Sexual Saints and Suffering Sinners:
The Uneasy Feminism of The Masses, 1911-1917
ABSTRACT (75 words)
During the 1910s, both the women's rights movement and Socialism gained
widespread support in America. This paper examines the intersection of these
causes in the radical magazine The Masses, offering a rhetorical analysis of its
verbal and visual imagery of women and the working poor. It argues that the
magazine's conflation of gender and class and its inability to transcend
stereotypes weakened its arguments about both women's rights and Socialism at a
crucial political moment.
Sexual Saints and Suffering Sinners:
The Uneasy Feminism of The Masses, 1911-1917
In 1909, Cosmopolitan magazine published a short story, "The Emancipation of
Sarah," about a young Jewish woman named Sarah and her overbearing mother who
believed that they had been successful in converting Sarah's immigrant suitor to
feminism and Socialism. Immediately after marrying her, however, the young man
put his new wife in her place, and with only a little resistance, Sarah happily
assumed the role of a pious and prosperous merchant's wife. Appearing in a
mass- circulation magazine, this moral tale was, despite its ending, a catalog
of what the mainstream press would perceive as a series of threats to the
American way of life during the coming decade: feminism, Socialism, and
Most popular magazines played to public anxieties about gender and class
during the 1910s, when the meaning of each of these terms was very much in flux.
Stories such as "The Emancipation of Sarah" referenced real changes in American
society. Immigration was literally transforming the face of America, creating
new subcultures and new layers of the working class; growing dissatisfaction
with the political system gave Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs nearly a
million votes in the 1912 Presidential election; and millions of women were
entering public life through Progressive-era reform efforts, the suffrage
movement, and paid work.
Perhaps nowhere was the potential for radical social and political change more
boldly articulated than in The Masses, an influential magazine during this era
despite its small circulation and brief life. Its contributors--writers
and artists including Max Eastman, John Reed, Floyd Dell, Mary Heaton Vorse, and
(heading the art department) the "Ashcan realist" painter John Sloan--"sought to
create a culture that would serve the needs of the proletariat," writes Leslie
Fishbein in her history of the magazine. What these Greenwich Village
visionaries published from 1911 to 1917 was in fact read not so much by "the
proletariat" (who couldn't afford magazines) as by bohemian intellectuals and
The Masses is generally remembered as a political periodical, a champion of the
American working class that envisioned a classless American society, and its
fate is most often scrutinized as a case study of the failure of Socialism to
take hold in the twentieth-century United States. Yet the magazine also
championed American women and envisioned a non-sexist American society. What's
more, these two themes were inextricably linked as factors in the magazine's
editorial identity. The editors, writers, and artists of The Masses drew on
widely-held stereotypes about women's "place" (private and public) and about
working-class morality, intertwining the two concepts into political symbols.
Indeed, this conflation may offer an alternative explanation for the magazine's
downfall: its vision of feminism, while arguably radical, was romantically
unreal, a blind spot that weakened the magazine's arguments about both women's
rights and Socialism.
This paper re-examines The Masses' failed promise by assessing the ways in
which ideas about class and gender intersected in its pages. Its approach
echoes feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott's belief that, rather than
"search[ing] for single origins," cultural historians, especially of women's
history, "have to conceive of processes so interconnected that they cannot be
disentangled." It argues, ultimately, that it is rarely useful (or even
possible) examine "images of women in" any particular medium, as though their
meaning were separate from the medium's larger meaning--and yet it is also
impossible to assess a medium's larger meaning without understanding how, and
why, it portrayed women and women's lives.
The Scholarly and Theoretical Context for this Study
For a magazine that lasted only six years, The Masses has received
considerable attention from scholars, including two book-length works, William
O'Neill's 1966 Echoes of Revolt and Fishbein's more recent Rebels in Bohemia.
Because several of the era's prominent painters drew for the magazine, its
artwork has been the focus of several scholarly works (though all but
one--Rebecca Zurier's excellent Art for the Masses--have dealt solely with
Sloan). In Heretics & Hellraisers, Margaret C. Jones examines the
contributions of female writers and artists to The Masses, though her largely
bibliographical work is short on analysis and does not examine the ways male
contributors portrayed women.
This paper extends the work of art historians by considering the relationship
between the magazine's visual and verbal content--the journalistic context for
the artists' statements--and by focusing on the magazine's portrayal of women.
Conversely, in its close examination of visual imagery, this study adds a new
dimension to the growing body of literature (by scholars such as Richard Ohmann,
Jennifer Scanlon, and Ellen Gruber Garvey) on how factors of class and gender
transformed the way magazines were written in the early twentieth century.
