American Literature 1900-1945

Survey Course Instructor: Mihai Mîndra

Lecture 1 Major Cultural and Political Directions

Social Darwinism

coined in the late 19th century humans, like animals and plants, compete in a struggle for existence in which natural selection results in “survival of the fittest Some social Darwinists: governments should not interfere with human competition by attempting to regulate the economy or cure social ills such as poverty

Social Darwinism

advocate a laissez-faire political and economic system  competition and selfinterest in social and business affairs Social Darwinist - applied loosely to anyone who interprets human society primarily in terms of biology, struggle, competition, or natural law (a philosophy based on what are considered the permanent characteristics of human nature)

Social Darwinism

sociologist Herbert Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe the outcome of competition between social groups. In Social Statics (1850) and other works: through competition social evolution would automatically produce prosperity and personal liberty unparalleled in human history

Social Darwinism

United States: Spencer gained considerable support among intellectuals and some businessmen, incl. steel manufacturer Andrew Carnegie (visit to the United States in 1883) the most prominent American social Darwinist of the 1880s  William Graham Sumner


U.S. Legislative Reforms  the early 20th century  combat social problems such as dangerous working / living conditions > industrialization & urbanization Progressives turned to government to achieve their goals; national in scope: included both Democrats and Republicans.


embraced four types of reform:  Economic--"Monopoly“  Structural and Political--"Efficiency“ (“Taylorism”)  Social--"Democracy"  Moral--"Purity“
   

curb corporate power / end business monopolies wipe out (political) corruption democratize electoral procedures, protect working people / bridge the gap between social classes.


Examples:  Elkins Act (1903): railroads prohibited from giving secret rebates and charging discriminatory rates  Meat Inspection Act (1906):inspection required for cattle, sheep, goats, and hogs sold for meat in interstate or foreign commerce.  Pure Food and Drug Act (1906): requirement to use pure ingredients and list them on packaging.  Federal Farm Loan Act (1916): Congress provides long-term credit at low interest for farmers.  18th Amendment (1919): Prohibition (outlawed alcoholic drinks) [repealed in 1933 - 21st Amendment]  19th Amendment (1920): Women are given the right to vote etc.

 

1890s - 1910s: affected local, state, and national politics; also left a mark on journalism, academic life, cultural life, and social justice movements Most of these reforms - triggered by investigative/muckraking journalism & writers associated with this movement:  Lincoln Steffens: The Shame of the Cities (1904) & The  Struggle for Self-Government (1906)  Thorstein Veblen: The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)  Ray Stannard Baker: Following the Color Line (1908)  Theodore Dreiser: The Financier (1912) & The Titan (1914)  Upton Sinclair: The Jungle (1906)  Educator John Dewey: emphasized a child-centered philosophy of pedagogy (known as progressive education)

Progressivism in the Cities and States

1889 - Jane Addams founded Hull House

center for welfare work in Chicago championed the causes of labor reform, public education, and immigrants’ rights Addams’s book Twenty Years at Hull  House 

Initiated the social settlement movement, which originated in cities in the 1890s There were 100 settlement houses in 1900, 200 in 1905, and 400 in 1910. Hull House Children Hull House in the early 1900s.

provided nurseries, adult education classes, and recreational opportunities for children and adults

Progressivism in the Cities and States

Many reforms were first implemented at the state level:  Elimination / regulation of child labor; by 1907: 30 states abolished child labor  cutting workers’ hours, particularly women (Muller v. Oregon – 10 h day)  Establishing a minimum wage; endorsement of workmen’s compensation (an insurance plan to aid workers injured on the job) and an end to homework (piecework done in tenements). support from a broad section of the middle class— editors, teachers, professionals, and business leaders —who shared common values.

