The City Votes: Spatial Influences of the Reformers

No movement can be successful without a group of people willing to lead the charge, to organize events and inspire people to action. Thus, the ways in which reformers interact with the public and with each other can say a lot about the change the reformers created. This holds true for the Campaign for Improvements in Harrisburg between December 1900 and February 1902. This campaign sought to gain voter support for a “bond issue” that would use tax revenue to pay for improvements to the city. Over the course of several weeks, our Digital History class has researched various articles from the Patriot newspaper from this period. Using these articles, I compiled a list of names of reformers of the campaign. With the help of Dr. Pettegrew, I then located their residences on a map of Harrisburg over top of a map depicting the ways various precincts voted for or against the proposed improvements (see maps). After analyzing this data, it is clear there is a strong correlation between the residences of the reformers and the votes of the precincts.

I did not have a specific set of criteria for selecting the members on the compiled list. Those who lived in the residences depicted in the maps below may have been a member of the Board of Trade or the Civic club, both being leading organizations for the movement, or they may have been ordinary citizens. The only reason I chose them is that the Patriot newspaper described them as participating in events related to the movement. Nevertheless, almost all of the reformers lived in a precinct in which over 50% percent of the citizens voted in favor of the improvements (see map 1). This suggests that the reformers had influence within their own neighborhoods. Yet, there could simply be strength in numbers.

Map 1
Map 1

Many of the reformers lived close to one another and the precincts in which these clusters of reformers resided had the strongest support for the improvements (see map 3 below). This support is certainly logical given the coordination that would have been possible between the reformers that lived close together. It appears that the clusters in which the reformers lived functioned as a base from which they could spread their ideas. Many of the campaign events occurred near the residences of the reformers. For example, the Board of Trade, one of the leading organizations of the movement, held its meeting in a building located at 112-116 Market Street in ward 3 precinct 1 (3.1 on map). This precinct not only had one of the highest percentages of support, but it was also right next to a cluster of reformer residences. The same can be said for other buildings including Grace Church, which held a lecture regarding the campaign and was located on 216 State Street, one street north of Market Street.

However, the locations of the reformers and the areas that supported the improvements do not always match. There are many areas in which over 75% percent of voters favored the improvements but, based on the information collected, no reformers lived there (see map 2). This may be because some of these areas without reformer residences were the object of reform. For example, one area reformers hoped to improve was Reservoir Park. Although ward 8 precinct 3 where the park was located showed high levels of support, the current data shows that no reformers lived in that area. Since we cannot explain this support simply by the proximity to the reformers, we can conclude that information about the campaign must have spread by other means.

Map 2
Map 2

Word of mouth was not the main cause of this spread. If this was the case, one would expect that the areas in which the reformers lived would be more of an epicenter and support would spread and gradually decrease from those points. Although the list of reformers used for this analysis is definitely not exhaustive, the current data collected is more sporadic than that however (see map 1). It is more likely that information and consequently support for the campaign spread more so by other means such as newspapers.

In others words, the sporadic areas of support suggest that the locations of the reformers were not the only cause of support, but other means such as newspapers helped spread information evenly. Thus, the people voted favorably not only because they knew more about the campaign than others, but also because they believed the improvements would affect them or improve the overall quality of the city.

Map 3
Map 3

I can say many other things regarding the spatial location of the Campaign for Improvements’ reformers compared to the precincts that voted in favor of the movement. But, from just these few points it is clear that there is a strong correlation between the locations of the reformers and areas that voted for the improvement. Yet, just because a precinct did not house any reformer does not mean it did not show significant support for the improvements.

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