By: Kolette Young

On January 30th, 1883, William Graham Sumner, a Social Darwinist and Professor at Yale, gave an address to an audience in Brooklyn, New York, coining the phrase “Forgotten Man” to describe the unobtrusive American man who knew “no other way to secure the chances of life than simply to deserve them.” “Whenever you talk of liberty, you must have two men in mind,” Sumner proclaimed. “The sphere of rights of one of these men trenches upon that of the other, and whenever you establish liberty for the one, you repress the other.” As he concluded his remarks, Sumner warned that the social reformers of the Progressive era “want[ed] to get a majority” in Congress to regulate the relation of employers and employee[s] at the expense of man’s desire for free economic institutions.” While his concept of the “Forgotten Man” would be replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1932 call to recognize the “unorganized but indispensable units of economic power at the bottom of the American economic pyramid,” Sumner’s concerns about Progressive views notions of labor and their impact on the male psyche were already becoming more evident by the late nineteenth century.[1]

On May 7th, 1917, thirty-four years after Sumner’s speech, the Ben Franklin Club (BFC) of Colorado, a middle-class and largely Progressive social group for men, met for the 88th time at the Kaiserhof Hotel in South Denver. Following the standard guidelines of the club’s constitution, written in 1912, the appointed president and secretary took a roll call, read the minutes, and excused the absences for the week while member F.W. Sanborn, a local attorney, prepared to present his piece, “Compulsory Insurance Legislation.” Reacting to World War I and the destruction of Theodore Roosevelt’s views of masculinity, Sanborn enlightened many of his fellow clubmates on the growing need to conserve human energy, especially concerning labor protection. Viewing the lack of social programs like medical insurance through a moral lens, he suggested that “social well-being increases progress.” “Private corporation insurance is beyond the reach of the average worker,” wrote Sanborn. “Individuals must not be allowed to be crushed. State help is the only help.” As club members ruminated on Sanborn’s findings, Secretary Duren Ward, another of the club’s attorneys, suggested that many viewed the call for social insurance as a much-needed step toward the socializing of industry, going so far as to announce that “giving up on some individual rights will enlarge the true rights of the individual.”[2]

Five Denver locals associated with the Monday Club of Pueblo discussion group founded the BFC on November 12th, 1912. Limited to only twenty members and operating for sixty-two years, Ben Franklinites felt part of a brotherhood where they could find civic engagement and intellectual stimulation. During its existence, the club’s membership was extremely diverse. While all members came from the middle class, their backgrounds and political affiliations varied widely. In any given year, the membership featured ministers, lawyers, professors of sciences and the arts, administrators, insurance agents, and real estate men who generally agreed on the growing need to limit the control of powerful bankers and the Washington money market while pushing back on similar attempts to regulate business. In terms of its namesake, one of the charter members, John Downen, revealed, “I think I suggested the name, as I was a great admirer of Ben’s interest in every part of human knowledge, culture, and philosophy.” “The idea of such a club has vitality,” he continued, “else the Ben Franklin Club would not still be holding its own in times like these.”[3]

The records and inherent range of topics discussed over the club’s existence indicate that middle-class men joined the BFC to gain far more than just civic enlightenment. Meeting every two weeks for decades, each member elected to the club was required to write an essay and present it to the larger group once a year. The topics discussed included science, education, religion, politics, war, and, most importantly, the social and public obligations of both men and women in modern industrial society. As historian Peter Filene discusses when analyzing more than 400,000 men’s groups in the 1930s, “clubs were a way station between a man’s public world and his home.”[4] This “way-station” proved stable throughout some incredibly turbulent periods for the United States, both socially, in terms of the erosion of Victorian separate spheres ideology, labor unrest, and suffrage for women, but politically, in terms of World War I, the Great Depression, and the election of buoyant politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.[5] By analyzing discourse within men’s organizations, it becomes clear that clubs such as the BFC enabled a burgeoning suburban class of men to address the spoils of the industry by operating as a civic group devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. This is only reaffirmed when studying the BFC’s commitment to record keeping, and their ability to preserve substantial amounts of their club’s documents within the Denver Public Library.

Historians studying masculinity in the United States have long established that by the mid-nineteenth century, the debate over manhood had grown increasingly attached to the concept of family duty and aggressive American expansionism. As the historical pundit Anne Greenberg argues, by 1848, restrained manhood and marital manhood had become the two preeminent masculinities in the United States. Restrained manhood, practiced by men in the North and South, “grounded their identities in families, in Protestant faith, and in the success of business.”[6] In contrast, marital manhood, practiced in less populated regions, rejected the moral standards that guided restrained men while reveling in physical strength and domination. While the BFC’s rhetoric primarily aligned with the former category of restrained manhood, Sumner’s rhetoric aligned with the latter category of marital manhood. Also noteworthy is that discussions around rugged individualism and the Protestant faith rarely existed outside of each other for significant members of the BFC.