Progressivism at the National Level

major goal:

government regulation of business:
   

antitrust laws to eliminate monopolies lower tariffs graduated income tax system to control currency


President Theodore Roosevelt (“New Deal”)

President William Howard Taft (1909 -1913)

President Woodrow Wilson (“New Freedom”) [1913 – 1921]

Progressive Party (ies)

name of three distinct political parties in U.S. history

first Progressive Party: known colloquially
as the Bull Moose Party

founded by Theodore Roosevelt, after a bitter fight for the Republican presidential nomination among the president William H. Taft, the Wisconsin senator Robert M. La Follette, in 1912. Taft won the internal elections but the Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidential ones. ended in 1917, as most of the party’s members joined the Republican Party

Progressive Party (ies)

Second progressive party: 1924 -

a liberal coalition, frustrated by conservative domination of both major parties  the League for Progressive Political Action (popularly called the Progressive Party)  Senator La Follette for president and Montana Democratic Senator Burton K. Wheeler for VP

third Progressive Party - 1948 by dissident
Democrats  nominated ex-VP Wallace for president and Idaho Democratic senator Glen H. Taylor for vice president  Supported by the Communist Party; accused of being communist-dominated during the ensuing Cold War, stopped playing a political role after the 1948 elections.

End of 19th Century – Beginning of 20th Century Journalism: Yellow & Muckraking

Yellow journalism

pejorative reference to journalism that features scandal-mongering, sensationalism, jingoism or other unethical or unprofessional practices (by news media organizations / individual journalists) originated during the circulation battles between Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York  Journal (1895 – approx.1898) can refer specifically to this period

Yellow Journalism

Both papers were accused by critics of sensationalizing the news in order to drive up circulation, although the newspapers did serious reporting as well. The New York Press coined the term "Yellow Journalism" in early 1897 to describe the papers of Pulitzer and Hearst. The newspaper did not define the term, and in 1898 simply elaborated, "We called them Yellow because they are Yellow."[1]

Nasty little printer's devils spew forth from the Hoe press in this Puck cartoon of Nov. 21, 1888, showing that the evils predated the Yellow press.

Yellow Journalism

Pulitzer: newspapers were public institutions
with a duty to improve society, and he put the World in the service of social reform.

During a heat wave in 1883, World reporters went into the Manhattan's tenements, writing stories about the appalling living conditions of immigrants and the toll the heat took on the children. Stories headlined "How Babies Are Baked" and "Lines of Little Hearses" spurred reform and drove up the World's circulation

Yellow Journalism


read the World while studying at Harvard University and resolved to make the Examiner as bright as Pulitzer's paper.[7].  Under his leadership, the Examiner devoted 24 percent of its space to crime, presenting the stories as morality plays, and sprinkled adultery and "nudity" (by 19th century standards) on the front page  also increased its space for international news  sent reporters out to uncover municipal corruption and inefficiency  discovered that indigent women were treated with "gross cruelty" in a San Francisco Hospital. The entire hospital staff was fired the morning the piece appeared

Yellow Journalism

Both were Democratic / sympathetic to labor and immigrants (a sharp contrast to publishers like the New York Tribune's Whitelaw Reid, who blamed their poverty on moral defects) / both invested enormous resources in their Sunday publications  functioned like weekly magazines, going beyond the normal scope of daily journalism  included the first color comic strip pages Pulitzer and Hearst are often credited (or blamed) for drawing the nation into the Spanish-American War with sensationalist stories or outright lying.

Yellow Journalism

In fact, the vast majority of Americans did not live in New York City, and the decision makers who did live there probably relied more on staid newspapers like the Times, The Sun or the Post. The most famous example of the exaggeration: apocryphal story that artist Frederic Remington telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba and "There will be no war." Hearst responded "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

Rebellion broke out in Cuba in 1895 against the Spanish regime

Male Spanish officials strip search an American woman tourist in Cuba looking for messages from rebels; front page "yellow journalism" from Hearst

Rebellion broke out in Cuba in 1895 against the Spanish regim

Stories of Cuban virtue and Spanish brutality dominated Hearst’s pages; focused on the enemy who set the bomb —and offered a huge reward

Pulitzer's treatment in the World emphasizes horrible explosion

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

1880 Henry Demarest Lloyd - a series of articles exposing corruption in business and politics:
 

“The Story of a Great Monopoly” (1881) & “The Political Economy of Seventy-Three Million Dollars” (1882) in the Atlantic Monthly  “Making Bread Dear” (1883) & “Lords of Industry” (1884) in the North American Review. 

Articles caused a stir & Lloyd - described as the first

American investigative journalist.

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

Nellie Bly - another important pioneer
in investigative journalism an eighteen year old reporter with the Pittsburgh Dispatch first-hand tales of the lives of ordinary people often obtained this material by becoming involved in a series of undercover adventures: worked in a Pittsburgh factory to investigate child labour, low wages and unsafe working conditions.

