FARRAR WARE: HISTORIAN AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST 1899-1990
Ellen Fitzpatrick, Professor of History of the University
of New Hampshire
As Louis Adamic has pointed out, it is to Ellis
Island rather than Plymouth Rock that a great part
of the American people trace their history in America.
More people have died in industrial accidents than
in subduing the wilderness and fighting the Revolution.
It is these people rather than the frontiersmen
who constitute the real historical background and
the heroic tradition of the mass of urban Americans....
In the still unexplored history of the non-dominant
cultural groups of the industrial cities lies the
story of an emerging industrial culture that represents
the dynamic cultural frontier of modern America.
Caroline F. Ware, The Cultural Approach
to History (1940)
Caroline F. Ware, a professor of history at American
University and a New Deal activist edited The
Cultural Approach to History, featuring an array
of distinguished historians including Merle Curti,
Ray Allen Billington, Constance Green, Ralph Gabriel,
and Ware herself.
The cultural approach Ware advocated attempted to
shift the focus of historical analysis from institutions
and elites to social realities among Americans often
lost in the story of the nation's past. It placed
heavy emphasis on social and economic context, explicitly
recognizing the diminishing roles of individuals
in the modern industrial world. And it stressed
the interdependence of social, economic, and cultural
forces. Only by delineating the "total structure
of society" would historians be able to assess
the significance of individuals, ideas, and events.
Yet for Caroline Ware, The Cultural Approach
to History was less an inspiration to pursue
new areas of study than an affirmation of her own
historical research. For nearly fifteen years, Ware
had been struggling to broaden the focus of historical
analysis by incorporating industrialism and the
experiences of the working class. From her doctoral
dissertation on "The Industrial Revolution
in the New England Cotton Industry," prepared
in 1925 and published as The Early New England
Cotton Manufacture, to her innovative study
of Greenwich Village published in 1935, Ware worked
to advance historical understanding of the "inarticulate."
The forces that shaped their lives had stood at
the center of Ware's intellectual agenda long before
the American Historical Association formally unveiled
the "cultural approach to history" in
The Early New England Cotton Manufacture
was one of the most important historical studies
of industrialization written in the early twentieth
century. Ware's study of Greenwich Village explored
in an ethnically diverse urban community what Helen
and Robert Lynd pursued in their classic portrait
of Muncie, IndianaMiddletown.
by Mathew Brady of the lower wharf at Yorktown,
Virginia, 1862. (From The Cutural Approach
Ware's 1940 call for history written "from the
bottom up" had already been partially answered
by her previous research. "American culture,"
she once observed, "has never assimilated industrialism."
That was a reality Ware attempted to redress in her
historical work. In so doing, she found reflected
in the nation's past the roots of problems that vexed
her generation. Caroline Ware also anticipated many
of the historical questions that would animate a generation
yet to come.
The origins of Ware's innovative intellectual concerns
reached back to the early years of her life. Born
on August 14, 1899, in Brookline, Massachusetts, Caroline
was the first child of Henry and Louisa Ware. The
Wares were an old and distinguished New England family
with enduring ties to Harvard University. Caroline's
"great-great-grandfather" had served as
a professor at the Harvard University Divinity School;
her father was a lawyer and municipal judge who had
attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School. There
was a long tradition of civic activism in the family
history, and it was carried on by both of Caroline's
parents throughout her early life.
her own family was comfortably situated, Ware perceived
the divisions of social class from an early age. Brookline,
she recalled, was a community divided between those
who resided at "the top of the hill" and
those who lived at "the bottom of the hill."
The top of the hill was where the professional people
lived, the business people; the bottom of the hill
was where artisans and the laboring people lived.
The top of the hill was Republican, Protestant, with
very few exceptions; the bottom of the hill was Irish
and Catholic, with very few exceptions.
Educated in private schools, Ware was nonetheless
a "tomboy" who observed these class distinctions
firsthand in her many forays around the neighborhood
as a young child. Ethnic and cultural diversity, as
well as social and economic hierarchy, were thus readily
observable facts of life in the community where Caroline
Ware was born and raised.