Although Greenberg’s categories have utility, it would be incorrect to frame them exclusively binary. As this paper will demonstrate, throughout the 1910s and 1920s, in response to unregulated laissez-faire capitalism, brutal warfare during the First World War, the breakdown of Theodore Roosevelt’s cult of masculinity, and Women’s suffrage, men and women encountered problems that the historical categories of restrained manhood and marital manhood do not entirely represent. Subsequently, scholarly interpretations since Greenberg’s work tend to place changes within the female sphere and their impact on conceptions of manhood above the underlying economic climate’s impact on class and gender dynamics. This has led scholars to interpret the twentieth-century’s growth of suburban culture, progressive reform, and laissez-faire “submissiveness” to banks as women influencing society with their expanded sphere and making it, “feminine” rather than society simply responding to the negative effects of modernism.[7]

According to the historians Arnaldo Testi, Studs Terkel, and Scott Irelan, during this period, the acceptance of limited domestic roles initially associated with the female sphere, like managing the home, picking children up from school, and spending leisure time with the family, coupled with generations of young men being taught by female teachers and the growing submissiveness to laissez-faire economics, truly “feminized” American cultural and social life. Drawing on Basil Ransom, the southern aristocratic and unabashedly male chauvinistic hero of Henry James’ 1886 novel, The Bostonians Testi suggests that by the early twentieth century:

“The middle-class suburban father, ever more distracted by pressing work-related commitments, had become a “Sunday institution,” a stranger in his own house; public schools had been invaded by “a vast horde of female teachers.” An entire generation of male children risked growing up without a paternal figure in an environment dominated by the constant educational influence of women, be they mothers or teachers. Society risked being overwhelmed by “the most damnable feminization,”[8]

Adding to this line of thinking, Studs Terkel, through his collection of depression-era oral histories, suggests that for many Americans, the Crash and subsequent Great Depression “feminized” American cultural life by erasing notions of masculinity that relied on an antagonistic, capitalist drive for dominance For Terkel, the instant that the “self-centered aggressive, competitive ‘male’ ethic of the 1920s was discredited,” men who lost their jobs found themselves “much more often in the traditional position of women—on the bottom, in a state of dependence.”[9]

Historiographically, this piece has two goals. First, to disprove the claim that the de-masculinization of society was the driver behind the rise of the New Deal coalition, I will use Greenberg’s notions of retrained masculinity to argue that middle-class men like those in the BFC were more concerned about the impunity of business and banks rather than the “feminization” of society. While concerns over the “new-fangled” woman did inspire club meetings, she was not the driver of change for the growing class of suburbanite intellectuals that Sumner warned of. Second, to discover the relationship between these anti-modern reactionaries, immigrants, women, and religious minorities, I will use Sumner’s warnings of social reformers of the Progressive era wanting to get a majority in Congress to dissect how middle-class men’s clubs represent at the micro-level the changing attitudes of the nation in terms of voter solidarity and the eventual rise of the New Deal coalition. This is not to say that scholars who argue that from the 1880s-1930s, American society had become more “feminine” are wrong. Rather, it means that their decision to place this feminization, above the underlying anti-modern impulse altering American conceptions of labor, is a misrepresentation of the evolution of American liberal theory.[10]

Responding to growing social and economic inequality, middle-class men of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s drew upon an anti-modernist disdain for gross wealth to move American notions of labor and masculinity away from adversarial competition towards a broader social ethic. More specifically, from the 1880s-1920s, in the face of the breakdown of Theodore Roosevelt’s cult of masculinity, business and banking corruption, World War I, and the Great Depression, middle-class American men, like those in the BFC, would solidify government regulation of goods and services as a feature, not a bug, of modern democratic society.

What changed between William Graham Sumner’s ” Forgotten Man” and the rise of FDR’s New Deal coalition? What made middle-class academics like those in the BFC susceptible to social democracy and the growth of the regulatory state? What can Sumner’s warnings tell us about the state of masculinity and its relationship with government regulation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?[11] To answer these questions, this work utilizes Greenberg’s framework from the lens of anti-modernism as defined by the historian Arnaldo Testi to argue that if not for this nascent class of middle-class reformers unifying women, religious minorities, and immigrants with educated white men and social reformers through a mutual disdain for modern business and industry, the New Deal coalition would have had a much harder time stopping the countries business interests from controlling Congress following the stock market crash. More specifically, this disdain for laissez-faire economics, in the hands of men’s clubs like the BFC, would create the ethos behind the modern welfare state, solidifying it as the basis for a modern democratic society.

The Ben Franklin Club: A Rejection of Laissez-faire Submissiveness

By the early 1910s, American men who had joined the BFC understood that the relationship between labor and masculinity was changing. As previous images of masculine heroes like Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Rider no longer matched the realities of America’s labor landscape, the two preeminent masculinities in the United States struggled to reconcile the horrors of modernity with the preservation of unregulated capitalism. As practitioners of retrained manhood substituted their commitment to business success with a new sense of community responsibility, Sumner’s warnings of a burgeoning class of Progressives became more of a reality. This section argues that the BFC, fortified by the conviction that a new middle class of Protestant reformers could restore an older tradition of national purpose, rejected submissiveness to laissez-faire economics by “unmasking” large institutions that held power over everyday American citizens. The standards in which they evaluated the efficacy of these institutions and Theodore Roosevelt’s hyper-individualism reveal the anti-modern impulse driving the need to reimagine American social, political, and economic liberal theory towards the beginning of the twentieth century. Subsequently, by attaching the growing culture of impunity developing in the United States to a crisis of national purpose, members of the BFC positioned communitarianism and regulation as needed changes not only to alleviate economic burdens but to improve American notions of national glory.

