Collection of material on Newton D. Baker
Collection of material on Newton D. Baker
Issue 1 forum video from City Club of Cleveland
Monday October 8, 2018
Judge David T. Matia and Stephen Johnson Grove, Deputy Director for Policy, Ohio Justice & Policy Center explain.
moderated by Rick Jackson, Ideastream
Poem written in 1910 by Edmund Vance Cooke in honor of Cleveland Mayor Tom L Johnson
A MAN is passing. Hail him, you
Who realize him stanch and strong and true.
He found us dollar-bound and party-blind;
He leaves a City with a Civic Mind,
Choosing her conduct with a conscious care.
Selecting one man here, another there.
And scorning labels. Craft and Graft and Greed
Ran rampant in our halls and few took heed.
The Public Service and the Public Rights
Were bloody bones for wolf and jackal fights.
Now, even the Corporate Monster licks the hand,
Where once he snarled his insolent demand.
Who tamed it? Answer as you will.
But truth is truth, and his the credit still.
A Man is passing. Flout him, you
Who would not understand and never knew.
Tranquil in triumph, in defeat the same.
He never asked your praise, nor shirked your blame.
For he, as Captain of the Common Good,
Has earned the right to be misimderstood.
Behold! he raised his hand against his class;
Aye, he forsook the Few and served the Mass.
Year upon year he bore the battle’s brunt;
And so, the hiss, the cackle and the grunt!
He found us striving each his selfish part.
He leaves a City with a Civic Heart,
Which gives the fortune-fallen a new birth.
And reunites him with his Mother Earth;
Which seeks to look beyond the broken law
To find the broken life, and mend its flaw.
A Man is passing. Nay, no demigod.
But a plain man, close to the common sod
Whence springs the grass of our humanity. Strong
Is he, but human; therefore sometimes wrong,
Sometimes impatient of the slower throng.
Sometimes unmindful of the formal thong.
But ever with his feet set toward the height
To plant the banner of the Common Right,
And ever with his eyp fixed on the goal.
The Vision of a City with a Soul.
Cleveland 1912: Civitas Triumphant
By Dr. John Grabowski
During Cleveland’s long history a number of periods and a number of specific years stand out as special. For sports aficionados the years immediately after World War II, and particularly 1948 were “the” championship years. For economic historians, 1832, the year the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed, stands out as the beginning of Cleveland’s evolution into a prosperous community with enormous potential for future development. But, what if one were to ask what year, or what period marked the point at which Cleveland became a modern city, one deserving of national emulation or the question as to when did democracy truly triumph in Cleveland? The answer would have to be the Progressive Era of the early 1900s and, perhaps, specifically the year 1912. The choice of 1912 is a bit subjective given the rich history of progressive-era Cleveland and the panoply of reformers, from Tom L. Johnson to Frederick Howe, and Belle Sherwin who played important roles in the period. But 1912 is significant in large part because it was a one of the most propitious times for reform and change in the history of the city, state, and nation, and also the the year in which an altruistic and legally savvy reformer assumed the office of mayor. That person was Newton D. Baker.
Newton D. Baker took the oath of office as major of Cleveland on January 1, 1912. He would serve as mayor for two terms, until 1916, a period in which the city would see a remarkable burst of governmental reform and a spate of what can only be termed “progressive” civic actions on the part of private individuals, organizations and corporations. While it is difficult to separate one year from the others in Baker’s tenure as mayor, 1912 is perhaps the best candidate both because it was his inaugural year as chief executive, and also the period in which the ideals and ideas he espoused also were on the center stage of state and national politics.
Baker was no newcomer to the local political scene. A lawyer, educated at Johns Hopkins and Washington and Lee, he came to the city in 1899 to work in the law office of former Congressman Martin Foran. Two years later he would become assistant law director in the administration of Tom L. Johnson. A year later, at the age of 32 he would become the city solicitor. Like Johnson, Baker was one of a growing number of individuals who sought to find solutions to a number of problems and issues that confronted the nation in the years after the Civil War. Industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and growing economic disparities severely challenged many of the nation’s foundational ideals, particularly concepts of democracy and equality.
The Progressive Movement or Era, in which Johnson and Baker played nationally prominent roles began in the late 1890s. It was largely urban in origin and its adherents and leaders tended to be well-educated middle class men and women. Their motivations as reformers have been debated by historians for decades with some seeing the progressives working for their own self interests as the native-born middle class was seeing its power and status challenged by immigrant-based political machines in American cities and a wealthy plutocracy whose monopolistic business practices limited opportunities for small scale entrepreneurship. Other historians view the progressive agenda as more altruistic and genuine with roots in the evolving Social Gospel of the late nineteenth century while another interpretation sees the movement as a move to bring order and rationality to all aspects of American life, ranging from the creation of efficient industrial processes to the establishment of professions and professional standards in medicine, law and other occupations, as well as to more scientific means of dispensing philanthropy and dealing with social problems. Whatever their motivations the progressives would advocate a variety of measures to change politics and society, including referendum and initiative, pure food and drug laws, child labor laws, building codes, anti-monopoly legislation, and organized charitable solicitation. They vigorously fought corrupt urban political machines, sought conciliation between labor and capital, and established the social settlement movement within the United States.
