Ask Not What Your [City] Can Do For You…

For our first project, we were each asked to choose The Patriot newspaper articles, from among those we’d previously collected, and analyze what they tell us about Harrisburg’s “campaign for beauty.” As a class, our hope is that this brief study will provide us with a better understanding of the progress of this movement and how the campaign gained public approval. I decided to focus my analysis and Omeka selections on the power of public meetings, as reported by The Patriot, to shape widespread sentiment.

A Patriot article about one of the most largely attended public improvement meetings.

One of the trends I noticed across the articles were the re-occurring names of reformers, such as
Myra Lloyd Dock, J. Horace McFarland, and Spencer C. Gilbert. This exemplifies some of the most important people in swaying public opinion. These were the names which appeared in the newspapers beside the “City Beautiful,” “The Harrisburg Plan,” and “Improvement Campaign,” and that the citizens of Harrisburg associated with the movement for beauty. In addition to groups such as the Civic Club, The Academy of Medicine was a very important proponent of improvements proposed by the Municipal League. They recognized that civic reform was necessary for the city to move forward and become a safer and healthier home for its citizens. Some of the meetings mentioned in The Patriot were held at the Academy, specifically the Civic Club meetings. These and similar meetings were covered in detail in The Patriot, which allowed a larger number of citizens to remain informed about the campaign and the public reaction to its presentation.

Meetings were held to inform citizens and it seems as though most of them were a success. For example, a January 10th meeting of the Jewish association resulted in “the largest number of votes that [was] pledges in bulk to public improvements since the campaign” had begun. An article from January 17th states that a meeting held the previous day, during which J. Horace McFarland addressed the public, was the “most largely attended meeting held in the court house for several years.” This was, according to the article, the first public gathering to discuss improvements. I find it interesting that reformers targeted students, by holding an improvement meeting in a high school auditorium. The reformers were striving to appeal to the younger generations, which they likely believed would help to influence their family members and provide them with a stronger basis of support in years to come.

A map depicting some of the discussed meeting locations. The map is broken down by ward and precinct.

As many of the articles mention “large crowds,” the message of improvement was reaching many ears, but they were mostly localized. The locations of the public meetings mentioned in Patriot articles from January and February 1902 mainly clustered near the center of the city, which was also the center of the improvement campaign. ­This points to a correlation between campaign efforts and the outcome of the vote. Some of the locations I encountered include: the Academy of Medicine, the Jewish Association, a high school, Bethany Chapel, the court house, Union Square Auditorium, Sixth Ward Market Hall, Tenth Ward Tin Mill, Chestnut Street Hall, and the Eighth Ward Wesleyan African Methodist Episcopal church. Only two of these locations were located within wards which did not vote positively in favor of improvements: The Sixth Ward Market Hall and the Tenth Ward Tin Mill. These two locations, along with the high school, do not appear on the map (left), because the articles did not provide sufficient information to locate them.

The red dots mark meeting locations, while the shading depicts the percentage of votes in favor of improvement.

The Patriot mentions few public meetings being held in dissenting wards, such as the sixth, seventh, and tenth, during these two months. An article from January 16th asserts that opposition to improvement was based in misconceptions. Perhaps individuals in these wards believed the improvement campaign had nothing to offer them. As multiple articles cite the unlikelihood of significant tax increase, this was likely a fear among citizens. In these wards, reformers did not offer many well-publicized opportunities for citizens to learn more about the proposed improvements, ask questions, and present their own perspectives. A February 18th article focuses on the “Final Meeting Held for Improvements,” which I find very interesting, as it was held at a till mill in the tenth ward. This is one of the only articles I could find which mentioned a public meeting held outside of the city central. Despite the enthusiasm which, apparently, accompanied this meeting, the tenth ward voted glaringly against improvement.

It could be argued that, based on my limited findings, the wards which voted against improvement were the least informed on the issue and/or the least involved with the campaign.­ Since the span of public meetings regarding the campaign was so short, this likely limited the spread of influence. If the reformers had more time to pursue public engagement, they may have gained more support within the wards which voted negatively. However, it seems as though the reformers knew what they were doing, since they focused their efforts on the wards which would allow them to win the majority. Moving forward, I would be interested to know how widely distributed The Patriot was in each of the wards during the campaign and the effect this may have had upon overall voter approval.

-Kaitlyn Coleman, Junior History and English Major at Messiah College

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