Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

edited by George S. Bush
James A. Michener Art Museum in association with The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996 (174 pages, cloth, $40.00; paper, $29.95)

Bucks County had known artists as neighbors for years, but in this handsome and richly illustrated book, novelist and native son James A. Michener writes that two 1930s realtors were the original geniuses of this story, “creating and spreading the illusion that Bucks County was a paradise to which any sensible couple Living in cramped New York or Philadelphia could logically aspire – if they had the money.” The Genius Belt: The Story of the Arts in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, edited by George S. Bush, is the work of six writers of history, biography and fiction – Michener, Dorothy Herrmann, Phil Johnson Ruth, Cleota Reed, Patricia Tanis Sydney, and Brian H. Peterson, and two contributors of short reminiscences, St. John Terrell and W. Lester Trauch. This was William Penn’s home county where he enjoyed the pastoral life at Pennsbury. Although the Quakers were little inclined to art, Newtown produced Edward Hicks who painted The Peaceable Kingdom and other “primitive” land­scapes. Other painters came from or settled here, until in 1898 William Lathrop, a teacher to Pennsylvania’s Impressionists, made the old Phillips Mill the center of the New Hope art colony. Thus began, Michener writes, the golden years of Bucks County and the neighboring region of New Jersey. Famous names and famous couples crowd the pages of The Genius Belt. In 1932, Michael Gold, radical editor of The Masses, sold his rundown farm in Erwinna to a young writer, Nathanael West, who attracted his sister Laura and her husband, author, play­wright, and cartoonist S. J. Perelman. Other novelists, writers, playwrights, librettists, and performers, many from New York, followed, bought farms, and made their houses showplaces, including Moss and Kitty Carlisle Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Parker, and Pearl S. Buck. Not all the illuminati were outsiders: Henry Chapman Mercer was born in Doylestown in 1856. Working at the turn of the century, this exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement documented the skills of everyday life through his magnificent collections and his design and manufacture of structural tiles, works accomplished in his own fantastic poured-concrete buildings at Doylestown. Other arti­sans also came to work professionally in masonry, cloth, metal, wood, and glass. What made this creative activity so well known was the 1939 opening of the Bucks County Playhouse under founding producer St. John Terrell, which attracted thousands to New Hope. Happily, Bucks County’s long and illustrious tradition of the arts should be illuminated and enhanced by this notable new book.


The Miners of Windber: The Struggles of New Immigrants for Unionization, 1890s-1930s

by Mildred Allen Beik
The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996 (447 pages, cloth, $60.00; paper $22.95)

Coal supplied ninety percent of America’s energy in 1900, the year that the U.S. surpassed Great Britain as number-one producer. At the same time (1897), the Berwind-White Coal Mining Co. was launching the spectacular rise of bituminous coal in Somerset County and establishing itself as the fourth largest producer of bituminous coal in Pennsylvania. It began with Berwind-White’s purchase of thirty thousand acres between Somerset and Cambria counties, and the incorporation of the borough of Windber, the archetypical company town as described by Mildred Allen Beik in her recent book, The Miners of Windber: The Struggles of New Immigrants for Unionization, 1890s-1930s. Beik begins with the opening of the first of forty-two mines amid “rolling hills, dense forests and extensive farmlands.” To support its undertaking, Berwind-White formed municipal governments which it, and sympathizers from the “privileged sectors” of the “American-born middle class,” controlled for a half century (see “Soft Coal’s Soft-Spoken Diplomat” by Barry P. Michrina in the spring 1997 issue). The company dominated the local economy, from which it excluded any competition for its workers. Berwind-White recruited thousands of immigrant workers-many of them Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians and Italians. The author describes miners’ work and low wages, long hours, dishonest weights, frequent accidents, minimal compensation for injury or death, and the fierce opposition by the company and its allies to any attempt by the workers to organize a union. She also describes the endless and taxing responsibilities of wives and daughters in caring for their families and boarding single workers to make ends meet. The toil and deprivation, the company’s blatant attempt to divide workers behind ethnic leaders loyal to the company, unsympathetic public officials, the nativist contempt for foreigners, and the democratic ideology of World War I drove Berwind-White’s working-class families to unite in the teeth of company opposition and to join prolonged coal industry strikes, as in 1906 and 1922. The struggle for human rights in the end “had provided foreign-born and American-born miners with a self-affirming and empowering definition of what it meant to be an American.” Finally, in 1949 working families elected their own man, Dr. Matthew J. Klena, as mayor of Windber. But for many years the coal industry had been suffering its own ordeal and faced a bleak future. Area mines were closed in the 1950s and 1960s, presenting Windber with its own uncertain future.