All of these motivations can be seen within the reforms undertaken in Cleveland from the 1890s to the 1920s and all are part of the story of the remarkable year of 1912. What happened in 1912 was astounding, but it was not so much revolutionary as evolutionary. Its roots lay in the last decade of the nineteenth century, a period in which the city confronted a considerable number of major changes and issues. One catalytic issue was the economy, particularly the Depression of 1893, which raised issues of labor and capital, the means to bring relief to the poor and unemployed, and the manner in which old solutions failed to address the needs of a rapidly modernizing nation. While the diversity of industry in Cleveland provided some buffer from the national economic decline, events such as the march on Washington by Coxey’s Army which originated in Massillon, Ohio, provided a nearby reminder of the labor unrest that had confronted the nation during previous economic downturns in 1877 and again in the mid-1880s and which might possibly worsen if matters weren’t corrected.
Nevertheless the city continued to grow during the decade and although the rate of immigration diminished briefly in 1894 and 1895, its population rose from 261,353 to 381,768 and its ranking among America cities from 10th to 7th between 1890 and 1900. Although the rise in rank, and the fact that Cleveland had replaced Cincinnati as the state’s largest city was a matter of local pride the rapid growth brought substantial problems in its wake. The most prominent of these was the squalor of older and severely overcrowded neighborhoods near the city’s center, including the Haymarket area, Lower Woodland, and the section around the “Angle” and Whiskey Island on the near West Side. Compounding the matter was the fact that older areas such as these lacked adequate water and sewers. Equally significant was the fact that neighborhoods like these were largely inhabited by the foreign-born and their children, a matter which begged the questions as to how or if an increasingly diverse population could or should be brought into the traditions of American democracy. Ward bosses, such as “Czar” Harry Bernstein on lower Woodland tried to make the newcomers part of his version of urban democracy, a version that was anathematic to many of the long-settled middle class in the city. These situations initiated the first surge of activities in the city which were a combination of personal altruism and idealism and a corporatized search for order and solutions to the problems. The personalized approach was best represented by the rise of the settlement house movement in Cleveland. Hiram House, the city’s first settlement was established in 1896. Its founder, George Bellamy, a student at Hiram College, recalled coming to Cleveland on a survey mission (inspired by a visit to the college by Graham Taylor, the founder of Chicago Commons Settlement) and returning to Hiram to tell his classmates that Cleveland needed a settlement “very badly.” Within four years another four settlements, Council Educational Alliance, Friendly Inn, Alta House, and Goodrich House had been established. Considered “Spearheads of Reform” by historian Allen Davis, the settlements represented grass roots progressive activity often driven by Social Gospel ideals and often fueled by youthful idealism. Their leaders sought to educate and help newcomers adjust to the city at the same time as they confronted political corruption, squalor, and poverty.
There was, however, a more pragmatic and, perhaps, less idealistic side to the rise of progressive reform in the city in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and it was led by the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Its agenda fit neatly into the side of the Progressive Movement that sought order, rationality, and efficiency. The businessmen who constituted its membership were familiar with these concepts having often applied them to their own enterprises and in doing so following the teachings of Frederick W. Taylor who pioneered scientific management in the 1880s. The work of various Chamber committees led to the creation of a series of bathhouses in areas that lacked household plumbing; a rational housing code for the city; and a system of charitable giving which would eventually lead to the Community Chest and today’s United Way. The Chamber was also key to the creation of the “Group Plan Commission” which led to the building of the Mall with its orderly arrangement of major civic buildings in the Beaux Arts style. The Mall was, perhaps, the city’s first major urban renewal process as it replaced a declining neighborhood reflected unfavorably on the city. One can debate the motivations of the members of the Chamber of Commerce. Certainly, there was a touch of reform and altruism to their actions, but they also knew that others, including members of the Socialist Party and single taxers were suggesting alternative solutions to the problems that plagued growing urban industrial centers such as Cleveland.
It was, however, a businessman turned politician who eventually came to symbolize progressive reform in Cleveland. Tom L. Johnson built a personal fortune by operating street railways which were, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, hugely lucrative private enterprises franchised by the cities in which they operated. He began his career in Louisville, then operated lines in Indianapolis and lastly in Cleveland in 1879. He moved to the city ca. 1883. Wealthy, with a home on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s Millionaire’s Row, Johnson, Like Saul on the road to Damascus, underwent a conversion experience. He read Henry George’s works and became an advocate of the single land tax and free trade — proposals that were frightening to his economic and social peers. Johnson would then spend the remainder of his life, and the better part of his fortune trying to reform society through political action, first as a US Representative from the city’s 21st district (1890-1894) and then as a four-term (1901-1908) mayor of the city, the office in which he received national and international notice for his reforms. He was characterized by journalist Lincoln Steffens as follows” “Johnson is the best mayor of the best governed city in America.”
Johnson was one of several US mayors, including Hazen Pingree of Detroit and Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones and Brand Whitlock of Toledo who came to epitomize the rise of progressivism on the municipal level. Today their names and achievements are common to many historical texts on the era. The hallmarks of Johnson’s mayoralty in Cleveland were an expansion of popular democracy, the professionalization of governmental functions and an advocacy of the public ownership of services, including utilities and urban transit. He succeeded in the first two – his tent meetings and very “populist” mayoral campaigns were unlike any seen in the city before and the people he chose for his cabinet to manage legal issues, public safety, water services, and the penal system were professionals with the best credentials, rather than campaign supporters and political hacks. However, his plans and hopes for municipal ownership of utilities and urban transport never fully succeeded. Indeed, his campaign for control of the street railways and especially the imposition of a standard three-cent fare engendered strong opposition, and eventually led to his defeat in 1908 by a public grown weary of the issue.