Her gender also played a role in shaping Ware's world
view. She belonged to a unique generation of women
who came of age just as American women were securing
formal political rights. Like many young girls of
her era, Ware soon became aware of the "suffrage
excitement." Her first impressions were not favorable.
The mother of two "neighborhood bullies"
was a feminist who spent "all of her time in
the suffrage campaign." "Well, if she can't
control these boys," the young Caroline concluded,
"I don't know where she thinks she is going to
get by having the vote." Ware was taken with
"a lovely lady up the street" who was involved
in neighborhood activities and who "said that
there are lots of things more important than the vote."
"So I was never at that time, when I was home,
a suffrage person," Ware explained. By the time
Ware arrived at Vassar in 1916, the suffrage movement
seemed to be on "the verge of victory."
Though other students rallied to the cause, Caroline
"had other fish to fry."
living room of a Michigan iron miner, 1937 (From
The Cutural Approach to History)
Vassar College experience added another important
dimension to her intellectual development by reinforcing
family "service" ideals. Although the
message had been diluted somewhat from the founding
days, women's colleges such as Vassar continued
to remind students of their social responsibilities.
During the summer of her junior year, Ware explored
her growing interest in social work as an intern
for New York's Community Service Organization.
Her summer internship turned Ware away from social
work and toward an academic career. "Education,"
she concluded, "was more fundamental."
Still the home visits to immigrant and poor neighborhoods
enlarged Ware's understanding of the urban environment
and deepened her sensitivity to class divisions.
She was shocked to discover that poverty cut across
ethnic and racial lines. The slums she encountered
were full of "fair haired, blue eyed"
men and women much like herself. This recognition
shattered Ware's assumption that poverty was a problem
restricted to New York's immigrant community."
No solid undergraduate history education would have
failed to expose a student of Ware's generation
to the works of Turner and Beard. It was the intellectual
ferment stirred up by the "Progressive historians"
that made American history such an exciting field
of study in those years. Turner had added fresh
meaning to the ambitions of the new history in rebelling
against the institutional slant of historical study.
Through his focus on the West, Turner posed imaginative
and stimulating questions about the character of
American society. He searched in new placesgeography,
economy, social developmentfor an interpretation
of U.S. history that stressed the interconnectedness
of the multiple forces shaping America's past.
Ware was deeply impressed by Turner's work on the
frontier. "I felt it was a challenging set
of ideas." Harvard students considered Turner's
seminar a sine qua non for a graduate education
in American history. When Ware learned that Turner
did not plan to offer the course during 1923-1924,
his last year of teaching before retirement, she
reminded Turner that the catalog had promised students
the course. Turner relented, and Ware, as she remembered
it, "got under the wire."
of a sharecropper family teaching her children
in their home, 1939. (From The Cutural Approach
history of The Early New England Cotton Manufacture
brought together the various ideas that had informed
her intellectual apprenticeship in an extraordinary
The comprehensive scope of The Early New England
Cotton Manufacture alone set a high standard in
American social history. Ware offered her book not
simply as an economic history of a local industry
but as a regional study that illuminated a process
that would transform the United States. Unlike traditional
institutional history, it combined analysis of large-scale
economic trends with careful assessment of the human
and social costs of industrial growth. The motives
and methods of entrepreneurs stood side by side with
the struggles and strategies of the workers they employed.
This was an important departure from many other industry-centered
economic histories. It also presaged the interest
of future labor historians in class formation and
the culture of industrial work.
Ware's study was also innovative in its treatment
of gender, which surfaced as a category of analysis
in her discussion of Lowell's mill girls. The attention
to gender was significant not simply because women
were integrated into the history of industrial work.
(Edith Abbott had achieved this nearly twenty years
earlier.) Rather, Ware analyzed gender as a dynamic
force in the cotton industry. She explored the convergence
of manufacturers' interests, market conditions, work
culture, and women's lives.
