ON AUGUST 23, 1927, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to a storm of domestic and international protest. Since 1920, the incarceration of the shoemaker and the fish peddler–accused of murdering a paymaster and guard in South Braintree, Massachusetts–had violently polarized public opinion. The two men’s supporters charged the state and federal judiciary with persecuting the Italian American immigrants for their anarchist beliefs, while the authorities closed ranks and refused to stay the execution. A decade later, on August 19, 1937, another storm erupted, this time over the representation of Sacco and Vanzetti in the Works Progress Administration guide to Massachusetts, the latest volume from the Federal Writers’ Project for unemployed writers. Although lives were not at stake this time around, echoes of the earlier controversy reverberated through the guide’s tumultuous reception.
“Why does Massachusetts hesitate? What does international labor protest? About Sacco & Vanzetti….” Broadside, January 25, 1925 (Boston, 1925), Massachusetts Historical Society.
Supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti extolled the guide for including the two men in what was widely perceived as an “official history” of the state. They understood the move as a form of government-sponsored reparation for the executed men and, more broadly, as recognition of political minorities as rightful citizens. Opponents–primarily state and local officials in Massachusetts and the conservative press–denounced the guidebook as a threat to state and national interests. They demanded the expulsion from the body politic of not only Sacco and Vanzetti but also the guidebook writers themselves. The guidebook’s federal imprimatur, factual rhetoric, and grounding in the politics of place made it a powerful arbiter of cultural inclusion and exclusion, with the ability to define who and what was “American.” A struggle developed over who would seize control of the guidebook to wield that cultural authority.
The text’s initial inclusiveness did not survive the controversy. Within a year of the guide’s first publication, Henry G. Alsberg, the national director of the Writers’ Project, succumbed to state political pressures. He instructed state editors secretly to excise the controversial Sacco-Vanzetti material and revise numerous other entries that had provoked local opposition. The results appeared in a silently revised edition whose existence project officials continued to deny decades after the project ended.
The story of the WPA guide to Massachusetts seems to have inherited some traits of Upton Sinclair’s massive novelization of the Sacco-Vanzetti case. In Boston (1928), Sinclair powerfully presented their treatment as an indictment of the U.S. government at every level–federal, state, municipal, judiciary, executive, and congress–and of multiple sites that extend governmental control–the courts, the universities, the churches, the media. Sinclair represented all these arenas as refuges for the corrupt, the racist, the self-interested, the cowardly. The Writers’ Project depended on those governmental systems for its existence, and they shaped both the logic of the guidebook genre and the conditions of its making. Despite the initial challenge mounted by the volume’s architects, ultimately the genre revealed its capacity to function as the perfect carrier of governmental control, silently disappearing Sacco and Vanzetti one more time.
The Massachusetts Writers’ Project
The Massachusetts Writers’ Project functioned under the umbrella of the Federal Writers’ Project, and the structure and politics of the nationwide organization left their imprint on guidebook production in the state. Project employees in Massachusetts generated guidebook material within a chain of authority that devolved from the federal to the state to local levels. Each level had a different political complexion: New Dealers dominated the national office in Washington, D.C.; left-leaning Harvard academics dominated the Massachusetts state office in Boston, at least during the period of the Sacco-Vanzetti controversy; and more educationally diverse and politically conservative groups staffed the district offices across the state. The larger conflicts engulfing the nationwide project from its inception–tensions within the project, between the project and other parts of the WPA, and between appointed project officers and elected government officials–also affected guidebook material and its reception.
The Federal Writers’ Project came out of the “national chart for the giving of work” to 3.5 million Americans on relief rolls, which Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt announced in his presidential message to Congress of January 3, 1935. The vast Works Progress Administration dispensed blue- and white-collar jobs across the country from 1935 until 1943, with one small wing (less than 1 percent of its budget) dedicated to the Federal Arts Projects for Theatre, Music, Art, and Writers. The four arts projects (known collectively as Federal One) had a somewhat separate administrative structure, with the national directors and their appointed staff in Washington, D.C., exerting direct authority over fifty state directors across the country. The state directors, in turn, oversaw the district supervisors and their local offices within each state. While, for reasons of politics and sponsorship, Writers’ Project officials had to cooperate with state WPA administrators, elected officers, and local cultural bodies, federal officials enjoyed a much higher degree of control over production in the arts projects than in the rest of the WPA.
Henry G. Alsberg, a long-standing progressive in arts and politics, directed the Federal Writers’ Project. He put together a team of national editors in Washington, primarily New Dealers, some with close connections to Roosevelt’s cabinet. The national director and his advisors decided on an innovative scheme: project writers would collectively produce the nation’s first series of state guidebooks, known as the American Guide Series. Particular in local details but conforming to a uniform tripartite design, each guide would consist of research essays on the state’s cultural and physical properties, followed by city and town descriptions, then mile-by-mile highway tours. To that end, the Washington project office circulated a template for guidebook production to editors in the state offices who in turn coordinated the efforts of district offices and field workers across each state.
American Guide Week Poster, WPA. Library of Congress.
Harvard-educated academics dominated the Massachusetts state office in Boston, an emphasis also evident in the guide’s acknowledgements to volunteer consultants. Although the first, short-lived state director was conservative, the most vocal presence in the state office during the guidebook’s initial production and circulation identified with the political left. The second state director, Ray Allen Billington, estimated that “between one half and one third of the personnel either were members of the Communist party or were fellow travelers.”
The key editorial team consisted of the state director and two assistant directors. The first state director, Clifford K. Shipton, began his appointment in October 1935. Editor of Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, Shipton came with the backing of the Harvard faculty of history and the Massachusetts Historical Society, but the rest of the staff soon deemed him obstructive, uninterested in the aims of the guidebook, and unsympathetic to unemployed writers. “DIRECTOR SHIPTONS HARVARD ACCENT DROWNS OUT PROTESTS OF DESPERATE WRITERS,” complained one telegram from the Artists and Writers Union of Massachusetts to Alsberg, who soon arranged Shipton’s transfer to the post of regional supervisor on the Historical Records Survey. Early in 1936, Ray Allen Billington, also a Harvard-trained historian and an assistant professor at Clark University, assumed the state directorship, but only on a part-time basis.
Two assistant directors had been part of the state editorial team from its inception. Bert J. Loewenberg, another Harvard Ph.D., would have assumed the directorship after Shipton, according to Billington, but for the prejudices of the day: “I was selected instead, only because the Washington officials feared that Loewenberg’s appointment would fan flames of anti-Semitism that were already directed against the New Deal, and have some influence on the election of 1936.” Billington’s and Loewenberg’s politics veered to the left of Shipton’s: he was a registered Republican while they “considered themselves liberals.” Further left again, Merle Colby–the other assistant director and yet another Harvard graduate and a published author–functioned as spokesperson for the radical contingent in the state office.
Most of the approximately three hundred project employees in Massachusetts were attached to six district offices across the state. Their composition differed markedly from that of the state office. Fledgling writers, unemployed white-collar workers, recent high school graduates and the like, almost all of whom came off the relief rolls, found employment as field workers and district supervisors in their own localities. These local employees tended to be more politically conservative than the state and national editors who directed their work and more tied into the local hierarchies of township governance, cultural organization, and social status. Rarely did district employees enjoy the kind of editorial influence wielded at the state and national levels.
