by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Progressivism was a reform movement in the early 20th century that sought to use the machinery of government to deal with economic, political and social problems that mounted as America ascended in power, but also saw a small minority of capitalists holding increasingly concentrated levels of wealth, while laborers lagged in opportunity, pay, work safety and other issues and other segments of society advocated for such measures as food purity, help for small farmers and business owners, temperance, woman suffrage and others.
The Progressive Party (otherwise known as the Bull Moose Party) was formed for the 1912 presidential elections as a way to develop a viable alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties and it had former president Theodore Roosevelt as its standard-bearer, while the vice-presidential candidate was California Governor Hiram W. Johnson. Johnson won office two years earlier with the support of the Lincoln-Roosevelt League, organized in 1907 by Edward Dickson, publisher of the Los Angeles Express and Chester H. Rowell of the Fresno Republican.
Though Roosevelt failed to win the 1912 campaign, he siphoned enough votes from Republican incumbent William Howard Taft (who went on to become the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court), to hand the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. This led many Progressives and Republicans to seek an “amalgamation” so that the same fate would not take place in future elections.
This is why tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s collection, the 4 October 1913 edition of The California Outlook, denoted “A Progressive Weekly,” had a call for readers to “Join the Progressives” and quoted from Roosevelt and Johnson about how the amalgamators could create a “substantial agreement.” For the plain-spoken former president, it was a simply matter of “adopting our platform and all the principles therein set forth,” adding, “when we say the people should rule, we mean it.” After all, he continued, “the progressive party not only stands for principles; it stands for concrete things in accordance with these principles,” including the key tenet that it “abhors hypocrisy.”
For his part, Johnson pointed to Republican machine boss Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania as emblematic of the problem with the G.O.P. and wrote that “if the tenets of the Progressive faith be fully accepted, and if special privilege be forever banished from the party and from government, I see no reason why there should not be substantial agreement between reactionary Republicans and Progressives.”
Rowell was one of the three contributing editors to The California Outlook, along with the well-known Kansas newspaper editor and Progressive figure, William Allen White, who was key in the formation of the Bull Moose Party and a close friend of Roosevelt and Charles Dwight Willard, a journalist and writer who was a passionate booster of Los Angeles, a devoted Progressive and another associate of the former president. The managing editor was Will H. Fischer, a long-time executive with Southern California Edison.
The editorial pages of this issue feature contributions by Rowell and Willard, with the latter discussing the Mann Act, passed by Congress in 1910 and still on the books and which sought to prevent so-called “white slavery,” or the transportation of women across state lines, purportedly for prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. The problem for Willard was that the broad phrase “for immoral purposes” as such that “this would cover a wide range of affairs between men and women where the element of the white slave trade did not enter at all.”
He advocated that there be separate distinctions for white slavery (prostitution) and immorality, with the latter considered less severe and engendering a lighter sentence but noted that the federal Attorney General James C. McReynolds (who only brief held the office and then served on the federal Supreme Court from 1914 to 1941) looked to limit application of the Mann Act to white slavery, but faced the prospect of inadvertently destroying the law.
One of Rowell’s contributions concerned the recent reintroduction of the income tax, there having been on during the Civil War years to raise funds for the Union Army effort, in 1913. He noted that it was estimated that 425,000 Americans would be subjected to the tax because it was limited to those who earned $3,000 or more of income per year. Of that number, roughly a third made up to $5,000, but the total of revenues expected was only $630,000. Another close to 40% were those earning $5,000 to $10,000 a year and their share would be over $5.3 million. It was not until the $25,000-$50,000 bracket was reached would that sum be exceeded, this expected to generate some $9 million.
When it comes to determining who was above and below the $25,000 threshold, it was found that 90% of those subjected to the tax were under that amount and the total to be collected at some $15.5 million was 20% of the amount. For those 33,000 persons earning above $25,000, the total was to be some $66.8 million, with roughly a quarter, or not quite $23 million, coming from the assessment of the 450 persons in the nation who took in more than $500,000 annually.
Obviously, “the tax is avowedly a discriminatory tax on wealth . . . and is at the same time not burdensome to any member of any class,” as those in the lowest bracket would only pay an average of $5 per year, while the 100 persons who made a million a year and had a cumulative income of $100 million would pay under $10 million, or less than 10%, in taxes. The total revenue stream was to be about $82 million and “will be collected without imposing any personal hardship on any person, and will establish a principle of taxation which may ultimately solve many other problems in addition to those of revenue.” It is certainly interesting to compare this discussion with approaches to income tax now, 110 years later!
