Copyright © 1997 The American Studies Association. All rights reserved. This work may be used, with this header included, for noncommercial purposes within a subscribed institution. No copies of this work may be distributed electronically outside of the subscribed institution, in whole or in part, without express written permission from the JHU Press.
American Quarterly 49.1 (1997) 26-65

A World of Difference:
Constructing the "Underclass" in Progressive America

Mark Pittenger

He was going forth to eat as the wanderer may eat, and sleep as the homeless sleep.

--Stephen Crane, "An Experiment in Misery"


"Why not find out about the waitress?" the shopper mused as she browsed in the fashionable department stores and glanced through the gleaming restaurant windows of Chicago's Loop. On this Saturday morning in 1917, Frances Donovan--a sometime school teacher, office executive, and housewife who was clearly conversant with the ideas and methods of Chicago sociology--found herself fascinated by the crowds of women workers who jammed her elevated railway coach, descended around her at the Madison Street station, and fanned out to their various places of labor. Pondering the place of women in the modern urban work force while passing one after another of the Loop's four hundred restaurants, Donovan was struck by another thought: "Why not be a waitress?" And so, after vainly searching the libraries and soliciting the Bureau of Labor for evidence of previous research, a waitress she became. Although Donovan represented this project as originating spontaneously and rather idiosyncratically, the resultant book contributed to a considerable tide of popular and social-scientific [End Page 26] writing that rose in the Gilded Age, crested during the Progressive era, and remained much in evidence, if somewhat changed in form, during the 1920s. The producers of that literature shared Donovan's eagerness to explore what she called "a new world," one replete with "life new and strange": a world of difference. 1

To pursue the origins and implications of the belief that workers and the poor were somehow fundamentally different--a strange breed in classless America--I will discuss the experiences of Progressive-era journalists, writers, and social scientists like Frances Donovan who went "down and out," to use the term later coined by George Orwell. That is, they lived and worked in disguise among clerks and waitresses, factory laborers, itinerant workers, beggars, and tramps, in order to observe and to write about them. Jack London's People of the Abyss (1903) is the best-remembered chronicle of such experiences, but I will mainly address an array of lesser-known figures whose books and articles, both in popular magazines and in scholarly journals, contributed importantly to public and academic discussions of American working-class life and poverty. 2 These particular investigators mark the origin of a longer-term tradition of down-and-outers who have explored the underside of American life throughout the twentieth century. Such explorers' preconceptions and goals have varied with the historical moment, but their perspectives on the poor have consistently been shaped by shifting scientific and cultural emphases on matters such as heredity and environment, biology and culture, and free will and determinism. In the Progressive era, as today, that bottommost rank of society into which the working poor were always in peril of sinking--the social layer currently styled the "underclass"--was often represented primarily as the product of fixed behavioral and cultural traits, and only secondarily as the spawn of socioeconomic factors. Then, as today, journalistic descriptions emphasizing these apparently hereditary traits were often absorbed into academic analyses of poverty. 3

Two sets of concerns especially engage me. First, why did people undertake such expeditions and how did they record what they found? And second, how did these experiences affect their own personal, professional, and class identities? To address such questions is to explicate the construction of certain kinds of difference in a particular historical era, and also to cast light on efforts to conceptualize class, poverty, and the poor in a nation that wanted to reject "European" models of social stratification. 4 [End Page 27]

The first cluster of concerns suggests a series of interrelated questions. What motivated certain writers to breach the class line and to pass as workers, and when they did so, how did they construct images of the poor--both of the "respectable" working poor, and of the degraded "dangerous classes?" On what intellectual resources did they draw to conceptualize their experiences and to constitute for the poor a public image or identity--often as beings of a radically different order, as "others?" How did such essentialist representations comport with the new emphasis on environmental causation that was supposedly on the ascendant during the Progressive era? What was the role of gender in representations and analyses of the poor, given that many down-and-outers were women, usually investigating female workers' lot? 5 Further, what role did these writers play in advancing a larger intellectual phenomenon, a theoretical conflation of the categories of class, race, and culture which can be identified in popular and academic discourse both during and since the Progressive era? 6 I believe that this tradition of conflating categories coexisted with, and even infiltrated, the better-known counter-tradition originally associated with anthropologist Franz Boas and his students, which stressed cultural and historical over biological explanations of difference. Variants on the Boasian "culture" concept that emerged in social psychology and sociology could prove just as deterministic as biology had proven in older formulations about human development.

This is hardly surprising in view of the persistent legacy of Lamarckian biology, which linked environment with heredity through its emphasis on the inheritance of acquired traits; observers of the poor often explicitly rejected this legacy, but they seldom entirely eluded it. 7 In turn-of-the-century discussions of the "dangerous classes," then, we find the quasi-hereditarian origins of later theorizing on the "culture of poverty" and of today's discourse on "the underclass," a concept attacked by various critics for similarly conflating race, class, and culture. 8 Although the term "underclass" is commonly dated to Gunnar Myrdal's 1963 usage, its contemporary implications of radical otherness were mirrored in an 1899 assertion, attributed to the hereditarian criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, that "the great under-class of criminals" was mentally and morally scarred by "a bad heredity." 9 Such hereditarian thinking about class difference clearly persists in our own moment: biologist Richard Lewontin declares that "There is at present no aspect of social or individual life that is not claimed for the [End Page 28] genes"; and to eugenics scholar Nicole Hahn Rafter, an "ideology of natural hierarchy and heritability of social traits remains healthy today." 10

My second cluster of questions derives from the query, how did these intellectuals, caught between commitments to unstable and waning Victorian cultural values and the subversive attractions of modernity, define and redefine their own identities when they crossed social boundaries--which some perceived as racial or even species boundaries--to merge with the poor? Many clearly worried that this project might entail more than temporarily adopting a new persona--a modernist performative strategy typical of a "culture of personality" in which they had not necessarily been raised. 11 Indeed, going down-and-out might result in going native, becoming addicted to tramping, or disappearing forever into the teeming urban "underbrush." 12 When understandings of social difference were inflected by evolutionary and racial connotations, the border zone between class identities became a shadowy and liminal realm, disconcerting to those still imbued with an orderly, Victorian world-view that depended upon fixed categories and borders. Thus class identity could become one of the many sites at which increasingly tenuous Victorian cultural assumptions suffered the corrosive effects of ascendant modernist consciousness during the Progressive era. 13 What might become of the eager explorer cast adrift in that nether region where middle shaded into lower, whiteness into color, and human into subhuman? Middle-class "character," poorly adapted to dressing up in alternate personality traits to suit the moment's needs, might not bend--it might simply break.

What then were the consequences for class identity? In constituting the otherness of the lower classes through directly and "authentically" experiencing their lives, did these investigators establish more firmly their own middle-class, gendered, professional, distinctively "modern" identities? Most were old-stock Americans with reason to be uncertain of their social and professional locations in a rapidly-shifting social milieu: journalists with serious literary aspirations, sociologists who sought the cachet of science for their professionalizing discipline, and reformers seeking new modes of social reconciliation in a divided society. 14 In a peculiar dialectic of attraction and repulsion, they often saw the poor both as more vital and alive than themselves, and as a devolving, degenerating threat to civilized order. At a time when poverty was commonly associated with immigrants, and immigration [End Page 29] restriction was a sharply-debated public issue, the positive side of this dialectic could promote a tolerant, cosmopolitan stance, while the negative side could eventuate in nativist and racist exclusionism. In either case, to define another group's character was, in effect, to define one's own. Thus did social investigators seek to understand both self and other, to serve both public and private ends, when they descended into the abyss of American poverty.


From Richard Henry Dana's ordeal before the mast, to actor Edmund Forrest's claims of having passed as black to study African American psychology, to various women's adventures as male soldiers in the Civil War, Progressive-era down-and-out investigators had precedents aplenty for their project of dwelling as natives in unknown worlds. 15 Mark Twain had portrayed such adventures in downward mobility in order to shock aristocratic characters into realizing their submerged democratic tendencies: after trading places with the pauper, the young prince would become a more caring king; after traveling in peasant garb with the Connecticut Yankee and enduring the horrors of slavery, King Arthur would abolish the evil institution. But when Edward died young and Arthur's plans for reform foundered on the rock of "training"--deeply-ingrained, quasi-hereditary cultural values and assumptions--Twain's tales presaged the confusions among Progressive-era social investigators, who also grappled with environment and heredity, free will and determinism, elitist pessimism and democratic hopefulness. 16

British and Continental students of poverty provided Americans with more precise models for down-and-out social investigation. Peter Keating has identified a British tradition of such explorations, generally intended to stimulate reform through state action, that he dates from journalist James Greenwood's 1866 account of "A Night in a Workhouse." Charles Booth's monumental studies of London poverty (published 1887-1903) marked a shift within the British tradition from Greenwood's brand of individual journalistic impressionism to Booth's efforts, as a Comtean positivist and self-styled sociologist, to achieve a more detached and scientific standpoint. But here too, complexities arose. As Judith Walkowitz points out, once Booth went to live among the impoverished, both his personal identity and his scientific determination [End Page 30] to construct a taxonomy of the urban poor continually wavered and decomposed in the face of his multiplicitous experiences. 17 The example of Booth's scientific aspirations proved important to American investigators, even as they faced similar issues of identity and conceptualization. Americans also drew inspiration from Continental figures such as the Germans Dr. Minna Wettstein-Adelt and theology student Paul Göhre, both of whom studied Saxony workers in the 1890s. Even the King of Sweden was reported to have done a stint shoveling coal on the docks "to learn the needs of that class of his subjects." 18

American undercover investigations of the lower classes seem to have begun as a means to investigate crime and labor activism (often seen by the owning classes as roughly synonymous). As with Charles Booth, issues of personal identity and social utility were both salient. John Kasson found that Pinkerton detectives who entered the underworld in disguise sometimes grew so inured to duplicity and so alienated both from their own "true sel[ves]" and from the society they purported to protect that they led lives "more radically fragmented, isolated," and "theatrical" than did their quarry. Just such a fate would have threatened the Springfield, Massachusetts police detectives who marched for a month in the ranks of the New England tramp "army" during the 1877 national railroad strike. Chief Detective Stephenson reported that his fellow knights of the road stood "ready for pillage and destruction," and were ripe candidates for incarceration in the workhouses for tramps that were then in vogue among reformers. But like the general revolution feared by that era's middle class, Stephenson's anticipated tramp uprising failed to materialize. 19

Accounts of cross-class passing began to appear with increasing frequency in the 1890s, and must be understood in light of two phenomena then emergent from the longer-term processes of nineteenth-century industrialization: an expanding discourse on class relations and poverty, and mounting anxieties about the stability of class identity. Cities served as foci for both developments as cities increasingly became the locuses of concentrated wealth and poverty. A few notable down-and-outers would also tramp through rural and small-town America, but nearly all eventually explored "the hidden city of the poor"--the gloomier side of what seemed a harshly-dichotomized urban realm. 20 Just as Londoners had been taught for decades by the reform and sensational presses to see their city as sharply divided [End Page 31] between savage, poverty-stricken East London and civilized, prosperous West London, so also did Americans come to understand their cities in radically binary terms. 21 By midcentury, a lurid genre of urban exposé had evolved. Newspapers, magazines, and guidebooks conducted illustrated "gaslight" tours through the "lights and shadows" of metropolitan poverty, penetrating to realms rife with immanent dangers and forbidden pleasures. More serious Gilded-Age readers could also peruse Charles Loring Brace's analysis of The Dangerous Classes of New York (1872), and, by the 1890s, the sympathetic but still touristic explorations of Jacob Riis and others into the lives and lairs of the "other half," now lavishly illustrated with photographs. 22