The different perspectives of local, state, and federal employees frequently clashed as guidebook copy passed up the chain of command. Tensions and negotiations regularly surrounded the apportionment of space to a topic or place and the merits of local knowledge versus scholarly authority. Sometimes the issue was manifestly ideological, as in the case of material on Sacco and Vanzetti in the entry on Dedham. National editors wanted the Sacco-Vanzetti case to figure more prominently, in both the city description and on the city tour, as part of the Norfolk County Courthouse treatment. Project writers local to Dedham preferred to emphasize the seventeenth-century settlers’ choice of name for their town–”Contentment”–and its continuing aptness. The state editors tended to be more radical, if anything, than the national editors in their handling of social and political issues in the Massachusetts guide. The “Labor” essay, for example, which was to become so contentious, clearly issued from the state office.
Once the controversy over the Massachusetts guide erupted, tensions among the different levels of office became public fare. Employees of the New Bedford District Office apparently leaked stories to the local press about their disgruntlement with the state office. The Fairhaven Star published a story designed to distance local project employees from state editors and from the guidebook itself. The piece announced that “Blame for the present state of the guidebook in no way attaches to local writers on the project. Its misinformation is in despite of their best efforts to instill some degree of accuracy into the tome, which was written and edited by Boston writers, nee plumbers.” The newspaper also played up the political dimension of editorial disagreements when it cited an example of the Boston office mangling New Bedford copy. A Boston editor rewrote the town description submitted by the district office “with the forceful but entirely assinine invitation to ‘visit the quaint old wharves in the vicinity of Pleasant and William Streets,'” a location that was off by about five blocks. The geographical error is not on the face of it politically loaded, yet the Star piece ends, ominously, “Incidentally, the author of the invitation is now an organizer for the C.I.O.”
Political tensions beyond the project also affected guidebook production. Project officials in the Boston office had an uneasy relationship with state WPA administrators, elected state officials, and congressmen who belonged to the Massachusetts Democratic machine, in itself a recent political realignment and shaky coalition. On the one hand, long-standing suspicions– between, for example, “Al Smith” Democrats and Roosevelt’s New Dealers, Irish politicos and Ivy League Brahmins–made state and municipal officers sceptical about Writers’ Project personnel and activities. On the other hand, local politicians wanted to participate in the benefits of patronage, and the project needed state backing–specifically, the sponsorship of Gov. Charles F. Hurley and Secretary of the Commonwealth Frederic W. Cook–to enable the guidebook’s publication.
The circulation of the finished product came under equal political pressure. Frequently, local cultural and political representatives went to the press with objections to the guidebook’s representations of their towns. Outraged constituents also lobbied their congressmen and senators, who turned up the political heat on the Roosevelt administration. Clearly, a wide range of constituencies had much at stake in how, or whether, the WPA guidebooks represented them. The combination of the books’ factual rhetoric, their status as America’s first indigenous travel guides, their claim to collective authorship by representative Americans, and the imprimatur of government sponsorship positioned them as powerful cultural gatekeepers, mapping the lines of cultural belonging and exclusion.
Sacco and Vanzetti in the Guide to Massachusetts
The guidebook’s references to Sacco and Vanzetti were neither voluminous nor shrill. Indeed, they had been so thoroughly missed by State House aides in their prescreening of the contents that Governor Hurley and Secretary of the Commonwealth Cook endorsed the work with an enthusiastic letter under the state seal that fronted the published work.
The 675 pages of the guide contain exactly five references to Sacco and Vanzetti. One paragraph in the city description of Boston recalls the protests against the conviction and execution of “two obscure Italian laborers.” The paragraph ends: “Sacco and Vanzetti had become, for a new generation to whom ‘Haymarket’ was scarcely more than a word, the classic example of the administering of justice to members of unpopular political minorities” (144). The entry on Dedham includes a paragraph on their 1921 trial in the Norfolk County Courthouse. As Tour 19 from Boston to Bourne passes through Braintree it notes, “Here in 1920 occurred the hold-up and murder of a paymaster for which Sacco and Vanzetti were executed (see DEDHAM)” (587). And an entry on heir execution appears in the State Chronology (636).
The longest entry appears in the front half of the guide in the essay on “Labor,” a remarkable document that makes working people central to national and state mythologies. It places “the frontier of awakening labor” on a par with Frederick Jackson Turner’s western frontier, for example, and declares anonymous workers the “pioneers of Massachusetts democracy” (65). The essay also recounts the history of Massachusetts as a centuries-long series of strikes and their violent suppression. Sacco and Vanzetti make their debut in a detailed review of the exploitative working conditions in the shoe and fishing industries. The sequence of information positions the story of these two workers as the culmination of labor’s systemic oppression:
In 1920, a fish peddler, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and a shoe-worker, Nicolà Sacco, both members of the Galleani group of anarchists, were arrested on the charge of murder and robbery in connection with the theft of a $15,000 payroll. Despite their alibis, the highly circumstantial nature of the evidence, and the recommendations of previous employers, they were ultimately both adjudged guilty. During the seven years that elapsed between the murder and the execution of the sentence, protest demonstrations were held throughout the world. President Lowell of Harvard, President Stratton of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Judge Robert Grant were invited by Governor Fuller to weigh the evidence and advise him. They upheld the finding of the court and Sacco and Vanzetti were executed on August 23, 1927. It was widely believed that, although legal forms were observed, the determining factor in the case from start to finish was the affiliation of the two men with an unpopular minority political group. (76)
The guide wrote Sacco and Vanzetti very literally back into the state’s cultural landscape, in the process translating the polemics of the 1920s into factual, declarative prose. In 1927, for example, novelist John Dos Passos wrote Facing the Chair: The Story of the Americanization of Two Foreignborn Workmen, an impassioned pamphlet in which he argued that the politics of place deeply informed the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Presenting the evidence of their innocence, the author noted the political relevance of the area where the two men worked and where they were arrested: the “ring of industrial towns round Boston … one of the most intense industrial battlegrounds in the country.” Dos Passos argued that the labor relations of eastern Massachusetts not only nurtured Sacco and Vanzetti’s anarchist alliances but also shaped the two men’s public image. His argument amounted to a geopolitical class analysis: the arrest, conviction, and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti owed more to regional politics and patterns of labor exploitation within Massachusetts than to the actualities of the robbery at South Braintree. The guidebook similarly reconnected Sacco and Vanzetti’s struggle with a range of geographical locations within and beyond the “Hub” of Boston. Entries revivified the executed men’s presence, encouraging readers to retrace their story by driving through Braintree, standing on the steps of the Dedham courthouse, or walking on Boston Common. The controversy ignited by such entries suggests that the guidebook’s factual invocation of place carried just as much political force as Dos Passos’s more explicit polemics.
That force owed much to the terminology that framed the circulation of all volumes in the series. The promotional tag for the American Guide Series claimed that it was “Presenting America to Americans.” Hurley and Cook repeated this trope in their prefatory letter to the state guide: “Though designed to portray Massachusetts to visitors, it is also intended, as it were, to present Massachusetts to Massachusetts.” In the 1920s, Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, Katherine Anne Porter and others challenged the widespread representation of Sacco and Vanzetti as alien, foreign, threateningly “other.” These writers attempted to “Americanize” the immigrants’ radical politics by arguing in their polemical essays and novelizations that such beliefs belonged to America’s national identity and Massachusetts’s founding mythologies. The guidebook could effect that maneuver much more powerfully (and, to some, more threateningly), inserting Sacco and Vanzetti into the consensual “we”–part of Massachusetts, part of America–simply by including them in the factual, chronological history of who “we” are.
