Project

Berkeley Mayor J. Stitt Wilson: Crusader for Social Justice

Goal: Biography of J. Stitt Wilson (1868 - 1942) illuminating the trajectory of the social movement in America from the Gilded Age to the New Deal.

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Stephen E. Barton
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J. Stitt Wilson, mayor of Berkeley from 1911 to 1913, supported women's suffrage because he believed it would lead to a revaluation of the feminine and maternal values of cooperation and care and, along with the labor movement, provide the basis for creation of a socialist society that would embody the true values of Christianity. A rare example of a male activist and intellectual for whom women's equality was fundamental to his beliefs rather than auxiliary to them, Wilson drew his views from a mixture of Social Gospel; the labor movement; feminism; and socialism, particularly the maternalist socialism developed in parts of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the settlement house movement. Perhaps his most intellectually creative moment came when he applied Henry George's analysis of urban land values to a socialist and feminist vision of the city as a “social mother.” His election and work as mayor illustrate the overlap between the urban socialist and progressive social reform programs, while his failure to win any further elections reflects the divisions between them over the nature of capitalism.
J. Stitt Wilson (1868–1942) was a leading American Christian Socialist. When he was elected Mayor of the City of Berkeley in 1911 he had to shift focus from the broad moral and economic case for socialism to the specifics of municipal reform. He drew on the ideas of Henry George, feminist urban reformers in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and the settlement house movement, and progressive and socialist mayors who preceded him. He became a leader in both the Socialist Party and the single-tax movement in California from 1911 to 1917, working with the shared belief that society, as a society, creates tremendous value that should be used for public benefit rather than taken as private profit. His story illustrates the creativity that can result when people are active in and learn from multiple social movements as well as the difficulties that can result from the tensions within and between movements. It illustrates, as well, some of the varied strands of the urban reform movement that helped create modern city government in America.
Stephen E. Barton
added a project goal
Biography of J. Stitt Wilson (1868 - 1942) illuminating the trajectory of the social movement in America from the Gilded Age to the New Deal.