Producers of this variegated literature offered consumers a peculiar mix of stern Victorian moralism and furtive enticement. Readers' responses might range from sympathy, to quasi-pornographic stimulation, to fear of falling from their own positions of privilege. By the 1890s, such positions were increasingly perceived by middle-class Americans as precarious. The very meaning of "middle-class" was rendered uncertain by chaotic industrial changes that incessantly eroded existing social boundaries. 23 Recurrent assertions that the "embers of social hatred" had for years been "smoldering in the vagrant class" (as one student of tramps put it) fed those middle-class insecurities, even as they fed the same constituency's curiosity about the unknown world of the poor. Armchair explorers found that world graphically represented, in a burgeoning variety of formats, for their private consumption. 24

By the late Gilded Age, reformers and social scientists were conducting interviews, mapping neighborhoods, and gathering statistics about poverty and the poor. 25 But these individuals generally did not represent themselves as members of the class they were investigating; nor did those whose sojourns among the poor were undertaken for therapeutic purposes but included no element of deception, or were simply unintended and involuntary. 26 Progressive-era down-and-outers' most exact predecessors were the sensational "stunt girl" newspaper journalists such as Nellie Bly and her many imitators, who escaped the confines of the women's page by writing about their brief experiences as flower vendors, beggars, and ballerinas. Nellie Bly spent "Ten Days in a Madhouse" (1887) for Joseph Pulitzer's World and spawned the fad, which subsided in the early 1890s when such assignments came to be seen as overdone and trivial, and also as demeaning exercises [End Page 32] imposed by male editors who resisted female reporters' efforts to broaden their domain. 27 The stunt girls' moment was fleeting, but they may have provoked another ambitious and hungry young reporter to try his hand at passing for poor.

It was Stephen Crane's urban sketches of the mid-1890s that marked the beginning of purposeful efforts to transcend the academic, touristic, and sensationalist investigative modes. Crane's flophouse nights provided the raw materials for "An Experiment in Misery" (1894), in which the author eschewed the stance of pitying omniscient observer and crossed the gulf of class to "discover" the Bowery bum's "point of view." As Alan Trachtenberg has pointed out, what distinguished Crane from writers such as William Dean Howells, who had written about the poor with concern but also with distance and a certain condescension, was Crane's determination to achieve an "exchange of subjectivities" with the impoverished other. Unlike most social investigators, Crane wrote not to spur reform or to serve up slices of raw truth, but to render the city aesthetically from the viewpoint of its most marginal inhabitants--and to make the reader (initially, the daily newspaper reader) a temporary denizen of the underworld, fully estranged from his or her typical perspective: "an experimenter in mystified space." 28 Subsequent progressive social investigators would typically subordinate Crane's aesthetic agenda to the primary task of properly presenting data, whether to promote reform or to expand sociological knowledge.

Crane's 1894 experiment would serve as a bridge to contemporary and later undercover social investigators, and not only because Crane operated in the journalistic milieu established by Nellie Bly and her acolytes. According to Crane biographer Christopher Benfey, Crane also may have been inspired by the proletarian wanderings of political economist Walter Wyckoff, whose then-unpublished two-volume chronicle of his adventures as an itinerant worker would soon become a milestone of down-and-out writing. 29 However, the connection between the two men is at best hazy. Although the series of Scribner's articles that became Wyckoff's book did not begin appearing until 1897, he had embarked in 1891 on the nineteen-month cross-country odyssey which served as their basis. Wyckoff began working on the articles sometime after he commenced a graduate fellowship at Princeton in 1894--the same year that Crane published his "Experiment in Misery." 30 The two men were connected through Crane's roommate and illustrator, Corwin Knapp Linson, who would eventually illustrate one [End Page 33] of Wyckoff's articles. It was to Linson's studio that Crane and the artist William W. Carroll repaired for rest and sustenance after four days and three nights of Bowery adventuring. 31 Crane may have known about Wyckoff's wanderings when he descended into the Bowery. It is even conceivable that Crane's story inspired Wyckoff to publish the record of his earlier experiences--or, more plausibly, to echo Crane's title in his own subtitle, An Experiment in Reality. Regardless of any actual connection between the two, Crane and Wyckoff shared the desire of an emergent generation of writers to experiment with their own lives, and to draw readers into that endeavor. From the mid-1890s through the Progressive era, many with similar ambitions would follow them down dusty highways and along teeming urban sidewalks into the precincts of American poverty.

A "Little Body of Adventurers"

Beginning with the likes of Crane and Wyckoff, then, who were these progressive-minded social investigators, and with what motivations and preconceptions did they approach the down-and-out experience? Faith in the following generalizations must be tempered by the fact that information on many of these individuals is scarce or unavailable; still, I believe that a combination of solid information on several persons, fragmentary evidence gleaned from others' writings, and familiarity with the broader progressive reform milieu, do warrant certain claims. In background, down-and-outers resembled the social welfare activists recently studied by Linda Gordon. That is, they were predominantly of native-born, white, northern European, Protestant stock. Most hailed from prosperous families and were well educated. Several counted ministers among their forebears, and most of that group also pursued theological studies before veering off into social reform, social science, or both. While some adopted the stance of the modern, secular, scientific investigator, many combined commitments to science and religion or religiously-derived moralism. In bending inherited religious and moral commitments to the cause of social betterment, many corresponded roughly to Robert Crunden's description of progressives as "ministers of reform." 32

A range--usually a mixture--of motives impelled these individuals into the underground. As incipient or established professionals, down-and-outers [End Page 34] sought the authority of "authentic" experience (more below on the issue of authenticity) to break the bonds of insular middle-class life and justify their social generalizations. Hard-headed empiricists who invoked the "laboratory method" believed themselves embarked on a scientific expedition that would come to rest on the rock of verifiable truth. 33 Some investigators also hoped to transcend the divide between intellectuals and workers--an enterprise that one argued would not likely be undertaken by university-based social scientists, who were too often "worked to death under the present university system" and therefore lacked "practical contact" with working people. 34 Some searched for an antidote to Jane Addams's plaint about the dearth of outlets for educated women's energies. 35 Others intended to learn about the lowest ranks of a corporate hierarchy in which they already occupied a privileged position, or to participate in a popular, widely-discussed literary genre. 36 Reflecting a rising interest in psychology among American intellectuals, many wanted not simply to document lower-class conditions of life, but to grasp the worker's supposed psychological makeup: to learn, as one entitled his book, "what's on the worker's mind." 37

Among the personal, political, and moral motivations that often blended with professional concerns, many down-and-outers showed an idealistic willingness to shoulder the same burdens as the poor, and even to take serious physical risks in order to gather knowledge that would advance the causes of social justice and societal reconstruction. 38 Others clearly feared the rebellious potential of the disinherited and hoped that it might be defused through greater knowledge and interclass understanding. 39 More prosaically, some simply sought work. 40 And for some there was the sheer pleasure of the experience, as expressed by Cornelia Stratton Parker when she resurrected the working-class identity that she had inhabited for an earlier book: with familial and other obligations temporarily disposed of, "I knew exactly what and who I wanted to be. I had been waiting seven years for the chance." 41

But in the end, as diverse and mixed as their motives often were, nearly all down-and-outers resonated at some level with the words declaimed by Shakespeare's Lear:

. . . Take physick, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, [End Page 35]
That thou may'st shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

The spirit embodied in those lines--quoted by a reviewer of Jack London's People of the Abyss, and later used by James Agee to introduce the text of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941)--in some measure animated all of these individuals to renounce, however momentarily, the comfortable and the familiar, and to join the sweated and the powerless. 42

To thus alter one's identity could serve both public and private functions. Besides understanding and transforming society, some down-and-outers also sought to transform themselves. Many Progressive-era intellectuals who feared the degenerative effects of encroaching overcivilization became acolytes of the cult of strenuous, authentic experience that was embraced by figures as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and William James. 43 That a raw, unmediated vitality was both the gift and the curse of those excluded from respectable, middle-class life became a truism often articulated by the students of poverty who established the broader intellectual context for down-and-out investigations. Thus Charles Loring Brace observed that poor boys lived in thrall to a universal, atavistic desire to "gratify 'the savage in one's blood,' and lead a wild life in the woods." Brace took this inclination to be the norm among his imagined audience, save that most middle-class readers could be assumed to benefit from a civilizing super-ego which checked the "Indian-like propensity" that so dominated the lives of his street urchins. 44

This muted but persistent longing to plunge into a simple, savage existence also figured in the ideas of thinkers such as William James, who was particularly attuned to the potentials and pitfalls of modernity, and for whom "experience" became a central philosophical category and a talismanic term. In James's view, it was the intellectual "barbarians" (Whitman, Browning, himself) who stood "in the line of mental growth"; 45 as Frank Lentricchia has written, James sought "to open philosophy to the barbarities of immediate experience." 46 Thus private needs pointed the way back to public concerns. Contemporaries of James and of John Dewey who studied the lives of the poor used personal experience as the epistemological bedrock for their truth claims about the tangled social realities that they struggled to comprehend and express. In this regard, their method comported with the empiricist bent of the modernizing social sciences, and they were true [End Page 36] believers in the progressive epistemological faith that from experience and data would spring Truth. But down-and-outers would not always live up to James's insistence that we regard all people unlike ourselves as fully human (as James himself did not consistently do), nor would they always honor his caution that no one could finally speak authoritatively about the experience of another. 47 In the quest for truth, the perceived power of experience often overrode such caveats.

According to many who did it, the best way to gather foundational experiences was to explore America "From the Bottom Up," as Alexander Irvine entitled his 1910 autobiography. In an era when Chicago sociology students, muckraking journalists, followers of the painter Robert Henri, and reform politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt all pursued American "reality" in strenuous excursions through the lower social depths, down-and-outers achieved a special status. Nation critic Stuart Pratt Sherman dubbed them that "little body of adventurers who have been in forbidden lands and have brought back something strange at the cost of their lives." 48 But for what they gained, most down-and-outers seemed not to consider the cost excessive. Like Roosevelt among the cowboys, Paul Anderson became an apprentice tramp both to heal a frail physique and to seek adventure. Cecil Fairfield Lavell urged "students of social conditions" to undertake a down-and-out experience not just to "learn the truth" about labor and poverty, but also to feel "a curious mental and physical exhilaration, a purgation of the soul. . . ." College students ought to enter the proletarian ranks, according to one young woman who did, to achieve "a new adjustment of values" and to pierce through the rampant "shams" of collegiate life to a core of genuine experience. 49

The results could be edifying. For Walter Wyckoff, reducing life to an elemental struggle for survival brought one "to marvelous intimacy with vital processes." At the uttermost reaches of physical exhaustion, renewal awaited: "It is as though you were a little child once more, and your moods obedient to little things." Alvan Sanborn found that Boston's abyss was not such a bad place, that having survived there would enable him to approach his other life with greater daring and élan. Annie Marion MacLean found herself uplifted by the rough democratic camaraderie that prevailed among her fellow Oregon hop pickers--especially among the women. And to Frederick C. Mills, if posing as a member of the California Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was "playing with fire all the time," it was nonetheless "a great [End Page 37] game to have a hand in." 50 Historian George Cotkin has linked the curse of tedium vitae that afflicted late-Victorian intellectuals to the motives that impelled down-and-outers into voyeuristic and parasitical efforts to renew themselves at the well of working-class vitality--efforts that Cotkin characterizes as "passive" and "pathetic but understandable." 51 While there is certainly truth in this sketch, I have argued above that these investigators' motives were far more complex. Further, theirs was both an active endeavor (one might even say strenuously so) and a constructive one, in the sense that they "constructed" their subjects, for better or for worse, rather than passively parasitizing them.