Johnson also struggled with the matter of restructuring the system of government for Cleveland. While he was able to hire the best managers, the statehouse, using the then current 1851 state constitution, dictated the manner in which cities could design their systems of offices and responsibilities as well as their overall structure of representation and governance. The state system was antiquated and could not match the needs of growing urban areas – the problem was not unique to Cleveland nor to Ohio and it represented part of a growing gap between rural-dominated statehouses and polyglot industrial cities. The solution was “home rule,” that is the ability of the citizens of a particular municipality to select the system that best suited their needs. Johnson campaigned on a platform of home rule but here too, was unable to achieve it before his defeat by Republican Hermann Baehr in 1908.
Yet his defeat in 1908 did not signal an end to progressive reform in the city. By the time Johnson had left office the movement was firmly embedded not only in the city but in the nation. The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, which also ended in 1908, had given a progressive hue to national politics. Most important for Cleveland, however, was that Johnson’s acolytes, particularly Newton D. Baker, remained in the city and remained committed to concepts of democratic and social reform. Likewise, but from another perspective, the business-based focus on rationality and order accelerated, and, for whatever its drawbacks, would continue to effect significant changes to the manner in which the city, and most particularly, its benevolent institutions operated.
The major thread of local continuity was Newton D. Baker. Baker continued to serve as City Solicitor during the Baehr administration and, upon Johnson’s death in 1911, he assumed leadership of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. While Baker shared the same idealistic zeal of his mentor, Johnson, he more truly fit the mold of the typical progressive and, by virtue of that, was became a more effective leader in the movement. Unlike Johnson, he had a university education and was professionally trained as a lawyer. Unlike Johnson, he had never garnered wealth, but at that time remained a member of the middle, professional class. Also, Baker was young. Johnson was 47 when he became mayor in 1901, Baker was 30 when he joined the administration that year, an age more in concert with the group of young social workers and civic advocates with which he socialized. Among these was a college classmate, Frederick Howe, who was active in a variety of local reform organizations including Goodrich Settlement House. Certainly, his tenure with Johnson was one akin to apprentice and master in regard to politics, but Baker learned quickly and his ability as an articulate, informed public speaker made him an asset to the administration and eventually would, along with his deep understanding of the law, form the basis for a political career which would eclipse that of his mentor. Baker ran for mayor in 1911 against Republican businessman, Frank G. Hogan, and won handily.
Baker’s assumption of the office of mayor in 1912 was one of three seminal political events that year, each heavily colored by the urge for progressive reform. The most visible was the impending US Presidential campaign which would find three candidates seeking the office: Democratic Woodrow Wilson; Republican William Howard Taft the incumbent; and the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party candidate, former President Theodore Roosevelt. The other event was a state constitutional convention in Ohio which was charged with redrafting or amending the state’s 1851 Constitution. Baker, as mayor of Cleveland would play important roles in both of these events and in doing so gain stature for himself and his city in the state and nation.
When Baker assumed the office of mayor, Cleveland was the nation’s sixth largest city and its population was over 600,000. Baker’s campaign had promised more reforms including the municipal ownership urban utilities including gas, electric, street railways, and even the telephone system. He also strongly advocated home rule. His primary goal, however, was something he called “civitism,” a word which he coined and which referred to the creation of a sense of pride in all citizens for their city. It was a pride to be built upon a broad participatory democracy and which would bring in its wake the buildings, cultural institutions, parks and other physical amenities that make a city great. Baker’s margin of victory in 1912, over 17,000 votes, was the largest in the city’s history up to that time. Short in stature (he was only 5’ 6” tall) Baker was not physically imposing, as had been his mentor, Johnson, but he made up for the lack of stature with superb oratorical skills and well-honed abilities as a debater.
Like Johnson he appealed to a broad democracy, holding tent meetings around the city during election periods and speaking at numerous venues for dedications, neighborhood gatherings and other “technically” non-political events. That, along with his substantial plurality allowed him to achieve things that had eluded Johnson. By 1914 Cleveland had is municipal electric provider (today’s Cleveland Public Power). Although street railways were not fully municipalized until 1942, his administration, notably through the efforts of Peter Witt, (Baker’s Commissioner of Street Railways),was able to use municipal oversight to get fares dropped to 3 cents. Baker then went on a “three-cent binge” creating municipal dance halls that offered dances at that price and selling fish from Lake Erie at three cents, the fish being trawled for by city boats. The municipal electric plant also offered 3 cent lighting!
Baker’s first year in office set a tone for other events that enhanced the progressive nature of the community. The West Side Market, the site of which had been purchased by the city under the Johnson administration in 1902, dedicated its new modern facility in 1912. Designed by the noted architectural firm of Hubbell and Benes, the building was the epitome of a modern market, sanitary, attractive, and hugely efficient. In October 1912, the emphasis on democracy and open civic debate favored by progressives such as Johnson and Baker came into its own with the founding of the City Club of Cleveland. On the same day, January 1, that Baker took office, the new County Court House, a landmark of the Group Plan opened. Baker’s two terms of office would see the construction of its counterpart, the City Hall, which would open in 1916, the year after Baker left office. The site of the old city hall, on Superior Avenue, then became that for the new building of the Cleveland Public Library. Citizens approved a bond issue to pay for the new building in 1912. It would open in 1925.