Stability and Change in Revolutionary Pennsylvania: Banking Politics and Social Structure

by George David Rappaport
The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996 (276 pages, cloth, $37.50)

Were Americans uniquely disposed to the attractions of free-market capitalism from their national beginnings? Did Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic share, in particular, a “speculative, competitive and profit-oriented social environment” as some historians conclude? Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), whose searching commentaries have helped America understand itself, affirmed this and declared that Americans were born free. On the other hand, George David Rappaport, professor of history at Wagner College argues in Stability and Change in Revolutionary Pennsylvania: Banking Politics and Social Structure that economic relations often remained traditional and reciprocal long after the processes and competitive mentality of capitalism had appeared. Eighteenth­-century Pennsylvania lacked a market economy that maxi­mized efficiency and profit. At the top, he says, Philadelphia’s merchants did business in an inefficient and widely dispersed economic system that relied on family and friends, and was oriented to enjoying one’s leisure and maintaining one’s place in the community. Artisans and shopkeepers, supported by apprentices and other dependents, often fabricated goods only on request. Most farmers, likewise, planted largely to sustain themselves and their employees, and generally had little interest in new market opportunities. In 1781, the Bank of North America was authorized by the Continental Congress as a quasi-public corporation, and the Pennsylvania Assembly granted it a charter. When it became apparent that the Congress would be unable to repay money the bank had advanced, the government surrendered its stock. Now privatized, the bank was seen by many as a monopoly of the rich, a threat to equality and economic democracy. The artisans, farmers and merchants – many of whom supported the more radical, and democratic state constitution of 1776 – feared the fragmentation and impersonalization of social and economic relations and became diehard opponents of the bank. Consequently, the charter was repealed by the Assembly in 1785, only to be re­enacted by a more conservative majority in 1786. In Stability and Change in Revolutionary Pennsylvania, Rappaport analyzes the social structures that influenced and restrained historical development, then shows how the bank, representing as it did an emerging capitalism, met continual resistance, even through the nineteenth century.


Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century

edited by Maurine W. Greenwald and Margo Anderson
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996 (292 pages, cloth, $49.95; paper, $22.95)

When the Pittsburgh Survey published its study between 1909 and 1914 of the condition of the working class and the urban environment of greater Pittsburgh and presented a plat­form for social and moral betterment, business and the press protested. Looking back over decades of the welfare state, Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century, edited by Maurine W. Greenwald and Margo Anderson, presents thirteen new and scholarly essays on this landmark of the Progressive movement. In the words of the editors, “The Pittsburgh Survey … captured the problems and way of life … so dramatically that Pittsburgh and Homestead became symbols of urban industrial problems for the society as a whole.” Led by Paul Kellogg and sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation of New York, the Survey was conducted in 1907 and 1908 by dozens of researchers from New York and Pittsburgh who “presented their dramatic and sometimes scan­dalous results in speeches, magazine articles, a traveling exhibition, and finally six large volumes of research reports” which revealed “an exploited labor force, a degraded physical environment, and corrupt civic institutions.” According to essayist Stephen R. Cohen, several Survey authors – Kellogg, Margaret Byington, John Fitch, Crystal Eastman, and Elizabeth Butler – looked beyond collective bargaining to “industrial democracy,” by which workers would share control of both production and capital resources. Replacing the dictates of the labor market, the Survey introduced “a profoundly new stan­dard for the steelmasters to meet: to pay their workers enough to support a family.” “The Pittsburgh Survey placed the family at the center of the reformist political agenda,” says essayist S. J. Kleiberg. “Its assumptions about family relationships and proper family roles set the stage for much of the welfare and protective legislation of the twentieth century.” A dignified life, by middle-class standards, and the time and energy for family, especially among families of unskilled working men, required an end to long hours and low pay, competition from child and even immigrant labor, and an end to the need for the family to take in boarders. The Survey has also left us poignant visual images of the harshness of industrial life and the strength of working people, as portrayed in the drawings of Joseph Stella and the photographs of Lewis W. Hine.