This study offers not a quantitative content analysis, but rather what
journalism historian Marion Marzolf called a "content assessment," looking not
just at the images but also beyond them into their cultural and historical
context. As a rhetorical analysis, it embraces the notion that imagery can
be "read" as a kind of language, a system of signs whose meaning is culturally
shared yet also historically specific. More specifically, this study
examines the role of stereotypes (expressed verbally as well as visually) in
Since they are simplified expressions of more complex ideas, stereotypes are
both quickly comprehensible and inherently ideological. Especially effective in
accomplishing these goals are images of, and stories about, women. In her study
of the historical uses of female allegorical symbols, Marina Warner notes that
in art and media, "men often appear as themselves, as individuals, but women
attest the identity and value of someone or something else, and the beholder's
reaction is necesssary to complete their meaning." Martha Banta has
similarly argued that the faces and bodies of women have long been used to
express ideals such as liberty, justice, innocence, and compassion.
Because of their easy readability, stereotypes are usually an effective means
of maintaining the status quo in a society. Yet the writers and artists of The
Masses played with stereotypes, sometimes reinforcing the imagery of mainstream
media and sometimes turning it on its head. For instance, they often reproduced
visual stereotypes yet chose titles or captions that were ambiguous or ironic,
using using words as anchorage that limited or broadened the possible
meanings. Frequently words and pictures melded into what visual theorist W. J.
T. Mitchell calls an "imagetext," together offering a richer message than each
The ways in which The Masses sometimes subverted stereotypes to poke fun at
conventional wisdom illustrate how alternative media function in a hegemonic
system by "point[ing] to the alternatives that are left, or forced, out of media
content, the ways in which basic questions are dominantly framed, and the terms
which are permitted within debate." Yet the extent to which this "radical"
magazine also reiterated mainstream notions--about both gender and
class--suggests the true ideological power of cultural stereotypes. The Masses'
uneasy relationship with such symbolic imagery resulted in its ultimate failure
to advance the causes of early-twentieth-century feminism--at the same time it
undermined the magazine's ability to re-envision the American political system.
When they wrote about or drew women, the editors and writers of The Masses
surely meant to surprise, to disturb, to rebel against propriety. Yet in their
attempts to do so, they ended up repeating conventional notions about American
womanhood. Further complicating the magazine's vision of 1910s feminism and
Socialism was a profound classism that also permeated the women's rights
movement. Just as the women's club movement imposed philanthropists' and
reformers' upper-middle-class values on immigrant families (through, for
instance, Americanization projects, settlement houses, and anti-vice campaigns),
the well-educated if bohemian contributors to The Masses envisioned the future
of both women and "the proletariat" in utopian rather than realistic terms.
The magazine championed suffrage and, echoing the sentiment of female radicals
of the day, considered women's rights to extend beyond the vote: "For the new
radicals feminism promised to liberate the whole modern woman," explains Leslie
Fishbein. Indeed, the women's issues covered in The Masses included not
just suffrage, but also divorce, working conditions for factory women, birth
control, prostitution, and women's earning power.
Some of these articles were written by women themselves. A 1915 piece by
anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons criticized "the race-suicide croakers,"
conservatives who worried that the birth rate among immigrant women would ruin
the "stock" of the American population. The magazine printed Emma Goldman's
courtroom defense speech when she was convicted in 1916 for delivering a public
lecture on birth control. Another female author proposed homemaking
cooperatives to "socialize the household industry," including childrearing. In
1913, the year of a strike at silk mills in Paterson, N. J.--for which The
Masses staff staged a fundraising pageant in Madison Square Garden--the magazine
published the first-person account of a 15-year-old girl who worked there.
Editor Max Eastman (a co-founder of the Men's League for Woman Suffrage)
believed that Socialism and feminism were inextricably linked: "Almost from the
first use of the word 'Socialism' the freedom of woman has been united with it,"
he wrote in a 1913 editorial. Yet for many of his male contemporaries,
"free love, not votes for women, was the burning question" of feminism, notes
William O'Neill. Indeed, it was on the subject of sexual relations between
men and women that the Masses radicals revealed both their class blindness and
their limited (if idealized) view of women's nature.
Male contributors' commentary on this subject often seemed more a matter of
self-interest than politics. Floyd Dell hoped that feminism would ease social
constraints on extramarital sex and relieve men of the financial burden of
supporting wives: "that is what feminism is going to do for men--give them back
their souls, so that they can risk them fearlessly in the adventure of life,"
wrote the married Dell in a 1914 article in the magazine.
A more complex vision emerged in the writing of women. While most preferred
monogamy, they envisioned a similar utopia: in their view, which merged
Freudian theory with maternalism, marriage was a sexually fulfilling union
of uninhibited bodies, a psychologically satisfying meeting of minds, a
spiritually uplifting mingling of souls. This "companionate" model of
matrimony, based on Socialist ideals, was a glaring example of the discrepancies
between the intellectual radical feminists' vision and the realities of
working-class women. For the latter, marriage generally remained a necessity
and a duty; what's more, since they were less able than their radical Greenwich
Village sisters to secure birth control, they were less likely to think of sex
as pleasure and "fulfillment."