Due to the laborious nature of entrepreneurial capitalism, men in the United States before the Civil War relied on earning their incomes from hard labor. As this began to change, new business models emerged in the minds of white Americans that required the embrace of what historians and sources from the period refer to as a series of “manipulatable social masks.” As the historian Jackson Lears argues when studying the origins and effects of American anti-modernism, “To some observers, modern man seemed to lack any irreducible core of individuality.” Old images of manhood at the turn of the century continued to rely on an “autonomous selfhood [that] required a denial of inner conflict and an insensitivity to actual social conditions.”[12] Placing these observations in conversation with Greenberg’s formula, marital manhood, as illustrated by Sumner’s “Forgotten Man” and Theodore Roosevelt’s “rugged individualist,” it becomes clear that for centuries a core tenet of American masculinity has been its attitudes toward social malaise.

If we define modern man as an “autonomous self that required an insensitivity to actual social conditions,” then members of the BFC, with their documented commitment to economic reform and its social implications, can be labeled as anti-modern. Perhaps no greater example of this exists than the conversations in the BFC about the efficacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s notions of masculinity during the transition between Sumner’s “Forgotten Man” and FDR’s “Forgotten Man.” For the BFC, the former president’s views on women’s suffrage, his calls for “masculinity of the mind,” and his desire for society to embrace moral virtues were glorified, with many parroting his contempt for plutocracy and distrust of the rich. Despite admiration appearing in many club members’ comments during the 1910s, many Ben Franklinites harshly rejected Roosevelt’s foreign policy decisions and image of a rugged individualist while sharing his disdain for gross wealth. “I do not dislike,” wrote Roosevelt, “but I certainly have no special respect or admiration for and no trust in, the typical big-moneyed men of my country.”[13] Parrotting much of these attitudes, several club members in the 1910s found enormous consensus in many of Roosevelt’s judgments by evaluating the efficacy of his views regarding the relationship between masculinity and labor.

While the BFC agreed with the former president’s distrust of the rich, many disagreed with his use of glorified political theatre and advocacy for rugged individualism when they met at the home of corporate attorney Enoch A. Nock on March 16th, 1914. Brother Nock’s topic for the evening, “Not Boosting but Moral Energy in Daily Practice, the Sure Way to Social and Economic Reform?” invigorated the club’s discourse by calling attention to the lack of moral energy all across the United States in the face of economic inequality. While no transcript of the essay exists, Brother Fouse, a Reverend in the Methodist church and club Secretary, wrote that the speaker’s work “pointed [to] moral energy as the need for the correction of prevailing extravagance in domestic, business, church and other public circles.” “Strenuous Theodore, who has always handled his big stick with moral energy, came in for some denunciation,” Fouse continued, “and reference to the good old times as better than those of the present was again declared to be unwise.”[14]

For members of the BFC, Theodore Roosevelt’s image of a cowboy soldier had lost its ability to inspire the growing middle-class of educated men assuming the role as social hegemons. Put differently, the moral energy that Roosevelt espoused could no longer handle his big stick. Likewise, as American men in discussion groups like the BFC celebrated Rossevelt’s international accomplishments, specifically his foreign policy towards Latin America, they could no longer reconcile the changes happening domestically in liberal capitalism with the image of an autonomous self.[15] Once again, using principles of community responsibility and morality, on March 30th, 1914, the BFC started to unravel the social masks of the various influential groups by dissecting them through the lens of morality.

Many Ben Franklinites in 1914 realized that America’s increasingly submissive social fabric employed a series of masks used not just by lawyers, businessmen, and ministers but by banks and financiers as well. Meeting at the home of Harrison White, Brother Sharp delivered his paper on the “Currency Bill,” a hot topic in American politics that would authorize Federal Reserve Banks to issue their own banknotes. Causing quite a stir among club members, Secretary Fouse recalled the year-long efforts of club members to reveal and unmask Minister’s, churches, Lawyers, and Courts while addressing the need to apply that criticism to businessmen. “This evening every one reveled in tripping up and rolling over and over the sleek, suave, well dress men whom we have feared because they are the Lords of our finance,” wrote Fouse, “The Banks and Bankers were soundly drubbed and never again will they demand us to stand in awe of them.” He later mused that the club, like Roosevelt and his infamous trust busts, found great joy in unmasking the new category of well-dressed banking men who were “silenced” by the organization’s sharp criticisms.[16]

Realizing that America’s social fabric relied on immoral misrepresentations and masked identities, members of the BFC rejected laissez-faire submissiveness to big-money interest groups by embracing communitarianism. By substituting their notions of success in business for the promotion of health and life insurance, socialized public utilities, and the eight-hour workday, members of the BFC established and embraced notions of masculinity outside of Greenberg’s paradigm. While many historical pundits viewed this substitution as men simply adapting to the growing “feminization of society,” one could more accurately argue that the change made men reactionary to the growing uneasiness stemming from modern capitalism’s failures.[17]