A journalist on the Boston Traveler began the public controversy within twenty-four hours of the guidebook’s appearance. In an article of August 19, 1937, he counted lines to report that Sacco and Vanzetti had been allotted four times as much space in the guidebook as the Boston Tea Party–considerably more, even, than the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre combined. That same day, more denunciations appeared, growing louder and louder as the hours and days went by. In the words of the New York Post, “Boston papers of Thursday exploded with black and blistering headlines usually reserved for world calamities.” Front-page headlines in the local, state, and national press screamed throughout mid August: “DEMAND U.S. PROBE ‘SLURS’ IN WPA BOOK”; “GOV. HURLEY HITS W.P.A. GUIDE BOOK”; “WPA GUIDE WAR ON 3 FRONTS”; “FIGHT ON WPA BOOK AROUSES BAY STATE.” Former Massachusetts governor Joseph B. Ely denounced the book as “propaganda,” exclaiming that it should be burned on Boston Common–though he hurriedly explained that he was speaking “figuratively” when the obvious analogy with Nazi Germany arose. One especially dismissive photograph appeared in the Boston American, captioned “WHERE HE THINKS IT BELONGS”: “Right into his office wastebasket, Municipal Court Justice Leo P. Doherty tosses an offending page from the Works Progress Administration’s newly published book, ‘Massachusetts, A Guide to Its Places and People.’ The volume’s references to the state judiciary were characterized as ‘grossly impertinent’ by Judge Doherty.”
Some protesters targeted particular entries that threatened their self-interest. According to the Boston Herald, for example, “enraged financial and industrial leaders took violent exception to the guide’s 14-page treatise on labor.” The Italian-American Club and the mayor of Marlboro protested one sentence on their town: “It has a large Italian population, who were encouraged to settle here as strike-breakers after a serious labor disturbance in 1899” (472). The mayor went so far as publicly to instruct his solicitor to look into banning the guidebook’s sale and library use in the city. Three words in a parenthetical phrase concerning the philanthropist George Peabody provoked another storm of protest from the town of Peabody: “He declined a baronetcy offered by Queen Victoria, accepting instead (a charming and perhaps not unstrategic gesture) the Queen’s gift of a miniature of herself, now on exhibition in the auditorium” (422). The press reported that “Citizens of Peabody had John E. Murphy, Peabody representative, point out the alleged slur against the founder of their city to Governor Hurley…. Ex-Mayor S. Howard Darnell calls these words in parentheses ‘the plain product of a distorted mind, intended to blacken the memory of our late benefactor.'”
At the other end of the spectrum, supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti greeted the guidebook’s appearance with delight. On August 20, 1937, Catharine Sargent Huntington, staunch supporter of the two men before and since their execution, wrote to Aldino Felicani, erstwhile treasurer of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee and close friend of Vanzetti:
Yesterday I … walked about the streets of Northampton…. Someone passed me carrying the Boston Daily Record with huge head-lines “Pro-Sacco Blast in W.P.A. State Book” and as I hurried to buy a copy I thought, how like ten years ago–and that no time nor change can ever help those heroic names from staring the world in the face.Indeed, the guide’s controversial entries did aid the efforts of the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Committee by bringing public attention to their ongoing fight for justice. In August 1937, this group was hard at work organizing the annual vigil and struggling to draw press attention to their attempts at reparation. The guide’s publication several days prior to the anniversary of the execution put Sacco and Vanzetti back in the spotlight. Ernest L. Meyer, writing from Provincetown, Massachusetts, for the New York Post, applauded the guide’s part in the fight for reparation even as he apprehended the threat of censorship presaged by the overwrought headlines: “it is likely that the hubbub will add to the crowds expected at a memorial service for Sacco and Vanzetti to be held tomorrow … under the auspices of the International Labor Defense. Committees will later place wreaths on the graves of unionists killed for their cause. And, I hope, copies of the first (uncensored) edition of the Guide to Massachusetts.”
The guidebook controversy also brought attention to the Memorial Committee’s attempts to have a monument to Sacco and Vanzetti “enshrined” on Boston Common. In 1927, the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee had commissioned Gutzon Borglum (of Mount Rushmore fame) to sculpt a bas-relief of the two men. Periodically, the committee offered the bronze plaque to municipal and state administrations for public display only to be periodically (and publicly) reviled for their efforts. An article in the Boston Evening Transcript of August 23,1937–one among several–ends an update on official negotiations around the guidebook with the story of the Borglum plaque:
It was ten years ago today that the two men were executed, and a committee chose this day to offer the State a memorial by Gutzon Borglum which they suggested be placed on the Common “as a symbol by which the people of our State may be constantly warned in the decades to come.”
Governor Hurley called it “a patently absurd gesture,” and Mayor Mansfield said that if his were the final word the offer “has no possible chance of acceptance.”
In the face of establishment obduracy, supporters’ energies had been flagging in recent years. In 1935, for example, the Sacco-Vanzetti Memorial Committee had announced that it would not hold a formal observance of the execution. Catharine Huntington’s enthusiastic reception of the guide suggests the boost it provided to their cause.
Aluminium copy of bronze bas-relief of Sacco and Vanzetti by Gutzon Borglum.
Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library.
Political Counter-move: Exclusion and Revision
In response to the guidebook’s inclusive inventories, Massachusetts politicians and the conservative press went on the offensive, calling for the exclusion of Sacco and Vanzetti from the guide and of the guidebook authors from the state and nation. Governor Hurley led the pack. The day after the Boston Traveler exposé of the contentious entries, Hurley denounced the guidebook and its authors to the annual convention of the American Legion in New Bedford:
A blistering attack by Massachusetts’ Legionnaire governor, Comrade Charles F. Hurley, on “the two or three men who are trying maliciously to besmirch the proud record of Massachusetts by adding prejudicial chapters to the WPA Massachusetts Guide Book,” threw the American Legion convention session into an uproar of applause at noon today….
… Governor Hurley declared in no uncertain terms he would demand the removal of the offending [WPA guidebook] writers.
“If these men don’t like Massachusetts and the United States, they can go–where they came from,” cried Governor Hurley as the assembled gathering rose enmasse and cheered.Throughout this struggle, Hurley recycled the Red Scare rhetoric that had tarred the anarchists in the 1920s to smear those responsible for their representation in the 1930s. Communists were the primary focus of scaremongering in the 1930s; anarchists–chief bogies of the 1920s and long-standing opponents of communism–had dwindled from view in America by that point. Consequently, when Hurley and other state authorities revived Sacco and Vanzetti as part of the contemporary “red menace,” they conflated deep philosophical and political differences to deploy an indiscriminate image of foreign threat for their own purposes. That image they then projected onto project members, producing a fresh batch of headlines: “‘PURGE WPA OF REDS,’ GOV. HURLEY DEMANDS”; “GUIDE CHANGED BY REDS ON W.P.A”; “HURLEY HUNTS RED WRITERS OF GUIDEBOOK.” Claiming that state editors had inserted subversive material after Secretary Cook and he had approved the galleys, Hurley publicly demanded from the WPA administration the names and addresses of the guidebook authors. Without hesitation, he sought to identify “them as non-voters, non-residents, non-citizens and in some cases Communists” and to bar them from further public service. 