Yet Cotkin is right to suggest that there were questions of identity in play. For men, an explicitly rugged, masterful style of masculine identity was sometimes at issue. Wyckoff, described as a person of "limited physical strength and unusually sensitive tastes," announced himself initially "unman[ned]" by poverty. The two thick volumes that followed may be read in part as the forceful, physical rebuilding of that emasculated male self--a self already made precarious by the softening conditions of his privileged academic life, and then further reduced to the ignoble states of ("unmanned") woman and "little child." 52 Wyckoff derived certain psychic benefits by immersing himself in a man's world from which he still preserved a psychic separateness. Perhaps not incidentally, Wyckoff's growing self-confidence over the course of his two tomes coincided with a renewed faith in America's possibilities as he moved westward across the continent, finally assimilating his own hardening body to a "body politic" maturing both in "industrial achievement" and in "personal character." 53

Women down-and-outers were less liable to describe or justify their experiences in the language of a discourse of authenticity, which typically posited a male subject struggling to reconstitute his subjectivity as autonomous, rugged American actor. While some female investigators did allude to issues of authenticity and personal identity, usually entwining those themes with expressions of desire to be of use or to improve the lot of their working-class sisters, others adopted the more neutral idiom of a professionalizing social science that sought only to cast light on a hitherto little-studied realm. 54 Thus Frances Donovan, a woman and an amateur, asserted her right to enter the domain of academic sociology by offering only "a truthful, sober, and exact statement" about the conditions of waitressing, with "no other purpose than that of making a certain situation intelligible." Ironically, this was [End Page 38] to claim an objectivist rhetoric, identifiably both "scientific" and "masculine," that itself signified a growing movement to displace women from the academic social sciences by distinguishing between sociology and social work, between (male) knowers and (female) do-gooders. 55 Issues of personal, gender, and professional identity were thus inextricably intertwined.

For both female and male investigators, the quest for experience to underwrite truth claims necessarily introduced tensions into what is usually seen as the progressives' characteristic optimism and environmentalism. They worked, as Miles Orvell writes of Stephen Crane, "at the epistemological intersection of experience and preconception." 56 At that conflicted crossroads, attraction to workers' perceived vitality and concern for their condition were frequently cross-cut by disgust and repulsion stemming from actual contact. Thus it was often those counting themselves as friends of the poor who provided the raw materials for the idea that these were a separate people, sometimes effectively a separate race or species. The very poor seemed mentally, physically, and morally different from middle-class Americans, and were becoming more so all the time under the impact of a self-reinforcing combination of environment and heredity.

To explain and justify such perceptions, many down-and-out writers deployed a Lamarckian view of human evolution, arguing (or simply assuming) that traits willfully or necessarily acquired for survival in a horrific environment would be inherited by later generations. Although Lamarckism was until recently believed to have been vanquished in scientific circles by the early twentieth century, there is considerable evidence for its persistence both within and outside of formal scientific thought, especially because its apparent emphases on will (what Lamarck called the "sentiment intérieur") and adaptation fulfilled philosophical needs for those who were disturbed by the apparent determinism inherent to the emergent field of genetics. 57 Not surprisingly, reform-oriented social investigators who hoped to preserve a role for human will in confronting oppressive conditions were especially prone to this sort of thinking. While Lamarckism underwrote much reform thought--it was assumed that acquired traits would normally be progressive ones--and is usually remembered in that optimistic light, it could also explain downward-spiraling degeneration among those trapped in a degrading environment. It is no coincidence that the notion of a "cycle" or "vicious circle" of poverty emerged in this period, when [End Page 39] an embattled Lamarckism was retaining its influence by receding into vaguer, more attenuated forms. As reform journalist Helen Campbell observed in 1891, the "human beasts" of the tenements had become so through "reflex action": the "tenement pulls them down, but they also pull down the tenement." 58 Such a perspective held grim implications--both for the subjects under investigation, and for the investigators themselves.

Going Down

Down-and-out writers typically prefaced the accounts of their adventures in the netherworld of poverty with an assertion that only by joining the lower class could they fully understand its point of view. They justified--sometimes at considerable length--their deceptive means as necessary to attain the higher good of truth-telling, and few seemed to doubt that they could become conduits for the unmediated truth, for the "true picture" of conditions, in the words of sociologist and department-store worker Annie Marion MacLean. 59 That they could comprehend "all that life meant to" the homeless worker seemed a reasonable project to retired businessman and journalist Edwin Brown; that they would then serve as a "mouthpiece" for the workers' viewpoint was also a goal that many down-and-out writers shared with self-described gentlewomen Bessie and Marie Van Vorst. It was of course a frightening prospect to undertake such an endeavor, which entailed the willful erasure of one's identity (or at least of its outward manifestations) and the abandonment, if only temporarily, of one's "frictionless" privileged existence, as Walter Wyckoff put it. However, it also promised to liberate the overcivilized college graduate from the chains of mere book-learning, to allow him or her access to the "vital knowledge" of life beyond the library walls. Wyckoff concluded that he must supplement his "slender, book-learned lore" on the labor question, and therefore launched his "Experiment in Reality." 60

Down-and-outers typically underwent certain rituals of divestment and disguise as they prepared to enter the social abyss, and describing these became a convention of the genre. Clothing was the most obvious emblem of class, and most accounts offered some description of the clothes removed and those put on, sometimes to the extent of including prices: from sealskin coat ($200) to gray serge ($3); from black cloth dress ($150) to flannel shirt-waist ($1.95); total value of clothing [End Page 40] removed, $447; of clothing put on, $9.45 (all prices ca. 1901). Such sartorial cost-accounting struck one reviewer--not unjustly--as emblematic of "a certain naïve snobbery" on the part of author Marie Van Vorst. 61 Yet this was only one element of a highly self-aware process by which down-and-outers tried to analyze the signs and symbols of class and to divest themselves of the stigmata of respectability. They attempted to suppress their well-bred weakness for proper grammar and fortified themselves with book-learned slang (though none admitted to competence with language any saltier than a "mild but passable profanity"). 62 They professed sensitivity to class differences in bearing, and even in body type. Lacking the short, stocky build and thick ankles of "the average peasant type," as Rheta Childe Dorr put it, they compensated variously by practicing "a hang-dog position of the head," cultivating a manner "timidly reserved, unobtrusive and monosyllabic," and developing "a sort of swinging drawl of a gait." 63 They gave themselves names like "Louise Clark" and "Connie Park" which they thought rang with "proletarian simplicity." 64 And they tried to adopt working-class habits, as when Cornelia Stratton Parker stepped into the New York City street, approached a newstand, and brazenly "demanded a package of--chewing gum. And then and there got out a stick and chewed it, and chewed it on the Subway and chewed it on the streets of New York." Having been raised by intensely pious, small-town schoolteachers, Parker found public gum-chewing sufficiently outré to make her "feel [herself] someone else." 65

Down-and-outers' texts sometimes displayed before-and-after photographs of the author, evoking the anthropologist snapped while squatting by "his" tribe's campfire, who thereby established his authority to speak about their culture. 66 Such contrasting images could make questions of authorial identity and stance seem rather simple. Marie Van Vorst reported that upon changing her clothes, "my former personality slipped from me as absolutely as did the garments I had discarded. I was Bell Ballard." On her account, she became the comfortable companion of people from whose physical presence she would normally have shrunk. But others reported a metamorphosis less smooth and comfortable. Jack London was at first seized by a paralyzing fear of the crowd when he descended into London's East End. The degenerating masses appeared to him a literal force of nature, a "vast and malodorous sea" which threatened to engulf and strangle him. Like the protagonist of London's Martin Eden (1906), who [End Page 41] drowns himself, London slipped down voluntarily into the "sea" of the lumpenproletariat. But unlike Martin, an alienated individualist cut off from his working-class origins, London survived his symbolic de-evolutionary descent into the primordial slums and eventually embraced a socialist analysis that condemned capitalism for causing the cruel differentiation of London society into two distinct "races." 67

As London discovered, the process of descent into proletarian life could prove disjunctive and frightening. Walter Wyckoff reported a mixture of fear and excitement on beginning his tramp, but for others the dominant initial sensation was fright. Alvan Sanborn evinced this by initially affecting an ironic, detached tone which distanced him from his newly-adopted identity, as when he announced the "genuine artistic pride" he took in his carefully-assembled bum's outfit. 68 Rather than an emblem of the lower class, his clothes became a work of art and an artifact of his cultivated and playful sensibility, to be deployed as a kind of alien armor against the very world into which he would wear them. Postponing the impending descent, a sardonic Sanborn called himself "underbred" for mixing in the social world of the poor. He paced endlessly in front of a cheap lodging-house before frigid conditions overrode fear and forced him to enter. 69 After his apprehension abated and he came to feel himself part of the lodging-house world, his tone modulated from irony and self-mocking to empathy, and even to respect.

Fear was of course a natural response to entering strange and sometimes dangerous environments. Charles Rumford Walker forced himself to appear calm but "walked with excessive firmness" in the "violent environment" of the steel mill. A terrified Frances Donovan, trying to dress for her first waitressing job in a dank basement locker room, felt as though she were emerging from anesthesia; to the "dizzy" and "stunned" novice, the musty room held "an air of evil and of horror indescribable" (this from one of the less fastidious of down-and-out investigators). And fear was often spiced with humiliation: Lillian Pettengill, an applicant for domestic work, reported being inspected by a potential employer "as if I were a prize cow up for sale," and eliciting the enthusiastic judgement that "'You are a nice looking girl; yes, a very nice looking girl.'" Indignantly reporting a similar encounter, sociologist Frances Kellor insisted that "any American girl of poor but good family" with the requisite training and sensibility to be a maid would be equally ashamed and outraged. No doubt Kellor was right, but a distinct [End Page 42] whiff of class resentment emanated from Pettengill's pages, which pointedly informed the reader of the author's status as "college woman." 70

Most down-and-outers were so deeply stamped by feelings of class difference that several were actually chagrined by their own success at passing as workers. Wyckoff reported ruefully that he had been taken for a drunkard and for a detective, but never for a gentleman down on his luck; sometimes, he reflected, his disguise worked too well. Frances Donovan was delighted to be mistaken for a customer upon arriving at a new job, having been distressed by the ease with which merely donning an apron had prompted others to see her as a waitress. From a different angle of approach, Jack London's fears reflected the fact that he was plunging into a class milieu from which he himself had emerged, and against which he had constructed a new identity as self-educated, successful writer; he dreaded the possibility of sinking back into the abyss of his own origins. 71 Thus ambivalence wracked many down-and-outers as they purposefully declassed themselves.

