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«trong>Reform in Philadelphia: Joseph S. Clark, Richardson Dilworth and the Women Who Made Reform Possible, 1947–1949 T PHILADELPHIA in the ...»

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Reform in Philadelphia:

Joseph S. Clark, Richardson Dilworth

and the Women Who Made

Reform Possible, 1947–1949


PHILADELPHIA in the twentieth


century has been well documented. From Lincoln Steffens’s

exposé of Republican corruption to the massive 300-year history

of the Quaker City published in 1982, journalists, historians, and even a

few politicians have described the long years of Republican rule and the momentous events of the postwar era that ushered in a new age of Democratic Party domination. Most chronicles of the period from 1947 to 1951—the years of revolution—are rather standard works that focus on the efforts of the two principal reformers, Joseph S. Clark and Richardson Dilworth, the work of the Democratic Party on their behalf, and the misdeeds of the GOP machine and its operatives. There is, however, more to the story. Far less attention has been given to the fact that while Clark and Dilworth ran on the Democratic ticket, they had fashioned an independent campaign organization that included representatives not only from the regular Democratic Party but also organized labor and independent Republicans. Above all, through a controversial organization, the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the reformers had built links to the city’s fledgling liberal establishment.

Years later, when Clark sat down to write his memoirs, he took particular care to detail the contributions of thirteen individuals who formed the core of the 1949 campaign committee. Those thirteen, along with Clark and Dilworth, mapped strategy, delegated responsibility, coordinated efforts, and educated workers. They were the brain trust—the individuals most responsible for the success of the revolution. Six of these thirteen were women, a remarkable ratio at a time when women played almost no


Vol. CXXVII, No. 1 ( January 2003) 58 G. TERRY MADONNA AND JOHN MORRISON MCLARNON III January role in the political life of the city. Despite the organization of “Women’s Divisions” in both major parties following ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Philadelphia politics remained a 100 percent men’s game.1 The story of the role women played in the public life of postwar America has undergone significant revision since Betty Freidan came to national attention in 1963 with her description of wives trapped in white, middle-class, suburban domesticity. Several scholars have identified large numbers of women who participated in the politics and social ferment of the era. Women assumed active roles in the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and in the liberal New Deal politics of the late 1940s and 1950s. Some, taking their lead from Eleanor Roosevelt, helped found or joined chapters of the CIO Political Action Committee (PAC) or the ADA. For the most part, they were middleclass, college-educated white women, ranging in age from their mid-thirties to late forties; many had held full-time jobs during the war.2 The women recruited by Clark and Dilworth—Elise Bailen, Emily Ehle Jones, Natalie Saxe, Dorothy Schoell Montgomery, Molly Yard, and Ada Lewis—all fit this profile. All held degrees from prestigious eastern colleges or universities where they had majored in one or another of the social sciences. Several had pursued graduate degrees. All eventually married. None, however, limited her activities to the roles of homemaker and mother. Some had established professional careers in the 1930s.

During the war they had held responsible positions either in government or in private sector social service agencies. After the war they were determined to continue their careers in public service. All but Saxe were members of the Philadelphia chapter of the ADA. While the chapter In addition to Molly Yard, Emily Ehle, Natalie Saxe, Elise Bailen, Ada Lewis, and Dorothy Montgomery, the campaign committee included Harry Ferlager, Johannes Hoeber, John Patterson, L. M. C. Smith, Walter Phillips, Joseph Schwartz, and Joseph Burke. Joseph S. Clark, “No Mean City,” VII, 4–10; Joseph S. Clark, “The Six Lives of Joseph S. Clark,” 37; both in the Joseph S. Clark Papers, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. When Clark set about to write his memoir, he first called it “The Six Lives of Joseph S. Clark.” Later, one section of the “Six Lives” developed into a separate monograph titled “No Mean City.” Clark revised both numerous times. Several versions are included in the Clark Papers and nothing indicates which is the final one. All are in the unprocessed part of the collection. Roman numerals refer to chapters.