Like Turner, Ware took an expansive view of the broader
significance of her regional study. The Early New
England Cotton Manufacture traced the development
and organization of an industry that "brought
the factory system to the United States. " "The
story of the New England cotton industry," Ware
explained, "is the story of the industrialization
immigrant mother and child. 12,000 immigrants
passed through Eillis Island the day this photograph
was taken. (From The Cutural Approach to
research on The Early New England Cotton Manufacture
earned Caroline Ware her doctoral degree and great
respect in the historical profession. Her years of
work on the cotton manufacture also led Ware to the
most meaningful personal attachment of her lifeher
relationship with her future husband, Gardiner Means.
Enrolled in business courses at the university, Means
lived in the same apartment building as Ware, across
the street from Widener Library. A pilot during World
War I (he had the top bunk above Adolf Berle in basic
training camp), Means had worked in a small textile
business in Lowell before coming to Harvard. The couple
married in 1927, but Ware decided to keep her own
Not long after earning her doctoral degree, Ware secured
an academic position at Vassar College. She relished
Harvard's response to the query from Vassar's history
department about suitable candidates for the job.
"The logical candidate is your own Caroline Ware."
While Ware was teaching at Vassar, Means undertook
research in economics at Columbia Law School while
earning a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. In a book
coauthored with Adolf Berle, The Modern Corporation
and Private Property, Means explored the concentration
of economic power in the United States. Setting aside
her own work in economic history, Ware's interests
shifted to ethnicity and community life.
The direction of Ware's new research reflected her
continuing involvement with workers' education. The
rise of cultural anthropology undoubtedly left an
imprint on the historian, as well. But Ware herself
remembered the tremendous impact Middletown had on
her thinking about American society. Published in
1929, Helen and Robert Lynd's study probed the "interwoven
trends . . . of a small American city." The Lynds
were searching for the changing character of the United
States. They presented their investigation of Muncie,
Indiana as "a study in modern American culture."
"I was," Ware recalled, "enormously
impressed." Middletown seemed "a
great way to look at society." But Muncie was
a city in the heartland of the United States, a relatively
homogeneous community in many ways. "What about
these other communities where there is enormous diversity,"
Ware asked herself.
The opportunity to pursue that question arose in 1931.
Columbia University's Council for Research in the
Social Sciences had decided to conduct a community
study of Greenwich Village. Ready to take leave from
Vassar, eager to join her husband in New York, and
already engaged in immigration research, Ware agreed
to direct the Columbia project. Her year away from
Vassar stretched into two as Ware and her staff conducted
their investigation from an office on Jones Street
in the village. In 1935 Ware's interpretation of their
findings was published under a title that evoked the
mission of the Lynds: Greenwich Village 1920-1930:
A Comment on American Civilization in the Post War
Anthony's soup kitchen in Hoboken, NJ, 1940
(From The Cutural Approach to History)
of all, Greenwich Village reflected Ware's
persistent intellectual concerns in its attempt to
reveal the working class and ethnic soul of the New
York neighborhood. Ware's Greenwich Village was not
"a story . . . of 'long-haired men and short-haired
women,' artists and pseudos, speakeasies, night clubs,
and haunts" but a place of "Italian immigrants
and their children, Irish longshoremen, truck-drivers,
and politicians, Jewish shopkeepers, Spanish seamen,
and a remnant of staid old American and German citizens."
Her innovative perspective on the determinants and
characteristics of modern urban life resulted in a
rich assessment of the Village, one that competed
with romantic and stylized versions of the Bohemian
neighborhood. Ware found a culture framed less by
poets than by ethnicity and the experiences of a diverse
For Ware, "extreme urbanism" seemed to bring
with it "imperviousness to human contacts."
A "rampant individualism" flourished in
twentieth-century American cities finding "outlets"
only in "predatory action or escape." There
could be no "social development," Ware stressed,
without "a coherent social life." Where
would "organizing [social] forces" come
from that could provide a basis for a vibrant community?