For all investigators, there was the possibility of coming to understand working-class life and psychology, but also the more disturbing potential of being drawn fully into it--of "going native" among a population often thought of as primitive or as devolving toward savagery. Walter Wyckoff developed such empathy for his fellow construction workers that he began to write of them as "we": "We are unskilled laborers. We are grown men, and are without a trade. . . . You tell us" that "our" interests are identical with those of the boss, who assumes that "we" are lazy thieves who will cheat him if possible; "You" tell us, in the end, "that degradation as men is the measure of our bondage as workmen." Restaurant worker Amy Tanner adopted not only the viewpoint but the habits of her subjects, finding that thirteen-hour days and seven-day weeks dulled both the body and the mind and made of her a "typical shiftless servant." She stole food and hairpins when the occasion presented, ceased to bathe regularly, lost most of her other inhibitions, and found that her "ethical tone" had deteriorated. As her mind became increasingly fixed on the immediate moment and incapable of focusing on the past or future (a trait typically attributed to the poor, and later a prominent feature of the "culture of poverty" literature), all thoughts of friends, family, and books receded and "lost their tang." Befuddlement closed in, and she "became a creature ruled chiefly by sensations." 72 [End Page 43]

Wyckoff and Tanner escaped all this, thanks perhaps to the protective armoring of postgraduate educations, and returned to civilization to publish their stories and to teach at universities. But there was always the danger that whatever virus infected those at the bottom of the pit could be catching and permanently debilitating. Frederick C. Mills, who passed as a hobo in 1914 while investigating rural labor conditions for the California Commission of Immigration and Housing, noted cheerfully in his diary that he had just lunched sumptuously on six stolen oranges: "The virus of the life must be getting into my veins, as I felt absolutely no compunctions [sic]." Young men who stayed on the road long enough, Mills noted, inevitably succumbed permanently to its lure--an assertion made by several other hobo and tramp autobiographers, all of whom believed that tramping was literally addictive. This idea stemmed from the German quasi-scientific concept of compulsive "Wanderlust," a notion widely discussed by scholars and popularized by premiere tramp autobiographer Josiah Flynt, who believed he had inherited the affliction from his mother. Unable to conquer the call of the road, he finally turned it to the legitimate end of undercover investigation. 73 Urban mendicancy was equally dangerous, noted magazine writer Theodore Waters, who spent "Six Weeks in Beggardom" in 1904-1905. Although primly incapable of begging at first, Waters eventually became adept at the practice and found himself making a good living at it, admitting finally that he did indeed feel the lure of the begging addiction. Waters was among the journalists who repeated the twice-told tale of a prosperous fruit-stand owner who one day inadvertently left home without carfare, successfully solicited it from a passerby, and ended by selling his shop to take up full-time begging. 74

Even as the down-and-outers came to identify with their fellow denizens of the social pit, they found ways to innoculate themselves against the danger of infection, and to remind themselves, after the clothes-changing ritual, of who they "really" were. This was no small matter to Wyckoff, who found that wealthy friends encountered by accident seemed to look right through him "as through something transparent, [at] the familiar objects on the roadside." Such disconcerting invisibility gave him "an uncomfortable feeling of unacquaintance with myself"--a feeling shared by Bessie Van Vorst, who worried that she had disguised herself so successfully as to deceive "not only others but myself"; the erstwhile "gentlewoman" now felt herself "with [End Page 44] desperate reality a factory girl, alone, inexperienced, friendless." The anonymous author who spent "four years in the underbrush" claimed that she never intended to stay submerged for so long. 75 How was one to avoid becoming what one appeared to be?

Whatever their professions to having become someone else, down-and-outers necessarily lived with a tensely divided consciousness and drew upon the resources of their middle-class origins to resist the threat of going native. For some, salvation lay in the fact that a genteel education had struck deep roots. A defiant Mills wrote in his diary that no matter how taxing the work, "Lay on Macduff, and damned be he that first cries 'hold, enough.'" For Mills, silently quoting Shakespeare and other writers, thinking about poetry--shielding himself behind a wall of Arnoldian high culture--became a way to preserve his identity against erosion in the "hive" of toilers. Similarly, a beleagured Wyckoff occasionally fell when tempted by a public library, where he indulged in day-long orgies of reading when he should have been seeking work. On being ejected by the janitor, he would emerge blinking in the twilight to find that he was still "a proletaire out of a job," and would then hurry to his boardinghouse to lose himself, as so many of his destitute brethren did, in sleep--they having over-indulged in cheap liquor, and he in free books. 76

Other useful preventatives against a permanent slide into the pit included work itself: the "real" work of writing that the investigators carried on surreptitiously. Thus Mills incessantly sought out secluded spots to take notes, while Rheta Childe Dorr and Frances Donovan wrote up their days' experiences in the evening before collapsing with exhaustion. But perhaps their most powerful method for holding themselves apart from the world they investigated was to attack its inhabitants. One down-and-out slumdweller raised the demand for immigration restriction, declaring the influx of "foreign riffraff," and especially of Irish "scum," a national emergency. And most called for harsh penalties against tramps and beggars, arguing that such parasites found it entirely too easy to ply their trade and constituted a serious threat to the American social and moral order. 77 Overall, these investigators retained and reinforced the idea that the poor were indeed different from themselves.

This is not to say that down-and-outers remained unchanged by their experiences. Certainly they gained new insights about class. Just as Twain's King Arthur was nearly ridden down by a heedless knight, Jack [End Page 45] London learned that street traffic was now a threat: "my life had cheapened in direct ratio with my clothes." 78 Tales of harsh treatment by representatives of the established order or of kindly support by other workers accompanied professions of new sympathy for labor organizations, in an era when unions remained anathema to many middle-class Americans. 79 There was an element of the conversion narrative about these accounts; it became something of a discursive convention to announce oneself a former disciple of classical economics or a onetime believer in the inherent unfitness of working people who had now converted to pro-reform views. 80 But while down-and-outers routinely acknowledged that they could not truly "become" workers and fully enter the consciousness of those they studied, the identity they established through encountering the working-class other was more than a cardboard construction. 81 They protected their "real" identity and sometimes referred to their working-class incarnations in the third person rather than the first, but they inhabited that identity to the point that, as Alvan Sanborn expressed it, "Living does away with the necessity of playing at living." 82 When Walter Wyckoff resisted the temptation to return prematurely to the comforts of civilization and resolved instead to "try it a little longer," he wrote of his worker-self as a near suicide who had drawn back from the brink of self-destruction. Like Cornelia Stratton Parker, who periodically returned to her "Connie Park" identity, some seemed never quite to come all the way back. Although Lillian Pettengill had ceased to "live out" after a year as a servant, she still felt herself to be, in some sense, a "living-out girl." 83

In the end, of course, to define and shore up their own identities was a task only secondary to the one of constituting an image of the very poor. To this end, writers worked in shoe factories, department stores, textile mills, warehouses, logging camps, on farms, and at construction sites. They stood on breadlines, begged for handouts, stole rides on freight trains, and tramped. They slept in cheap lodginghouses, police stations, doorways, parks, unlighted brick ovens, haystacks, and hobo jungles. They took notes, they remembered, and they wrote.

Writing Class: "To Set the Stamp of Difference On It All"

In this endeavor, down-and-outers had power--the power to define difference, and to specify who and what others were. In exercising that power, they reaffirmed their own positions as representatives of a [End Page 46] higher civilization and a superior culture. In the pages they wrote, laundry workers, road-builders, waitresses, and the drifting, homeless unemployed became the objects of their discerning, discriminating, middle-class gaze. They might, like Charles Rumford Walker in the steel mills, represent themselves as the anthropologist by the campfire: "They are natives, while I am more nearly a foreigner" who brought a fresh perspective to their world, and whose power ultimately derived from his ability to leave that world. Their authorial stance toward their subjects might vary drastically with circumstances: to a desperate, homeless, and hungry Wyckoff, Chicago's skyscrapers were "prison walls" behind which teemed "hiving industry, as if to mock you in your bitter plight"; but once steadily employed as a road-builder, he commented loftily on the jobless riffraff as cowardly, weak-willed "victims of the gregarious instinct" who embraced squalor and failure due to an "incapacity for the struggle for existence." 84 If down-and-outers blurred the border between "us" and "them" through the rituals of disguise and descent, they largely re-established it when reconstituting their experiences as texts. They wrote, as Cornelia Stratton Parker put it, "to set the stamp of difference on it all." 85

The people they depicted for the popular and muckraking magazines and for academic audiences were often marked by the stigmata of difference. The very placement of Bessie and Marie Van Vorst's articles in Harper's and Everybody's Magazine gave notice of exotic and bizarre subjects. Everybody's featured sensational muckraking tales of urban political malfeasance, of shocking conditions in mining towns, and of the equally shocking lives of "The Unemployed Rich." 86 Harper's offered a range of exotica leading up to Bessie Van Vorst's article on women factory workers: a short story featured an insane narrator who apparently willed her imaginary lover into existence; "A Strange People of the North" displayed photographs of a Siberian tribe hitherto unvisited by whites; a travel story set in mysterious Constantinople offered the photograph of a turbaned, bearded and berobed man over the caption, "The man by your side may be a spy." Van Vorst's own spy story followed, beginning with the revelation that "Psychologically, [female factory workers] are practically and morally unknown" to those outside their sphere. The next article moved to another sphere entirely, as it recounted the arcana of "Photographing the Nebulae with Reflecting Telescopes." 87 Could there have been a more appropriate setting for the Van Vorsts' explorations into the [End Page 47] mysterious world of "this unknown class" than these magazines, with their panoply of other peoples, other worlds, and certified experts to guide the wide-eyed reader?

In an era of deepening urban segregation by class, ethnicity, and race, the sense that readers were being introduced to strange beings and alien worlds was enhanced by the common conceit that the American poor inhabited a domestic "Dark Continent" whose denizens were effectively a primitive and "unknown race," as social gospel leader Walter Rauschenbusch called them. Perhaps such creatures were not even entirely human: Owen Kildare found them impossible to place firmly, relative to apes and cannibals, on the evolutionary scale. 88 These preconceptions were significant for both readers and writers of down-and-out narratives. The tropes of primitivism, argues Marianna Torgovnick, have often mediated concerns about the fragility of identity; for down-and-outers to represent the poor as an uncultured, primitive, devolving race was in part to insist upon their own antithetical qualities. So to Bessie Van Vorst, who had worried about deceiving even herself with her disguise, knitting-mill workers exhibited a distinctively "primitive love of ornament"; and Frances Donovan reflected the tendency to ascribe vitality as well as degradation to primitives when she observed that waitresses shared the "vulgarity and robustness of primitive life everywhere." 89

The strange world of the primitive poor could seem both remote and unnervingly near. This was a world, Jack London noted, that the estimable Cook's Tours did not even know how to find. Hence down-and-out investigators undertook to read and interpret that realm. They would decipher its signs and its languages, categorizing types of beggars and producing lexicons of tramp lingo for their readers. 90 To evoke such separate, self-contained, and fundamentally racialized worlds was doubly powerful given that they actually lay, as London wrote, "barely a stone's throw distant" from familiar landmarks. James Clifford notes that in the hybridized cultural context of the late twentieth century, "The exotic is uncannily close" and self-other relations are perpetually in flux. 91 If the geographical and psychical gaps were somewhat wider in Progressive America, down-and-outers intended to close them long enough to shake their own and their readers' complacency. "Oh, you don't know anything about this life. . . and I can't tell you," protested a servant acquaintance of Lillian [End Page 48] Pettengill's; so Pettengill and her peers crossed into that other country to find out for themselves. 92

The images they produced of that country's inhabitants tended to reinforce an overwhelming sense of otherness. Unskilled laborers, tramps, and street people looked, talked, thought, felt, and (it was more than once remarked) smelled differently than "we" did. They were frequently described as animal-like, sub-rational, and sometimes as sliding more or less helplessly down the evolutionary scale toward utter bestiality. Down-and-out taxonomists collated apparently-generic physical traits--often thought to be expressed physiognomically--and reified them in arrays of photographs or drawings as distinctive "types" of tramps, steelworkers, lodging-house dwellers, and textile-mill laborers. To Marie Van Vorst, commenting on a tableau of mill-workers' faces, "The Southern mill-hand's face is unique--a fearful type, whose perusal is not pleasant or cheerful to the character-reader. . . ." 93

Such efforts to describe and define the poor were sometimes filtered through racist and nativist assumptions: considerable concern was expressed about the "stagnant scum of other countries" that "floats here to be purified." The Irish and Italians were seen as especially unpromising stock, and there was much counterposing of Italian and Greek immigrant workers to "white [American] men." 94 In such characterizations, ideas of nationality, race, and class flowed together and were melded, through the Lamarckian hereditary transmission of environmentally-acquired traits, into a suffocating devolutionary matrix. 95 Although many dwellers in the abyss were native-born white Americans who had been dislodged from their proper station by a bout of unemployment, they were no less susceptible than the foreign-born to declining into permanent degradation. To thus racialize and naturalize social class and ethnicity was to reinforce powerfully the perception of unbridgeable difference. It was also to reiterate the distinctiveness, superiority, and stability of the investigator's own middle-class identity, and to militate against the likelihood of going native.

