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Vassar College, NY
My ancestors since the 1600's, with almost no exceptions, were New England farmers. They were all Puritans, and a certain amount of Puritanism has lasted in the family up till the present time. I think that my Puritan background and my New England conscience are to a large extent the cause of my feeling of responsibility for the welfare of everyone in the world and my feeling that it is up to me to do something about it.
My paternal grandfather, the youngest of 11 children, broke away from the farm at an early age, and after a few years' experience in the shoe business, he founded his own shoe factory in Newburyport, Mass. at the age of 21. He was an excellent example of what rugged individualism could accomplish in those days. By means of native ability and hard work, he rose from very modest beginnings to be one of the most prominent citizens and the mayor of his town. Although he had only elementary schooling himself, he valued education highly and sent his three sons to Harvard. He was a very honest and benevolent gentleman, who believed in treating his employees fairly. If he lived today, he would probably give his employees a company union before they got around to organizing for themselves.
My father, after graduating with honors from college and law school, went into the practice of the law in Boston. He has become one of the leading trial lawyers in the city, and recently he was President of the Boston Bar Association. He is very much absorbed in the law, but he also is interested in education and is a trustee of several colleges. At the ago of 24 he ran for the Legislature on the Democratic ticket, but since then he has always voted Republican, but that seems to be chiefly because he considers the Massachusetts Democrats a pretty crooked bunch. He values honesty above all other virtues, and so is distressed by much of the dishonesty in the government. In many respects he might be called a liberal. He was quite disturbed over the Sacco-Vanzetti case as he did not think they had a fair trial. He is very open-minded and believes in hearing both sides of every question. He is conventional more than conservative. But he believes in the capitalist system. After all, it has treated him well, and he has before him the examples of both his father and himself of how people can (or could) rise in the world through honest, hard work and New England thrift. He cannot get very excited about conditions in industry today, because he remembers how much worse they were in his youth. He tends to think of all employers as benevolent gentlemen like his father and many of his friends, who want to do all they can for their employees in a paternalistic sort of way. So he doesn't think much of the idea of a class struggle. He is interested in giving the 'under-privileged' every possible opportunity for self-advancement and so is interested particularly in Northeastern University, an inexpensive but good evening university. He believes that some people are by nature better than others and that if they really want to, they can get ahead in the world. He has the puritan belief that the well-off should be responsible for the welfare of the poor, so he contributes a good deal to charity and is comparatively satisfied with conditions. He is essentially Hamiltonian in his political philosophy.
My maternal grandfather also was an example of rugged individualism making good. He too broke away from the farm and started his own business, a dry goods store in Amesbury, which flourished enough to enable him to live in a good-sized house and send one of his daughters, my mother, to Wellesley. She was preparing to enter medical school until father came along and changed her plans. She has always said that her college education has made her more broad-minded about her children than many of her friends, and she lets them do pretty much what they want to do. She votes Republican, being loyal to her husband, but she is really even more liberal-minded than he is. She is very much interested in people and their problems. She devotes a lot of her time to the Y.M.C.A., of which she has been President. She is really interested in what I am doing and tries to understand my point of view, but fundamentally she too is Hamiltonian and her social-mindedness is Puritanically paternalistic.
So all in all, I might be said to have been brought up both at home and in school in an atmosphere of liberalism, but rather conservative liberalism. It has always been impressed on me that there are two sides to every question and that one should be broad-minded and scientific, giving due consideration to all sides before arriving at any conclusion, and even then remembering that all conclusions are not necessarily final. My parents' chief objection to my radical activities is that they are afraid that I am getting one-sided and associating only with people with one point of view. But as a matter of fact, I think that I have the opportunity more than anyone else I know of associating fairly intimately with people of about as many shades of opinion as there are. In one day I may talk with people who range from Anarchists to the most conservative of Republicans.
One by one my parents have seen their four daughters emerge from Vassar no longer Republicans. One has only gone so far as being a Democrat, but two of the others voted for Thomas in the last election and are More or less parlor Socialists. The forth, myself, belongs to the Socialist Party.
I was born in Newburyport, but have spent most of my life in either Boston or Ipswich. I went to private schools in Boston. I quite early developed a strong dislike for Boston and Bostonians. Their Puritanical reserve and feeling of superiority to the common herd always made me furious. Why one group of people should assume that they are naturally and unquestionably superior to all others, just because their parents were richer or because their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, was something I never could understand. Most of the people I went to school with were from this group. I got along perfectly well with them and I can't remember really disliking any of them individually, but I hated the idea of it. What I heard about the democracy of Socialism appealed to me, and when I was about 15, I began calling myself a Socialist, though I didn't really know what it was all about or give it much thought.
When I grew up and began to see some of the world outside of school, I began to realize that my family had more money and more things than the majority of the families in the country. At about the same time we moved into a larger house, unnecessarily large, which made the difference even more marked. I have always been a person of very few material needs, and I began to feel quite guilty and ashamed at having really more things than I wanted, when so many people had nowhere near enough. This feeling has increased during the depression.
Ever since I was quite small, I had planned to be a scientist, partly because of natural interest and ability, and partly because I have always wanted to do something with my life that would last after I had gone and make the world in some way different from what it was before I came, such as discovering some new truth that would add to the body of human knowledge.