Paralleling these civic reforms was a continued growth of industry and entrepreneurship in the city, something attributable, in part, to the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce to stabilize the chaos of urbanization in Cleveland. Although one can pinpoint several major industrial developments in the city during 1912 – including the expansion of the Otis Steel Works into a major new plant in the Flats south of Clark Avenue, statistics for the decade as a whole show an enormous growth in productivity. The values of industrial products made in Cleveland was $271,960,833 in 1910, it rose to $350,000,000 in 1914, and after World War I to $ 1,091,577,490 in 1920. That growth did not, however, come without continued conflict between capital and labor. In 1911, 4,000 workers in Cleveland’s large, and growing garment industry went on strike. Their action failed, but in ensuing years manufacturers tried to stave off unionization by offering benefits, lunchrooms, recreation and employee representation in decision making. This variety of corporate paternalism was considered progressive at the time, but that definition is debated by some contemporary historians.
What made 1912 a seminal year for the city was not simply what took place within its borders, but the influence it wielded on the state and national level during that year, influence largely attributable to its mayor. In 1910 Ohio voters had called for a new constitutional convention. The last attempt to modify the State’s primary document had ended in failure in 1873 and the 1851 constitution that remained in place was totally inadequate to the needs of the state, most particularly those of its urban areas. The convention opened in Columbus in January 1912. The delegates to the conference chose not to change the Constitution itself but rather proposed a series of amendments to be put before the electorate. The forty-two amendments they offered to voters in a September 3 election encompassed a substantial portion of the progressive agenda. They called for initiative and referendum as a means to bring the peoples’ voice directly to lawmaking; home rule which would allow communities of over 5,000 people to establish their own systems of governance; labor reforms including the establishment of a minimum wage, workman’s compensation and a provision to allow the legislature to set working hours; an expanded state bill of rights; a line-item veto for the governor; and the right for Ohio Women to hold certain state offices and to vote.
Mayor Newton D. Baker was one of the principal advocates for the progressive agenda of the convention, speaking before the delegates drafting the amendments and then stumping for proposals prior to the election. He was in excellent company – others who spoke included Brand Whitlock, the progressive mayor of Toledo, Ohio, Hiram Johnson, the governor who had made California a bell weather progressive state and Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, who would go on to become the candidates in one of the nation’s most critical Presidential contests in the fall.
In September voters approved thirty-two of the proposed amendments. Among those rejected was women suffrage, but all of the major amendments relating to labor, direct democracy, and home rule passed. Subsequent state legislation would make these progressive concepts a reality. Baker’s role as advocate was critical to the enormous liberalization of the state’s constitution and this brought national notice and credit to him and his city.
The Presidential campaign then served to heighten his stature. Then as now, Ohio was a critical electoral state and then as now, the vote in Cuyahoga County had significant impact on statewide election results. The contest that year was arguably the last in which a third party candidate had legitimate hopes for victory. That candidate was former President Theodore Roosevelt. He had sought the nomination of his original party, the Republicans, but was defeated by William Howard Taft, the man whom he had selected as his successor has President in 1908 but whose conservative actions had irritated him and other progressive Republicans. Interestingly, it was a set of adroit maneuvers by Cleveland Republican Party boss, Maurice Mashke, that loaded the Ohio delegation at the convention with votes destined for Taft thus ensuring Roosevelt’s loss of the nomination. Roosevelt then bolted the party, and became the candidate of the new Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party. Baker, however, had strong ties to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, who would win the three-way contest. He had taken a class taught by Wilson at Johns Hopkins University and had remained close to Wilson ever since. Both were intellectuals who had entered the political arena as reformers; Baker, of course, in Cleveland and Wilson, the President of Princeton University as the reform governor of New Jersey in 1911. The connection was valuable to both – Baker made a critical speech at the Democratic Convention in Baltimore that helped Wilson win the nomination and Wilson would invite Baker, in several instances to become part of his Presidential administration. Although Baker declined the initial overtures, wishing to continue his service as mayor of Cleveland he would, after he had left office in 1916, accept the invitation to become the Secretary of War.
Baker had many reasons to wish to stay in Cleveland, foremost among them was the chance to use the new Home Rule amendment to create a special city charter for Cleveland. By doing so he would he would fulfill one of his mentor, Tom Johnson’s major goals – the creation of a modern, rational system of governance specifically suited to the needs of Cleveland. The process began in 1913 with the election of a special commission to decide on the new governmental structure. Their proposal went to the voters in 1914 and was approved by a margin of two to one. With the system in place and Baker elected to a second term in office, Cleveland remained one of the nation’s premier examples of progressive government.
The restructuring of government and Baker’s national prominence were not the only factors that brought notice to the city. It continued to exhibit “civitas” on other fronts, both philanthropic and cultural. Frederick Goff’s establishment of the Cleveland Foundation in 1914 made the city the pioneer in the creation of community funds. The establishment of the Federation For Charity and Philanthropy (the successor to the Chamber of Commerce’s Committee on Benevolent Institutions and the predecessor to the Community Fund) in 1913 marked the beginning of federated charitable solicitation and distribution. The creation of a city Department of Welfare under the auspices of the new Home Rule charter in 1914 added to the evolving modern social service infrastructure. Two years later a Women’s City Club would come into being, evidence of the gender divide that continued despite the progressive impulse. The same year saw the opening of the Cleveland Museum of Art and the first performance at the Cleveland Playhouse.