Down-and-outers often found that only the most extreme metaphors of Dark-Continent savagery and animality sufficed to describe what they found in the urban "underbrush." Thus New York City's tenements were "a jungle abounding in treacherous quicksand and infested by the most venomous and noisome creatures of the animal kingdom--a swamp in which any misstep may plunge you into the choking depths [End Page 49] of a quagmire or the coils of a slimy reptile." Such language reminds us of why Charles Loring Brace, like Karl Marx, wrote nervously of a "dangerous" class. The threat of the very poor might take the form of communicable diseases that spread like a stain from filthy shops to consumers, 96 or of roiling masses "in whom discontent has bred the disease of riot, the abnormality, the abortion known as Anarchy, Socialism." 97 And such danger grew ever more acute: in the "jungles of civilization the evolution is always downward--from man to beast, to reptile, and to that most noisome of living creatures, the human worm." By contrast, in the city's wealthy districts, the favored individual might "grow to perfection--the superman." Enfolding the reader within this language of evolutionary bifurcation, the Van Vorsts observed that "our bodies grow accustomed to luxury" while "theirs grow hardened to deprivation and filth," that "our souls" expand toward the ideal while "their souls diminish under the oppression" of the struggle to survive. 98

Such descriptions were usually framed by a progressive reformer's focus on the social origins of this socio-biological disaster: it was "human greed" that produced the tenements which incubated the "forced decivilization" of their inhabitants; it was economic defeat that reduced men on a breadline to "'dumb, driven cattle'" and left paupers happy in their squalid conditions and wishing for nothing better. 99 But such socially-conditioned moral decline had lasting biological implications: if a single day in a mine could drive down one investigator to "a level with the grossest," damaging or perhaps eradicating his "finer instincts," then what fate awaited the just-hired textile worker fresh from the South Carolina hills? Surely she would soon lose her "womanly sentiment" and "coarsen to the animal like to those whose companion she is forced to be," no longer "fit to propagate the species"--embodying the spectre of race suicide evoked by Theodore Roosevelt in his preface to the Van Vorsts' book. 100

Among the many striking features of this literature is the common assertion that no basic biological or pyschological differences distinguished poor people from their social superiors. Indeed, these texts abound with positive assessments of laborers' courage and solidarity, tramps' and beggars' native wisdom and ingenuity, and the social utility of saloons and unions. Yet the authors' actual descriptions of the poor often absolutely contradicted their stated egalitarianism. Jack London gloried in the change from "sir" to "mate," yet was quick to label his mates a "new race" of degraded human beasts. Female investigators [End Page 50] such as waitresses Maud Younger and Frances Donovan tended to stress their co-workers' positive, cooperative, and relational traits--a cheerful, unsentimental determination to survive and get ahead, a ready sympathy toward the novice worker, and a sisterly solidarity against abusive customers and bosses. 101 Yet Younger was also capable of describing the lower-caste scrubwoman as "always squirming, squirming backwards, her tentacles swaying from side to side, like the horrible slugs that come out in California after a heavy dew." Similarly, Donovan showed great affection for the other waitresses but detested the "scum" (mainly homeless men and lodging-house dwellers) who worked in the kitchen. 102

These judgments in part reflected common intraclass distinctions between the "respectable," regularly-employed wage worker and the casual laborer who could find only the dirtiest, least-skilled jobs. But Cornelia Stratton Parker cast a wider net. Parker concluded her book on working women with the insistence that workers and bosses shared common desires and were in most ways basically similar. Yet in the fourteen pages previous to that, she had characterized "the great body" of American workers as "unfit physically, mentally, nervously," their normal endowments of intelligence and industriousness having atrophied in brain-numbing jobs and in the "discouraging environment" outside the workplace. Parker, like others, posited a "vicious circle" of reciprocally-reinforcing home and workplace influences that accelerated the workers' degeneration; she stopped just short of declaring that acquired degeneracy might be passed on through biological heredity. 103

Josiah Flynt took that further step. Flynt began his landmark volume Tramping With Tramps (1901) with a long and fervent refutation of the hereditarian school of criminal anthropology associated with Cesare Lombroso, and an insistence that criminals and tramps were no different from members of other social classes. Then followed a series of chapters in which Flynt divided tramps into "classes," "species," and "subspecies" like an entomologist poring over his specimens. He began with a long chapter on the "Children of the Road," who were represented as mentally, physically, and morally stunted by their vagabond and amoral life. Flynt waxed explicitly hereditarian when he described the "gipsy [sic] character" these children had acquired, and which would require generations to breed out of their progeny. Thus did culture phase subtly into nature, as acquired traits became permanent ones. For Flynt, as for the eugenicist George R. Stetson, whose 1909 [End Page 51] Arena article drew on the Van Vorsts' and Wyckoff's work, "environment [was] the architect of heredity." 104

Walter Wyckoff also recorded contradictory perceptions. On the western leg of his two-thousand-mile trek, recorded in Volume II of The Workers, he praised the "intelligent, industrious, God-fearing people" who did America's work. Flushed with incipient Boasian antiracialism, he noted with approval that the Iowa-born children of immigrants were said to "lose certain physical characteristics" of their "alien ancestry" and to gain features of "recognized American types." 105 Wyckoff's journey ended in California with a jubilant evocation of boundless American opportunity. But he had opened this volume with a sequence of scenes set in teeming and claustrophobic Chicago that graphically depicted the hideousness of the vagrant other: men sleeping on the police station floor, men "widely severed from all things human," whose physiognomies were "unreclaimed by marks of inner strength and force" and revealed "in plainest characters the paralysis of the will." The writer's eye then fell with relief upon a respectable worker who was only temporarily on the bum, whose face evinced "the open frankness which comes of earning a living by honest work." And finally, Wyckoff silently reasserted his own private, privileged identity, completing this excursion up the evolutionary scale from subhuman vagrant to temporarily displaced man of leisure: "I lie thinking of another world I know, a world of men and women whose plane of life is removed from this by all the distance of the infinite. . . . What living link," he wondered, could join these sundered worlds and vivify the Apostle's words: "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members of one another?" 106

Wyckoff himself might logically have provided that link. Instead, he reasserted his difference and maintained an essential separateness from his noisome, snoring comrades, even as they shared the same jailhouse floor. Down-and-outers such as Wyckoff and the Van Vorsts tended to be more sympathetically environmentalist when describing the regularly-employed, respectable working class, and more prone to lurid essentialism when describing the lowest social strata. And since so many workers were poised more or less constantly on the border between uncertain employment and vagrancy, they were always susceptible to the downward evolutionary pull of the abyss. Wyckoff's optimism about the children of immigrants in the west was based on their inheritance of new traits acquired in an open and promising [End Page 52] environment. Such a Lamarckian assumption could, of course, cut two ways; inhabitants of a sordid environment such as the Chicago slums could only be expected to devolve over succeeding generations.

That these texts so regularly subverted themselves on questions of human unity and difference suggests that their authors harbored a contradictory consciousness typical of an era in which environmental explanations of poverty were supplanting, but had not vanquished, moral and hereditarian ones. Through the mechanism of a usually-implicit Lamarckism, it could be argued that negative traits acquired in a debased environment would be passed on to one's progeny. Degeneration, therefore, was initiated by environmental forces but fixed in place by heredity. Thus Robert Hunter, settlement house worker and socialist, argued in his influential book Poverty (1904) that the evils of poverty were "not barren, but procreative," and that the dregs of society produced "a litter of miserables whose degeneracy is so stubborn and fixed that reclamation is almost impossible." 107

Here we find a characteristic image of the impoverished as sliding helplessly down the evolutionary scale--a degenerating "litter"--together with a characteristic ambivalence about the finality of their fate--their downward trajectory was "fixed," yet only "almost impossible" to arrest. The social origin of their plight was simply unemployment, but sinking into pauperism, which Hunter compared to biological parasitism, brought on a "disease of character" that also led to physical degeneration. Transmitted across generations, that disease produced children who were congenitally unable to work. Predestined to become aimless, drunken drifters, they would happily subsist on charity and garbage, spawning more generations of children who would be born "debilitated, alcoholic, idiots, and imbeciles, as a result of their heritage." Like the notorious Jukes family of R. L. Dugdale's study (1877), these degraded hereditary products of a hellish environment would never even enter the struggle for existence, in which they were foredoomed to failure. 108 Had the down-and-out writers set out to verify Hunter's thesis and to carry forward nineteenth-century ideas about hereditary degeneration and criminality, they could hardly have done a more effective job--all the while, both denying such deep-lying difference and graphically representing it.

Historian Dorothy Ross articulates a characteristic problematic for Progressive-era thinkers when she argues that progressive social scientists operated "at the intersection of history and nature, seeking to [End Page 53] capture both the concrete particularities of experience and universal natural forms, both the changing shape of modern society and an unchanging dynamic at its core." 109 The down-and-out literature suggests that from a street-level perspective, although culture gradually supplanted biology in twentieth-century social explanation, essentialism need not disappear. In these investigators' eyes, nature often contained or outstripped the contingencies of experience and history. During the later years of the Progressive era, images of degeneration and otherness did appear less frequently in down-and-out writings. But while the early-twentieth-century social sciences were gradually rejecting Lamarckism and embracing culture as a determinative category, Lamarckian-derived essentialism, with its inner histories of conflating environment with heredity and of variously conflating class, race, ethnicity, and nationality, could simply migrate from biology to culture. 110 Eventually, culture and values would be used to explain poverty much as congenital immorality and lassitude had previously done; and for those who drew upon the emergent concept of "social heredity" during and after the 1890s, culture itself could loosely be seen as heritable. 111 Such reasoning laid the basis for a tradition of hereditarian and essentialist explanation that would persist in the face of the assault by Franz Boas and his followers on biological determinism and racial formalism--an assault that triumphed in academic circles by the early 1920s, gained popular notice in the 1930s through the works of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, and reached fruition in the 1940s with the Boasian underpinnings of Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma (1944). 112

But despite the apparent apotheosis of the Boasian tradition, it was the essentialist, culture-based hereditarian countertradition that would re-emerge in the "culture of poverty" thesis of the 1960s and in its latter-day offspring, the contemporary concept of the "underclass." We must revise our understanding of the Boasian paradigm shift, whose whig-historical triumphalism cannot obscure the obvious fact that varieties of class and racial essentialism are very much alive in popular journalistic and academic discourse today. 113 The crucial--and still operant--conflation of evolution with class, culture and race had its roots partly in late-Victorian excursions into the world of that day's "underclass." To trace this genealogy forward through the twentieth century will cast light on present-day popular, journalistic, and academic discussions and images of poverty and the poor, as they inform [End Page 54] our own public discourse and policy debates, and as we, who also live in a world of difference, continue both to confront and to evade "this unknown class."

