Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform

Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform

by Kevin Murphy


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In a 1907 lecture to Harvard undergraduates, Theodore Roosevelt warned against becoming "too fastidious, too sensitive to take part in the rough hurly-burly of the actual work of the world." Roosevelt asserted that colleges should never "turn out mollycoddles instead of vigorous men," and cautioned that "the weakling and the coward are out of place in a strong and free community."

A paradigm of ineffectuality and weakness, the mollycoddle was "all inner life," whereas his opposite, the "red blood," was a man of action. Kevin P. Murphy reveals how the popular ideals of American masculinity coalesced around these two distinct categories. Because of its similarity to the emergent "homosexual" type, the mollycoddle became a powerful rhetorical figure, often used to marginalize and stigmatize certain political actors. Issues of masculinity not only penetrated the realm of the elite, however. Murphy's history follows the redefinition of manhood across a variety of classes, especially in the work of late nineteenth-century reformers, who trumpeted the virility of the laboring classes.

By highlighting this cross-class appropriation, Murphy challenges the oppositional model commonly used to characterize the relationship between political "machines" and social and municipal reformers at the turn of the twentieth century. He also revolutionizes our understanding of the gendered and sexual meanings attached to political and ideological positions of the Progressive Era.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231129961
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 07/02/2008
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kevin P. Murphy is associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota.

Table of Contents

1. Of Mugwumps and Mollycoddles: Patronage and the Political Discourse of the "Third Sex"
2. The Tammany Within: Good Government Reform and Political Manhood
3. White Army in the White City: Civic Militarism, Urban Space, and the Urban Populace
4. Socrates in the Slums: "Social Brotherhood" and Settlement House Reform
5. Daddy George and Tom Brown: Sexual Scandal, Political Manhood, and Self-Government
6. The Problem of the Impracticables: Sentimentality, Idealism, and Homosexuality
Epilogue: Red Bloods and Mollycoddles in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

What People are Saying About This

Gail Bederman

This is an important book. Kevin P. Murphy has brought Progressivism, gender history, and the history of sexuality together in a new and entirely original manner. Various authors have tried to understand the gender components of Progressivism, but by bringing in themes and methodologies from the history of sexuality and queer theory, as well as from gender history, Murphy has brought this scholarship to a new level. Nobody that I know of analyzes the way sexuality inflects politics as Murphy does.

Michael Moon

Murphy makes a major intervention in the historiography of gender and sexuality in the United States of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-centuries. There have, for some time now, been a few fine historical studies of the emergence of male-male sexual communities in American metropolises. Murphy synthesizes their findings and much more recent historical work to produce what is to my mind the first entirely successful study of the complex relations between male sexual desire and sexual behavior and shifting models of 'manhood' or masculine gender identities in Americanist historiography.

Timothy Gilfoyle

A beautifully written, provocative interpretation of urban America at the turn of the twentieth century. Murphy presents an intellectual history of urban reform with a compelling and persuasive narrative, offering new insights into the labyrinthine world of New York City politics a century ago.

Thomas Bender

Political Manhood offers a major reinterpretation of American political culture and progressive reform. Murphy's close examination of the contested language of masculinity reveals a central theme in turn-of-the-century politics, bringing into focus a homosocial norm of manhood that nourished a cross-class social politics and challenged the strenuous masculinity represented by Theodore Roosevelt. Brilliantly original, this deeply researched book is marked by fluid prose and clarity of argument. All the historiographical advances of the past generation are melded with earlier scholarship to produce a work of extraordinary freshness and importance.

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