2 The list of volumes dealing with the subject of women’s involvement in the various aspects of

–  –  –

counted a number of able male members, by 1946 these women had assumed positions of leadership in the uniquely mixed-gender organization. Clearly, they refused to accept the social imperative memorably phrased by Agnes Meyers in 1952, that a woman could have many careers but only one vocation—motherhood.3 In the late summer of 1949, Philadelphia was a city on the verge of revolution. For nearly one hundred years, the Quaker City had been totally dominated by the Republican Party. Throughout, it had been ruled by a succession of political bosses, who, save for an occasional upset by reformminded Democrats and independents, had controlled virtually every aspect of Philadelphia politics since the Civil War. Reformers never made permanent inroads, however, and Republican rule remained widespread and durable. The Democratic Party was ineffective and lifeless. In many parts of the city, it was virtually nonexistent. In some cases, Democratic Party officials were on the payroll of Republican leaders. One could find few Democrats in the city’s congressional or state legislative delegations and none on city council. The mayor, of course, was Republican, securely protecting the city’s patronage. In every important respect, William Penn’s “Greene Countrie Towne” continued to be the private preserve of the GOP, and Philadelphia remained, as Lincoln Steffens had described it at the turn of the century, “corrupt and contented.”4 In the postwar years, new groups of reformers began to target the Clark, “No Mean City,” V, 28; Agnes Meyer, “Women Aren’t Men,” Atlantic Monthly, Aug.

1952, 32.

4 First Jim McManes and the “Ring Bosses” of the 1860s and 1870s, then the lackeys of Matthew Quay and Boies Penrose—Iz Durham and “Sunny” Jim McNichol, and finally the Brothers Vare and their successors had maintained a virtual death grip on every aspect of the city’s political life. On a few occasions, outsiders had managed to upset the organization. Democrat Robert Pattinson won successive elections to the controller’s office in 1877 and 1880. City Party candidates John Weaver and Rudolph Blankenburg won mayoral contests in 1905 and 1911 respectively. The 1933 general elections were a watershed for the Democratic Party throughout much of Pennsylvania. In 1933 and again in 1937, the Vares suffered shocking defeats as the Democrat-Independent coalition prevailed in consecutive row-office contests. Washington County—the home of state GOP chairman Edward Martin—elected one Democrat to the bench and another to the office of county controller. In Pittsburgh, William McNair became the first Democrat to capture the mayor’s office since 1905.

Lancaster witnessed a similar Democratic upset. Likewise, a Democratic resurgence in Scranton resulted in victory. Alexander Kendrick, “The End of Boss Vare,” The Nation, Nov. 29, 1933, 621–22;

John Rossi, “The Kelly-Wilson Mayoralty Election of 1935,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and 60 G. TERRY MADONNA AND JOHN MORRISON MCLARNON III January shortcomings and excesses of the GOP leaders and the machine they controlled. Advocates of decent housing assailed politicians who ignored conditions in North Philadelphia that reformers described as worse than the displaced persons camps in Europe. Civil rights workers continued toward their dream of a totally desegregated, egalitarian community even as they celebrated the police department’s all-black Special Squad, and the election of the commonwealth’s first black judge, Herbert E. Millen, to the municipal court. Watchdogs of the public school system were taking steps to reconstitute the Citizen’s Committee on Public Education in order to consider the latest crisis in the Philadelphia public schools.

Even as this ferment brewed, a determined group of liberal activists made plans to energize the Philadelphia Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), and two Ivy-League-educated Chestnut Hill patricians, fresh from the war in the Pacific, set their sights on destroying what Clinton Rogers Woodruff had described in 1906 as “the most thoroughly organized and uniformly successful incarnation of the spoils system in the entire country.”5 Both Joseph S. Clark and Richardson Dilworth were old hands at opposing the Republican organization. Clark’s schooling in the world of politics began in the mid-1920s when, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, he learned of the corruption of Bill Vare’s city machine, as well as Vare’s control over the Democratic Party. Motivated by a desire to get a legal drink, he campaigned for Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith in 1928, and became the Pennsylvania state commander of the Crusaders, a nationwide organization Biography 107 (1983): 171–93; Chester Times, Nov. 9, 1933; Edwin B. Bronner, “The New Deal