University of Colorado

Mark Pittenger is an associate professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the author of American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870-1920 (1993).


The research and writing of this article were supported in part by a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by a Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. I also appreciate the helpful suggestions and support offered by Lee Chambers-Schiller, participants in the University of Colorado History Department colloquium series, readers for the American Quarterly, and Lucy Maddox.

1. Frances Donovan, The Woman Who Waits (Boston, 1920), 11-12. It seems likely that Donovan at least partly constructed this introductory fable and represented herself as a naïve observer for literary purposes. If she did indeed search the libraries, surely she would have found Amy Tanner's and Maud Younger's accounts of investigative undercover waitressing; and the very title of her book could have been modelled on one of the first such efforts to receive wide public notice: Mrs. John and Marie Van Vorst, The Woman Who Toils (New York, 1903). See also, Amy Tanner, "Glimpses at the Mind of a Waitress," American Journal of Sociology 13 (July 1907): 48-55; and Maud Younger, "The Diary of an Amateur Waitress," McClure's Magazine 28 (Mar. 1907): 543-52; Maud Younger, "The Diary of an Amateur Waitress," McClure's Magazine 28 (Apr. 1907): 665-77. On Donovan, see Heather Paul Kurent, "Frances R. Donovan and the Chicago School of Sociology: A Case Study in Marginality," (Ph.D. diss., University of Maryland, 1982).

2. George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933; New York, 1961). This is a fictionalized version (though barely so) of Orwell's explorations of poverty between 1927 and 1932. Jack London, The People of the Abyss (New York, 1903).

3. I will be discussing succeeding generations of down-and-outers in the larger project of which this article forms a part. The emphases on behavior and culture are addressed in Adolph Reed, Jr., "The Underclass as Myth and Symbol: The Poverty of Discourse about Poverty," Radical America 24 (Jan.-Mar. 1990): 22, 27; and in Michael Katz, "The Urban 'Underclass' as a Metaphor of Social Transformation," in The "Underclass" Debate: Views from History, ed. Michael Katz (Princeton, 1993), 4, 12. The most obvious contemporary example of the impact of journalistic descriptions is Ken Auletta, The Underclass (New York, 1982).

4. On the construction of difference, see Joan W. Scott, "The Evidence of Experience," Critical Inquiry 17 (summer 1991): 773-97.

5. Of forty-nine such investigators whom I identified for this study, nineteen were women.

6. Katz alludes to such a conflation in "Urban 'Underclass,'" 11.

7. On the persistence of Lamarckism, see n.57.

8. On continuities between earlier British and American conceptions of poverty and the later culture of poverty and underclass ideas, see Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (New York, 1985), 369-70; James T. Patterson, America's Struggle Against Poverty 1900-1985, enlarged ed. (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 12-14; and Katz, "The Urban Underclass," 10-14. Recent critiques of the underclass idea include Stephen Steinberg, "The Underclass: A Case of Color and Blindness," New Politics 7 (summer 1989), 42-60; Adolph Reed, Jr., "The Underclass as Myth and Symbol," 21-40; and Jacqueline Jones, The Dispossessed: America's Underclasses from the Civil War to the Present (New York, 1992). Two compendia that sum up the arguments, mainly from a critical perspective, are Bill E. Lawson, ed. and introd., The Underclass Question (Philadelphia, 1992), and Katz, The "Underclass" Debate.

9. For example, Katz so dates the term in "The Urban Underclass," 17. Herbert J. Gans provides a convenient genealogy of the term in his War Against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy (New York, 1995), 27-57. Sociologist Frances Kellor used the word "under-class" in an unattributed quotation amidst her highly critical discussion of the Lombrosian school of criminal anthropology. The preceding footnote was to Lombroso's Female Offender (New York, 1895; first published in Italian, 1893). Thus Kellor may have drawn the term from Lombroso, or from the English-language edition's editor and apparent translator W. Douglas Morrison, though even this is ambiguous as Kellor cites only author and title, and does so for both English and Italian editions.

10. R. C. Lewontin, "Women Versus the Biologists," New York Review of Books, (7 Apr. 1994): 31; Nicole Hahn Rafter, "Introduction," White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies 1877-1919, ed. Rafter (Boston, 1988), 5. The controversy stirred by Richard J. Herrnstein's and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York, 1994) underscores both the persistence of this debate and its capacity to arouse public passions. See for example Tom Morganthau, "IQ: Is It Destiny?" Newsweek 124 (24 Oct. 1994): 53-60; and Adolph Reed, Jr., "Looking Backward": rev. of The Bell Curve, Nation 259 (28 Nov. 1994): 654-62.

11. Warren Susman, "'Personality' and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture," in Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984), 271-85; T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920 (Chicago, 1983), 36-38.

12. Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 10; Josiah Flynt, My Life (New York, 1908), 11; anonymous, Four Years in the Underbrush (New York, 1921).

13. "Modernism" is here construed as a "culture," in the manner of Daniel Joseph Singal, "Towards a Definition of American Modernism," in Modernist Culture in America, ed. Daniel Joseph Singal (Belmont, Calif., 1991), 1-27. A comparable but more familiar concern about the erosion of such boundaries of class, culture, and race was middle-class nervousness over the likely effects of jazz music, dancing, and other popular amusements, on white middle-class youth. See for example John F. Kasson, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (New York, 1978); Lewis A. Erenberg, Steppin' Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930 (Chicago, 1981); and Neil Leonard, Jazz and the White Americans (Chicago, 1962).

14. The perceived need for revitalization among such social types has often been noted in recent scholarship: see George Cotkin, William James, Public Philosopher (Baltimore, Md., 1990), 108-11; and Lears, No Place of Grace.

15. Dana recounts that he had first thought to pass as a common seaman, but was immediately found out; but scholar Thomas Philbrick notes that in later years, when travelling on business, Dana sometimes donned sailor's garb to explore such rough urban terrain as New York City's notorious Five Points. See Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, ed. and introd. Thomas Philbrick (1840; New York, 1981), 40-41; Thomas Philbrick, "Introduction" to Dana, Two Years, 15. Forrest's investigations are noted in Lewis Perry, Intellectual Life in America (Chicago, 1989), 242. On women who served as Civil War soldiers in male disguise, see Richard Hall, Patriots in Disguise: Women Warriors of the Civil War (New York, 1993).

16. Mark Twain, The Prince and the Pauper (Boston, 1882); A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (New York, 1889).

17. Peter Keating, "Introduction" to Keating, ed., Into Unknown England 1866-1913: Selections from the Social Explorers (Manchester, England, 1976), 16-27; Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992), 36-38. On British perceptions of the poor and studies of poverty generally, see also Deborah Epstein Nord, "The Social Explorer as Anthropologist: Victorian Travellers Among the Urban Poor," in Visions of the Modern City, ed. William Sharpe and Leonard Wallock (New York, 1983), 118-30; Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London: A Study of the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford, 1971); Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty; and Himmelfarb, Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (New York, 1991).

18. Frau Dr. Minna Wettstein-Adelt, 3 1/2 Monate Fabrik-Arbeiterin (Berlin, 1893); Paul Göhre, Three Months in a Workshop: A Practical Study, trans. A. B. Carr, pref. note by Richard T. Ely (London, 1895). American sociologist Annie Marion MacLean notes her indebtedness to these two exemplars in "The Sweat-Shop in Summer," American Journal of Sociology 9 (Nov. 1903): 289. The King of Sweden is discussed by Edwin A. Brown, "Living with the Homeless," World Today 20 (June 1911): 663.

19. John Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1990), 110-11; Stephenson's adventures are described in "Tramps and Work-Houses," Harper's Weekly (4 Feb. 1878): 106. On middle-class fears of revolutionary upheaval, see Robert V. Bruce, 1877: Year of Violence (Indianapolis, 1959).

20. The term is from Kasson, Rudeness and Civility, 78.

21. Stuart Blumin, "Explaining the New Metropolis: Perception, Depiction and Analysis in Mid-Nineteenth Century New York City," Journal of Urban History 11 (Nov. 1984), 18-19, 28. An example whose title suggests the binary consciousness common to portrayals of the city is Helen Campbell, Darkness and Daylight: Lights and Shadows of New York Life. A Woman's Narrative (1891; Detroit, 1969). Social investigators on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly recognized that such binary perceptions were inaccurate: see Walkowitz City of Dreadful Delight, 31-32; and Stuart Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760-1900 (Cambridge, England, 1989), 287.

22. I am indebted to David Papke for calling this "lights and shadows" literature to my attention. It is discussed in Kasson, Rudeness and Civility, 77-80, and Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York, 1982), 125-27. Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years' Work Among Them, 3d ed. (1880; Montclair, N.J., 1967); Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, ed. Sam Bass Warner, Jr. (1890; Cambridge, Mass., 1970).

23. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility, 25; Blumin, Emergence of the Middle Class, 258.

24. Reverend Frank Charles Laubach, Why There Are Tramps: A Study Based Upon an Examination of One Hundred Men (New York, 1916). On the Gilded-Age background to this fear of the unruly poor, see Eugene Leach, "The Literature of Riot Duty: Managing Class Conflict in the Streets, 1877-1927, Radical History Review 56 (spring 1993), 23-50; and Leach, "Chaining the Tiger: The Mob Stigma and the Working Class, 1863-1894," Labor History 35 (spring 1994), 187-215. On the intellectual underpinnings of such fears, see Leach, "Mastering the Crowd: Collective Behavior and Mass Society in American Social Thought, 1917-1939," American Studies 27 (spring 1986), 99-114.

25. This assiduous pursuit of data was most famously exemplified by Hull House Maps and Papers (New York, 1895); see also Robert A. Woods, ed., The City Wilderness: A Settlement Study (Boston, 1898). For an influential urban research protocol, see Robert E. Park, "The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the City Environment," American Journal of Sociology 20 (Mar. 1915), 577-612. And for a contemporary summing-up of theories of poverty and unemployment, see Frederick C. Mills's published Columbia University dissertation, Contemporary Theories of Unemployment and of Unemployment Relief (1917; New York, 1968).

26. After Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, an example of the therapeutic mode was Frank A. Crampton, Deep Enough: A Working Stiff in the Western Mine Camps (1956; Norman, Okla., 1982); and among the involuntary experimenters with downward mobility, the many examples include Theodore Dreiser, An Amateur Laborer, ed. and introd. Richard W. Dowell (Philadelphia, 1983); Mariner J. Kent, "The Making of a Tramp," Independent 55 (19 Mar. 1903): 667-70; Cecil Fairfield Lavell, "Man Who Lost Himself: An Enforced Experiment in Labor," Atlantic Monthly 120 (Nov. 1917): 589-98; Lavell, "From the Diary of a Laborer," Atlantic Monthly 123 (May 1919): 644-54; "Letters of a Down-and-Out," Atlantic Monthly 111 (Feb. 1913): 190-97; and "Letters of a Down-and-Out," Atlantic Monthly 111 (Mar. 1913): 368-77.

Some readers will be surprised by the absence from the following pages of Dorothy Richardson, author of The Long Day: The Story of a New York Working Girl (New York, 1905). I omit Richardson because her book presents itself as the product of an anonymous worker. She never names herself to the reader as a middle-class person venturing into a different world to study it; as will become clear below, this was to omit a crucial feature of the down-and-out writer's establishment of identity, authority, and power.

27. Brooke Kroeger, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist (New York, 1994), 85-89, 101-5, 206-7; Penelope Harper, "'She Waited in Bloomers': Women Reporters Go Undercover in New York City, 1887-1910," paper preseanted at meeting of the Organization of American Historians, Washington, D.C., March 1995.

