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  • And to Think That It Happened on Mt. Auburn Street: Dr. James, Harvard, and the Making of Manhood
  • Mark C. Carnes (bio)
Kim Townsend. Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. 318 pp. Figures, bibliography, notes, and index. $29.95.

Oh, the thinks they did think!

Hear the Honorable Curtis Guild, Governor of Massachusetts and a member of the Harvard Class of 1881, as his words rumble across Harvard Yard: “Whatever patriotism of American manhood comes to the fore, Harvard memory, Harvard ideals, instinctively rise, because Harvard is not merely Massachusetts, Harvard is not merely New England, Harvard is the ideal of America” (p. 10).

See the great James Russell, arms outstretched in embrace of the Class of 1865: “These hold great futures in their lusty reins / And certify to earth a new imperial race” (p. 17).

Behold Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., bedecked in commencement regalia, polishing the best fruit of Harvard, vintage of 1895: “The measure of power is obstacles overcome, to ride boldly, at what is in front of you, be it fence or enemy; to pray not for comfort, but for combat” (p. 60).

Oh, yes, and there’s more, much more: Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard from 1869 to 1909, describes the essential trait of the successful college president as “the capacity to inflict pain” (p. 84). Professor Barrett Wendell invokes Harvard’s hallowed traditions to deprive women of them: “There has never before been a deviation from the principle that the influences amid which education should be obtained here must remain virile” (p. 228). Henry Cabot Lodge, arbiter of the nation’s foreign policy, on football and the ascent of civilization: “The time given to athletic contests and the injuries incurred on the playing-field are part of the price which the English-speaking race has paid for being world-conquerors” (p. 103).

And from high atop the evolutionary heap at Harvard Yard, the bellow of that big-sticking Yertle, Teddy Roosevelt, exhorts those below to exertions both fearless and fecund: “If we stand idly by . . . then the bolder and stronger [End Page 594] peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully.” 1

Wonderful nonsense, all of it, and with every footnote Kim Townsend pulls more delicious mischief out of the hat.

But this is not a new trick. Quotes such as these have appeared in garish profusion since the 1960s and 1970s, long before the taxonomists of our profession thought to give men’s history its own genus. In The Inner Civil War (1965), George M. Frederickson cited Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Francis Parkman, Francis A. Walker, and other dignitaries of Harvard to show how the men of the post-Civil War generation were plagued with doubts as to whether they measured up to their heroic fathers. In the late 1970s, several pioneering works in men’s history anticipated other elements of Townsend’s thesis. In 1976 G. J. Barker-Benfield’s The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century America documented a pervasive misogyny among educated men. In 1979 came two signal works. In Be a Man! Males in Modern Society, Peter N. Stearns described the “considerable complications in the masculine world of the middle class” (p. 96) caused by the maturation of the industrial economic system in the second half of the nineteenth century, and, in A Man’s Place: Masculinity in Transition, Joe Dubbert attributed the popularity of the novels of Frank Norris (A Man’s Woman, The Pit, McTeague) and Owen Wister (The Virginian), and the iconic appeal of Teddy Roosevelt, to increased anxieties about the state of manhood at the close of the century. 2 Townsend makes similar points with many of the same figures and some of the same quotes.

Yet everywhere in the thickets of Victorian discourse on manhood, Townsend perceives the massive footprint of Harvard. Previous scholars may have cited the words of Holmes and all the rest, but none noticed the centrality of Harvard in this...

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