From Harvard to the Ranks of Labor: Powers Hapgood and the American Working Class

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During the first half of the twentieth century, many young intellectuals and reformers sympathized with the aspirations of working people and supported the struggles of the labor movement. Powers Hapgood (1899–1949) was one of the most colorful and recognizable symbols of this crucial historical relationship. A Harvard graduate and the scion of a famous Progressive-Era family, Hapgood chose to devote his life to the working class. His fascinating political career, marked by a staunch commitment to workers' rights and civil liberties, also included important roles in the Socialist Party and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Robert Bussel's book is the first full-length biography of this prominent American Socialist, labor organizer, and social crusader.

Hapgood participated in some of the most stirring historical events of his time—an epic coal miners' strike in Western Pennsylvania, an insurgent attempt to oust John L. Lewis as president of the United Mine Workers of America, the defense of Niccolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and the electrifying victories of sit-down strikers in Akron, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan. In the latter stages of his career, he took unpopular stands on issues of racial justice, civil liberties, and union democracy that foreshadowed the fault lines along which the post–World War II labor movement would founder. Recording and reflecting upon these experiences in journals he kept throughout his life, Hapgood left behind an unusually rich chronicle of the American working class, the labor movement, and the practice of radical politics.

Hapgood's career illustrates important developments in the evolution of liberalism and radicalism, the industrial union movement, and the relationship between the middle and working classes in twentieth-century America. At a time when the American labor movement is attempting to recruit young people, forge a rapprochement with liberals, and reclaim its role as a voice for American workers, the appearance of a Hapgood biography is timely.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Based on impressive research, Bussel’s study of Powers Hapgood is at once an illuminating biography of a labor activist and a fascinating case study of a familiar social type: the disillusioned upper class youth who seeks redemption in liberation movements. Cogent and insightful, Bussel’s book will have wide appeal.”
—Daniel Nelson, University of Akron

“In this well-written biography, Powers Hapgood emerges as a model political radical and organizer. Hapgood is principled, dedicated, intellectually vigorous, and willing to practice what he preaches. He respects the integrity of ideas and of the workers and radicals he calls comrades, even when it means he must suffer painful personal consequences. The reader celebrates Hapgood’s and labor’s successes, shares the pain of their defeats, and learns from this history of individual and social struggle.”
—Alan Singer, Hofstra University

Having transmuted from labor union organizer to historian, Bussel found very familiar tensions he found in the life and work of socialist and trade unionist who took the trip in the other direction. He describes Hapgood's (1899-1949) political odyssey, which spanned the Progressive era, the New Deal, and the beginnings of the cold war and his participation in such events as an epic 1922 coal miners' strike in western Pennsylvania, an insurgent attempt to oust John L. Lewis as president of the United Mine Workers, the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the victories of sit-down strikers in Akron and Flint. Paper edition (unseen), $19.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271018973
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Bussel, a former union organizer, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Industrial Relations at the Penn State Great Valley Campus.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 "A Sincere Consuming Quest for a Faith" 1
2 From College to the Ranks of Labor 21
3 The Somerset Strike 43
4 " 'Round the World Underground" 64
5 Save the Union 81
6 Exile at Home 99
7 Debacle at Columbia Conserve 114
8 "Lone Wolf Crying in the Wildernes" 127
9 "An Effectiveness That Few of Us Could Muster" 139
10 "The Duty of Every Patriot" 156
11 "The Most Responsible Job I've Ever Had" 168
12 "The Fundamental Principles of the CIO" 180
Epilogue 199
Notes 203
Bibliography 239
Index 251
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