Female contributors to The Masses acknowledged the physical and economic
burdens large families placed on working-class women. "[T]he question of birth
control is largely a workingman's question, above all a workingwoman's
question," wrote Emma Goldman in 1916. "She it is who risks her health, her
youth, her very life in giving out of herself the units of the race." The
birth-control advocacy of Margaret Sanger, whose work the Masses praised, had
been inspired by her involvement in labor-union movements. Yet both Goldman and
Sanger thought of sex as feminist self-expression, and Sanger justified her
activism in terms of
a mystique about womanliness, the successor to
nineteenth-century feminist notions of the moral
superiority of women . . . . [she] believed in the
"feminine spirit," the motive power of woman's nature.
It was this spirit, coming from within, rather than
social relations that drove women to revolt."
Despite their hopeful vision, the Village feminists were often disappointed in
their own marriages. The writings of women involved in relationships with the
male Masses radicals reveal that often the men interpreted sexual liberation to
mean receiving ongoing emotional support from one woman while sleeping with many
others. What's more, this interpretation still cast women in maternal roles
("mothering" their men), continued to privilege the man's professional work over
the woman's, and failed to equalize (or even change) spouses' responsibilities
for child care and housekeeping.
In The Masses' view of heterosexual unions, "[r]omance often eclipsed all
other concerns," notes Rebecca Zurier. Both male and female writers
"idealize[d] women as superior to corruption and competition, as creatures
devoted to love and the nurturance of children." In this view, women and
children would thrive under Socialism not because they themselves would become
independent, but rather because their husbands would be able to earn enough
money to enable wives to turn their higher moral powers full-time to
childrearing. Thus the magazine seemed to support the modern feminist while
"actually perpetuat[ing] Victorian sexual stereotypes."
The Masses romanticized not only mothers, but also their seeming social
opposite--prostitutes. In fiction and nonfiction, male writers cast prostitutes
alternately as nobly suffering victims, revolutionary heroines, and erotic
adventurers. James Henle portrayed the prostitute as "nobody's sister,"
As a matter of fact, she is the sister of us all, though no
one ever thinks of her as anybody's sister. . . . Yet has
she faith, and the courage of the meek, and the charity
born of suffering. . . . Sins? -- she has none . . . . she is
as honest as the day is long . . . . She is satisfied with
dry bread. . . . I doubt not that she prays more sincerely
than most of our professed and obsessed reformers.
Here, too, while seeming to support the most vilified of working-class women,
the magazine actually glossed over the realities of their lives by sanctifying
Mixed Messages on Covers
Similar contradictions between professed intent and actual effect could be
found in the artwork of The Masses, especially its covers--as well as in the
"imagetexts" that resulted when words were added to pictures. One of the
magazine's earliest major visual statements was "The Cheapest Commodity on the
Market," drawn by Anton Otto Fisher, a German immigrant and the husband of the
suffrage illustrator Mary Ellen Sigsbee. Shown in Figure 1, this
frontispiece was published in late 1912 and depicted actual women (not
allegorical figures) as commodities in a capitalist society. Yet this shocking
claim was softened by the text on the adjacent page, a paternalistic assessment
of women's real value:
From these women will come the race of the future.
According to their health and strength will be the
health and strength of the next generation. . . .
Rebuke the civilization that degrades its women;
that sends forth the mothers of the next generation
as the Cheapest Commodity on the Market.
The earnestness of this picture--conveyed not only by the setting, but also by
the dark clothing of the poor--characterized three other early Masses covers by
artists who were husband and wife. Alice Beach Winter, who also drew for
suffrage publications, used a different type of maternal (or paternal) appeal in
her closely-cropped face of a frightened, wide-eyed little girl, staring out at
the reader and asking "Why Must I Work?" on the cover of the May 1912 issue
(Figure 2). Though startling in one sense--the young laborer herself, not a
benevolent protector, was the main figure and addressed the reader directly--the
stereotype of a pathetic waif (representing innocence soon to be lost) was
heavy-handedly sentimental and classist. The artist invoked the same stock
character in Figure 3, her drawing of a wealthy family watched by a poor
girl-child too naive to realize that the stockingless boy was not in fact
"poorer nor me."
An even more stereotypical image (in terms of both class and gender) was
Charles Allen Winter's August 1913 cover, shown in Figure 4. "The Militant" was
a not a woman but a symbol, her removal from the real world suggested by the
castle-in-the-air behind her. She was a cross between Joan of Arc and the
Statue of Liberty: arm and determined face upraised, she marched forward into
the future, protecting a less-confident woman (with an immigrant-like shawl over
her head) who cowered behind her. Despite the title, this was at most a
Progressive-reform, not radical, image in which, one art historian notes,
"conventional notions of womanliness are grafted on what was perceived as its
antithesis--militancy . . . . The character's refined, womanly appearance (her
wedding ring underlines her respectability) suggest that she is a middle-class
protector of the lower-class woman." Nothing about this "militant" woman
suggested a rejection of mainstream ideas about femininity or American women's
social and class roles.
Paradoxically, the more powerful messages about gender and class in The Masses
were conveyed by the magazine's cartoonish "joke" covers. Perhaps the most
famous of these was Figure 5, by Stuart Davis, which was much discussed in
other periodicals of the day. The New York Globe reported that the cover "shows
two girls' heads, not Gibson Girls, nor Howard Chandler Christy girls, but girls
from Eighth Avenue way. And one of them, with a curious and slightly
self-conscious look out of the corner of her eye, says to the other: 'Gee, . .
