Northern Illinois University Press


Coxey’s Crusade for Jobs

Unemployment in the Gilded Age

Jerry Prout

“This book provides an important perspective on American life in the 1890s by examining the debate over unemployment and the reaction to and reception of Coxey’s march.” —Wyatt Wells, author of American Capitalism, 1945–2000

"Coxey's Crusade for Jobs helps bridge the historical eras of narrative-based journalism, expounded by historian Hazel Dicken-Garcia, and the sensationalism and sometimes fact-stretching yellow journalism that followed. It is highly recommended for journalism historians as well as casual readers." —Journalism History

"Well researched and well written, this work is highly recommended for those interested in Coxey’s Army, the history of unemployment, and the longer legacies of American protests." —H-Net Reviews

In the depths of a depression in 1894, a highly successful Gilded Age businessman named Jacob Coxey led a group of jobless men on a march from his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, to the steps of the US Capitol. Though a financial panic and the resulting widespread business failures caused millions of Americans to be without work at the time, the word unemployment was rarely used and generally misunderstood. In an era that worshipped the self-reliant individual who triumphed in a laissez-faire market, the out-of-work “tramp” was disparaged as weak or flawed, and undeserving of assistance. Private charities were unable to meet the needs of the jobless, and only a few communities experimented with public works programs. Despite these limitations, Coxey conceived a plan to put millions back to work building a nationwide system of roads and drew attention to his idea with the march to Washington.

In Coxey’s Crusade for Jobs, Jerry Prout recounts Coxey’s story and adds depth and context by focusing on the reporters who were embedded in the march. Their fascinating depictions of life on the road occupied the headlines and front pages of America’s newspapers for more than a month, turning the spectacle into a serialized drama. These accounts humanized the idea of unemployment and helped Americans realize that in a new industrial economy, unemployment was not going away and the unemployed deserved attention. This unique study will appeal to scholars and students interested in the Gilded Age, US history, and labor history.

May 2016, 184 pp., 11 illus, 6x9
ISBN 978-0-87580-498-9
$25.00x Paper

Jerry Prout is a visiting professor of political science at Marquette University. He served as vice president of government and public affairs for FMC Corporation from 2000 to 2013, having joined the company in 1979. His articles on corporate social responsibility have appeared in publications such as Society and Business Review and Corporate Environmental Strategies.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-498-9
paper $25.00