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For over a century, dark visions of moral collapse and social disintegration in American cities spurred an anxious middle class to search for ways to restore order. In this important book, Paul Boyer explores the links between the urban reforms of the Progressive era and the long efforts of prior generations to tame the cities. He integrates the ideologies of urban crusades with an examination of the careers and the mentalities of a group of vigorous activists, including Lyman Beecher; the pioneers of the tract societies and Sunday schools; Charles Loring Brace of the Children's Aid Society; Josephine Shaw Lowell of the Charity Organization movement; the father of American playgrounds, Joseph Lee; and the eloquent city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham.
Boyer describes the early attempts of Jacksonian evangelicals to recreate in the city the social equivalent of the morally homogeneous village; he also discusses later strategies that tried to exert a moral influence on urban immigrant families by voluntarist effort, including, for instance, the Charity Organizations' "friendly visitors." By the 1890s there had developed two sharply divergent trends in thinking about urban planning and social control: the bleak assessment that led to coercive strategies and the hopeful evaluation that emphasized the importance of environmental betterment as a means of urban moral control.
Part One. The Jacksonian Era
1. The Urban Threat Emerges: A Strategy Takes Shape
2. The Tract Societies: Transmitting a Traditional Morality by Untraditional Means
3. The Sunday School in the City: Patterned Order in a Disorderly Setting
4. Urban Moral Reform in the Early Republic: Some Concluding Reflections
Part Two. The Mid-Century Decades: Years of Frustration and Innovation
5. Heightened Concern, Varied Responses
6. Narrowing the Problem: Slum Dwellers and Street Urchins
7. Young Men and the City: The Emergence of the YMCA
Part Three. The Gilded Age: Urban Moral Control in a Turbulent Time
8. "The Ragged Edge of Anarchy": The Emotional Context of Urban Social Control in the Gilded Age
9. American Protestantism and the Moral Challenge of the Industrial City
10. Building Character among the Urban Poor: The Charity Organization Movement
11. The Urban Moral Awakening of the 1890s
12. The Two Faces of Urban Moral Reform in the 1890s
The Progressives and the City:
Common Concerns, Divergent Strategies
13. Battling the Saloon and the Brothel: The Great Coercive Crusades
14. One Last, Decisive Struggle: The Symbolic Component of the Great Coercive Crusades
15. Positive Environmentalism: The Ideological Underpinnings
16. Housing, Parks, and Playgrounds: Positive Environmentalism in Action
17. The Civic Ideal and the Urban Moral Order
18. The Civic Ideal Made Real: The Moral Vision of the Progressive City Planners
19. Positive Environmentalism and the Urban Moral-Control Tradition: Contrasts and Continuities
20. Getting Right with Gesellschaft: The Decay of the Urban Moral-Control Impulse in the 1920s and After
Bringing Moral Order to Immoral Cities
Urban Masses and Moral Order in America reads like a really great documentary; engaging, easy to understand, and thorough. Author Paul Boyer, a cultural and intellectual historian who received his PhD from Harvard University, explores how the transformation of socity from primarily agrarian to increasingly urban caused concerns for moral disorder. This book is essentially about America's response to the growth of cities.
Beginning in the Jacksonian era, Boyer follows the ways in which different groups attempted to tame cities and restore moral order. The interesting thing here is that, while this seems like a noble goal, a lot of the methods different groups employed were based in fear. "Street urchins", "slum dwellers", and "brothels" all existed outside of cities, but apparently there was something about the unfamiliar environment of the cities that magnified them there.
Personally, I was most drawn to the use of playgrounds and civic planning to create a more pleasing environment because this ties into a lot of what is going on in present-day development. Today we still attempt to recreate a simpler, more rural time and place within city limits. We may not be doing it as a statement against immorality (like the tract societies described in the book), but it's an interesting connection.