.!' Most cover designs don't mean anything. But this one does."
Indeed, this cover could be construed to "mean" many things. These women were
not only ugly, but also unfeminine, as signified by their masculine
Adams'-apples and thick necks. Unattractive women were depicted (usually as
suffragists) inside popular magazines, but beady-eyed, thick-lipped creatures
like these rarely appeared on a cover--which was meant to please and to sell.
The Globe writer implied that these women were prostitutes ("from Eighth Avenue
way"), though their clothing suggested that they were more likely to be
shopgirls or housekeepers. A single tree in the background placed them outside
but gave no clue as to particular location.
What gave this image its clarity was the title below it, which turned it into a
joke, a send-up of mainstream magazines and conventional notions about American
femininity. While Davis did the drawing, the title was supplied by the art
director, John Sloan. With its addition, The Masses' radicals thumbed their
noses at the popular illustrators of the day--Charles Dana Gibson, Harrison
Fisher, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg--whose
upper-middle-class, fresh-faced "American Beauty" girls graced the covers of the
popular monthlies (see, for instance, Figure 6, a "Fisher Girl" on the cover of
The Saturday Evening Post).
Yet the title that turned this image into a critique of mass media also made it
safe as a cover--and not such a radical statement about women after all. The
title quite clearly "located" these women as working-class Irish ("Mag"), and
the phrase's self-referentiality reassured the reader that they were no real
danger to anyone: these women were ugly and badly dressed, they were from the
wrong part of town, and they knew it. They'd accidentally wandered onto the
magazine cover and been caught. They became a joke, too.
Sloan's own drawings used humor and irony to poke holes in conventional
notions about gender and class, but he rarely did so at the expense of his
working-class female subjects. His depictions of working-class women were
probably the most respectful of such representations in The Masses. Yet Sloan,
too, romanticized womanhood, a bias that undercut the power of his drawings of
John Sloan and the Woman in Public
Though he was hardly well-off at the time, Sloan, like his Masses co-workers,
exoticized the poor as "other" than himself. In his diaries, he noted "how
necessary it is for an artist of any creative sort to go among common people
[emphasis his]-- not to waste his time among his fellows, for it must be from
the other class--not creators, nor Bohemians, nor dilettanti--that he will get
his knowledge of life." To this end, he took daily walks around the poorer
sections of New York City. Nevertheless, his compassion was real, thanks in
large part to his first wife, Dolly--a former prostitute, a radical feminist,
and a Socialist who organized suffrage, birth-control, and labor
demonstrations. John Sloan became active in the Socialist party and did
illustration work for two Socialist magazines, The Call and the Progressive
Woman, before turning his primary attention to The Masses in 1912. During the
four years he worked for The Masses, he contributed more than five dozen
illustrations, many of them covers.
Sloan reserved his greatest sympathy for poor women and prostitutes, using the
figures of women to point out double standards of both class and gender. Two
interior illustrations Sloan did for The Masses are examples. For "The Women's
Night Court: Before Her Makers and Her Judges," published as a two-page spread
and shown in Figure 7, Sloan chose a real-life setting he frequently visited,
the women's night court at Jefferson Market on Sixth Avenue. Here he
reversed stereotypes of criminality and order by drawing the prostitute as the
only dignified person in the room, her reserve a sharp contrast to the
overbearing judge, the leering spectators, the mean-looking court officers, and
the boyish policeman. Yet he also placed the prostitute on a moral pedestal. A
similar message was contained in " 'Circumstances' Alter Cases" (Figure 8),
showing middle-class women in transparent skirts glancing contemptuously at a
woman in rags with her bare leg exposed--who looked so noble in poverty that she
appeared almost Biblical. The caption under the drawing conveyed the pair's
comments: "'Positively disgusting! It's an outrage to public decency to allow
such exposure on the streets.'"
The latter illustration commented on class and public sexuality, concerns that
were expressed more subtly in some of Sloan's other depictions of working- class
women, but were nevertheless key to their meaning and impact. His cover titled
"At the Top of the Swing," Figure 9, has been described by one scholar as "a
poem of city youth." The girl--truly a girl--seemed happy and carefree, yet
on second glance the reader couldn't help but notice the three men sitting on a
park bench behind her, staring at her. Here Sloan was acknowledging female
youthful beauty and sexuality as public spectacle; at the same time, he
documented the literal surveillance of young women in public. At the moment,
the smiling, relaxed girl didn't care; she was "at the top of the swing." But
she, like the swing, could quickly fall.
Certainly there is a happy dimension to "At the Top of the Swing," and, read
more positively, it can be seen as one of many of Sloan's illustrations that
offered an "affirmative statement that workers were not necessarily the pathetic
stock figures of Socialist cartoons." Several scholars cite this
illustration as proof that Sloan depicted of working-class women in an idealized
way that removed them from political concerns. However, as Janice Coco
notes, "if Sloan's images were simply optimistic depictions of working-class
women, they would not have been so controversial in their day, nor would they
remain so compelling in ours."