Hurley crafted his political career on this kind of rhetoric, and it garnered him widespread support across the state. “Hurleyism” incited Red Scare politics in Massachusetts and led to the first “little HUAC” (House Un-American Activities Committee) in the country. “The Special Commission to Investigate the Activities within this Commonwealth of Communistic, Fascist, Nazi and Other Subversive Organizations,” established early in 1937 (a year ahead of Martin Dies’s House Committee on Un-American Activities), was stacked with Hurley appointees. Despite the commission’s broad title, it had a clear target: 8 pages reported on “Fascistic Activity” and 8 more on “Nazi Activity,” while the remaining 583 pages focused on the threatening “red menace.”
Former governor Charles Hurley (left), and Gov. Leverett Saltonstall, January 5, 1939. Taken by John Hurley, Boston Post photographer.
Leverett Saltonstall photographs, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Beginning in August 1937, denouncements of the guidebook’s inclusion of Sacco and Vanzetti drew generally and specifically on the commission’s rhetoric. As the Boston Post of August 23 reported, “Representative Edward D. Sirois of Lawrence, a member of a special Legislature commission investigating subversive propaganda, yesterday suggested to Governor Hurley that the State police seize all outstanding copies of the guide book.” It was not long before other “supercharged patriots” scrambled to side publicly with Hurley and his supporters, as groups bolstered their own status as cultural insiders by calling for the exclusion of anyone linked with the representation of threatening difference. Down in New Bedford, where Hurley had first denounced the guidebook before American Legionnaires, a meeting of the Massachusetts branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians made the headlines of the Boston Post on August 24, 1937, with a resolution “praising Governor Hurley’s stand in urging deletion of portions of the new WPA Guide Book.” The statement suggests how, as in the 1920s, ethnic solidarity crumbled before the demonization of Sacco and Vanzetti, fracturing communities internally and setting immigrant groups against each other in the scramble for political safety. Other critics demonized the project’s Washington office. Long-running tensions between Massachusetts Democrats and the Roosevelt administration fueled such accusations as that of Lawrence City Councillor Robert Gardiner Wilson: “‘We find,’ he said, ‘a select circle of masquerading Democrats in Washington, belittling protests by our own Democratic Governor Hurley and former Governor Ely, because Red agitators and Parlor Pinks have at last found their ‘promised land’ in the nation’s capital.'”
The rhetoric particularly targeted the academic editors in the Boston project office as anti-American aliens. Massachusetts Irish Democratic politicians of the period regularly paraded their animus against academics on the left. Hurley, as state treasurer (1931–1936) and then governor (1937–1938), repeatedly contributed the authority of his office to the political onslaught against the educational system. For example, he joined the attack against the appointment of Granville Hicks, a well-known Marxist literary critic, to the Harvard faculty, and he attempted to censor school textbooks. He also supported the teachers’ loyalty oath, crafted by Rep. Thomas Dorgan and enacted into law in 1935 under Hurley’s predecessor James Michael Curley. A tidal wave of controversy accompanied the introduction of the loyalty oath. Opposed by every organized teachers’ group in the state, the Massachusetts Federation of Labor, as well as many faculty and presidents of Ivy League colleges, the measure nonetheless gained considerable popular support. In 1937, Hurley kept the oath controversy alive by vetoing a repeal bill that had passed in both houses and delivering a number of speeches designed to exploit popular prejudice against intellectuals.
This context fueled politicians’ and press attacks on the three state editors of the Massachusetts guide. Dorgan, “father of the Teachers’ Oath Law,” assailed Billington: “I can only say that it is indeed a fine example to the citizens of Massachusetts to find out that some professors, especially Dr. Ray A. Billington, who becomes assistant professor of history at Smith College, will stab in the back the very state that pays them. This example certainly justifies the stand I have taken against subversive, Communistic propaganda for the past three years.” The Boston Globe outed Merle Colby as the author of the “Labor” essay and as a suspected Communist. When Colby’s wife denied his alleged party membership, the Boston Post continued the attack in more cautious terms, characterizing Colby as “another outsider who, while he may not be an enrolled member of the Communist party, has Communistic affiliations and is a contributor to the Communist magazine, the New Masses.” Opponents of the guide mounted the nastiest smear campaign against Bert Loewenberg, a Jewish academic about to leave for an instructor’s position at the University of South Dakota. Although Loewenberg was born and bred in Boston, the Boston Post used his connection with an out-of-state institution to construct him as an outsider and an alien: “As director of this guide to Massachusetts, a resident of South Dakota was imported here despite the wealth of competent Massachusetts historians…. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that certain radicals in the WPA, from outside Massachusetts, deliberately plotted to discredit the state.” The New Bedford press played on the caricature of the Jewish, academic, “effeminate” outsider in its continued effort to protect the reputation of local project employees. The Fairhaven Star reported that “Workers on the New Bedford District WPA Writers’ Project hailed with poorly disguised relief invitations to a ‘farewell dinner’ for Bert James Lowenberg, Ph.D., temporarily of Boston, upon whose rather narrow shoulders presumably rests responsibility for the compendium of inaccurate and misleading information known by courtesy as the Massachusetts Guide Book.” Editorials by the New Bedford Standard-Times set “the North Dakota professor” against “all the people,” who have paid for the guidebook with their taxes. “Considering that the people of Massachusetts were taxed to pay the writers who used the guidebook as a vehicle for running them down,” the paper complained on August 22, 1937, “these writers would seem to be like the birds that foul their own nests.”
Hurley’s administration attempted to seize direct editorial control over the guidebook, a role that was not available to state politicians according to the constitution of the Writers’ Project. As soon as the controversy broke on August 19, 1937, Hurley directed the state librarian, Dennis A. Cooley, to scour the text for offensive references. A few days later, Hurley went public with a demand for the full expurgation of the guidebook. According to Ray Billington, Massachusetts officials demanded that “the publishers [not only] strike out every mention of the Sacco-Vanzetti case, but all references to strikes, unions, organized labor, welfare legislation, child labor laws and virtually every progressive act in the history of the state. They even proposed dropping Labor Day from the list of official holidays!”
Project editors in both Boston and Washington shrugged off the fuss, positioning themselves at an ironic distance from Hurley’s overheated rhetoric. Ray Billington, deploying his credentials both as state director and as a historian, pronounced publicly that the Sacco-Vanzetti material was good, judicious, unbiased historical writing. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald quoted Billington’s assertion that the references were “simply statements of fact” and “moderate statements,” a judgment supported by Prof. Arthur M. Schlesinger of Harvard University in those papers the next day: “Considering the references as a brief statement of a complex situation, they seem as fair as could be made.” Alsberg’s opinion made headlines in the Baltimore Evening Sun and other out-of-state papers: “WPA Chief Insists Sacco-Vanzetti Story Is Necessary To Guidebook.” Harry Hopkins, WPA administrator in Washington and FDR confidant, went further, ridiculing the uproar as a “publicity stunt” designed to increase sales (which it did). As characterized by the press, Hopkins seemed almost glib about the challenge: “WPA officials, headed by Administrator Harry L. Hopkins, declared last night that no deletions will be made in the Massachusetts Guide Book put out by the WPA…. ‘If we acted on every complaint we get down here,’ Hopkins said, ‘we would never get anything done.'” Roosevelt exhibited a similar attitude: the next time he visited the National Project office, he “mischievously jabbed his cane into a copy of the Massachusetts guidebook. ‘I understand you had quite a bit of trouble over this book,’ he drawled, then laughed uproariously.” Washington officials placed their confidence in the hierarchies of government, demonstrating that, while the state might be bogged down in parochial interests and local pressure groups, the New Deal vision transcended petty politics. Hopkins sent an uncompromising message: this administration would sacrifice scholarship neither to the endless political sparring between state and federal administrations nor to the interests of local patronage; the guidebook was not available for revision.