Within another year, however, the United States would join the great European war and that experience would both overshadow and, according to some historians, tarnish the rise of progressivism in the United States. One of its most visible consequences for Cleveland was the elevation of Newton Baker to a place of international prominence. Baker had left the mayor’s office in 1916 to establish his own law firm (it exists today as Baker Hostetler), but within months he was asked by President Wilson to join his cabinet as Secretary of War. He accepted, taking a leave of absence from the law firm. Within a year he found himself undertaking the Herculean task of creating, training, and equipping an army of two-million and then transferring it to Europe. The task involved logic, political challenges, and the expenditure of vast amounts of money. In true progressive style he assembled a team of expert, efficient managers and, by and large, performed a logistical and political miracle.
While the “war to end all wars” ended successfully for the US and its allies, it was followed almost immediately by a period of disillusionment. The rationale for entering the war was questioned as was the strict regimentation of society for the war effort, a regimentation that often curtailed individual liberties and which was sometimes colored by propaganda-driven biases and prejudices. In some ways this reflected badly on that aspect of progressivism which focused on order and rationality. Baker was caught up in this maelstrom of second thoughts after the war. He stumped enthusiastically for President Wilson’s campaign to have the United States become a member of the League of Nations – a concept that very much reflected on the social idealism of progressivism. The campaign failed and the US entered the 1920s seeking “normalcy,” which in many ways seemed to counter the old zeal for reform and change.
Some historians see the war and the decade that followed as the end of the Progressive Era, while others argue that many progressives continued to be influential, noting that a number would rise to prominence, ideals intact, within the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Baker’s position during this period seems ambiguous. He remained active on the political front, serving as the chairman of the county Democratic Party until 1936 and in 1932 he was considered a viable candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President. But during this time, when the bulk of his time was devoted to his law firm, he arguably became increasingly conservative politically and was, at times, at odds with the Roosevelt Administration. He objected, in particular, to the expansion of Federal power and programs during the New Deal.
Whether or not Baker remained a “true” progressive until his death in 1937 or whether or not the movement ended in the early 1920s or later, are interesting and important historical questions. However, there is no question as to the impact of the legacy of the Progressive Era in Cleveland and, particularly, that of the events of 1912 on the subsequent history of city. For example, the surveys conducted by the Cleveland Foundation during its early years helped shape a number of areas of social policy, including public education in the 1920s. The establishment of Home Rule allowed Cleveland to create a city manager form of government in 1921. The city manager system was a true progressive ideal as it attempted to move politics out and professional administration into the running of a city. It functioned from 1923 to 1931, when the Depression and patronage politics undermined it. Today examples of the progressive legacy abound ranging from Mall, the Metro Parks system pioneered by William Stinchcomb, in 1917 to the set of arts and cultural institutions that set Cleveland apart from other cities. In regard to organized charity and philanthropy the annual United Way fund drive and institutions such as East End Neighborhood House, Goodrich-Gannett, and Hiram House Camp which had their beginnings in the period continue to serve the community today. Perhaps most importantly, the principal of direct democracy, made possible by initiative and referendum remains alive and viable, as was demonstrated in the statewide referendum relating to the bargaining rights of public employees on the 2011 ballot.
Certainly, the selection of 1912 as one of “the” years in Cleveland’s history can be debated. However, now, a century thereafter, the degree to which the events that took place during it and in the surrounding era still shape daily lives in the city and state is simply remarkable. But, perhaps of greater consequence is the fact that the ideals and persistence of those who used their intellect and altruistic ideals to promote change 100 years ago can and should, continue to inspire us.
Abba Hillel Silver speech to City Club of Cleveland Summary from Plain Dealer 10.9.1932
The link is here
THE CREED OF THE CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND
I hail and harbor and hear men of every belief and party; for within my portals prejudice grows less and bias dwindles.
I have a forum-as wholly uncensored as it is rigidly impartial. “Freedom of Speech” is graven above my rostrum; and beside it, “Fairness of Speech.”
I am the product of the people, a cross section of their community-weak as they are weak, and strong in their strength; believing that knowledge of our failings and our powers begets a greater strength. I have a house of fellowship; under my roof informality reigns and strangers need no introduction.
I welcome to my platform the discussion of any theory or dogma of reform; but I bind my household to the espousal of none of them, for I cherish the freedom of every man’s conviction and each of my kin retains his own responsibility.
I have no axe to grind, no logs to roll. My abode shall be the rendezvous of strong-but open-minded men and my watchword shall be “information,”not “reformation.”
I am accessible to men of all sides-literally and figuratively-for I am located in the heart of a city- spiritually and geographically. I am the city’s club- the City Club.
-RALPH HAYES (1916)
City Club of Cleveland article, Plain Dealer Sunday Mag. December 8, 1963
Frederic C. Howe: Making Cleveland the City Beautiful (Or At Least, Trying)
by Marian Morton
In 1894, Frederic C. Howe chose Cleveland as a place to live and work: “It had possibilities of beauty,” he recalled, and “stretched for miles along the lake front.”[i] For the next decade and a half Howe, in concert with a gifted group of civic leaders, pursued those possibilities, going beyond the conventional definition of the city beautiful – grand public buildings in grand public spaces. For these men, the city beautiful meant not only the handsome buildings clustered around the mall that Clevelanders call the Group Plan, but a city that was humane, democratic, and equitable.