Indeed, what first appeared to be a happy picture of a carefree young girl on a
swing was in fact more complicated. Even (or perhaps particularly) as millions
of American women entered public life, the spectacle of the woman in public was
still troubling to many Americans, especially when that woman, or girl, was
working-class. Robert Snyder and Rebecca Zurier note that even in the 1910s,
"New Yorkers wondered not only how to maintain composure on the street and
public transit but also how to reconcile immigrant street life, or the more
athletic forms of working-class leisure, with a Victorian sense of privacy and
decorum that shunned exposure and limited women's activities." The frequent
presence of working-class women in public in The Masses--and in New
York--blurred both gender and class boundaries.
The two women in "Innocent Girlish Prattle--Plus Environment" (Figure 10) had
certainly wandered outside geographical and behavioral boundaries. At first
glance, they appeared sweet and proper, with pretty, pleasant faces and modestly
long skirts. This idealization was part of Sloan's bias toward women, yet it
was also key to the shock of the picture. These women were walking without a
male escort at night through a bad neighborhood (signified by the "environment,"
the trash on the street, the slovenly woman in a doorway) without concern, and
the caption beneath the title revealed the girls' vocabulary: " 'What! Him?
The Little - - - - -! He's Worse'n She Is, the - - -!' " These were not just
ladies out for the evening; they were, more likely, ladies of the evening,
streetwalkers in the commonest sense.
Of course, the viewer could not be sure that these were prostitutes, and in
this and other drawings of women in public, Sloan played with this uncertainty.
Indeed, this vagueness was Sloan's most radical statement of all: not his
matter-of-fact representation of prostitutes, whom vice-campaigners sought to
isolate, but rather his suggestion that, given the right "environment," any
woman on the street might be one. In her study of Sloan's depiction of the
urban prostitute, Suzanne Kinser notes that "[d]uring the Progressive Era,
prostitution became a master symbol, a code word for a range of anxieties
engendered by the great social and cultural changes" of the period.
Sloan's "The Return from Toil" (Figure 11) turned on this ambiguity. Most
scholars, reacting to the title, have interpreted this cover as another of
Sloan's affirmations of happiness and comradery among working women. Robert
Snyder offers a typical reading of the picture, contending that it
depicts young women looking fashionable, high spirited,
and ready for fun after being liberated from work, perhaps
in the garment industry. Work has not cowed them or
turned them into wage slaves with broken spirits. The
evening holds the promise of unfettered leisure, of visits
to a movie theater, amusement park, or vaudeville house.
Yet the title contained a clue that most interpreters have overlooked: these
women were returning from toil. If they were in fact coming home from work, not
going out on the town, their attire suggested one particular occupation (a trade
based just west of the garment district). Another sign that they may have been
streetwalkers was the feathers in several of their hats, a symbol of
prostitution in art of the era. In this alternative interpretation, the
light casting their shadows may have been not evening streetlight, but morning
"Innocent Girlish Prattle" and "The Return from Toil" were prime examples of
the tensions between feminism and Socialism in The Masses, and of the magazine's
problematic definitions of gender and class. Both illustrations made startling
and, arguably, radical statements about the urban presence of bold and unrefined
women; both further underscored Sloan's consistent refusal to depict
working-class women as the "bedraggled sweatshop girls" other Masses writers
described in their articles. Yet in bending over backwards to avoid
labeling his subjects in one way, the artist labeled them in another. In one of
these scenes, prostitutes (or simply lower-class women) were dowdy but
rollickingly happy; in the other, they were beautiful and young.
Indeed, one striking consistency in Sloan's "affirmative" portrayal of
working-class women was that he tended to rely on the stereotypical shorthand of
beauty versus ugliness to make political statements: his prostitutes were often
pretty, while he drew wealthy women as ugly and overweight. One example of the
latter characterization is Figure 12, a cover that poked fun at not just at
wealth but idleness. (Also note the extra insult of the feather in the hair:
this upper-class operagoer, Sloan suggested, was equally a prostitute to the man
who paid her way.)
Certainly The Masses advanced the various causes of 1910s feminism to an extent
that mainstream magazines of the day did not. And certainly the magazine made
provocative suggestions about sexual double standards and economic inequities
between men and women. Yet consistently--in its articles and its
illustrations--The Masses romanticized women and their circumstances, whether
superior mothers or suffering prostitutes, in ways that ultimately undermined
the goals of feminism. If women were morally superior to men, then they could
not be equal; what's more, their lives were removed from the gritty reality of
everyday life that the male radicals claimed as their territory.
One consequence of the magazine's idealization of women was that it missed a
valuable opportunity to advance feminism and combine the potential power of that
political movement with Socialism. A more significant consequence for the
magazine itself (given its primary agenda) lay in the fact that its writers and
artists routinely used women as symbols for class, as ways of representing not
womanhood, but notions about the poor. Like their female symbols, these
notions--from ignorance and shame to innocence and happy abandon--were
stereotypes, too. In trivializing women, The Masses unwittingly trivialized the
working class itself.
