Social Science and Progressive-Era Reform in New York City
John Louis Recchiuti
Recchiuti uncovers the story of a relatively small group of men and women who shaped the practice and influence of U.S. social science at the beginning of the twentieth century."—Choice
"In examining for the first time the complex involvement of social scientists in reform efforts in New York City, the major national laboratory in which the inequalities of industrial capitalism were investigated and addressed, John Recchiuti has made a major contribution to our understanding of Progressivism, the origins of modern liberalism, and the role of the public intellectual."—Eric Foner, Columbia University
"Deftly recapturing the ferment of Progressive thought at an amazingly creative moment, John Recchiuti explores the dilemmas of expert authority in a democracy with rare discrimination and sympathy. Civic Engagement is a major contribution to the current (and long-overdue) re-examination of our social democratic tradition."—Jackson Lears, Editor of Raritan and author of Something for Nothing: Luck in America
"Civic Engagement is more than good history and broader than the story of progressive reform in New York City during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is also an inspirational tale revealing how a small network of men and women trained in the new techniques of social science worked with philanthropists, politicians, and ordinary Americans to make the world a better place."—Kriste Lindenmeyer, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
"In this meticulously researched, richly detailed, and engagingly written book, John Recchiuti provides an invaluable aid to understanding the diverse social and political circumstances in which American social science has its origins. With a skillful hand, he guides his readers into the historically complex and politically volatile situations in which early social scientists were more often actors than disinterested or detached spectators."—Paul A. Roth, University of California, Santa Cruz
John Recchiuti recounts the history of a vibrant network of young American scholars and social activists who helped transform a city and a nation. New York, in the late Gilded Age and Progressive Era, was the nation's financial capital, its principal hub for immigration, and its premier center for the arts. It was also a center of civic engagement: most of the nation's main reform organizations were headquartered there. As public intellectuals, members of the city's social science network championed the fight for civil rights through the NAACP and National Urban League; sought solutions to labor problems through the American Association for Labor Legislation, National Consumers' League, and National Child Labor Committee; founded the nation's first settlement houses; and established the first center for social science and social work, the New York School of Philanthropy.
In New York, which one group of social scientists called "the greatest social science laboratory in the world," these men and women lived and worked in Greenwich Village's working-class haunts, amid immigrant poverty on the Lower East Side, and on Columbia University's Upper West Side campus. They debated how much government should regulate laissez-faire capitalism, whether poverty was caused by individual character flaws, and how, through the New York Bureau of Municipal Research, to thwart municipal corruption. Some promulgated a racist eugenics, while others fought racism in the name of social science. And, in their reach for leadership, they confronted an essential question: was social science to be the herald of a reinvigorated democracy, or an instrument of technocracy?
In this deeply researched study, Recchiuti focuses on more than a score of Progressive reformers, including Florence Kelley, W. E. B. Du Bois, E. R. A. Seligman, Charles Beard, Franz Boaz, Frances Perkins, Samuel Lindsay, Edward Devine, Mary Simkhovitch, and George Edmund Haynes. He reminds us how people from markedly diverse backgrounds forged a movement to change a city and, beyond it, a nation.
John Louis Recchiuti is Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Mount Union College, Ohio.