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Picturing a World

Labor Day

If you write historical fiction set in Progressive-Era New York City, there is a good argument for setting it a little later than 1908. The Masses, for instance, began publication in January 1911; and the great suffragist parades were staged in New York City in 1912 and Washington, D.C. in 1913 (with Inez Milholland on horseback). In 1908, however, the ideas, unrest, and hope for a better future that blazed out in the coming years were already stirring. To help me imagine what they felt and looked like from 1900 through World War I, I’ve just discovered a wonderful resource, The Modernist Journals Project from Brown University and The University of Tulsa. It supplied this iconic cover—and has complete digitized issues of several important magazines of the period.

My interest in The Masses was prompted by the catalogue for a 1985–1986 exhibition, Art for The Masses: A Radical Magazine and Its Graphics, 1911–1917. The book is out of print; but if you can find a copy in a library or used book store, it has informative essays and the graphics are powerful.

And, of course, you can skim the pages of the magazine itself at The Modernist Journals Project. What will you find? Well, the MJP's description begins, "Perhaps the most vibrant and innovative magazine of its day, The Masses was founded in 1911 as an illustrated socialist monthly, and it was soon sponsoring a heady blend of radical politics and modernist aesthetics that earned it the popular sobriquet 'the most dangerous magazine in America.''' Its writers included Max Eastman, Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell, Sherwood Anderson, and John Reed. Artists included John Sloan, George Bellows, and Robert Henri.

At a time when workers are being trampled by corporate greed, take heart! Things were bad, and things were changed. Happy Labor Day!
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