Howe himself was a writer, not a politician (he served only two unsatisfying terms as an elected official). Part muckraker, part civic booster, and always the Progressive reformer, Howe was the author of 17 books and innumerable articles for local and national media. Two of these especially – his autobiography, Confessions of a Reformer (1925), and The City: The Hope of Democracy (1905) – paint compelling, although partisan, pictures of Cleveland when it was declared “the best governed city” in the country.
Born in 1867 and educated at Allegheny College in the small, conservative town of Meadville, Pennsylvania, Howe had hoped to become a journalist and earned a Ph.D. in 1892 from Johns Hopkins University, one of the country’s first graduate schools, so that he could write for the New York Times or some comparably prestigious newspaper. But despite his degree – or because of it -, Howe could not land a newspaper job. Discouraged, he studied for and passed the bar exam (with significant help from his graduate work in history) and moved to Cleveland.
Howe’s Cleveland was a promising place with a population in 1890 of 261,353. The industrial giant led in the production of iron and steel, ships, and soon, automotive parts. On the southeast quadrant of its first park, Memorial Square (now Public Square), stood the newly completed Soldiers and Sailors Monument, honoring Clevelanders who fought for the Union during the Civil War; across Superior Avenue loomed the handsome red sandstone Society for Savings bank (now part of Key Center), designed by the Chicago firm of Burnham and Root. Just to the east of Memorial Square was the Euclid Arcade, completed in 1890. Its glass-roofed court of shops and offices became the glittering symbol of the city’s prosperity; Clevelanders later boasted that it was the country’s first indoor shopping mall. Wealthy philanthropists added to the city’s beautiful parks. In 1882, Jeptha H. Wade had given to the city 64 acres of parkland in what is now University Circle. William J. Gordon’s generous gift of his estate in 1894 created Gordon Park along the lake on the east side. To celebrate the city’s centennial in 1896, John D. Rockefeller would donate the land along Doan Brook that tied the two parks together; Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Liberty Boulevard) runs through Rockefeller Park. The city bought Jacob B. Perkins’ lakefront property in 1894 to create Edgewater Park on the west side.
If these possibilities inspired Howe’s admiration, the city’s realities inspired his desire to reform it. When Howe arrived, the city was still in the throes of the country’s worst depression. In 1893, the public poorhouse, the Cleveland Infirmary, was full. Outside its doors, more than 4,000 men, women, and children, who had shelter but could not support themselves or their families, lined up to receive what was then called “outdoor relief”: groceries, soap, shoes, and railroad tickets out of town. Less than 25 percent of the recipients were native-born; the rest were immigrants who had poured into the city from northern and southern Europe in search of jobs in Cleveland’s factories and mills. [ii] Last to arrive, they were first to be fired when the economy turned sour. Compounding the city’s difficulties were political corruption and selfish entrenched wealth. Howe claimed that Cleveland councilmen and mayors like Robert E. McKisson and “Honest John” Farley were in the pockets of local businessmen who sought public favors; Howe called incumbent politicians “spoilsmen, bosses, grafters.” [iii] Moreover, many Clevelanders who had gotten rich by arriving early and acquiring substantial property did not serve the public but served themselves at the public expense. A good example, Howe maintained, was Mark Hanna. A Republican kingmaker generally credited with putting his friend William McKinley in the White House in 1896 and 1900, Hanna served in the U.S. Senate, 1897-1904. As the owner of Cleveland’s largest streetcar company, Hanna often did battle with Johnson. Although Howe came to like Hanna personally, Howe also claimed that the Republican controlled the banks, the press, and the Ohio legislature, enriching “himself without compunction, believing that the State was a businessman’s State” [iv] that existed solely to enrich corporate interests at the expense of the public.
Howe joined the law firm of Harry and James Garfield, sons of the assassinated President James Garfield. Although Howe claimed to work “listlessly” at the law, the Garfields made him a partner in the firm in 1896 and despite their political differences, became his close personal friends. Howe lived briefly at Goodrich House, a social settlement established by philanthropist Flora Stone Mather. The middle-class, well educated young settlement house residents like Howe saw firsthand the economic and social problems created by and for urban newcomers and had the education and the political and financial savvy to search for solutions. At Goodrich House, for example, were born Cleveland’s Legal Aid Society (Howe was one of its incorporators), the Consumers League of Ohio, and the Cleveland Music School Settlement. Howe, however, claimed not to enjoy visiting nearby tenements or socializing with immigrants. Nor did he enjoy his work with the Charity Organization Society, which provided private relief to the city’s indigent, believing the organization both uncharitable and ineffective.
More to Howe’s liking was the Municipal Association (later the Citizens League of Greater Cleveland), foes of political corruption and advocates of good government. Howe became the association’s secretary and in 1901, ran for Cleveland City Council on the Republican ticket. He enjoyed speaking in saloons and having his photograph tacked to telegraph poles and promised that ‘the old gang would be cleaned out,” [v] replaced by men like himself, incorruptible Republicans. Contemporary photographs show a handsome, serious young Howe, high-collared, bespectacled, the epitome of the scholar in politics.