Behind the scenes, however, Washington officials were feeling considerably more beleaguered than their public statements allowed, and frenzied negotiations were underway. Henry Alsberg spent several months attempting to square New Deal mandates, his own ideological commitments, and the political realities of the state. In September 1937 he wrote with evident consternation to his regional field supervisor Joseph Gaer about another New England project. Arguing that the title of the planned book should change from “The Condition of the Working Classes in New England” to “How New England People Live,” Alsberg cautioned Gaer: “we must be very careful that we do not give the impression that we are doing a class-angle study…. We have had so much criticism already for alleged bias that we must be most careful.” By October 1937, Alsberg was retreating by inches, desperately holding to the principle that if state officials wanted changes, they had to demand them formally, in writing. Otherwise, Hurley “could easily say that we ourselves thought we had done a poor job as we volunteered to make changes without any formal request from officials.” Alsberg feared the project’s “being accused of censoring our own book,” a point he made repeatedly: “We would be willing to add the material, but we hesitate to write a new Labor essay since in that case, we might be accused of volunteering to censor our own work.”
A triumvirate from Boston–representing political, project, and publishing interests–arranged a secret meeting to thrash out possible compromises: “Unofficially, after a period of jockeying, Mr. Cook agreed to drop into a restaurant where Professor Billington and Mr. Linscott of Houghton-Mifflin were taking lunch. The matter was informally discussed under pledge, however, that as far as the public was concerned, Mr. Cook had never met or talked to either of these gentlemen.” As a result of this meeting, the pressure on Alsberg escalated. Billington offered to rewrite the “Labor” essay, and Linscott urged Alsberg not only to accept that offer but to make additional changes suggested by Cook. Houghton Mifflin found itself boxed in after the rapid sell-out of the guidebook’s first run of ten thousand copies. Hurley’s administration was threatening not only to block the second printing–on which the publishers depended to recover some of the scarce resources they had gambled on the guidebook–but to exclude all Houghton Mifflin textbooks from Massachusetts schools, a loss of income that the publisher could not have survived. Clearly, the pressure exerted by the Massachusetts administration was considerably more effective and more precisely calculated than the New Dealers’ jokes acknowledged.
By January 1938, Hopkins had passed the buck to Alsberg, putting the final decision about textual changes in his hands. Billington had written a version of “Industry and Labor” then resigned to take up his assistant professorship at Smith College. Alsberg continued to dither. He was caught between the gritty politicians who controlled Massachusetts patronage and the good opinion of leading liberals whom he respected. Citing Lewis Mumford, Robert Morse Lovett, Malcolm Cowley, and Bruce Bliven specifically, he averred privately that “a large number of leading educators, critics and others have commented very favorably on the book as it stands now.” As late as April 1938, R. N. Linscott of Houghton Mifflin was still pleading the case for revision: “As far as the policy changes are concerned, please bear in mind that these were made, not at our request, but at the request of the State, transmitted through us, with the explicit threat the State would withdraw its sponsorship if they were not made.” A few days later, Linscott wrote a second letter in the face of Alsberg’s reluctance to fund such changes, citing pressure from local groups as well as the state administration: “It will, of course, be necessary for us to explain to the State, and to the various communities and organizations, why the errors which they have called to our attention will go uncorrected.”
Eventually, Alsberg passed the task of thoroughgoing revision down to the state office. By this time, all three state editors had gone. Billington went to his position at Smith College, Loewenberg took up teaching duties at the University of South Dakota, and Colby was spirited out of Massachusetts by Alsberg, who felt he would be safer working on the guide to Alaska. These three escaped the situation with their feisty image as “WPA lads” intact. Harry Hansen labeled them thus, championing the Massachusetts writers in his New York World-Telegram column: “They called the Plymouth Rock landing a myth and made Sacco and Vanzetti pop up in unexpected places…. Here is no whitewashing of the powerful, no obeisance to the ruling factions.”
The nitty-gritty of the revision process fell to Muriel E. Hawks, who found herself in a transitional position during these harried months, as her status shifted from assistant state director to acting state director to state director in Massachusetts. She was quite a different political animal from the “Harvard men” (and, perhaps for that reason, not Alsberg’s first choice as a replacement for Billington). A resident of Cambridge with considerable social standing, she functioned much more as a professional administrator and paid much more attention to public relations within the state than had the academic editors. The record suggests that she fine-tuned the “Industry and Labor” essay and directed her workforce in the state office in the painstaking job of trawling through the many objections, calculating the political risks, and doctoring the guide material accordingly. Looking back on this period, she sounded weary of her role as compromiser and peacemaker: “It has been a long pull, since the Guidebook storm, to restore friendly relations with the press and conservative public.”
In July 1938, Houghton Mifflin announced a “second printing” of the guidebook, with no public acknowledgement that the new volume amounted to a revised edition. The 1937 and 1938 volumes appeared identical in binding, length, and appearance. Editors had systematically expurgated the contents with such care that the pagination remained undisturbed, the table of contents and index needed almost no revision, and few paragraphs visibly changed length. The most noticeable alteration is the simple deletion of the date “1937” from the title page. Within this carefully sustained framework, however, the revisions were myriad and detailed. Some changes corrected previous errors in dates or figures, but many more revisions amounted to rhetorical shifts, large and small, that reoriented the political implications of many entries. Large changes included the rewriting of the entire fourteen-page “Labor” essay. Dubbed anew as “Industry and Labor,” this startlingly different account lost its militant edge, paid far less attention to the organization and conditions of the working classes, and focused on the technological and manufacturing triumphs of the state. Editors also rewrote the sentence that the Italian-American Club and the mayor of Marlboro had protested: “It has a large Italian population, who were encouraged to settle here as strike-breakers after a serious labor disturbance in 1899” became “Marlborough’s several racial groups have been attracted to the town by the opportunities offered in various trades” (472). And the three parenthetical words that had enraged the town of Peabody were changed from “(a charming and perhaps not unstrategic gesture)” to “(a charming and typically democratic gesture)” (422).
The most stunning changes concern the guide’s representation of Sacco and Vanzetti. The 1920 robbery and murder of which they were accused vanished from the description of Braintree; the 1927 execution disappeared from the list of events in the State Chronology; and the paragraphs in the Dedham and Boston descriptions shrank to one sentence each, the latter not referenced in the new index. The revised “Labor” essay severed the paragraph on Sacco and Vanzetti from labor history, thereby reorienting the case’s political associations. Because the intervening paragraphs on oppressive work conditions were cut, the text now moves directly from the Boston Police Strike to Sacco and Vanzetti–that is, from one political disturbance to another rather than from a story of labor to particular laborers. Moreover, the men are now figured primarily as anarchists:
The Sacco-Vanzetti case hinged about two members of an anarchist group, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler, and Niccola Sacco, a shoe worker, who were arrested in 1920 on the charge of murder and robbery in connection with the theft of a $15,000 payroll. (76)
The final sentence of the paragraph also underwent revision. The original version read: “It was widely believed that, although legal forms were observed, the determining factor in the case from start to finish was the affiliation of the two men with an unpopular minority political group” (76). The revision reads: “It was contended by liberals and radicals that, although legal forms were observed, the determining factor in the case was the affiliation of the two men with an unpopular minority political group” (76). The substituted language minimizes public sympathy and distances any assertion of their innocence from majority opinion. Through such tiny, cumulative changes, the space for metonymic figures of social justice–on the cultural landscape and in the official narrative of the state–shrank considerably, as the revised text pushed dissenting voices to the margins.