This conflation was disastrous for any "radical" publication. Even though the
1917 demise of The Masses was blamed on its continuing pacifism after the U. S.
entered World War I, its mission to serve as the voice of the proletariat (let
alone feminists) went largely unfulfilled. The reasons why, this study
contends, had less to do with how the magazine handled Socialism or feminism
separately than with how it combined these twin political flames of the
1910s--only to snuff both out.
Most of the Masses writers and artists saw both the working class and women as
something other than themselves; through symbolism, they "gendered" immigrants
and poverty as female; and then they safely contained feminism by idealizing
women. The outcome was much the same as that predicted by the author of "The
Emancipation of Sarah" in Cosmopolitan less than a decade earlier. By the end
of the 1910s, Sarah--who had represented all the political possibilities (or
threats) of that decade--was domesticated and Americanized. The Masses simply
ended, having done little, in the long run, to change the lives of either
American women or American workers.
 1 Cosmopolitan was then a general-interest magazine that emphasized fiction
and current events, not the women's magazine it is today.
 2 Bruno Lessing, "The Emancipation of Sarah," Cosmopolitan 46 (December
1908- May 1909), 554-560.
 3 For instance, under editor George Horace Lorimer, The Saturday Evening
Post warned readers about the "hordes" of foreigners in the United States and
promoted racist works by geneticists, including Madison Grant's The Passing of
the Great Race; in the Post's institutional sibling, The Ladies' Home Journal,
editor Edward Bok editorialized against women's suffrage, while other writers
condemned middle-class white women who worked for pay as un-American. Fuller
discussion of such themes in these magazines can be found in Jan Cohn, Creating
America: George Horace Lorimer and the Saturday Evening Post (Pittsburgh:
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989); Jennifer Scanlon, Inarticulate Longings:
The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture (London
and New York: Routledge, 1995); and Helen Damon-Moore, Magazines for the
Millions: Gender and Commerce in The Ladies' Home Journal and The Saturday
Evening Post, 1880-1910 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).
 4 The peak circulation of The Masses was 40,000 according to John
Lougherty, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), 182;
20,000 according to John Tebbel and Mary Ellen Zuckerman, The Magazine in
America, 1741-1990 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 125; and 12,000
according to David W. Scott and E. John Bullard, "John Sloan, 1871-1951: His
Life and Paintings, His Graphics" [exhibition catalog and book] September 18 to
October 31, 1971 (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1971), 30.
 5 The Masses was actually founded by a Dutch immigrant, Piet Vlag, though
he ran it for only its first year.
 6 Leslie Fishbein, Rebels in Bohemia: The Radicals of The Masses,
1911-1917 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 188.
 7 Joan Wallach Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,"
in Feminism & History, edited by Joan Wallach Scott (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1996), 166-167.
 8 The magazine published from 1911 to 1917, when its editors were
prosecuted under the wartime Espionage Act. It would be reincarnated in the
1920s as The New Masses, but the later version had neither the following nor the
spirit of its predecessor.
 9 Fishbein, Rebels in Bohemia; William O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt: The
Masses, 1911-1917 (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1966).
 Rebecca Zurier, Art for the Masses: A Radical Magazine and Its Graphics,
1911-1917 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988). Sloan's contributions
to the magazine are also discussed in four biographies, the most recent of which
is Lougherty's John Sloan: Painter and Rebel; the oldest, Van Wyck Brooks' John
Sloan: A Painter's Life (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1955) is notable as well.
 11 Margaret C. Jones, Heretics & Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The
Masses, 1911-1917 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993).
 12 Such works include: Richard Ohmann, Selling Culture: Magazines,
Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century (London and New York: Verso,
1996); Matthew Schneirov, The Dream of a New Social Order: Popular Magazines in
America 1893-1914 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Scanlon,
Inarticulate Longings; Damon-Moore, Magazines for the Millions; and Ellen Gruber
Garvey, The Adman in the Parlor: Magazines and the Gendering of Consumer
Culture, 1880s to 1910s (New York: Oxford University Press,1996).
 13 Marion Marzolf, "American Studies--Ideas for Media Historians?"
Journalism History 5, no. 1 (Spring 1978), 15.
 14 Such a strategy draws on the groundwork of visual theorists Erwin
Panofsky and E. H. Gombrich, the latter of whom called for an analytical process
of "iconology, which investigates the function of images in allegory and
symbolism" (Panofsky, Meaning in the Visual Arts [Garden City, NY: Doubleday
Anchor Books, 1955]; Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of
Pictorial Representation [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960], 9).
 15 Marina Warner, Monuments & Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form
(London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985), 331.
 16 Martha Banta, Imaging American Women: Idea and Ideals in Cultural
History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).
 17 I am borrowing this term from Roland Barthes, "Rhetoric of the Image,"
Image Music Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 38.