Yet Howe found himself increasingly drawn to Democrat Tom L. Johnson, recently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1901 a candidate for mayor of Cleveland. Johnson had made his fortune as a streetcar monopolist; he retired from business when he entered public service and lived in a Romanesque Revival mansion on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s Millionaires’ Row. Howe admired Johnson’s lively political style – tent meetings at which ordinary citizens were encouraged to challenge him – and even more, his simple political creed: “The trouble was not with the people, it was poverty… Most people would be good if they had a chance. ” Politics should create that chance. [vi] Johnson gave Howe his most enduring political lessons; and Howe praised his teacher: “I had greater affection for Tom Johnson than for any man I have ever known… He was ‘Tom’ to everyone in Cleveland … Even the children on the streets greeted him as ‘Tom.’” [vii]
Both men were elected in 1901. Johnson won his first of four terms as mayor. Howe won his one term in city council. He lost the 1903 election when he ran as an independent. Thereafter, he joined the Democrats, Johnson, and his able advisers, including Dr. Harris R. Cooley, Director of Charities and Corrections, as well as the pastor of Johnson’s Disciples of Christ congregation; Peter Witt, former labor organizer, advocate and practitioner of free speech, who became Johnson’s city clerk; Newton D. Baker, Howe’s fellow graduate student at Johns Hopkins, who became Johnson’s law director, then mayor of Cleveland (1912-1915), then Secretary of War during the Woodrow Wilson administration.
In his usually self-deprecating autobiography, Howe took credit – with his friends – for first imagining Cleveland’s Group Plan even before he ran for office. The plan remains Cleveland’s clearest example of the city beautiful movement, the country’s response to rapid, unplanned, ugly urban growth. Howe’s vision was inspired in part by Daniel Burnham’s White City, a magnificent cluster of buildings grouped around an open mall, at the Chicago Exposition of 1893; Burnham became one of the architects of Cleveland’s Group Plan. Crowded tenements and sleazy commercial structures to the north of Public Square were razed to make room for the handsome Beaux Arts buildings. (In the 1960s, this would have been called “urban renewal.”) In 1905, Howe boasted that “no other city in America has projected as well as assured the carrying out of the systematic beautification of the city on so splendid a scale as has Cleveland.” [viii] The building began in 1910 with the Federal Court House, followed by Cuyahoga County Court House (1912), Cleveland City Hall (1916), Public Auditorium (1922), Cleveland Public Library (1925) and finally, the Board of Education (1930). Although designed by several distinguished architects, the buildings are of uniform size and height, sited on an impressive mall, originally grass-covered and tree-lined, that faced north to Lake Erie. Clevelanders believe this to be “the earliest and most complete civic-center plan for a major city outside of Washington, D.C.”[ix]
Other beautification projects initiated by Johnson and his political advisers included the expansion of the city’s existing park system and the addition of public baths, sports fields, tennis courts, playgrounds and skating rinks. After his marriage, Howe lived on Glen Park Place (now East 86th St.), near a creek that led into Doan Brook and within an easy walk of Wade and Rockefeller Parks. “On Saturdays and Sundays,” Howe reported, “the whole population played baseball in hundreds of parks laid out for that purpose. Cleveland became a play city,” attracting workers and businesses. [x] Johnson famously removed the “Keep off the grass signs” from public lawns, symbolizing the administration’s desire to make public spaces friendly as well as beautiful.
The city should be not only beautiful, Howe believed, but humane, caring for even its humblest residents. The Johnson administration provided more generous outdoor relief and replaced the Infirmary with Cooley Farm on city property in Highland Heights, which sheltered mostly the elderly. Children who ran afoul of the law were judged in one of the country’s first juvenile courts. Hudson Boys Farm replaced an older reformatory for male juvenile delinquents. “At this farm-school no brand attaches; it leaves no scar and saves self-respect,” Howe maintained. [xi]
A city should be open and responsive to its citizens, encouraging them to make important decisions, and it should have the power to make important decisions that bettered their lives. To achieve this, Johnson and Howe advocated municipal home rule. Howe served one term in the Ohio Senate State, 1906-1908, where he unsuccessfully worked for home rule legislation that would have allowed cities to call constitutional conventions and change their form of government, raise their own revenues, and to own street railways and other utilities. (He did succeed in getting passed legislation that allowed Cleveland to proceed with the Group Plan.) In 1912, Johnson’s protégé, Newton D. Baker, helped to write the Ohio constitutional amendment that allowed home rule.
In pursuit of a political system as open as Johnson’s tent meetings, Howe and Johnson endorsed the initiative, referendum and recall, and votes for women. Howe credited his wife, Marie Jenney Howe, with converting Johnson to woman suffrage. “Mr. Johnson, you who are democratic in everything else, why are you not democratic about women? Why do you not believe in woman suffrage?” [xii] According to Howe, Johnson enthusiastically supported suffrage from then on. Although Cleveland women also rallied to the cause, the city did not play a leading role in the suffrage movement that culminated in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Most important, a city should be equitable. Like his mentor Johnson, Howe believed that unjust economic institutions explained urban problems: “The worst of the distressing poverty, as well as the irresponsible wealth, is traceable to economic institutions, to franchise privileges and unwise taxation.” [xiii] Johnson and Howe proposed two solutions: the single tax and public ownership of utilities.