To use Lear’s framing of antimodernism, by unmasking banks, Lawyers and Courts, businesses, churches, members of the BFC, and other “American anti-modern[ists] unknowingly provided part of the psychological foundation for a streamlined liberal culture appropriate to twentieth-century consumer capitalism.”[18] Much to the chagrin of William Graham Sumner, men’s groups like the BFC would lay the psychological foundation for government regulation of goods and services as a feature of a democratic society by “unmasking” large institutions that held power over everyday American citizens. By addressing the real limitations placed on white men to achieve economic and political success, men’s organizations like the BFC challenged liberal notions that economic and political success could be accomplished simply by pulling on bootstraps. Lastly, by challenging the efficacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s notions of morality, the BFC framed changes in the American economic landscape around a question of national purpose. While this decision would have far-reaching consequences for their discourse in terms of the rise of the New Deal coalition, it held more contemporary stakes for members of the BFC as they witnessed the breakout of the First World War.

Ben Franklin Club: Before and After the First World War

As demonstrated previously, before World War I, many middle-class Americans felt that the changes occurring within the labor landscape contributed to a lack of male self-control, an excess of juveniles, and a rise in male aggression. As rates of poverty and crime increased, members of the BFC desperately searched for ways to channel male energy in forms that would re-establish civic and social morality while introducing notions of community responsibility. While many historical narratives evaluate the First World War’s effects on the dilemma of manliness by claiming the conflict overturned Victorian codes of “purity,” others more accurately address the reality in a much more nuanced light.[19]

As this section illustrates, for members of the BFC, the War served as the chief vehicle to restore the moral energy that Theodore Roosevelt and his “Big Stick” could no longer carry. Despite many historians attributing the resolution of the “dilemma of manliness” to the First World War, they often overlook the transformative impact of President Wilson’s experimental government and social programs when evaluating the solutions to modern manliness and labor discontent. These initiatives not only influenced masculinity but also expanded the size of the federal government in unprecedented ways in the United States, reiterating their importance when studying anti-modernism.

With this disconnect in mind, this section argues that rather than the War making men purer or more moral, as many historians claim, the conflict influenced the eventual New Deal coalition by illustrating for the first time what mass government regulation would look like in an American liberal framework. More importantly, by analyzing the BFC’s discourse, two pivotal meetings demonstrate just how out of the mainstream Sumner’s views had become by the 1920s. Lastly, the First World War caused countless BFC members to rethink American democracy after being exposed to European governments that had begun experimenting with state-owned enterprises, enabling them to advocate for similar practices in the United States like never before.

Before the crisis of a global conflict could unite American men around a common cause, educated Protestants had already been encouraging newer generations of boy workers to subvert ethnic, religious, and class differences to achieve a universal set of American morals. Similar to the eventual New Deal coalition, which united immigrants, religious minorities, and educated Protestants, men’s organizations like the Boy Scouts and the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) employed distinct frameworks during and after the war to reestablish principles of self-control and civility that transcended class and ethnic boundaries. Protestant ministers, like those in the BFC, attempted to address the masculinity crisis and redefine manhood by subordinating young boys to communitarian concepts of work and employing what many scholars refer to as the “socialization” or “recapitulation” of play. As the historians J.A. Mangan and James Walvin explain, this theory suggests that leaders in the Protestant faith, through the Y.M.C.A., introduced young men to physical activity as a channel of aggressive energy and a socializing agent that rejected juvenile impulses. “The play theory permitted boy workers to subordinate ethnic, religious and class differences… to a presumably universal experience of maturation,” writes Mangan and Walvin, “boy leaders were optimistic that the gang tendencies… could be converted into a higher civic consciousness and a uniform set of personal values.”[20] During the War and in the decades after it, these reformers, many of them members of the BFC, would use this framework alongside the solidarity created from the First World War to unify religious minorities, the middle class, and immigrants behind FDR and the New Deal. Thus, the importance of these theories is reiterated when evaluating the Protestant influence on American economic and social change from 1880 to the 1930s.

Viewing the War as a battleground for moral righteousness, the Ben Franklinites discussed that efforts of the Y.M.C.A’s all over the nation were producing “finer” and “cleaner” men, even going so far as to claim in 1917 that they “killed alcohol[ism].” Although the conflict radically altered man’s relationship with materialism, socialism, and communitarianism, the claim that the war “purified” men or “masculinized” them, as the historian Scott Irelan suggests, is dubious at best. While the Y.M.C.A and the War Department undertook a $4 million campaign to keep prostitutes and alcohol away from recruits by clearing out red-light districts and camps; the historian Peter Filene documents a series of French soldiers estimating that at least one-half of their comrades had contracted a venereal disease. “More precisely,” Filene writes, “the surgeon general of the army reported a venereal disease rate of 114 per thousand enlisted men in 1917, rising a year later to 150.”[21] With notable increases in male vice, the social landscape of the United States before the war did not differ enormously in its aftermath, specifically in terms of the rate of male impropriety. Yet, to be fair to the BFC, the idea that the war had made men “manly” again began to disappear in the proceeding months, with new problems impacting masculinity in the conflict’s aftermath.