28. Crane's words come from an introductory section that appeared in the newspaper version, but which Crane dropped when he republished the story in book form. In this fugitive section, the story's protagonist watches a tramp and discusses with a companion the idea of going down-and-out, thus alerting the reader to the nature of the "experiment": Stephen Crane, "An Experiment in Misery," in Stephen Crane: Stories and Tales, ed. Robert Wooster Stallman (New York, 1955), 27. Alan Trachtenberg, "Experiments in Another Country: Stephen Crane's City Sketches," in American Realism: New Essays, ed. Eric J. Sundquist (Baltimore, Md., 1982), 144, 149.

29. Christopher Benfey, The Double Life of Stephen Crane (New York, 1992), 147-48.

30. Wyckoff was identified as "Assistant Professor" when The Workers was published in 1897, and, regrettably, remained so until his death in 1908 (Walter Wyckoff, The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, 2 vols., volume I: The East [New York, 1897], :title page); "Wyckoff, Walter Augustus," Dictionary of American Biography 20 (New York, 1936), 574-75.

31. Stanley Wertheim and Paul Sorrentino, The Crane Log: A Documentary Life of Stephen Crane 1871-1900 (New York, 1994), 97-101. Benfey states incorrectly that Wyckoff's articles appeared in Harper's (rather than in Scribner's), and that Linson "had drawn" the illustrations, as if before Crane's story appeared. Actually, Wyckoff's articles appeared three years later, and Linson illustrated only the first installment (Walter A. Wyckoff, "The Workers: An Experiment in Reality," Scribner's 22 [Aug. 1897]: 196).

32. Linda Gordon, "Welfare Reform Leaders," appendix to Pitied But Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare 1850-1935 (New York, 1994), 307-13; Robert M. Crunden, Ministers of Reform: The Progressives' Achievment in American Civilization 1889-1920 (New York, 1982). Of the forty-nine down-and-out investigators operating between 1877 and 1929 whom I identified, thirty were male and nineteen female. Of the twenty-eight for whom information was available, religion played a significant role in the background and/or adult lives of twenty; that is, they had ministerial antecedents, undertook some clerical training, or as adults gave evidence of commitment to religion or to a religiously-derived moral or ethical stance. Those who were identifiably descended from ministers, themselves studied for the ministry, or entered missionary work included Stephen Crane, Paul Göhre, Alexander Irvine, Annie Marion MacLean, Benjamin Marsh, Alvan F. Sanborn, Charles Rumford Walker, Josiah Flynt Willard, and Walter Wyckoff. Of course, not all of those with clerical antecedents inherited religious commitments; Crane and Willard certainly did not. While as a group the down-and-outers tended toward a broadly Christian, Social-Gospel-inflected moralism, they were often sharply critical of established churches and ministers: see for example Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:32; C. W. Miles, "Christ on Fifth Avenue," Harper's Weekly 60 (1915): 269-70, 297-98, 327-28, 353-54, 375-76.

33. Alvan Franklin Sanborn, "A Study of Beggars and Their Lodgings," Forum 19 (Apr. 1895): 200. For an example of the difficulty of establishing scientific credibility in a down-and-out study, see Frances Kellor, Out of Work: A Study of Employment Agencies, Their Treatment of the Unemployed, and Their Influence Upon Home and Business (New York, 1904), v-vii, 2-5.

34. Cornelia Stratton Parker, "The Human Element in the Machine Process," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 90 (July 1920): 86-88; presumably the passage quoted (87) was a veiled reference to Parker's recently-deceased husband, Carleton Parker, a well-known professor who had specialized in labor economics.

35. Lillian Pettengill, Toilers of the Home: The Record of a College Woman's Experience as a Domestic Servant (New York, 1903), viii; Cornelia Stratton Parker, Wanderer's Circle (Boston, 1934), 89-90; Jane Addams, "The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements," in Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (New York, 1910), 91-100.

36. Whiting Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind: By One Who Put on Overalls to Find Out (New York, 1920), 3-4. Down-and-out accounts appeared or were reviewed widely in academic, reform, opinion, and popular magazines such as the American Journal of Sociology, the Survey, the Nation, and Scribner's, as well as in a range of newspapers including the New York Times.

37. Charles Rumford Walker, Steel: The Diary of a Furnace Worker (Boston, 1922), vii; Cornelia Stratton Parker, Working with the Working Woman (New York, 1922), ix; Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind.

38. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 4; Annie Marion MacLean, "The Sweat-Shop in Summer," 289-90; Walker, Steel, v-vi.

39. "Tramps and Work-Houses," 106; Josiah Flynt, "The Tramp's Politics," Harper's Weekly 43 (4 Nov. 1899): 1124.

40. Pettengill, Toilers of the Home, viii.

41. Parker, Wanderer's Circle, 251.

42. "London's Inferno," rev. of People of the Abyss by Jack London, Independent 55 (24 Dec. 1903): 3063-64; James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941; Boston, 1988), i.

43. A central text of this phenomenon was Theodore Roosevelt, "The Strenuous Life," in Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life (New York, 1902), 1-21. See generally Lears, No Place of Grace, and Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989).

44. Brace, The Dangerous Classes, 339-40.

45. William James, "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," in James, Essays on Faith and Morals (New York, 1962), 279-80; "barbarians" quoted in Frank Lentricchia, "Philosophers of Modernism at Harvard, Circa 1900," South Atlantic Quarterly 89 (fall 1990): 800.

46. Lentricchia, "Philosophers of Modernism," 804. On "experience" in fin-de-siécle philosophy, see George Cotkin, Reluctant Modernism: American Thought and Culture, 1880-1900 (New York, 1992), 33-35; and Robert Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991), 68, 77, 321-27. Orvell discusses Stephen Crane's negotiation of the nexus between preconception and experience in "An Experiment in Misery" in The Real Thing, 133-34. On some of the problems inherent to grounding authority in experience, see James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), 35-37; and Scott, "The Evidence of Experience."

47. James, "On a Certain Blindness," 259, 284. Down-and-outers sometimes cited the influence of Dewey or of James: see for example Benjamin Clarke Marsh, Lobbyist for the People (Washington, D.C., 1953), 5-6; Frederick C. Mills, quoted in Gregory R. Woirol, In the Floating Army: F. C. Mills on Itinerant Life in California, 1914 (Urbana, Ill., 1992), 15; and Whiting Williams, Mainsprings of Men (New York, 1925), 212n., 270, 297n., 300. Furthermore, many were educated at the University of Chicago, where the influence of Dewey and James on Robert Park and W. I. Thomas is well-documented: see the many references in Martin Bulmer, The Chicago School of Sociology: Institutionalization, Diversity, and the Rise of Sociological Research (Chicago, 1984).

48. Alexander Irvine, From the Bottom Up (New York, 1910); Marianne Doezema, George Bellows and Urban America (New Haven, Conn., 1992), 123-37; Arnaldo Testi, "The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity," Journal of American History 81 (Mar. 1995), 1527-29; Stuart Pratt Sherman, "The Autobiography of Josiah Flynt," rev. of My Life, by Josiah Flynt, Nation 88 (25 Feb. 1909): 188. On the broader context of intellectuals' strenuous pursuit of "reality," see Christopher P. Wilson, The Labor of Words: Literary Professionalism in the Progressive Era (Athens, Ga., 1985), 113-14; and David Shi, Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920 (New York, 1995).

49. Paul Ernest Anderson, "Tramping with Yeggs," Atlantic Monthly 136 (Dec. 1925): 747; Cecil Fairfield Lavell, "From the Diary of a Laborer," 654; Fern Babcock, "Higher Education: A College Student Studies Labor Problems at First Hand," Survey 57 (15 Dec. 1926): 384.

50. Walter Wyckoff, The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, 2 vols. volume II: The West (New York, 1898), 40; Alvan Francis Sanborn, Moody's Lodging House and Other Tenement Sketches (Boston, 1895), 4; Annie Marion MacLean, Wage-Earning Women (New York, 1910), 103; Mills quoted in Woirol, In the Floating Army, 128.

51. Cotkin, William James, 109.

52. "Wyckoff," Dictionary of American Biography, 574; Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:5, 2:40. The model of maleness discussed here was not, of course, the only one available at the century's turn; but it was the one to which Wyckoff and other down-and-outers seemed most drawn. For one model of how to historicize masculine identity that maintains but modifies the emphasis on virility and strenuosity, see Clyde Griffen, "Reconstructing Masculinity from the Evangelical Revival to the Waning of Progressivism: A Speculative Synthesis," in Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America, ed. Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen (Chicago, 1990), 183-204.

53. Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:319, 1:377-78.

54. On maleness and the discourse of authenticity, see T. J. Jackson Lears, "Sherwood Anderson: Looking for the White Spot," in The Power of Culture, ed. Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears (Chicago, 1993), 13-15; Parker, Wanderer's Circle, 89-90; Babcock, 384.

55. Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 16; Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres (New Haven, Conn., 1982), 28-53; Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge, England, 1991), 158; Ellen Fitzpatrick, Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform (New York, 1990), 71-91.

56. Patterson, America's Struggle Against Poverty, 22-23; Orvell, The Real Thing, 132-33.

57. On the persistence of Lamarckism, see George W. Stocking, Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (New York, 1968), 234-69; and Peter Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades Around 1900 (Baltimore, Md., 1983), 98-106. Stocking (253, 267) shows that Lamarckism, although waning in the social sciences after about 1900, still implicitly underpinned much social-scientific argumentation during the Progressive era. Bowler (139-40) shows that natural scientists had largely rejected Lamarckism by the 1920s. Robert C. Bannister argues that while attributing to Lamarck a belief in "willful" adaptation was probably a misreading, it was nonetheless a widespread and a popular one: see Bannister's Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought (Philadelphia, 1979), 22.

58. On the "vicious circle" or "cycle" of poverty, see Patterson, America's Struggle Against Poverty, 22; Campbell, Darkness and Daylight, 99.

59. Kellor, Out of Work, 2-5: Kellor and her associates used down-and-out investigative techniques to gather data for this book, but it is not in its entirety a conventional down-and-out narrative; MacLean, Wage-Earning Women, 100.

60. Annie Marion MacLean, "Two Weeks in Department Stores," American Journal of Sociology 4 (May 1899), 721; Edwin A. Brown, Broke: The Man Without the Dime (Chicago, 1913), 3; Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 5, 168 (in the two separately-authored sections of their book, both Van Vorsts used the term "mouthpiece"). Not all down-and-outers were quite this naïve, or were not consistently so. Some did note that they could not fully enter into the worker's psychology, either because they had economic resources upon which to fall back (for example, Brown, Broke, 6), or because the poor were indeed "different" (Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:148). Wyckoff's references to "vital knowledge and "book-learned lore" appear in his The Workers, 1:vii, 1:3.

61. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 173; Emily Fogg Mead, rev. of The Woman Who Toils, by Mrs. John and Marie Van Vorst, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 22 (July 1903), 239.

62. Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind, 7.

63. MacLean, "Sweat-Shop in Summer," 294; Pettengill, Toilers of the Home, 7; Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind, 4.

64. Rheta Child Dorr was "Louise Clark"; Cornelia Stratton Parker was "Connie Park"; Rheta Child Dorr, A Woman of Fifty (New York, 1924), 162.

65. Parker, Working with the Working Woman, 4. Annie Marion MacLean also found gum-chewing to be an emblematic working-class practice (MacLean, Wage-Earning Women, 102). Kathy Peiss notes that the more "respectable," uplift-oriented working-women's clubs campaigned against both slang and gum-chewing: Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the Century New York (Philadelphia, 1986), 174.

