The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900-1925

By McMullin, Thomas A. | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900-1925


McMullin, Thomas A., Historical Journal of Massachusetts


The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900-1925. By James J. Connolly. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA 1998.

Historians have had a difficult time defining and explaining Progressivism. The movement for "reform" in the first two decades of this century had so many different, and sometimes conflicting, manifestations that some historians have questioned the value of the term Progressivism. James Connolly has entered the fray with an argument that has value for an understanding of Progressivism nationally, and more directly, in Boston. He argues that Progressivism was a "language" that basically called for the political system to protect the people from special interests. A wide variety of groups used the rhetoric of Progressivism to argue they represented the people. In Boston the leaders of a number of ethnic groups utilized Progressive themes to further the interests of their groups. Connolly is particularly interested in the way John F. Fitzgerald and, more importantly, James Michael Curley used Progressive themes to develop an "ethnic" Progressivism.

The author claims that the local tradition of a long-standing IrishBrahmin conflict was to a large extent a development of the early twentieth century. He agrees with historians such as Geoffrey Blodgett that the Democratic party in late-nineteenth century Boston brought together Irish politicians and a group of Yankees. Some of the latter group, such as Josiah Quincy, were from the Brahmin class. The Democratic party was able to mute differences between the two groups, and a rhetoric of ethnic and class conciliation prevailed.

In 1909 middle-and upper-class Progressive reformers convinced Boston voters to approve a new city charter. According to the author, many Irish middle-class voters supported the new charter and reform candidates to prove their respectability.

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