 18 W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1994), 210.
 Hegemony theory was first articulated by Italian political theorist
Antonio Gramsci and has since become a popular lens through which to understand
commercial culture. I use the term not as a synonym for dominance, but rather
as a way of describing the fragile alliances, the "unstable equilibria" that
exist at any moment between political leaders and followers, or, in a commercial
power structure, between producers and consumers. Gramsci refined Marxist
theory by contending that the consent of a populace is not enforced by some
monolithic power; rather, dissenting opinions are aired, and public opinion is
always contested. (Selections from Prison Notebooks, translated by Quintin
Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith [London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1971], 80, 182.)
 20 Horace M. Newcomb, "On the Dialogic Aspects of Mass Communication," in
Critical Perspectives on Media and Society, eds. Robert K. Avery and David Eason
(New York: Guilford Press, 1991), 70.
 As Nancy F. Cott has noted in The Grounding of Modern Feminism (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987), the true radicals of the 1910s women's
rights movement, whose goals were politically "left" of suffrage and are
mentioned here, were the first to actually use the label "feminist."
 22 For more on the politically complicated relationships between
upper-middle and working-class women in reform movements, see Nancy Schrom Dye,
"Creating a Feminist Alliance: Sisterhood and Class Conflict in the New York
Women's Trade Union League, 1903-1914," in Our American Sisters: Women in
American Life and Thought, 4th ed., ed. Jean E. Friedman, William G. Shade, and
Mary Jane Capozzoli (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1987), 341-358. Perhaps
compounding the classism of The Masses radicals was the funding they received
from wealthy liberals including Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont and copper baron Adolph
Lewisohn (Lougherty, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel, 198; O'Neill, Echoes of
 23 Leslie Fishbein, "The Failure of Feminism in Greenwich Village before
World War I," Women's Studies 9 (1982), 276, 279.
 24 Elsie Clews Parsons, "Facing Race Suicide," The Masses (June 1915) and
"Emma Goldman's Defense" (June 1916), both reprinted in O'Neill, Echoes of
Revolt, 206-212; May Wood Simon, "Co-Operation and Housewives," The Masses 1,
no. 12 (December 1911), 11; "I Make Cheap Silk," 5, no. 2 (November 1913), 7.
 25 Max Eastman, "Knowledge and Revolution," The Masses (January 1913),
reprinted in O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt, 132.
 26 O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt, 179.
 27 Floyd Dell, "Feminism for Men," The Masses 5, no. 10 (July 1914), 19.
 The works of Freud were popularized in America beginning in 1913. Many
radical feminists interpreted his theories, along with newly published works by
"sexologists" such as Havelock Ellis, as both a legitimization of their own
sexuality and a confirmation that women were "natural" mothers, meant to nurture
men as well as children. At the very same time that human sexuality was being
publicly discussed, a wave of anti-vice (anti-prostitution) crusades swept the
country. This combination provoked St. Louis newspaper editor William Marion
Reedy to proclaim that "sex o'clock" had struck in America; his comments were
quoted that year in Current Opinion ("Sex O'Clock in America" [August 1913]:
 In her study of immigrant families living in Greenwich Village in the
1920s, Caroline Ware wrote: "The girls who faced the camera on her wedding day
with that characteristic expression of impersonal and fearless resignation bore
eloquent testimony to the persistence of the outlook on marriage which their
mothers had had." (Greenwich Village, 1920-1930 A Comment on American
Civilization in the Post-War Years [Berkeley: University of California Press,
1994; originally published Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1935], 408).
 Emma Goldman, "Emma Goldman's Defense," The Masses June 1916, reprinted
in O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt, 210. This is actually a speech Goldman gave when
she was sentenced to a short prison term after giving a public lecture on birth
 Linda Gordon, "Birth Control and Social Revolution," in A Heritage of Her
Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women, ed. Nancy F. Cott and
Elizabeth H. Pleck (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 461-462.
 Ellen Kay Trimberger, "The New Woman and the New Sexuality: Conflict and
Contradiction in the Writings and Lives of Mabel Dodge and Neith Boyce," in
1915, The Cultural Moment: The New Politics, the New Woman, the New Psychology,
the New Art, and the New Theatre in America, ed. Adele Heller and Lois Rudnick
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 98-115.
 Zurier, Art for the Masses, 8.
 Zurier, Art for the Masses, 100.
 See, for instance, James Henle, "A Strange Meeting" and John Reed "A
Daughter of the Revolution," both reprinted in O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt. The
third description is Rebecca Zurier's characterization of one part of Hutchins
Hapgood's views on the subject (Art for the Masses, 13).
 James Henle, "Nobody's Sister," The Masses (January 1915), reprinted in
O'Neill, Echoes of Revolt, 191-192.
 37 Zurier, Art for the Masses, 178. Fischer also did illustration work
for mass- market magazines, including Scribner's, Everybody's, Collier's, The
Saturday Evening Post, and Cosmopolitan.