I waited a year after school before going to college, so I was a year older than most of the people in my class. This I think was an advantage I felt that I was getting a lot more from college than I should have if I had gone a year earlier, as I was rather young in some ways for my age. As it was, I felt myself developing enormously in college, both socially and intellectually, although my academic standing was considerably lower in college than in school.
It took me a long time to decide what to specialize in college. I took a lot of science in my first two years, still thinking that I might be a scientist, though I was not sure just what kind of a one. I read James Harvey Robinson's "The Mind in the Making" and was impressed by his remarks on how the natural sciences have been progressing steadily for the last two thousand years, while the social sciences have been practically at a standstill. We ought now to leave the natural sciences alone for a while and turn our attention to the social sciences, applying to them the methods and research that have been so successfully applied in the field of natural science, if we want the social sciences to catch up with the natural sciences. This made me, with my Puritanical sense of duty, wonder whether I ought to devote my life to a field that did not need my services particularly or whether I ought to go into a field that needed me more.
At about the same time I read "The Universe Around Us" by Sir James Jeans. In the last chapter it said that the whole universe would turn eventually into nothing but heat. I got[?] fearfully depressed by this. I had always known that all life on the earth would die out eventually, but somehow having the whole universe turn into nothing but heat was too much for me. What good would it do if we were to discover a lot of new truths about the universe, if nothing were to be permanent except a great expanse of heat in the end? But since nothing can last, why not just make the best of life and enjoy it as much as we can while we are here and find our happiness and purpose in trying to make life as pleasant as possible for ourselves and everyone else as long as it lasts? I finally came to the conclusion after several years of worrying about it and mulling over the problem. I ended up by majoring in Philosophy, but by the end of college I was less interested in the philosophical problems of life and more interested in learning about practical ways to go about making the world a better place. And I soon realized that in order to work for the cause of humanity, one must work for the working class.
Between sophomore and junior years I went abroad. By that time the
throughout Greater Boston. We immediately got into difficulties and tensions with the Central Labor Union, which threatened to destroy us because we were not connected with them, and most of the unions affiliated with them would pay no attention to us. But after a good many diplomatic negotiations, we finally came under their auspices, which satisfies them and makes us orthodox, though not orthodox enough to make the C.L.U. entirely satisfied that we are not teaching Communism.
I have spent most of my time since the spring of l934 on workers' education, though I have also done some organizational and strike work with the president of the Women's Trade Union League, who is also an organizer for the I.L.G.W.U., and with several other organizers. I have also done some legislative work and lobbying (chiefly in connection with the Teachers' Oath Bill), have acted as Chairman and Treasurer for the Summer Laboratory on Social and Industrial Conditions, conducted by the Student Y.W.C.A., and have kept in touch in a haphazard way with the Student L.I.D., such as it is around Boston. Every little while I wonder if I am not spreading myself too thin.
In all my work I have had very little supervision. This has been both an advantage and a disadvantage. I have been able pretty much to establish myself as an individual in labor and liberal circles in Boston, which I probably could not have done if I had been more subservient to some one individual organization. In some ways I have learned and contributed much more than I should have otherwise. But I have had to assume responsibility that I did not feel equipped to assume. When things have gone wrong, I have felt that it was due to my inexperience and inability to cope with the situation. I have had to rely a lot on my imagination and initiative, and I am not heavily endowed with either quality. All along, I have had pretty much to feel my own way and to learn by doing, which is always inefficient if you want to accomplish anything in the world. If I knew better how to go about what I am trying to do, I am sure I could accomplish a lot more.
Of course it's not entirely a case of not knowing how to do things. I have many natural limitations, and there are a lot of phases of the work that other people can do much better than I, such as teaching classes and making promotional talks, but I try always to get others to do these. I seem to be better fitted for the administrative side of the work, but I feel the need of a lot of training to make me a better administrator and executive.
Every organization that I have been connected with has been somewhat ineffectual and struggling, and the amount it has been able to do has depended pretty much on my efforts. I feel that if I could work for a while with some organization that is really thriving and well organized and doing effective work, seeing how it functions and goes about what it does, or if I could work with some one with real executive ability, who could give me some guidance and training and ideas, I could learn a great deal that would make me more efficient and more valuable in the movement.
One reason why I came to New York this summer was because I hoped to have an opportunity to do something of this sort. I came also because I wanted contact with the labor and radical movements in New York, which are so much farther advanced than in Boston, hoping that I would be able to return and stimulate Boston to greater activity. I fear that the labor movement in Boston is too much under the influence of old school A.F. of L. thinking, and the radical movement is hardly worth mentioning.
I came also because I wanted a chance once more to survey the radical movement as a whole and to see what is being done in every part of it. I sometimes wonder if perhaps I am trying to do something that I am not best equipped by nature to do and if I might not be more effective in some other field of radical activity. There are a number of fields that I think are very important and that I should like to do something in. Among these are the cooperative movement, the student movement, the organization of the unemployed, as well as of labor, the education of the middle class, as well as of the workers. I also enjoy and am fairly successful at legislative work, and every little while I have an urge to go into politics. I think that it is up to every person who is interested in working for a new social order to use himself as efficiently as possible, by finding and devoting himself to that field of the movement in which he is best equipped to serve and where he is needed most. This is what I am trying to do.
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