66. Clifford, The Predicament of Culture, 28; Clifford refers here to Bronislaw Malinowski.

67. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 174; London, People of the Abyss, 8, 140-44; Jack London, Martin Eden (New York, 1906).

68. Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:3; Sanborn, Moody's Lodging House, 1. Sanborn's account recalls Stephen Crane's narrator in "An Experiment in Misery," who (in the later-excised segment of the story) literally enlists the help of an "artist friend" to assemble a proper set of ragged clothing (Crane, "Experiment in Misery," 27).

69. Sanborn, Moody's Lodging House, 2-3.

70. Walker, Steel, 16; Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 20; Pettengill, Toilers of the Home, 4; Kellor, Out of Work, 11. Pettengill's book was subtitled The Record of a College Woman's Experience as a Domestic Servant.

71. Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:124; Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 173; see also Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind, 69. Jack London, "What Life Means to Me," Cosmopolitan Magazine 40 (Mar. 1906): 527; Joan Hedrick, Solitary Comrade: Jack London and His Work (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982), chap. 8.

72. Wyckoff, The Workers, 1:61, 1:66-67. One scholarly reviewer scored Wyckoff for thus falsely identifying with workers when he was always free to return to his privileged life--a fact of which Wyckoff was acutely aware (A. M. Day, rev. of The Workers: An Experiment in Reality, 2 vols. [New York, 1897, 1898], in Political Science Quarterly 14 [Dec. 1899]: 700); Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:82-83. Rheta Child Dorr pondered the same issue in A Woman of Fifty, 164. Tanner, "Glimpses at the Mind of a Waitress," 50-51.

73. Mills quoted in Woirol, In the Floating Army, 86; Josiah Flynt, "How Men Become Tramps," Century 50 (Oct. 1895): 944-45; Flynt, Tramping with Tramps (New York, 1901), 54; Flynt, My Life, 11. On the addictive qualities of tramping, see also A-No. 1 [pseud. Leon Ray Livingston], The Curse of Tramp Life, 4th ed. (Cambridge Springs, Pa., 1912), 2. "Wanderlust" is discussed in Orlando Lewis, Vagrancy in the United States (New York, 1907), 3; Peter A. Speek, "The Psychology of Floating Workers," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 69 (Jan. 1917): 72-78; Charles B. Davenport, The Feebly Inhibited. Nomadism, or the Wandering Impulse, with Special Reference to Heredity. Inheritance of Temperament (Washington, D.C., 1915), 7, 9-12; J. Harold Williams, "Hereditary Nomadism and Delinquency," Journal of Delinquency 1 (Sept. 1916): 209-30; and Nels Anderson, The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man (1923; Chicago, 1961), xvii, 82.

74. Theodore Waters, "Six Weeks in Beggardom," Part 2, Everybody's Magazine 12 (Jan. 1905): 70-71, 76-77. The tale of the fruit-stand owner is also recounted in S. H. B., "Street Begging in New York," Charities 4 (Jan. 1900): 3; and a parallel story appears in Sanborn, Moody's Lodging House, 66.

75. Wyckoff, Workers, 1:5, 1:11, 1:23, 1:50; Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 22; Four Years in the Underbrush, 6.

76. Mills quoted in Woirol, In the Floating Army, 45; Wyckoff, Workers, 1:140-43.

77. Four Years in the Underbrush, 256, 259. For demands that tramps and beggars be punished, see Josiah Flynt, "The American Tramp," Contemporary Review 60 (Aug. 1891): 259-61; and Waters, "Six Weeks in Beggardom," 76.

78. London, People of the Abyss, 15; Keating notes this as a general trend among British investigators in Into Unknown England, 17-18.

79. For example, see Younger, "Diary of an Amateur Waitress," 666-67.

80. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 158; Four Years in the Underbrush, 3.

81. Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:148; Dorr, A Woman of Fifty, 164.

82. Parker, Wanderer's Circle, 256.

83. Sanborn, Moody's Lodging House, 3; Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:84; Pettengill, Toilers of the Home, 359. Jack London meditated on the mutability of class identity and related evolutionary considerations in his short story "South of the Slot," in which a down-and-out sociologist crosses over and permanently joins the working class (Jack London, The Strength of the Strong [New York, 1914], 34-70); and see the analysis of the story in Mark Pittenger, American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870-1920 (Madison, Wisc., 1993), 208-11.

84. Walker, Steel, 144; Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:77, 2:251-52.

85. Parker, Working with the Working Woman, 12.

86. Mrs. John Van Vorst, "The Woman of the People," Harper's Monthly Magazine 106 (May 1903): 871-85. Articles by the Van Vorsts that later became part of The Woman Who Toils first appeared in Everybody's Magazine 7 (Sept. 1902): 211-25, Everybody's Magazine 7 (Oct. 1902):361-77, Everybody's Magazine 7 (Nov. 1902): 413-25, Everybody's Magazine 7 (Dec. 1902): 540-52, and Everybody's Magazine 8 (Jan. 1903): 3-17.

87. The following all appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine 106 (May 1903): Justus Miles Foreman, "The King O' Dreams," 837-45; Waldemar Bogoras, "A Strange People of the North," 846-51; Octave Thanet, "The Brothers," 853-62; Arthur Symons, "Constantinople," 863-70 (Symons was a friend of Josiah Flynt's and wrote the introduction to Flynt's autobiography; see Flynt, My Life, xi-xxi); G. W. Ritchie, "Photographing the Nebulae with Reflecting Telescopes," 886-95.

88. For example, see Marsh, Lobbyist for the People, 13; Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York, 1907), 251-52; Kildare, From the Bottom Up, 86.

89. Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago, 1990), 18; Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 75; Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 224.

90. London, People of the Abyss, 3; Waters, "Six Weeks in Beggardom," part 1, 729; Flynt, Tramping with Tramps, 381-98.

91. London, People of the Abyss, 3; Clifford, Predicament of Culture, 13-14.

92. Pettengill, Toilers of the Home, vi. Deborah Paul Nord has pointed out that British social investigators of the middle and late nineteenth century commonly used a similar "anthropological" language of Dark Continents and strange, perhaps subhuman life forms or separate races to describe the British poor. Nord argues that such language should not be taken literally, that the ethnological pose provided a way for scientifically-oriented reformers to write about the distinctive qualities of the poor from a stance of dispassion and objectivity that was foreclosed within other current languages of derision, uplift, or moralism. But in the American context discussed here, I believe that the language of exoticism and otherness should be taken seriously. Certainly these investigators wished to appear scientific--that is, objective and empiricist in ways that might be considered somewhat naïve today. But the majority of down-and-out texts, along with the vast bulk of related writings about poverty that formed their broader context (see for example the discussion of Robert Hunter's Poverty below), so regularly and pervasively used the language of separate race or species, of devolution and degeneration both within and between generations, with suitable references to current scientific ideas and thinkers, that I think it cannot be dismissed as a useful pose for a new breed of reformer. This language did not simply adorn these texts; it lay at the very heart of their arguments, even as it sharpened their emotional thrust. See Deborah Paul Nord, "The Social Explorer as Anthropologist," 132-33.

93. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, facing 240, 301. The hereditarian criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso argued that particular combinations of atavistic features added up to a "type," and such thinking informed efforts to construct generic criminal physiognomies from composite photographs. See Cesare Lombroso, "Criminal Anthropology: Its Origins and Applications," Forum 20 (Sept. 1895): 36-37; and David Papke, Framing the Criminal: Crime, Cultural Work, and the Loss of Critical Perspective, 1830-1900 (Hamden, Conn., 1987), 163. In this context, even though down-and-outers did not always specify any debt to hereditarian formalism and sometimes explicitly disavowed it (as in Flynt, Tramping with Tramps, 8-9, 26), their propensity for picturing what they called "types," which often entailed displaying several supposedly-characteristic visages on a single page, still powerfully conveyed the message that these images were to be viewed through Lombrosian lenses. Other examples of down-and-outers' typologies include Williams, What's on the Worker's Mind, facing 62; and the illustrations scattered throughout Flynt, Tramping with Tramps. As noted below, Flynt flagrantly contradicted his own attacks on Lombroso.

94. On Irish and Italians, see Four Years in the Underbrush, 259, 264; on "stagnant scum," Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 12; and on "white" Americans, Mills quoted in Woirol, In the Floating Army, 52.

95. On the conceptual confluence of race and class, see Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment (Middletown, Conn., 1985), 74-76, 301-24, 480-89. George S. Stocking, Jr., discusses the melding of race and nationality in Race, Culture, and Evolution, 245, and in Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (New York, 1987), 235-36. Also instructive is Audrey Smedley's account of the roots of English racialism in the Anglo-Irish conflict, wherein racialized Irish "savages" were represented as possessing a list of characteristics that would immediately qualify them for admission to today's "underclass": see Smedley's Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview (Boulder, Colo., 1993), 52-61.

96. MacLean, "Sweat-Shop in Summer," 308.

97. Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 171; see also Josiah Flynt, "The Tramp's Politics," Harper's Weekly 43 (4 Nov. 1899): 1124.

98. Four Years in the Underbrush, 3, 201, 202; Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 20.

99. Four Years in the Underbrush, 201; Brown, Broke, 190; Flynt, Tramping with Tramps, 5.

100. Irvine, From the Bottom Up, 266; Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 244, 293; Theodore Roosevelt, "Prefatory Letter," Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, vii-viii.

101. London, People of the Abyss, 14, 168, 229-31; Younger, "Diary of an Amateur Waitress," 543-47; Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 24-27, 30.

102. Younger, "Diary of an Amateur Waitress," 547; Donovan, Woman Who Waits, 171.

103. Parker, Working with the Working Woman, 231, 235-36, 240, 245. For a similar argument, see Van Vorst and Van Vorst, Woman Who Toils, 242, 255, 260.

104. Flynt, Tramping with Tramps, 2-27, 33. George R. Stetson, "Industrial Classes as Factors in Racial Development," Arena 41 (Feb. 1909): 185.

105. See Stocking, "The Critique of Racial Formalism," in his Race, Culture, and Evolution, 161-94.

106. Wyckoff, The Workers, 2:321; 2:38-39.

107. Robert Hunter, Poverty (New York, 1904), v.

108. Hunter, Poverty, 131, 69, 7, 65, 92, 318. Besides Dugdale, Hunter also relied on the authority of E. Ray Lankester's Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (London, 1880) (Hunter, Poverty, 128).

109. Ross, Origins of American Social Science, 387.

110. Stocking details the process by which the term "culture" could be substituted for "race" in social-scientific discourse (Stocking, Race, Culture, and Evolution, 263-66).

111. Stocking, Race, Culture, and Evolution, 263-64. For example, for the impact on economist Richard T. Ely of social psychologist James Mark Baldwin's idea of social heredity, see Ely, Studies in the Evolution of Industrial Society (New York, 1903), 453-58; and Pittenger, American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 41. Baldwin believed that he was offering an alternative to Lamarckism, but his construct produced many of the same outcomes and operated just as deterministically as a Lamarckian mechanism would have. See Baldwin, Social and Ethical Interpretations in Mental Development, 547, and Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago, 1987), 473-75. According to Richards, Henry Fairfield Osborn believed that Baldwin's concept of "organic selection," which would select useful traits preserved by social heredity, had reconciled Lamarckism with Darwinism (Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories, 493). This would be another way to explain the progressive deterioration of survivors in a degrading and dangerous environment. The ultimate product would be a hereditary "underclass."

112. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (New York, 1944).

113. The classic account of this shift is Stocking, Race, Culture and Evolution; Carl Degler draws upon this and other works by Stocking to tell a similar story in his In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York, 1991), esp. chap. 3.