  

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism
Nelly Bly (cont’d)
 

interested in writing about social problems & suggested ways that they could be solved. 1887 recruited by Joseph Pulitzer to write for his newspaper, the New York World; wrote about poverty, housing and labour conditions in New York feigned insanity to get into New York's insane asylum on Blackwell's Island. Bly discovered that patients were fed vermin-infested food and physically abused by the staff.

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

Another early example of investigative journalism: Jacob A. Riis’s work.  1899 - Scribner's Magazine published a series of articles by Riis entitled How the Other Half Lives. December 1899 - Benjamin Flower established The Arena (magazine) specialized in this type of journalism.  articles on poverty, sweatshops, slum clearance, unemployment and child labour  proclaimed that his intention was to create a movement that would "agitate, educate, organize and move forward, casting aside timidity and insisting that the Republic shall no longer lag behind in the march of progress."

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

Investigative journalism became a movement in 1902 magazines such as McClure's Magazine & Everybody's Magazine joined Arena in the struggle for social reform.

magazines became extremely popular & other mainstream publications - Cosmopolitan & the Saturday Evening Post began publishing articles exposing corruption in politics and business.

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

By 1906 - combined sales of the ten magazines that concentrated on investigative journalism reached a total circulation of 3,000,0000. Some of these journalists used the material they had obtained and turned them into novels:

Charles Edward Russell wrote several
novels based on journalistic research and each one sold over 30,000 copies

Upton Sinclair was the most successful of
these novelists;The Jungle and The Brass Check, were both best-sellers with sales of over 100,000.

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

Writers and publishers associated with this movement (1900 – 1914) included:
          

Frank Norris Ida Tarbell Charles Edward Russell Lincoln Steffens David Graham Phillips C. P. Connolly Benjamin Hampton Upton Sinclair Thomas Lawson Alfred Henry Lewis Ray Stannard Baker

Investigative/Muckraking Journalism

President Theodore Roosevelt - initiated legislation that would help tackle some of the problems illustrated by these journalist (Pure Food and Drugs Act [1906] & the Meat Inspection Act [1906]) Following their attack (initiated by David Graham Phillips in Cosmopolitan) on some of Roosevelt’s political allies, he called them “muckrakers”

/muckraking journalism:

"the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth on the floor."


agrarian movement of the late

 

19th century developed mainly in the area from Texas to the Dakotas grew into a Farmer-Labor political coalition began during the economic depression of the 1870s: sharp decline in the income of farmers / their living and operating costs were rising.


The farmers began to organize; a large numbers of them joined the National Grange, the Farmers' Alliances etc cooperative organizations – purposes:  lower farmers' costs by selling supplies at reduced prices  loaning money at rates below those charged by banks  building warehouses to store crops until prices became favorable  taking political action to achieve these goals.


By 1891, movement gained sufficient strength; the alliances joined the Knights of Labor a.o. the People's Party; members called Populists Principal objectives:  free coinage of silver  issuance of large amounts of paper currency (inflationary measures tended to raise farm prices & enable farmers to pay off their debts)  to replicate their cooperative system on a national scale

Objectives (cont’d)  to lower transportation costs by nationalizing the railroads  to achieve a more equitable distribution of the costs of government by means of a graduated income tax  to institute direct popular elections of U.S. senators  to inaugurate the 8-hour workday.


Populist influence peaked in 1896 when William Jennings Bryan, a Democrat who sympathized with the Populists' agenda, won his party's presidential nomination. The Populists endorsed Bryan, sacrificing their independent identity. After he was defeated, the Populist Party faded steadily from the political scene, disappearing about 1908 Populist movement exercised a profound influence on subsequent U.S. political life: almost all the original Populist demands eventually enacted into law


philosophical movement that has had a major impact on American culture from the late 19th century to the present calls for ideas and theories to be tested in practice all claims about truth, knowledge, morality, and politics must be tested as such


critical of traditional Western philosophy, especially the notion that there are absolute truths and absolute values Ongoing efforts to improve society, through such means as education or politics = problem-solving approach emphasis on connecting theory to practice


pragmatists’ denial of absolutes, moreover, challenged the foundations of religion, government, and schools of thought pragmatism influenced developments in psychology, sociology, education, semiotics  (the study of signs and symbols), and scientific method, as well as philosophy, cultural criticism, and social reform movements three most important pragmatists: American philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey

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