Before WWI, the Ben Franklinites struggled to define democracy and what it meant to manliness and American citizenship. It was not until the rise of German autocracy and aggression that Americans could define democracy by looking at what it was not. On April 23rd, 1917, Brother Causey presented his paper titled “Is Democracy a Failure?” In the following discussion, Secretary Duren J.H. Ward, one of the club’s lawyers, wrote, “Autocracy had a historical place, but that place is going.” “Democracy is so successful that it should be more so.” In reply, Brother Mayborn noted, “We should make it competent,” “Democracy stands for the common welfare,” he continued., “It is better to die under democracy than to live under autocracy.” In speaker Causey’s rebuttal, he celebrated German socialists as “wanting what we have” while concluding that “more democracy is a cure of the evils of democracy.”[22]

A few months later, club members found themselves discussing democracy again, claiming that German socialism was what democracy in America needed to give its citizens and male workers “a new dignity.” On September 17th, 1917, club members met at the home of Brother Nock to discuss the paper of the evening titled, “After The War- A Forecast.” From Secretary Ward’s notes, club members agreed that

the German Kaiser had subverted democracy by fearing socialized industry and that the future of American economic prosperity existed within government regulation. “Economic changes will be great because of Government handling of production and redistribution,” wrote Ward, “trade will be eased up, credits will be extended to farmers, and captains of industry will still be captains but under government direction.” For club members, to not only make the world “safe” for democracy but “certain” for it, America needed to assume the stage of “State Socialism.”[23]

To clarify, for club members, socialism did not mean a Marxist revolution where the working class seized the means of production; instead, it meant embracing the anti-modernist disdain for gross wealth and materialism while hoping to reform the effects of market capitalism as it became more corporatized. Put differently, when club members spoke about socialism, they were not asking for a radical overhaul of capitalism but merely protesting against the current limits of liberalism. The historian Peter Filene’s analysis lends itself to this idea with his characterization that middle-class suburban men in the early twentieth century wanted to revitalize liberalism, not fundamentally change their role as breadwinners.[24] For club members, remaking liberal democracy would be the only route to defeat the autocratic and industrial German war machine. However, democracy in its current form could not get the job done; it had to be modified to meet the conditions of new forms of labor and deliver a sense of morality.

Throughout 1917, two critical meetings of the BFC occurred that would demonstrate the continued rejection of Sumner’s ideals of marital masculinity in the middle class as the First World War concluded. Following the club’s May 7th, 1917 meeting, in which member F.W. Sanborn presented his piece, “Compulsory Insurance Legislation,” members continued to discuss the impact of regulatory government on individual freedoms and manliness. On November 12th, member S.H. White delivered his paper on “The Cause of War,” inciting a lively discussion by club members in which the French philosopher Friedrich von Bernhardi’s views were discussed in relation to government responsibility and manhood. While White’s endorsement of the speaker’s paper showed that a moderate view towards Bernhardi was a qualified one, engaging with his discussion on what builds character in a man, the club entirely rejected, “T[t]he Bernhardi philosophy that suffering and endurance produce character [which] makes for power and…for happiness.” Feelings were so strong that the secretary commented that for club members, Bernhardi’s theories would be “unacceptable to nations holding Anglo-Saxon ideals.” The French philosopher’s theories, which resemble Sumner’s 1883 warnings of individual freedoms being in danger if the government took on more responsibility, carried little weight with members of the BFC following the outbreak of the First World War.[25] But why? Why would men in the 1880s be so receptive to Sumner’s notions of individualism while men four decades later would view those very same notions as antithetical to Anglo-Saxon society? To answer this, scholars must look towards the rise and continuation of anti-modernist sentiment from 1914 to 1920.

In 1917, Wilson, unlike any President before him, greatly expanded the executive’s powers during wartime, both in terms of military authority and economic interference. During the conflict, his War Finance Corporation directed and financed industrial expansion, took over railroads, telephone, and telegraph systems, and set up independent public corporations in food and housing. As historian Arthur Schlesinger writes, “the national government had never gone so far in the operation and conduct of business.” Put differently, by the end of WWI, Americans all over the country had witnessed the ability of the United States to build up its economic regulation during a crisis. They saw firsthand the power of America to reconcile a powerful federal government with an unregulated economy to address not just domestic, but also global hardship. From this point forward, every modern crisis would invoke expanded government action and interference as a solution.

World War I reiterated how far Sumner’s ideas of individualism had fallen out of the middle class while also providing a resurgent path for anti-government business tycoons to re-enter popular discourse. You see, Wilson’s programs served as a double-edged sword for anti-modernists. While they indeed showed that the government could create these programs, they also showed that it could mismanage them and sometimes make problems much worse. As demonstrated by Wilson, the socialized policies he created did not survive after the War, with private corporations re-assuming control over rail, telephone, and telegraph services.[26] While the War had a powerful impact on the United States, it did not provide enough incentives for Americans to target the big corporations and banks they were growing increasingly subservient to. Yet, as an analysis of the changes in America’s social landscape demonstrates, much more was inhibiting the cultural changes middle-class Americans wished to create.