That question was left hanging in Ware's rich and
complex assessment of modern urban development. Her
depression era "comment on American civilization
in the post-war years" offered little room for
optimism about the direction of cultural life.
would be many years before American historians explicitly
embraced the intellectual imperative laid down by
scholars such as Ware. Not long after the publication
The Cultural Approach to History, the United
States entered World War II. After the war had ended,
many American historians returned to celebrating the
"democratic" ideals embodied in the radon's
past. Ware herself turned her attention to other matters
in the late 1930s and 1940s, advancing consumer programs
through government service during the New Deal and
World War II. Though she kept her hand in academic
life, beginning a long career teaching at Howard University
in 1942, Ware's interests after the war shifted primarily
to international development, social work, and other
Ware with a research assistant while serving
in the New Deal Office of Price Administration.
cadre of graduate students existed to carry on Ware's
work and reputation as a historian. She had spent
her most productive years in the discipline at a women's
college. Ware left her mark on a new generation of
students in the history and social work classes she
taught at Howard. As the years passed, however, less
time was spent on historical research and writing,
with one notable exception. In the late 1950s, Ware
devoted great energy to coauthoring and editing a
volume of the United Nation's History of the Cultural
and Scientific Development of Mankind. Along with
Dutch historian Jan Romein and Indian historian K.
M. Panikkar, Ware surveyed world history in a sixth
volume simply but boldly entitled, The Twentieth
Century. The work was encyclopedic, but Ware's
attachment to the cultural history agenda emerged
clearly in the sweeping account of modern historical
The U.N. project was wracked with political dissension
throughout, most notably when the Russian delegation
to U.N.E.S.C.O. objected to the treatment of Marxism
in volume six. (Other scholars bemoaned the book's
insufficiently critical treatment of communism.) By
the time the book appeared in 1966, Romein and Pannikar
were both dead. Although Ware saw the work to fruition,
at sixty-seven she would not publish in the field
of history again in spite of remaining intellectually
active until her death at ninety in 1990.
Memory: Writing America's Past 1880-1980
by Ellen Fitzpatrick
be sure, the thrust of "the cultural approach"
persisted in some American social history written
during the 1940s and 1950s. With less fanfare, significant
strides were made by scholars who addressed the challenge
of enlarging the scope of historical study. The more
modest ends stated in The Cultural Approach to
Historyto suggest new approaches and materials,
to provide some provocative exampleswere achieved
by the volume itself. Less enduring was the common
and unified sense of purpose The Cultural Approach
to History seemed to promise and announce.
When a younger generation of scholars took up the
challenge of the "new social" and "new
labor" history in the 1960s and 1970s, they contrasted
their efforts with a traditional history focused on
formal politics, institutions, and elites. The divergence
was, in fact, an important one as the new, "new
history" (whether social or labor) moved the
study of American society in imaginative and fresh
directions. Innovative conceptual models and powerful
methodological tools uncovered a world of experience
that enriched knowlege of the past. Yet the interpretive
model overarching this work reflected little, if any,
recognition of the 1930s "cultural approach."
Labor historians such as Herbert Gutman carefully
noted that the distinction between the "old"
labor history of John R. Commons and the "new"
labor history was overdrawn. He explicitly acknowledged
the pioneering accomplishments of historians such
as Caroline Ware. Still, the rhetorical distinction
persisted, hardening into a version of American historical
writing that abandoned a significant moment in the
Honored at a Smith College conference devoted to the
history of New England's working class in 1979 Caroline
Ware expected to "feel old bat, a voice out of
the past." Instead as she listened to the "path-breaking"
scholarship being done in labor history she was struck
by "how completely at home [she] felt."
It is little wonder that Ware felt a sense of belonging
among practitioners of the new labor and social history.
The paradigm for cultural history she created anticipated
many of the concerns animating contemporary historical
work. Many historians, however, have tended to overlook
-Abridged from American Quarterly,
volume 43, 2 (June 1991).