As for local items, there are plenty of notable ones. In “What’s On in the City of Los Angeles,” it was noted that the Angel City had 20,000 inches of water which cost $25 million to obtain, this through the very recently completed Los Angeles Aqueduct, the official dedication of which was a month away. What was lamented was that there was no plan for selling surplus water and that this could have been developed during the long construction period of several years, though the complexity of such a policy was acknowledged.
Yet, a late suggestion threatened to delay any implementation of sales significantly, as some were calling for “the enforced annexation to the city of all districts that are applying to buy the water.” One example of the asserted compulsion of this proposal was the recent application of Glendale and the area east to South Pasadena and it was stated,
But all that our neighbors from Glendale and Eagle Rock got for their trouble in coming to town is a lot of booster oratory and a reprimand for their temerity. “Los Angeles will be a city of a million population,” thundered the councilmen, “stretching from the mountains to the sea.” . . . “We are paying millions of dollars to bring this water across the desert and you expect to enjoy it without sharing in the burden” . . . another [councilmember] capped the climax by warning the visitors that if they did come into the city they must not expect fire or police or street service for a long time—while they were still sparsely-settled country districts—but that they must take over their share of the aqueduct and other city indebtedness just as it stood.
Eagle Rock was annexed to Los Angeles, while Glendale stayed independent, but this is a very interesting quote and debate about the copious waters brought in by the Aqueduct and what the Angel City would do with it—especially given current climate change and water scarcity issues.
Another article, “Completion and Testing of the Aqueduct,” was penned by Burt A. Heinly, the secretary to “Father of the Aqueduct,” William Mulholland. The piece began with the note that “monumental in design and structure and after a period of nine years in which the project passed from a visionary plan to a bare possibility to the an actual reality, the Los Angeles Aqueduct today requires only the raising of its control gates at its outlet to place it in operation.” He added that, “as one of the great achievements of engineering and municipal history, he successful accomplishment of the enterprise opens a new epoch of growth and prosperity for the municipality.”
Heinly added that the completion was vital because “it will probably comes as a surprise to the community to know that for the first twenty days of September, the city’s present source of water supply from the Los Angeles River was entirely insufficient to meet the demands made upon it.” He continued that several reservoirs were drained and others alarmingly low, so that, for two days, sewer flushing was halted, street sprinkling stopped and supply to the parks cut off. While cooler weather and fog reduced demand and allowed for some relief, such a problem “concerns only far future generations,” though not as far off as Heinly, Mulholland and others could ever have imagined!
It was noted that the first 68 miles of the project were in operation since Valentine’s Day, when the Haiwee Reservoir, comprising a capacity of 21 billion gallons, was filled and, by late May, the Sand Canyon siphon, 30 miles south, was determined to be compromised. So, a new one was hurriedly built and was finished on 24 September, allowing the reservoir gates to be opened “and the waters of the Owens River and its tributary streams began their course southward.”
Within three days, the flow reached Fairmont Reservoir, some 200 miles from the source and 33 miles from the outlet, and by the first of October water was lifted over the “Sierra Madre,” that is, the San Gabriel, Mountains and into a tunnel for another seven miles to the Dry Canyon Reservoir, “which will be allowed to fill pending the dedication of the work on November 5” and which was to have a power station added to it later.
Heinly proudly reported that
Throughout its total length of two hundred and thirty-five miles, not only have the various tests shown the Aqueduct in design and stability of construction to meet the most sanguine hopes of its builder, but it has exceeded expectations in the small seepage losses recorded and in the swiftness of flow which guarantees a quantity in excess of 258,000,000 gallons per day for which estimates provided.
After noting the dedication date and that Mulholland would officially present the finished project to Mayor Henry H. Rose, the writer added that “the completion and dedication of the work is of meaning and deep importance to the city aside from” its supply of enormous volumes of the life-giving fluid.”
That is, as noted above, there was surplus water to be sold to adjacent communities, where “many thousands of acres await the blessing of fruitful production” which would accrue from these sales. He ended by noting that naysayers were silenced and those who claimed the water, if ever delivered, would be too alkaline for drinking would find that, “as to quality, the surest test will be for doubters to drink of it.”
There was a reprint of a speech given to the Los Angeles City Club by Otto Buehrmann of Chicago who spoke on “Teaching Industrial Efficiency at School.” Buehrmann told the assemblage that “Los Angeles, with its usual progressivism, is the first city which has thought it advisable to introduce the system of mercantile efficiency into its public schools.” The concept of “efficiency” was a major Progressive concern when it came to using government to achieve public ends.
