Secret Liaisons and Disloyalty: Space and Gender in Progressive-Era New York

AHA Session 11
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Timothy J. Gilfoyle, Loyola University Chicago
Daniel Bender, University of Toronto

Session Abstract

The panel focuses on spatial turf wars over boundaries, ownership, and values that contributed to (re)formulating social identities during the Progressive Era. At the turn of the twentieth century, New York City was an epicenter of corporate capitalism, immigration, and (anti-)progressive ideologies. Directing flows of money and a wide range of people, it was a kaleidoscope of vivid and startling contrasts between wealth and the poverty. These divisions, often expressed in terms of race and ethnicity, were spatially divided and structurally dismembered. There have been an array of studies on these segmented communities in New York City in previous decades. Looking beyond social and spatial divisions, the proposed panel examines transgressions of social, class, and racial/ethnic lines, paying special attention to the interplay between space and gender.

By viewing space as a social, economic, and political arena in which interests, desires, and hopes competed, the panel scrutinizes multilateral tug of wars among various actors who were eager to enlarge their sphere of influence. Motoe Sasaki’s paper takes up Protestant bourgeois New Yorkers’ church-based activism aiming at integrating the urban public sphere through masculinizing Protestantism. Heather Ruth Lee shows how marginal men, New York’s famine Irish and disenfranchised Chinese, dominated the Chinatown economy through brokering backroom deals and political exchanges. Rachel Hui-Chi Hsu’s paper charts the spatiotemporal working and the gender politics of Emma Goldman’s “Mother Earth family” culture, which showcased how the private space was turned into public, to reveal the inception of a diversified anarchist counterpublic. And Aaron Welt’s paper explores the origins of labor racketeering within the labor movement of Yiddish-speaking immigrant workers and the origins of working-class political and economic ideologies that countered reform, bourgeois, and statist interventions into New York’s industry and urban life more generally.

Through these cases, moreover, the panel interrogates the contradictory impulses of the Progressive Movement: while urban Progressivism had recourse to the power of public authority and bureaucracy, it attempted to preserve the fundamentals of freedom, democracy, and capitalism. In the interspace created by these cross currents, various actors found opportunities in Progressive Era New York to extend their interests, influences, and ambitions in the urban public sphere.

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