Then and later, project insiders kept the revision process secret. Up to a point, the motivation for this secrecy seems strategic and local to the exigencies of 1930s Massachusetts politics. But the denial of the guidebook revisions continued for decades beyond the closing of the Writers’ Project in 1943. A larger dynamic was at work. Cultural insiders–in this case, former project officials–wielded information as a means of cultural inclusion and exclusion, participating in a broadly governmental management of public knowledge that continues to shape popular perception and scholarly study of the guidebook’s making.
When the silently revised guidebook appeared in mid July 1938, project officials and the publisher kept a close watch on its reception. Frank Manuel, the regional editor for New England, contacted Alsberg on August 16, 1938: “The new edition of the Massachusetts Guide has been on the stands for the past month. Nobody has apparently noticed the revisions and changes.” A month later, Linscott wrote to Alsberg with relief: “The second printing of the Massachusetts Guide is selling slowly and steadily and so far no one has even spotted the fact that a new printing is out or that changes have been made–which is perhaps just as well.” No one publicly acknowledged the political compromises that led to these revisions. Alsberg even managed to persuade Merle Colby to let his name stand in the preface to the revised volume. This desire to sustain the invisibility of the revisions points to the larger complicities and political accommodations that informed the act of censorship.
Page 76 of the guidebook in 1937 (left) and 1938 (above). Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and courtesy of the author, respectively.
In the immediate context, we can speculate that it suited the interests of both federal and state politicians to cut a quiet deal that basically gave Hurley his way without embarrassing New Dealers in Washington. Above all, the Writers’ Project and its backers in Roosevelt’s administration did not want further controversy, especially with the Dies Committee beginning to investigate alleged communists in the Federal Arts Projects and amid accusations of subversive activity on the New York Writers’ Project and the Federal Theatre Project. Hurley may also have been keen to avoid a further public relations row with Roosevelt’s administration in 1938, since that was a year of primaries for congress and state governor. Hurley did have his image to protect. The Massachusetts press had portrayed him as defender of the state’s reputation. A throng of guidebook opponents–including Rep. Edward D. Sirois of Lawrence, the library trustees of Peabody, the mayors of Leominster and Marlboro, and a Fall River councillor–had demanded action of Hurley. His nemesis, Georgia governor E. D. Rivers, had trumpeted the guidebook controversy as Hurley’s personal embarrassment. The compromise position–achieving the requested revisions without publicizing the victory–allowed Hurley to prove his political clout to those constituents with continuing interest in the guidebook while restoring relations with the Washington office. In any case, by late 1938, he lost the governorship nomination contest to James Michael Curley and went on his way to a new career in real estate.
Project editors and administrators long continued to collude in the act of censorship by suppressing the fact of the revision, denying the capitulation of New Deal administrators to Governor Hurley, and insisting that Boston and Washington officials stood by their stated resolve to protect the guidebook’s integrity. Ray Billington’s 1961 retrospective of his time as state director suggested that no one allowed any changes: “Fortunately Harry Hopkins and the other WPA administrators treated the whole episode as the teapot tempest that it was, while the publishers went ahead with a second printing, and a third.” In 1972 Jerre Mangione, who had been national coordinating editor on the project, minimized the changes and misdated them as occurring in 1939: “No changes were made in the Massachusetts Guide while Alsberg was national director. After his departure, its publishers deleted a statement by Heywood Broun on the Sacco-Vanzetti case.” Billington certainly knew of the changes and indeed contributed some of them. Mangione would not have been directly involved in crafting the revisions but very likely knew of their existence. These highly interested versions of the Massachusetts controversy erased the account of Hurley’s influence from the public record. They worked to exclude Hurley and his administration from the arena of cultural authority just as thoroughly as Hurley had worked to exclude Sacco and Vanzetti and the guidebook authors from the Massachusetts scene.
The expurgated version of the guidebook’s making became received wisdom. When Houghton Mifflin commissioned Ray Bearse to produce a “second edition” (really, a wholesale revamping) of the guidebook in 1971, his introduction followed Billington’s published version of the controversy: “Fortunately WPA administrator Harry Hopkins and the publishers did not knuckle under to the emotional pressures of the era.” Jane Holtz Kay’s introduction to the 1983 reprinting of the original guide (and it is the original text) assumes that there was only one version of the guide. Scholars have unearthed some consequences of the Massachusetts controversy, including the addition of a euphemistically labeled “policy editor” (actually, an internal censor) to the project’s Washington office in 1938. This employee, Louise Lazell, subsequently gave damaging evidence to Martin Dies’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. No one has addressed (or exposed) the censorship involved in a systematic rewriting that all parties subsequently denied.
The bleakest reading of this suppressed story would make it complicit in the fate of Sacco and Vanzetti. The two men profoundly challenged the structures of governance not only with their anarchist beliefs in communitarian values but by the example of their treatment. The effort and secrecy devoted to suppressing the Sacco-Vanzetti material show that it did challenge the status quo, an act of some courage by project employees heavily dependent on government sponsorship. If this is a story of censorship, it is one that demonstrates the layers of complicity and power broking involved in that process, as well as the slippery politics of publicly funding an informational genre. At a time when the New Deal encouraged a national stock-taking of American culture, the WPA guide to Massachusetts was caught in a maelstrom over questions of cultural citizenship: who belonged to the state and the nation and who got to decide. Press, politicians, and public officials interrogated the citizenship not just of Sacco and Vanzetti but also of project employees. The guide carried considerable power in this debate. The combination of its low-key factual form and its public mandate insisted, without polemic, that Sacco and Vanzetti be included in the Massachusetts scene. However, once the project’s leaders capitulated to political pressure, that same authoritative factuality camouflaged the revised volume’s systemic exclusions. The guidebook continued to present its information as commonsensical and beyond challenge, quietly retreating from the struggle towards the public reparation of Sacco and Vanzetti and from an overhauling of the assumptions underpinning the national “we.” Then and later project officials denied the capitulation, continuing to shape information in the interests of cultural authority.
CHRISTINE BOLD is professor of English at the University of Guelph. A former editor of The Canadian Review of American Studies, Bold has also published The WPA Guides: Mapping America (1999) and Selling the Wild West: Popular Western Fiction, 1860 to 1960 (1987). She is currently working on a book-length study entitled “Writers, Plumbers, and Anarchists: The WPA Writers’ Project in Massachusetts.”
This research was generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am very grateful to the staffs of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library (especially Eugene Zepp); National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division; and Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Rochester Library for their expertise and assistance. I also thank Amy Appleford, Morgan Dennis, George Grinnell and Mark Schwandt for their work as graduate research assistants, University of Guelph. And, as always, I am indebted to Ric Knowles for his perspicacity and support.