The Role of Women and Religious Minorities In the Coalition of a Voting Bloc:

On the campaign trail, Franklin D. Roosevelt had the foresight to structure his messaging around two pivotal issues that would unite unprecedented levels of voters: free speech and labor. By 1930, immigrants and children of immigrants composed one-third of the American population, with religious minorities comprising a large percentage of urban populations. As the legal scholar Geoffrey Berman discusses, the Catholic population nationwide had increased by one hundred percent from 1900 to 1930, with the Jewish population increasing by twenty-five percent between 1917 and 1927. “This rapid population growth,” writes Berman, “led to dramatically increased political power for immigrant and minority groups” regarding the nation’s electoral makeup. More importantly, as the historian Jennifer Holland writes, “Colorado became a regional hub in the twentieth century, drawing laborers of many stripes, health seekers, and tourists to the state, leading to a diverse population.” This diversity would enable members of the BFC and their wives to become very receptive to the plight of immigrants and religious minorities as the state’s demographic shifts often demanded it.

This section argues that for members of the BFC, the decisions from 1917-1930 to discuss free speech and labor issues, alongside the choice to allow a Jewish Rabbi into the organization in 1931, illustrate at the micro level many of the more significant changes occurring in the American political landscape. More specifically, by analyzing what Jewish members and women brought to club discourse in the aftermath of suffrage, precisely their concerns over the lived experiences of migrants and the state of the American family, it becomes clear that without the introduction of these groups, the BFC would never have fully understood the impacts of aggressive capitalist competition enough to challenge it. Put differently, women’s suffrage impacted the rise of the New Deal coalition by serving as the glue between educated middle-class reformers, religious minorities, and immigrants by consistently advocating for the humanity of all Americans in the face of modern industrial capitalism.

From the BFC’s March 26th, 1917 meeting in which William Mayborn’s critique of modern journalism touched on the corruption of unprincipled commercialism, leaving guests with the impression that the “newspaper has the greatest power to construct nations,” to their March 18th, 1928 meeting in which members called for limits on discrimination against immigrants, members of the BFC integrated evolved liberal notions of citizenry, like free speech and an increased standard of living with their conceptions of masculinity and democracy.[27] On November 29th, 1920, the BFC’s Brother Sharp announced the paper he would read at the next meeting: “The Influence of Immigration on the Census.” A couple weeks later, Brother Thomas Annear wrote to the wives of the Ben Franklinites requesting their presence at the meeting, believing that their attendance would contribute something meaningful to the discussion. While the guest of the evening addressed the topic from the perspective of free speech, Mrs. Fouse, the BFC President of the club’s wife, thought the Ben Franklinites “could not always understand the mental attitude of the immigrant because [they] could not place [themselves] in their position.” This appeal must have been successful as, within the year, the club formally added a clause to its constitution allowing women to attend meetings officially. While they still served on snack and music committees, their presence demonstrates the changing moral attitudes of middle-class men regarding women in men’s spaces. From here on, any conversation the BFC had surrounding masculinity would explicitly be influenced by women. Yet, with their commitment to Judeo-Christian values, many of these club members walked a fine line between Social Protestantism and Progressive politics, with many disagreements permeating the club’s discourse following the rise of the “new woman.”

On October 2nd, 1922, the BFC met at the home of Brother Nock to discuss one of the members’ papers titled “Citizenship for Indians.” Unfortunately, the speaker of the paper could not make it, and rather than read his paper for him, club members elected to discuss women’s issues instead. Having such extensive ties to Colorado Universities, club members Auman, Downen, and Longacre attended a presentation addressed by Miss Anne Martin, a movement leader for women’s advancement. After attending one of her talks, they felt confident in their ability to articulate her main points, and each member addressed the club with Miss Martin’s theses. While the topic proved of exceptional interest, “it revealed that the composite Ben Franklinite loves the old-fashioned girl rather than the new-fangled woman.” “The wives of the members,” wrote Secretary Downen, “when called to participate in the discussion, proved to be of the former variety.”[28] While this meeting did not specify how this “new-fangled” woman bothered club members, discussions later in the decade provide much more context.

The birth control movement had a unique impact on the BFC and middle-class men all over the country by glorifying their commitment to social reform and subverting their commitment to dogmatic Christianity. Demonstrating the organization’s Social Darwinist character, members met on October 5th, 1925, to discuss the impact birth control had on both women and the white race itself. For club members, what perturbed many about birth control was the impact it might have on the white race and white families. Delivering his paper of the evening on “The Evolution of Marriage,” Brother Ward glorified birth control as the remedy for the present contemporary social problems while calling attention to what he believed was creating unsatisfactory relations between the sexes. For Brother Ward, the factors that contributed to man’s dissatisfaction included celibacy, the Jews, modern divorce courts, inadequate parental training, juvenile court, the church, the movies, the automobile, the radio, and Jazz music. “The world is greatly changing,” wrote Secretary Duren Ward, “Women are becoming educated…men do not know how to live with intellectual women. But, they will learn.” “Many men and women are not fit for marriage,” he concluded, and “society has the right to protect itself against them.”[29] While the call for the government to protect its citizens against the institution of marriage shows the readiness of middle-class Americans by 1925 to use the state to solve problems, what is more important is the fact that despite having its first Jewish member join the club six years after this meeting, club members cited the Jews as a factor contributing to unsatisfactory relations amongst the sexes.

