Ohio History Journal

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The Ideology of Social Harmony and

Efficiency: Workmen's Compensation

in Ohio, 1904-1919



From 1912 through the early 1920s, progressive reformers tried to

enact social insurance legislation through a state-by-state and step-

by-step strategy to ameliorate the industrial conditions of work acci-

dents, sickness, unemployment, and premature old age. An integral

part of the campaign concerned the workmen's compensation move-

ment in Ohio from 1904 through 1919. The successful conclusion to

reform efforts in Ohio stemmed from the growth and implementa-

tion of a conservative ideology of mutual accommodation between

the Ohio State Federation of Labor (OSFL) and the Ohio Manufac-

turers' Association (OMA). This ideology encompassed an interlock-

ing set of concepts now becoming familiar to historians of the "orga-

nizational society" in Progressive America.1 Social constructs in-

creasingly acted upon by the OSFL and the OMA included the ne-

cessity for social harmony between conflicting industrial classes,

reliance upon administrative centralization and expertise, and a

heavy use of rhetoric aimed at promoting techniques of business-

like economy in new spheres of public life.

Recent studies of the workmen's compensation movement argue

that this reform grew out of the desires of the business community



Patrick D. Reagan is Visiting Instructor of History at Kenyon College. The author

wishes to thank Robert H. Bremner and K. Austin Kerr for their assistance in

preparing this article.


1. For a review of the literature, see Louis Galambos, "The Emerging Organiza-

tional Synthesis of Modern American History," Business History Review, XLIV (Au-

tumn, 1970), 279-90. For works dealing with this subject in the areas of business and

labor, see Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1910 (New York, 1973);

Robert H. Wiebe, Businessmen and Reform (Chicago, 1962); Gabriel Kolko, The

Triumph of Conservatism (New York, 1963); Warren R. Van Tine, The Making of the

Labor Bureaucrat (Amherst, 1973); and Melvyn Dubofsky, Industrialism and the

American Worker, 1865-1920 (New York, 1975).