Ohio History Journal

    A Public Official

    A Public Official

    as a Muckraker








    One would not expect to find the name of Brand Whitlock on a list of

    "muckrakers." Yet, several articles he wrote while mayor of Toledo and his

    most successful novel, The Turn of the Balance, are so typical of the muck-

    raking literature popular in the first decade of the twentieth century that

    the resemblance cannot be a coincidence. Whitlock thought of himself pri-

    marily as an author, not a politician, although today he is better remem-

    bered for his eight years as mayor and his exemplary service as American

    Minister in Belgium during World War I. He was a novelist of some poten-

    tial, having already published several books when he was first elected in

    1905. Among his friends were writers like William Dean Howells, the father

    of American literary realism, Albert Jay Nock of The American Magazine,

    and the country's most famous muckrakers, Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tar-

    bell. These people had a direct influence on Whitlock's work.1

    Richard Hofstadter confirmed in The Age of Reform Robert Cantwell's

    assertion that the primary reason for the muckraker's impact was their suc-

    cessful use of the methods of literary realism. Realists tried to paint, without

    embellishment, a graphic picture of contemporary society in the United

    States. Characterization and setting took precedence over the plot. This

    America which emerged from the pages of novelists like Hamlin Garland,

    Frank Norris or Stephen Crane was anything but pretty, but it was one that

    its citizens could recognize. The muckrakers, so runs this theory, became

    popular because they wrote

    An intimate, anecdotal, behind-the-scenes history of their own

    times . . . . They traced the intricate relationship of the police, the un-

    derworld, the local political bosses, the secret connections between the

    new corporations . . . and the legislatures and the courts. In doing this

    they drew a new cast of characters for the drama of American society:

    bosses, professional politicians, reformers, racketeers, captains of indus-

    try. Everybody recognized these native types; everybody knew about

    them; but they had not been characterized before; their social functions

    had not been analyzed. At the same time, the muckrakers pictured stage

    settings that everybody recognized but that nobody had written about

    --oil refineries, slums, the red-light districts, the hotel rooms where po-

    litical deals were made--the familiar, unadorned, homely stages where

    the teeming day-to-day dramas of American life were enacted.2