At the macro level, historians note that something changed in America surrounding the growth of religious minorities from 1925-1931. While Berman’s work offers the raw data, the BFC’s Rabbi Kauvar demonstrates at the micro-level the growing relationship between Jewish communities and the policies of the Democratic Party during the early 1930s. A Rabbi at the Beth Ha Medrosh Hagadol Synagogue (BMH), an Orthodox synagogue located in Northern Denver, Kauvar had extensive ties to the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society and other organizations devoted to Jewish issues. What drew Kauvar to the BFC was his liberal views and belief that exclusionary educational practices would deter social health. Most telling of this liberal view is a comment Kauvar made to fellow club members on April 16th, 1934, in which he defined an educated person as “He who is ready to learn from all men.”[30]

The following year, on May 27th, 1935, the BFC met at the home of Brother Fouse to listen to Brother Nock’s paper on the subject, “After the New-Deal-What?” According to the meeting minutes, as described by Brother Scott, the speaker “called attention to the breaking of old governmental traditions in respect to the function of government and unparalleled powers assumed by the president.” Although members with investments in private enterprise began to denunciate FDR’s policies as temporary and ineffective, the educators and religious members of the club offered an interesting rebuttal. While Brother Gabriel “made a strong defense of the New Deal as a genuine social movement, having in view the welfare of the many rather than the advantage of the few,” Rabbi Kauvar “blamed selfish interests for such defeats and set-backs” while expressing the faith that, “after the New Deal would come the New Day, the day of security to the weak, individual freedom, and social justice.”[31] Parotting much of FDR’s “Forgotten Man” speech, Kauvar worked for the unobtrusive American male lingering at the bottom of the economic pyramid, believing the New Deal offered him the best route to social justice and, more importantly, individual freedom.

Looking back at Sumner’s “Forgotten Man,” Kauvar’s views would have read like a betrayal of American values. Yet, within the context of the New Deal and the growth of women’s suffrage these ideas track. The BFC’s records from this period add to Berman’s analysis as they demonstrate the various reasons that religious minorities like the Jews, who valued education and social reform, would find an audience in middle-class men’s discussion groups. Similarly, by analyzing the introduction of women’s ideas to the club’s discourse, it becomes clear that many more tolerant views of immigrants and other minorities came from an expanded female presence. Once again, this did not feminize the club, as some scholars have suggested. Instead, it made them more receptive to communitarian ideals that did not threaten their sense of masculinity. If anything, the decisions made from 1925-1935 reiterated the growing need to address social grievances, expanding the anti-modern impulse that enabled New Deal Democrats to control the government for five decades.


The BFC’s discourse demonstrates that the de-masculinization of men was not the driving force behind the rise of the New Deal coalition. These enlightened educators, religious leaders, and attorneys created a club that served as a way-station between their private and public lives, offering many an opportunity to rethink liberal theory in the United States fundamentally. While they embraced specific roles, like inviting their wives to club meetings and meeting at one another’s homes, where the whole family could be present, this did not de-masculinize them. As Greenberg argues, the two categories of masculinity in the United States had never neglected the family entirely. Instead, the seeming embrace of domesticity from the 1880s-1930s can be explained by the growth of anti-modernism following the increased corruption of unregulated capitalism.

While Sumner’s warnings of a burgeoning Progressive coalition of social reformers taking a majority in Congress could never have predicted this union between the middle class, immigrants, and religious minorities, the desires for business regulation only grew more pertinent from the 1880s through the Great Depression. More specifically, the anti-modern impulse behind social reform had only grown more hyperbolic as the unemployment rate increased and inflation persisted. By viewing changes in the American social landscape through the lens of modern and anti-modern sentiment, it becomes clear that the middle class operated under the belief that American society was growing increasingly immoral, with its obsession with material wealth cultivating a culture of impropriety. For BFC members, this obsession with capital corrupted democracy, contributed to crime and poverty, destroyed the quality of life, hampered free speech, and threatened individual freedom far more than the government ever could.

While the debate over government regulation as a feature of a democratic society would only grow more tumultuous over the course of the New Deal Era, the development of the welfare state remains one of the most significant changes in American economic history. Far from existing in a vacuum, the New Deal Era’s social reforms operated as a result of FDR’s voting coalition and ability to mobilize the middle and working classes. Due to the changes in attitudes surrounding Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and women, an enlightened middle class found itself in a position to challenge the nation’s business interests for five decades. Despite Sumner’s warnings, this voting bloc and the organizations that represent it only continued to expand through an anti-modern impulse that radically transformed America’s socioeconomic landscape. Subsequent scholars must study this impulse to fully understand changes in America following the turn of the century. By doing so, historical pundits can more accurately explain men’s seeming embrace of domestic roles and their joining of organizations that offered a place for all family members.

  1. William Graham Sumner and Albert Galloway Keller, The Forgotten Man and Other Essays (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1918); Franklin D. Roosevelt, “‘The Forgotten Man’ Speech.” Radio Address, Albany, N.Y., April 7, 1932. In The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Volume 1: The Genesis of the New Deal, 1928-1932. Ed. Samuel Rosenman (New York: Random House, 1938), 624.