Comes to Pennsylvania: The Gubernatorial Election of 1934,” Pennsylvania History 27 (1960):

44–68; Bruce M. Stave, The New Deal and the Last Hurrah: Pittsburgh Machine Politics (Pittsburgh, 1970); Peter McCaffery, When Bosses Ruled Philadelphia (University Park, Pa., 1993);

Russell F. Weigley et al., eds., Philadelphia: A 300-Year History (New York, 1982); Clark, “No Mean City”; Edward Cook and G. Edward Janosik, Guide to Pennsylvania Politics (New York, 1980);

Roger Butterfield, “Revolt in Philadelphia,” Saturday Evening Post, Nov. 15, 22, 1952; Stephen B.

Grove, “The Decline of the Republican Party in Philadelphia, 1936-1952” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1976); James Reichley, The Art of Government: Reform and Organization Politics in Philadelphia (New York, 1959); Joseph R. Fink, “Reform in Philadelphia, 1946–51” (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers Univ., 1971); Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities (New York, 1904), 134.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Oct. 31, 1947, July 3, 1949; New York Times, Nov. 1, Dec. 29, 1947; Emily Ehle Jones, interview by Walter Phillips, July 25, 1974, Walter Phillips Oral History Project, Urban Archives, Temple University; Clinton Rogers Woodruff, “Philadelphia’s Revolution,” Yale Review 15 (May 1906): 8–23.

2003 REFORM IN PHILADELPHIA 61 dedicated to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. He also organized the Vigilantes’ Committee, as it was known, to protect citizens from what Clark believed were unconstitutional liquor raids. Later, he served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention that ratified the Twentyfirst Amendment. Following the 1928 election, Clark joined a Democratic reform club called the Warriors, which was a group of Philadelphia professionals interested in reorganizing the Democratic Party. During his days in the Warriors, Clark began his lifelong political alliance with Dilworth.6 A native of Pittsburgh and decorated World War I veteran, Richardson Dilworth arrived in Philadelphia following his graduation from Yale Law School in 1926. After establishing a reputation as a firstrate libel lawyer, he joined Clark in the Warriors in 1933. The reformers conducted voter registration drives and even dared to send poll watchers into GOP precincts, something considered personally dangerous at the time. Clark’s political activities earned him the Democratic Party’s endorsement for a councilmanic election in 1934; Dilworth worked as his campaign manager. Later that year their positions were reversed when Clark managed Dilworth’s campaign for the state senate. Although they both lost, the two learned important lessons relating to the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of Philadelphia ward politics.7 By 1935, the city Democratic Party had been reorganized, and, in the midst of the Great Depression, it narrowly lost the 1935 mayoral election.

Most observers believed that Jack B. Kelly, a wealthy brick contractor and a Catholic, won the popular vote but was counted out by the Republican election board. Clark and Dilworth campaigned hard for Kelly, and the campaign left Clark with an important conclusion: while Catholic members of the Republican machine like Austin Meehan and William Meade had Clark, “No Mean City,” I, II; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Mar. 19, 1931, Mar. 23, 1932;

Propaganda Letter of the Crusaders, Dec. 1, 1933, Clark Papers; Philadelphia Public Ledger, Nov. 2, 1933.

7 Clark, “No Mean City,” I, II. In the days immediately preceding the councilmanic election, Clark and Dilworth learned that the faction of the Democratic Party still controlled by the Republican machine was planning to “knife” Clark in favor of William Keough. They also claimed that thousands of Republicans were led to believe that, due to their registration, they were required to vote for Republican Sam Emlen. The Republicans responded that the New Dealers were using federal patronage to assist Clark’s campaign. Philadelphia Record, May 7, 14, 15, 1934; Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Apr. 28, 1934, May 15, 16, 17, 1934; Clark, “No Mean City,” I, II.

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