Additionally, Buehrmann stated, there were important elements of ethnics, honesty, habit, thrift and the study and accrued knowledge of customer relations, though it should be noted that this was a male-only enterprise as the salesman “must be a good man to be a good salesman or he could not be successful. He has to be honest and capable to be a good salesman. By bringing the thoughts of boys to bear in this line, we teach them to become good salesmen.”
Yet, there was a section for women to note, being Fischer’s article on the important work of the Woman’s Club of Santa Monica, where, he said, “ten years ago . . . [it] was a placid little beach town in which local pride had failed to find employment” and the town as “self-satisfied and somnolent.” Still, he allowed, residents were “of the right sort. All they needed was an awakening. They got it” through the efforts of the club, mainly due to the energies of Mrs. D.G. Stephens, who helped start the Los Angeles Orphans Home and was a leading club woman in the Angel City.
Stephens launched the Santa Monica club, which paid special attention to improving local schools, of which Fischer said they were among “the finest, best-equipped public schools in the state.” It was no accident, naturally, that Stephens was also president of the city’s board of education, while another club member, Mrs. J.J. Seymour, also served on the board.
A recent feather in the club’s cap was the campaign for a successful bond election that yielded Santa Monica High School, “housed in a building constructed on a commanding eminence, the crown of a site of fourteen acres” and it was asserted that “this building is now the town’s one best boast—and well it may be; for it is not excelled on the Pacific Coast.” Also praised was the club’s work to build a better jail, which “conforms to the present standards” and for street improvements and, while not taking a stand on the matter, securing good voter turnout for women, who achieved the right to vote in state and local elections in 1911.
Also of interest is a piece concerning a California Training School for Girls, for which a board, including Stephens, was selected and an appropriation of $250,000 made by the legislature for choosing a southern California site and construction costs—the facility was built at Ventura and girls moved from the Whittier State School (for whom George H. Woodruff, Walter P. Temple’s friend, attorney and business partner, once worked) with the institution moved to Camarillo under the California Youth Authority in 1962.
Notably, it was stated that, when it came to troubled girls, “the men have labored with this problem for many years . . . we want to see what women can do. We don’t want any men on the board to hamper us . . . We may be no more successful than the men have bene; but we have a right to a trial of our ideas.” This argument convinced Governor Johnson and the school was established.
This was also an era of cooperatives, utopian communities and variants of other kinds and the Voluntary Co-operative Association of Los Angeles was launched, provided that at least 1,000 persons would join the effort to buy land collectively owned by members and on which produce from farming was to be supplemented by wholesale purchases of food an any surplus sold retail.
Each member could also build a home on a plot on the tract, if they wished. Membership was to entail a $1 entrance fee and dues of $1.50 per month for ten years and those taking part “are guaranteed employment and residence on the property with full benefits . . . but as soon as workers are needed, they will be called as nearly as possible in the order of their membership.”
It was hoped to establish grocery stores selling co-op produce as well as to have a salvage department to father discarded clothes, furniture, dishes and other material that could be sold as second-hand goods or as junk and a store was opened at San Pedro and 8th streets for that purpose. The founding figure was George Thomas Millar, author of a work called Constructive Socialism, while the vice-president was Mary E. Garbutt, a leading member of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the treasurer was Ernest Dawson of the well-known and long-standing Dawson’s Book Shop. It is not known, however, if this project got anywhere near fruition.
Finally, there is Rowell’s review of “The Ancient Animal Trap at La Brea” concerning what is now the famous La Brea Tar Pits, where “within the last year, there have been dug up bones of the great mammals of the pleistocene age which literally multiply by scores, if not by hundreds, the total accumulations of all the museums in the world in this particular branch of paleontology.
He noted the trapping of all manner of creatures, including buffalo, camels, mastodons, elephants, lions, saber-toothed tigers and more whose “bones are still there, perfectly preserved in quantities which absolutely stagger the imagination.” Rowell wrote that “a number of species have been discovered of which there had before been [no] knowledge at all,” while a tree was found that was said to be 200,000 years old and ‘is still in such good condition that it could readily be made into good furniture,” with it declared to be “incomparably the oldest tree and the oldest piece of unmodified wood in the world.”
Rowell finished by averring that “the complete exploitation of this remarkable find will require years of work and may yet unearth discoveries even more remarkable than those yet made” while “the curious fact is that probably nine-tenths of the people of Los Angeles and ninety-nine per cent of the people of California do not even know that such a discovery has been made.”
One of the images here is of “Well-Beloved California,” the official song of the California Land Show and it is shown not its boosterism of the Golden State from the mission days to the current. The contents of California Outlook are certainly interesting and informative concerning Progressivism generally and about aspects of greater Los Angeles specifically over a century ago.