 38 "The Cheapest Commodity on the Market," The Masses 1, no. 12 (December
 39 Marie Clifford, Drawing on Women: Representations of Women and
Suffrage Imagery in The Masses, 1913-1917, M. A. Thesis, University of Alberta
 40 Davis was another of the "ashcan realist" painters who dominated
American art during the early 1910s.
 41 New York Globe (May 24, 1913), n. p., quoted in Clifford, Drawing on
 42 "When the cover appeared on newsstands in a gruesome shade of green,"
Rebecca Zurier notes, "the impact was so strong that Harper's Weekly reprinted
the drawing as an 'anti-dote' to the current 'plague of pink and white
imbecility' " (Art for the Masses, 49; she is quoting "Oliver Herford, "Pen and
Inklings," Harper's Weekly 59 [September 6, 1913], 28).
 43 Lougherty, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel, 197; Brooks, John Sloan: A
Painter's Life, 96; Goodrich, "John Sloan, 1871-1951," 44.
 44 James J. Best uses the term "American Beauty illustrators" to describe
this group of magazine cover artists in American Popular Illustration: A
Reference Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984). Masses editor Max
Eastman once complained of Gibson, Fisher, and Christy that they had "given up
their profession of realizing in line the varieties of life and gone into the
manufacturing business" (Enjoyment of Living, n. p., quoted in Brooks, John
Sloan: A Painter's Life, 96).
 45 In his own day and since, John Sloan was better known as a painter who
was a member of "The Eight" (which in 1910 staged the first "Independents' "
exhibition, a challenge to the conservative National Academy of Design) and of
the "Ashcan" school of New York City realists. Yet his magazine illustration
was a significant body of artistic work in itself. A former Philadelphia
newspaper illustrator, Sloan served for two years as The Masses' art editor and
was one of its most frequent contributors. His illustrations also appeared in
several popular magazines, especially Harper's Weekly and Collier's, as well as
Century, Scribner's, Everybody's, Munsey's, Good Housekeeping, and The Saturday
 46 Quoted in Brooks, John Sloan: A Painter's Life, 54.
 47 Dolly Sloan was among the protesters who marched in the "funeral
procession" for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911; she
regularly attended birth-control rallies; during a textile workers' strike in
Lawrence, MA, she found food and housing for children whose striking parents
could no longer afford to care for them; and she organized a rally at Carnegie
Hall in support of the jailed Emma Goldman in 1916. She also briefly served as
business manager for The Masses. (Lougherty, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel,
165, 172-176, 198, 221.)
 48 Scott and Bullard, "John Sloan, 1871-1951," 80; Roland Elzea and
Elizabeth Hawkes, "John Sloan: Spectator of Life," April 26 to December 31,
1981 (Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1988), 110-111; Patricia Hills, "John
Sloan's Images of Working-Class Women," Prospects 5 (1980), 168.
 49 The same issue, August 1913, contained a play "about prostitutes and
the unfair court system" (Elzea and Hawkes, "John Sloan: Spectator of Life,"
 50 Lloyd Goodrich, "John Sloan, 1871-1951," January 10 to June 8, 1952
(New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1952), 44.
 51 Goodrich, "John Sloan, 1871-1951," 44.
 52 Scholars who hold this view include Lougherty (John Sloan: Painter and
Rebel), 113; Hills, "John Sloan's Images of Working-Class Women," 168, 189; and
Goodrich, "John Sloan, 1871-1951, 44.
 53 Janice Marie Coco, John Sloan and the Female Subject, Ph. D. diss.,
Cornell University (1993), 56.
 54 Robert W. Snyder and Rebecca Zurier, "Picturing the City," in
Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan Artists and their New York, ed. Rebecca Zurier,
Robert W. Snyder, and Virginia M. Mecklenburg (New York. W. W. Norton, 1995),
 55 This uncertainty has bothered scholars as well. In an analysis that
reinforces stereotypes of prostitutes as hard-hearted and evil, Robert Snyder
writes of Sloan's mixed signals: "Since he portrayed [all of his] working-class
women as sexually expressive, but with consistent warmth and humanity, it is
difficult to tell" whether or not they were prostitutes ("City in Transition,"
in Metropolitan Lives, 48).
 56 Suzanne L. Kinser, "Prostitutes in the Art of John Sloan," Prospects 9
 57 Snyder, "City in Transition," 45-46.
 58 Kinser, "Prostitutes in the Art of John Sloan," 234.
 59 Again, however, these women were not necessarily prostitutes. As Kathy
Peiss has noted, unmarried working-class women of the era created a culture of
their own, a community in which they sought to compensate for "the grinding
workday" with "the glittering appeal of urban nightlife" and in which they
constructed their own bold versions of the New Woman. Their appearance--"flashy
colors, gaudy hats, and cosmetics"--was part of the social statement they made
as they flirted with the seedier side of street life: "In the promiscuous
spaces of the streets, theaters, and dance halls, prositutes provided a cultural
model both fascinating and forbidden to other young working-class women. . . .
[who] might appropriate parts of the prostitute's style as [their] own." (Cheap
Amusements, 63, 65, 66.)
 Lougherty, John Sloan: Painter and Rebel, 183.