  2. Club Constitution, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club (BFC) Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library, FF1; F.W. Sanborn and Duren H. Ward, 88th Meeting Minutes, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library, FF2, FF3.

  3. John Downen, Ben Franklin Club Records, The Denver Public Library, FF2.

  4. Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex roles in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 142.

  5. For a definition and discussion of separate spheres ideology, see: Sudesh Vaid, “Ideologies on Women in Nineteenth Century Britain, 1850s-70s.” (Economic and Political Weekly 20, no. 43 1985), 64-66. Vaid defines “separate spheres” as a division of labour between the sexes specifically their “duties and roles, wherein the man was responsible for the economic wherewithal and public responsibilities, and the woman for physical comfort, nurturance, and the moral character of the family and home.” From the BFC’s discourse, neither the men nor the women fit neatly into these categories, demonstrating the impact of industrialization on the ideology.

  6. Amy S. Greenberg, Manifest Manhood and Antebellum American Empire (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 11.

  7. Greenberg, Manifest Manhood,11; For more on how changes to labor conditions solidified the “feminization of American culture,” see Scott R. Irelan, “Remember the Forgotten Man? New Deal Masculinity in EP Conkle’s Prologue to Glory,” The Theater Annual 61, 2008; Studs Terkel, Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (New York: Pantheon Books, 2018); and T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Anti-modernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (New York: Pantheon, 1981). While all of the authors touch on “feminization,” Studs Terkel’s work, which relies on extensive oral histories, argues that the stock market collapse solidified American culture as “feminine,” with the depression demonstrating the extent to which laissez-faire economics had made men submissive to capitalist corruption. Scott R. Irelan’s work takes Terkel’s findings and expands them, arguing that the New Deal era opened up the doors for a “remasculization of society.”

  8. Arnaldo Testi, “The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity,.” The Journal of American History 81, no. 4 (1995) 1521.

  9. Irelan, “Remember the Forgotten Man?”

  10. For more on the growth of anti-modernism see: Arnaldo Testi, “The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity,.” The Journal of American History 81, no. 4 (1995).; Anti-modernism, as defined by Testi, refers to a reaction against certain aspects of modernity and the changes brought about by industrialization, urbanization, and technological advancements.

  11. For explicit moments of discourse in the BFC surrounding the growth of the regulatory state, see minutes from meeting 439; Duren J.H. Ward, Clarence E. Eddlebute, Meeting Minutes 1913-72, 23 Mar. 1936, WH1061, Box 2; Folder FF25, The Ben Franklin Club, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library.

  12. T.Y., Jackson, Lears, “No Place of Grace: Anti-Modernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920.” New York: Pantheon, 1981, 34.

  13. Joseph Bucklin Bishop, “Theodore Roosevelt and His Time Shown in His Own Letters,” (New York:, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1920),. 44.

  14. Enoch A. Nock and David H. Fouse, Meeting Minutes #29, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  15. David H. Fouse and George W. Loomis, Meeting Minutes #30,, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  16. David H. Fouse, Meeting Minutes #26, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  17. For more on how historical pundits viewed this substitution as men becoming feminine, see Testi, “The Gender of Reform Politics,” pp.; Filene, Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); and Scott R. Irelan, “Remember the Forgotten Man?” 2008.; For more on how scholars view the “feminization of society” see Margaret Marsh, “Suburban Men and Masculine Domesticity, 1870-1915,.” American Quarterly 40, no. 2, 1988,. 165–86.

  18. Lears, No Place of Grace, 6.

  19. For an overview on how these ideas have impacted scholarly interpretation, see Peter Filene’s, Him/Her/Self: Sex roles in Modern America, 102-105.

  20. J.A. Mangan, J.A., and James Walvin, eds., Manliness and Morality: Middle Class Masculinity in Britain and America, 1800-1940. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987), 123, 128-129.

  21. Filene, Him/Her/Self, 142.

  22. Harrison White, Meeting Minutes #111, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  23. Harrison White, Meeting Minutes #88, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  24. Filene, Him/Her/Self, 142.

  25. E.A. Nock, Meeting Minutes #94, 1912-27, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  26. For more on the socialization of railroads and its effects, see :Austin Kerr, “Decision For Federal Control: Wilson, McAdoo, and the Railroads, 1917.” (The Journal of American History 54, no. 3 1967): 560; Kerr discusses that only appeals to patriotism could overcome the vast issues private railroads had over the nationalization of their services. He writes, “Unfortunately, while solving the operating crisis, the practical decisions of efficiently administering the railroads augmented rather than reduced political conflict. Within six months, most of the nation’s shippers would be thoroughly disenchanted with the administration’s operation of the carriers, which included large rate increases.”

  27. Geoffrey D. Berman, “A New Deal for Free Speech: Free Speech and the Labor Movement in the 1930s,” Virginia Law Review 80, no.1 (1994).:

  28. J.M. Downen, Meeting Minutes #178, 1912-1927, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  29. Duren H. Ward, Meeting Minutes #257, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF7.

  30. P. L Corbin and Rabbi Kauvar, Meeting Minutes #494, 1928-1940, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF8.

  31. Harold S. Scott, Meeting Minutes #539, 1928-1940, Ben Franklin Club Records, WH1061, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library. FF8.

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