1. The voluminous literature on the Sacco-Vanzetti case includes Paul Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background (Princeton, 1991); John Dos Passos, Facing the Chair: The Story of the Americanization of Two Foreignborn Workmen (1927; New York, 1970); Herbert B. Ehrmann, The Case That Will Not Die: Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti (Boston, 1969); Felix Frankfurter, The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti: A Critical Analysis for Lawyers and Laymen (1927; New York, 1961); Brian Jackson, The Black Flag: A Look Back at the Strange Case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (Boston, 1981); Louis Joughin and Edmund E. Morgan, The Legacy of Sacco and Vanzetti (1948; Chicago, 1964); Katherine Anne Porter, The Never-Ending Wrong (Boston, 1977); David Felix, Sacco-Vanzetti and the Intellectuals (Bloomington, 1965); Francis Russell, Tragedy in Dedham: The Story of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case (New York, 1962); Robert P. Weeks, ed., Commonwealth vs. Sacco and Vanzetti (Englewood Cliffs, 1958).
2. Roosevelt is quoted in William F. McDonald, Federal Relief Administration and the Arts: The Origins and Administrative History of the Arts Projects of the Works Progress Administration (Columbus, Oh., 1969), 103. For fuller details of the Federal Writers’ Project and the American Guide Series, see also Christine Bold, The WPA Guides: Mapping America (Jackson, Miss., 1999); Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers’ Project, 1935–43 (1972; Philadelphia, 1983); Monty Noam Penkower, The Federal Writers’ Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts (Urbana, Ill., 1977); and Petra Schindler-Carter, Vintage Snapshots: The Fabrication of a Nation in the W.P.A. American Guide Series (Frankfurt, 1999).
3. Quoted in Mangione, The Dream and the Deal, 85.
4. Artists and Writers Union of Massachusetts to Alsberg, Nov. 6, 1935, Entry 1 Massachusetts, Works Projects Administration Federal Writers’ Project Central Office Records (hereafter Central Office Records), Record Group 69 (RG 69), National Archives at College Park, Md. (NACP).
5. Ray Allen Billington, “Government and the Arts: The W.P.A. Experience,” American Quarterly 13 (1961): 474–475. Billington also wrote privately to Mangione about anti-Semitism on the project. See Billington to Mangione, Jan. 28, 1969, Jerre Mangione Papers, Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Rochester.
6. Mangione, The Dream and the Deal, 86. Note, however, the Baltimore Morning Sun, Aug. 21, 1937: “Dr. Billington is known to WPA officials [in Washington, D.C.] as somewhat of a conservative, an impression based largely on the fact that he is a history teacher.”
7. The figure comes from Ray Billington, quoted in Mangione, The Dream and the Deal, 191.
8. The “Summary Criticism” on the Dedham copy is initialed “GMC” and “RC”–presumably George Cronyn, associate director in the Washington office, and Ruth Crawford, an editor in the New York City office with nationwide responsibilities. Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
9. Fairhaven Star, Aug. 26, 1937. The C.I.O. reference was likely a jab at Frank Manning, a Boston editor who did some local union organizing in New Bedford.
10. On the New Deal realignment in Massachusetts by ethnic groups, see Gerald H. Gamm, The Making of New Deal Democrats: Voting Behavior and Realignment in Boston, 1920–1940 (Chicago, 1989). On the Democratic coalition, see Alec Barbrook, God Save the Commonwealth: An Electoral History of Massachusetts (Amherst, 1973), and J. Joseph Huthmacher, Massachusetts People and Politics, 1919–1933 (1959; New York, 1969).
11. Clifford Shipton most explicitly reciprocated that feeling with his haughty statement that “it is difficult for a respectable man to vote the Democratic ticket in local politics.” Shipton to Alsberg, Dec. 30, 1935, Entry 1 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
12. Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Massachusetts, Massachusetts: A Guide to its Places and People (Boston, 1937), 144. All further references to this edition will be cited with page numbers in the text of the essay.
13. Dos Passos, Facing the Chair, 52.
14. A more recent argument makes a similar point: “In January 1920 the Palmer raids netted hundreds of suspects in Boston and other Massachusetts towns. This image of industrial communities liberally infested with Communists and anarchists set the backdrop for the state’s prosecution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.” M. J. Heale, McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935–1965 (Athens, Ga., 1998), 154.
15. The Dedham entry also revivifies the pamphlet protesting the Lowell Commission report on Sacco and Vanzetti, circulated (and suppressed) at Harvard’s tercentenary celebration in 1936.
16. Rocco Marinaccio, “Dago Christs or Hometown Heroes? Proletarian Representations of Sacco and Vanzetti,” The Centennial Review 41 (1997): 622.
17. Boston Traveler, Aug. 19, 1937.
18. New York Post, Aug. 21, 1937; Boston American, Aug. 19, 1937; Washington Evening Star, Aug. 19, 1937; Boston American, Aug. 27, 1937; New York Times, Aug. 29, 1937.
19. Boston American, Aug. 19, 1937.
20. Boston American, Aug. 19, 1937.
21. Boston Herald, Aug. 20, 1937. See also Boston American, Aug. 19, 1937; New York Times, Aug. 20, 1937.
22. Providence Journal, Aug. 25, 1937; Worcester Telegram, Sept. 1, 1937.
23. Boston American, Aug. 27, 1937; Pawtucket Times, Aug. 28, 1937. Controversy has continued to erupt whenever Sacco and Vanzetti are returned to public attention in Massachusetts–up to and beyond 1977, when, on the fiftieth anniversary of their executions, Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation in the senate chamber declaring that they had not received a fair trial. See Brian Jackson, The Black Flag, 89–90.
24. Catharine Sargent Huntington to Aldino Felicani, Aug. 20, 1937, Felicani Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library, Ms.2030 7A (Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library).
25. New York Post, Aug. 21, 1937.
26. On November 16, 1931, Gardner Jackson wrote to Aldino Felicani that Gutzon Borglum had cast the tablet in bronze: “The question is what to do with the sculpture. I do not believe there is any point in trying to have it placed on public display in Boston anywhere. Of course, you might get some publicity by writing a letter to Mayor Curley asking him to place it on the Common.” Felicani Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library, Ms.2030 7A.
27. Creighton Hills to Aldino Felicani, Aug. 23, 1935, Felicani Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Boston Public Library, Ms.2030 7A. In 1997, Boston’s first mayor of Italian descent–Mayor Thomas Menino–officially accepted the Borglum bas-relief, at the Boston Public Library. Even now, its display is a long way from Boston Common, set unobtrusively into a wall in the hushed and low-lit entrance to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, deep in the labyrinthine corridors of the building.
28. The scene is hauntingly familiar: “in 1927, the Massachusetts Department went out of its way to take a stand in the Sacco-Vanzetti case. In a ‘wild uproar’ at the State Convention in Fitchburg, the Legion ‘applauded and expressed its appreciation to the Governor [Alvan Fuller] for his untiring efforts in the interest of justice’ when he refused eleventh-hour pleas that he pardon the two ‘convicted murderers.’ The Legionnaires ‘clapped. They yelled in one big chorus…. They stood, then they pounded the chairs. Then the band played America.'” William Pencak, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919–1941 (Boston, 1989), 166.
