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Creating the College Man

American Mass Magazines and Middle-Class Manhood, 1890–1915

Daniel A. Clark

Publication Year: 2010

How did a college education become so vital to American notions of professional and personal advancement? Reared on the ideal of the self-made man, American men had long rejected the need for college. But in the early twentieth century this ideal began to change as white men born in the U.S. faced a barrage of new challenges, among them a stultifying bureaucracy and growing competition in the workplace from an influx of immigrants and women. At this point a college education appealed to young men as an attractive avenue to success in a dawning corporate age. Accessible at first almost exclusively to middle-class white males, college funneled these aspiring elites toward a more comfortable and certain future in a revamped construction of the American dream.
    In Creating the College Man Daniel A. Clark argues that the dominant mass media of the era—popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post—played an integral role in shaping the immediate and long-term goals of this select group of men. In editorials, articles, fiction, and advertising, magazines depicted the college man as simultaneously cultured and scientific, genteel and athletic, polished and tough. Such depictions underscored the college experience in powerful and attractive ways that neatly united the incongruous strains of American manhood and linked a college education to corporate success.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

One accumulates a great many debts in the course of researching, writing, and publishing a book. This project began in graduate school as a dissertation, and as with any scholar, many readings and conversations helped to frame my understanding and pursuit of this topic. I want to thank Jon Teaford, John Lauritz Larson, Michael Morrison, and Jim Farr, for their guidance (and the read-...

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Introduction: Piggy Goes to Harvard: Mass Magazines, Masculinity, and College Education for the Corporate Middle Class

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pp. 3-25

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many business-men proudly echoed Andrew Carnegie’s well-known denunciation that “a college education unfits rather than fits men to affairs.”1 What a difference a century makes. While Carnegie would change his tune,such a sentiment as his could hardly be conceivable today. College and university bumper stickers have become notorious markers of presumed social status. Access to college education is a major political, economic, and social concern, ...

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1. The Crisis of the Clerks: Magazines, Masculine Success, and the Ideal Businessman in Transition

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pp. 26-47

Keenly aware that times were changing, the new middle-class periodicals that arose around the turn of the century seemed particularly interested in addressing the question of opportunities for young men entering the business world or “the world of affairs” as it was often called. Alongside the issue of whether the modern “trusts” multiplied or hindered these opportunities recurred the question of whether your boy should go to college. On this topic most writers would have agreed with Herbert Vreeland in...

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2. The College Curriculum and Business: Reconceptualizing the Pathways to Power in a Corporate World

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pp. 48-79

In 1895 Munsey’s Magazine asked a question that would seem rather silly today, “Should Your Boy Go to College?” But Munsey’s was, in fact, raising a very serious and telling question. The article presented the subject not for the benefit of the elite but for the “practical men of action.” The author had in mind the people who read Munsey’s, people whose sons looked toward business careers and whose families had limited means and thus asked, justifiably, “whether or not those four years might have been better spent.”1 Only a...

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3. Athletes and Frats, Romance and Rowdies: Reimagining the Collegiate Extracurricular Experience

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pp. 80-118

In October 1899 the Saturday Evening Post ran its first College Man’s number,an issue devoted to highlighting aspects of American college life and to attracting college-age readers. While two editorials addressed the benefits of the college curriculum (“Shall I Go to College?” heartily endorsed a college education for its broadening effects), most of the issue’s contents celebrated nonacademic elements of American college life. “Presidents as Fraternity Men” recounted the achievements and exploits, the brotherly bonds, and...

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4. Horatio Alger Goes to College: College, Corporate America, and the Reconfiguration of the Self-Made Ideal

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pp. 119-145

Throughout 1906 Wallace Irwin led Saturday Evening Post readers on a delightfully humorous fictional tour of America’s most prominent and prestigious campuses. Purporting to expose the truth behind these colleges and universities in mock-muckraking fashion, Irwin outlandishly magnified the well-known traits of the schools and their students incorporating twists on muckraker themes drawn from contemporary politics. For instance he exposed the gentleman’s trust at Harvard and the democratic machine at Yale,...

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5. From Campus Hero to Corporate Professional: Selling the Full Vision of the College Experience

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pp. 145-180

Occupying the prime advertising space of an entire second page of a Saturday Evening Post in October 1909, a dramatic college scene beckoned the reader’s attention. A Hart, Schaffner and Marx clothing ad depicted a handsome collegian, fist clenched in passion, as he led his comrades in cheers for the football team in action behind him on the grid-iron (figure 2).1 Other magazine ads featured competing visions of idealized college men. “Adler’s Collegian Clothes,” for instance, portrayed the college man...

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Conclusion: College and the Culture of Aspiration

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pp. 181-190

In 1920 the Saturday Evening Post continued to ponder the essential question that had initially inspired the interest in college education more than twenty years before, when it asked “Do Opportunities Still Exist?” And at first glance, it seemed that the traditional self-made man still reigned supreme. In this specific article, the prolific Post writer Albert W. Atwood trumpeted the fact (in his opinion) that “the self-made man, the man who has risen from the ranks, is the type that permeates modern industry in this country.”...


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pp. 191-246


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pp. 247-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780299235338
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299235345

Publication Year: 2010