. Case HQ5
nger. What E
57 .S28

Every Girl S Should Knoww. 1922 [origginally publiished 1912–11913].


ument 10: M
wberry Call N
Margaret San
No. Case HQ7
nger. Family
766 .S32

ily Limitation on. 1914. p. 33.


ument 11: D
wberry Call N
Dill Pickle C
No. Midwest M
Club entranc
MS, Dill Pick

ce photograp
kle, Box 2, fo
ph. n.d.
older 32.

ument 12: “
wberry Call N
“A Night in
No. Midwest M
Bohemia: T
MS, Dill Pick
The Dill Pic
kle, Box 2, fo
ckle Masked
older 188.
d Ball.” 19166.

ument 13: “
wberry Call N
“Anti-War D
No. Midwest M
Dance.” [192
MS, Dill Pick
29 or 1935].
kle, Box 1, fo older 33.

ument 14: “
wberry Call N
“Is Free Lov
No. Midwest M
ve Possible?
MS, Dill Pick
” [1930].
kle, Box 2, fo older 152.

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