29. Averich, Sacco and Vanzetti, 211.
30. Boston American, Aug. 21, 1937; Boston Post, Aug. 23, 1937; Boston American, Aug. 26, 1937.
31. Boston Post, Aug. 27, 1937. One account claimed that extra material had been inserted after the typescript left Hurley’s hands but before it arrived in Washington D.C. (Boston American, Aug. 21, 1937; New York Times, Aug. 21, 1937); another version claimed that the “Labor” essay was smuggled into the typesetter after the dummy had passed through both his and the Washington office’s hands (Boston Post, Aug. 21, 1937). The archival evidence does not support these claims.
32. Heale, McCarthy’s Americans, 150, 165.
33. The quoted phrase is from Heale, McCarthy’s Americans, 154.
34. Jackson, The Black Flag, 98.
35. Boston Post, Aug. 23, 1937. On distrust between Massachusetts and New Deal Democrats, see Lawrence J. Kennedy, Planning the City upon a Hill: Boston since 1630 (Amherst, 1992); Alexander Keyssar, Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts (Cambridge, Eng., 1986); Thomas H. O’Connor, The Boston Irish: A Political History (Boston, 1995); and Charles H. Trout, Boston, the Great Depression, and the New Deal (New York, 1977).
36. Boston Advertiser, Aug. 22, 1937.
37. Boston Globe, Aug. 20, 1937; Boston Post, Aug. 21, 1937.
38. Boston Post, Aug. 21, 1937.
39. Fairhaven Star, Aug. 26, 1937; New Bedford Standard-Times, Aug. 20 and 22, 1937.
40. Billington, “Government and the Arts,” 478. See also Paul A. Cyr, “Governor Hurley, Sacco & Vanzetti and the Massachusetts Guide,” Spinner: People and Culture in Southeastern Massachusetts 4 (1988): 12–15.
41. Boston Globe, Aug. 19 and 20, 1937; Boston Herald, Aug. 19 and 20, 1937.
42. Baltimore Evening Sun, Aug. 19, 1937. See also Washington Evening Star, Aug. 19, 1937; New York Sun, Aug. 19 and 20, 1937; Cleveland Plain Dealer, Aug. 20, 1937; Baltimore Morning Sun, Aug. 20, 1937.
43. On Sept. 20, 1937, Ruth Crawford addressed a memo to Henry Alsberg: “The Massachusetts Guide, according to The Transcript, moved to fourth place among last week’s best sellers in Boston.” Entry 2, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP. Press quoting Hopkins included Boston Globe, Aug. 20, 1937; Boston Herald, Aug. 20, 1937; Boston Post, Aug. 20, 1937; Baltimore Morning Sun, Aug. 20, 1937; New York Times, Aug. 21, 1937; Pittsburgh Press, Aug. 20, 1937; and Baltimore Morning Sun, Aug. 21, 1937. The Boston Post, Aug. 21, 1937, refuted his accusation.
44. Mangione, The Dream and the Deal, 220.
45. Alsberg to Gaer, Sept. 22, 1937, Entry 6 New England, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
46. Alsberg to Ellen Woodward, Oct. 14, 1937, Entry 5, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
47. Alsberg to Ellen Woodward, Oct. 14, 1937, Entry 5, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
48. Alsberg to Lawrence Morris, Mar. 23, 1938, Entry 5, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
49. The letter, signed by Alsberg but composed by Reed Harris (assistant director in Washington), to R. N. Linscott at Houghton Mifflin reads in part: “Although the decision as to whether changes are to be made in the text of the Massachusetts Guide have been left in my hands now, I do not feel that any changes should be made until you think about the whole matter very carefully. We feel that a great deal of the publicity we have received and the reputation we have developed may be credited to the out-spoken statements in the Massachusetts book. As you know, a large number of leading educators, critics and others have commented very favorably on the book as it stands now.” Jan. 25, 1938, Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
50. Linscott to Alsberg, Apr. 25, 1938; Linscott to Alsberg, Apr. 28, 1938, Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
51. New York World-Telegram, Aug. 21, 1937.
52. Corresponding with Mrs. Lulu Martin Scott, regional director, Women’s and Professional Projects, Alsberg judged Mrs. Hawks “not up to the job of directing the Massachusetts Project…. I feel that she will make an excellent assistant.” Feb. 11, 1938, Entry 1 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP. By Mar. 30, 1939, however, Alsberg wrote to Hawks with palpable gratitude: “of all the New England states Massachusetts under your direction is perhaps outstanding.” Entry 1 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
53. I have found very little information on Muriel E. Hawks beyond occasional newspaper mention during her time as state director. The 1942 Boston City Directory lists her occupation and address. My reconstruction of her role in revising the guidebook comes from two sources. A memorandum from Hawks to Gaer discusses the revised material as if she authored it on direction from above: “In accordance with your request, I enclose the essay on Industry and Labor.” Dec. 9, 1937, Entry 4, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP. An undated draft press release–almost certainly never circulated–reads in part: “In preparation for this new printing, the Federal Writers’ Project collected and analyzed all criticisms that have been made and combed the book, line by line, for possible errors.” The circular also makes a claim that is not supported by the editorial records that I have seen: “In addition to the factual corrections, one important change has been made in the book–the substitution of an essay on labor and industry for the present essay on labor. It was the original intention of the directors of the Federal Writers’ Project to have the essay cover both subjects but the pressure in getting the book out prevented the completion of the essay in time to include in the book.” Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
54. Hawks to Alsberg, Jan. 5, 1939, Entry 1 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
55. The dynamic is consistent with the operation that Michel Foucault dubbed “governmentality”: that is, the continuum of pressures–from institutional government to cultural forms to social and individual relations–on a population to identify as a governable unit with particular qualifications for membership. See Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (London, 1991), 87–104.
56. Frank Manuel to Alsberg, Aug. 16, 1938, Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
57. Linscott to Alsberg, Sept. 27, 1938, Entry 13 Massachusetts, Central Office Records, RG 69, NACP.
58. See Penkower, The Federal Writers’ Project, 106. Presumably Alsberg also consulted Loewenberg and Billington, the two other signatories to the preface.
59. The seriousness of the threat was proven by the closing of the Federal Theatre Project and the devolving of the other three Arts Projects to state control in 1939.
60. Gov. E. D. Rivers, who was feuding with Hurley about convict extradition, announced that the guide “would be considered for purchase ‘so our children may be informed as to the deplorable condition of the courts and penal system in Massachusetts.” Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 21, 1937; Providence Journal, Aug. 21, 1937; Worcester Telegram, Aug. 21, 1937.
61. Billington, “Government and the Arts,” 478; Mangione, The Dream and the Deal, 220n.
62. Ray Bearse, Massachusetts: A Guide to the Pilgrim State, 2d ed. (Boston, 1971), vii; Jane Holtz Kay, introduction to The WPA Guide to Massachusetts: The Federal Writers’ Project Guide to 1930s Massachusetts, by Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Massachusetts (New York, 1983). Bearse writes Sacco and Vanzetti prominently into the history essay and the Dedham entry and mentions them in his treatment of government, Boston, and Braintree. Kay does not alter the 1937 text.
63. Penkower discusses the pressure on Alsberg to revise the guide and the addition of the “policy editor” (The Federal Writers’ Project, 106–107); Schindler-Carter mentions that “Contrary to popular opinion, the Massachusetts guide was slightly revised” (Vintage Snapshots, 109).