Johnson had become a convert to the single tax when he read Henry George’s Progress and Poverty; Johnson then converted Howe. The single tax would replace all other taxes and would be levied on unimproved land – not on improvements like homes or businesses: for example, vacant land on or around Public Square, whose value would be increased not by its owner’s efforts or investments but by improvements on neighboring properties. This tax would discourage “privilege,” wealth created by the acquisition and monopoly of land. The single tax would be levied by the city, rather than by the state or federal government, enhancing the power of local government and its citizens’ interest in it. The single tax was an attractive idea in an era of great urban growth when land ownership was in fact the single most important source of wealth. In his autobiography, Howe used as significant examples of land acquisition two early suburban allotments: Euclid Heights and the Van Sweringens’ Shaker Village. [xiv] (He did not mention that Patrick Calhoun, the developer of Euclid Heights, went bankrupt in 1914; nor could he have known that the Van Sweringens would also go bust during the Depression. )
The dream of a single tax was not achieved then or later, but the reform of the tax structure was a victory in which Howe played a part. In 1909, he was elected to the Tax Commission, charged with the re-appraisal of all properties within the city. The commission employed an expert tax-appraiser who facilitated a more equitable tax process: “The home-owner and the poor were relieved of millions of dollars of taxes that were placed on down-town property, manufacturing sites, railroad rights of way, and the water front,” Howe maintained. ‘It was the most satisfying experience of my political life.” [xv]
Even more contentious was the issue of publicly owned utilities. Johnson and Howe were not socialists, as their opponents often charged, advocating municipal ownership only of utilities. Utilities, they believed, were easily monopolized, and their owners could charge exorbitant rates. Utilities required franchises from public officials, creating endless possibilities for bribery. Howe was shocked to discover that his own election to City Council had been financed by the gas company. If privately owned utilities could survive only by bribing officials and corrupting government, then utilities should be owned by the city, Howe decided. [xvi] The Johnson administration’s fight for a publicly owned streetcar triggered “a ten years war,” class warfare that pitted “men of property and influence” against “the politicians, immigrants, workers, and persons of small means.” [xvii] A city-owned streetcar line would avoid such corruption and could charge its riders less.
Since the state did not allow the city to own utilities, the Johnson administration established a private holding company that would lease and operate several of the small streetcar lines; the Municipal Traction Company had a three-cent fare and Howe as its vice-president. However, there was a violent strike against the company , secretly supported by Johnson’s foes, according to Howe,[xviii] and a subsequent referendum did not endorse the company. In 1910, Judge Robert Walker Tayler created one privately-held railway company with a three-cent fare and public oversight.
The dream of a public transit system was not achieved until 1942 when private investors decided that streetcars were no longer profitable. Johnson’s administration also wanted the city to own and operate an electric plant. The city built a public plant in 1914. It has survived several attacks by private utility companies and is now called Cleveland Public Power.
In 1909, Johnson was defeated at the polls by voters perhaps weary of these controversies. His ill health worsened by this loss, he died in 1911.
Over Johnson’s objections, Howe and his wife had left Cleveland for New York City in 1911, but Howe did not leave politics or abandon reform. In New York, he became director of the People’s Institute, a public forum, where he met many of the leading figures of the Progressive movement. (Marie Jenney Howe became a leading feminist; her reputation now outstrips that of her husband.) When Woodrow Wilson, one of Howe’s professors at Johns Hopkins became President, he appointed Howe Commissioner at Ellis Island where he had the unhappy job of watching over hundreds of temporarily detained immigrants, made even more unhappy by the deportation of persons accused of being spies and subversives when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Howe also accompanied Wilson to Versailles to advise on the treaty that ended the war. During the 1920s, when Progressive reformism seemed moribund, Howe became active in the Conference on Progressive Political Action, formed to further the cause of labor and farmers. Many of the Progressive goals were achieved during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal; Howe also served in Roosevelt’s administration as consumer counsel for the Agricultural Adjustment Act. He died in 1940. Howe recalled his years in Cleveland as the “crusade of my youth, the greatest adventure of my life.[xix]
This is a different city than the one Howe worked and lived in. In 1910, shortly before Howe left, Cleveland was the sixth biggest city in the country with a population of 560,663. (Its population would peak in 1950 at 914,808.) Almost three quarters of the 1910 residents were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Newcomers from southeastern Europe – Italy, Russia, Hungary – had joined the large German and Irish communities. Slightly more than 8,000 Clevelanders (1.5 percent of the population) were African American. A century later, the city has lost tens of thousands of the factory jobs that had attracted these immigrants. Cleveland’s biggest private employers are not heavy industry but the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Cleveland’s population has dropped to 396,815, thanks in large part to the federal highways that facilitated out-migration to suburbs south, east, and west.
Yet Cleveland remains the economic and cultural heart of northeast Ohio. And Clevelanders today – whether they live in the city or not – have inherited the tangible legacy of Howe’s youthful crusade: a publicly owned municipal light plant and transit system, home rule (although less of it than Cleveland officials would like), parks, pools, playgrounds, and the Group Plan. They inherit as well a city that still stretches along the lake with the possibilities of beauty that inspired Howe and his peers to make Cleveland the city beautiful. Or at least, try.
[i] Frederic C. Howe. Confessions of a Reformer (Kent, Ohio and London, England: Kent State University Press), 73.
[ii] Annual Report (Cleveland: City of Cleveland, Department of Charities and Corrections 1893), 78.
[iii] Howe, Confessions, 100.
[iv] Ibid, 151.
[v] Ibid, 91.
[vi] ibid, 93.
[vii] Ibid., 127.
[viii] Howe, The City: The Hope of Democracy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905), 243.
[ix] David D. Van Tassel and John J. Grabowski, editors, The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996), 672.
[x] Howe, Confessions, 109.
[xi] Howe, The City, 228.
[xii] Howe, Confessions, 137.
[xiii] Howe, The City, ix.
[xiv] Howe, Confessions, 214-217.
[xv] Ibid., 230.
[xvi] Ibid., 107.
[xvii] Ibid., 115.
[xviii] Ibid., 125.
[xix] Ibid., 115.