Dallas, "Big D," has always been fond of slogans. Dallas substitutes a series of advertising monikers—"the city that works," "Home to the Great State Fair of Texas," the "city of choice"—for historical awareness or a collective memory. An "improbable city" lacking the geographical advantages that supposedly characterize prominent urban places, Dallas, now more than 150 years old, still hesitates to inquire into its past.
As newcomers are quickly told, "the business of Dallas is business." According to the rhetoric that has prevailed since the 1940s, the attributes of place have been determined by autonomous markets and by the actions of businessmen who possessed the means to buy land and build a city. Dallas's contemporary residents (and those who study. American cities) are largely unaware of the competition and cooperation that characterized urban life in Dallas between 1880 and 1920. City builders who used labor organizations, social clubs, radical political parties, the alternative press, protest rallies, and statutes such as the 1907 charter's recall provision to mold their urban environment are lost amid paeans to local businessmen.
Dallas: The Making of a Modern City focuses initially on Dallas during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, when the city matured as a commercial crossroads and regional distribution center. It then highlights the city's transition in the 1920s and 1930s from a relatively open politics of competition and cooperation to a closed system in which local business leaders amassed unprecedented political power and civic influence.
Between 1880 and 1920, Dallas was much like its rivals of similar size and age on the developing prairies. Various groups competed for, and to a significant extent shared, power. Few residents of early Dallas or other "new" nineteenth-century towns preferred stasis or advocated a return to a simpler time. Within a general consensus on growth—virtually all of the city builders discussed in the pages that follow favored growth and were convinced that Dallas was destined to become a "great" city—competing interests presented different visions of exactly how urban expansion should occur. In formal statements of purpose or through priority given one project over another, the commercial-civic elite, clubwomen, populists, socialists, trade unionists, and municipal reformers articulated their visions of the ideal city. Competing groups formed short-lived coalitions when elements of their respective visions of growth overlapped. Local conflicts were usually resolved on the basis of "fair" compromises. Fairness, as originally articulated by Dallas populists in the 1890s to mean a larger share of the benefits of growth for "producers," became the dominant rhetorical and ideological framework within which challengers attempted to extract services and amenities from the businessmen who dominated civic affairs. Significantly, the racism of the majority of Dallas's citizens severely hampered the efforts of those who sought to unite producers or organize grassroots movements based on popular notions of fairness.
A series of bitter conflicts in the years following World War I convinced a new generation of business leaders that Dallas's continued growth was threatened by the unruly nature of urban affairs. The elite that matured in the 1920s and consolidated its power with the formation of the Dallas Citizens Council in 1937 put an abrupt end to the internecine feuding that had characterized relationships among Dallas's early leaders—airing intraclass disputes behind closed doors and presenting a united front to the public. At the same time, it relied on civic boosterism, control of the media, the mythology of frontier capitalism, prejudices and fears of the largely native, white population, and brutal repression to isolate and marginalize those who challenged its hegemony.
Joe Feagin documented the effective organization of workers and intense political activity of neighborhood-based independents in Houston during the final two decades of the nineteenth century—the same period during which Dallas's first Left-liberal coalition, that of trade unionists, the Knights of Labor, and populists, challenged the local commercial-civic elite. Feagin notes that while businessmen in early Houston, like their Dallas counterparts, were undoubtedly the most influential group in town, they did not assume complete command of civic affairs until after the "suite 8F crowd," a new, more cohesive elite, emerged in the 1920s and dominated by the late 1930s. Feagin's argument mirrors my analysis of the origins of Citizens Council control in Dallas. It also raises questions as to the patterns of early urban development in other Texas cities and in those throughout the Southwest. Ironically, white middle-class voters and those workers who supported poll taxes, residency requirements, atlarge elections, and other exclusionary devices intended to dilute the voting strength of blacks and Hispanics (and at least in the Dallas case to prevent further Ku Klux Klan incursions into city government) may have established electoral systems that severely limited their own options.
Political scientist Stephen Elkin considers Dallas after World War II an extreme example of the entrepreneurial political economies characteristic of Sunbelt cities, in which strong alliances developed between businessmen and public officials. The difference in Dallas was not that the city was dominated by business leaders but the extent and duration of that dominance in the postwar decades or, to use Elkin's words, "the range of actors who become active bargainers being more restricted in Dallas."
The lack of research into the nature of Dallas's urban development before 1940 has resulted in the widespread assumption that early Dallas was very much like the modern city—that business interests were never seriously challenged, that local residents have always been staunchly anti-union, and that politics was always the exclusive domain of conservatives. This work is at once a response to the profoundly ahistorical transference of the characteristics of a modern city onto eighty years of largely unexplored urban development and a reinterpretation of Dallas's past. Its respective parts provide a more inclusive history of the early city and an analysis of the urban context in which dissent was accommodated, marginalized, or repressed.
My approach has been to link the intertwined stories of organized labor, women's groups, political radicals, progressive reformers, and the city's business leaders in order to achieve a cumulative understanding of Dallas's past and present. The various parts introduced in the first half of the book and blended in the final three chapters contribute to a whole—a new interpretation of Dallas's past. This work initiates a scholarly conversation about the nature of urban development in an important American city. I hope it stimulates interest, debate, and more work on Dallas.
Dallas grew within the context of a national model in which passive, regulatory cities developed into locally financed, service-oriented cities, and then into metropoles dependent on federal largesse and unable to rely on continued growth to ensure fiscal stability. Like other cities of the Sunbelt, however, Dallas's population continued to increase well into the 1980s, allowing the city to maintain its conservative patterns of taxation and prosperous image much longer than urban areas of the North and East. Throughout the city's history, the rhetoric of loosely regulated capitalism and laissez faire individualism has prevailed. Public discourse that emphasizes the roles of market forces and those who successfully manipulate them is reinforced by a powerful myth explaining the city's origins and early growth.
Dallas's origin myth is a well-established part of local lore. According to the myth, the town surpassed its rivals in North Central Texas—most notably Fort Worth, almost forty miles to the west, but also Waco to the south and Sherman to the north—because of the hard work and salesmanship of early settlers. The identity of modern Dallas is based on images of its founders' building a prosperous city where none ought to be. Warren Leslie called Dallas a "creation of the citizens," but perhaps Holland McCombs, writing for Fortune magazine in 1949, best articulated the myth of Dallas's origin. McCombs described the city as a "monument to sheer determination." According to the Fortune article, "Dallas doesn't owe a thing to accident, nature or inevitability. It is what it is... because the men of Dallas damn well planned it that way."
Not surprisingly, John Neely Bryan, the city's founder, is touted as the ultimate booster for his ability to persuade migrants to invest their futures in a town possessing neither a navigable river nor any other raison d'etre. The myth gives no consideration to very real geographical, political, and social aspects of settlement.
The local origin myth did not appear in early histories of Dallas, which emphasized geographical advantages and the size and fertility of the city's hinterland. One of the city's first historians, writing in 1892, claimed that railroad magnate Jay Gould predicted Dallas's rise as the commercial center of North Texas. In 1909 local historian Philip Lindsley asserted that it was "natural" for an inland city to develop along established trade routes in one of the most fertile sections of the state. Almost as an afterthought, he discussed the role of Dallas citizens in the city's growth.
Two influential histories published in the late 1920s continued to emphasize Dallas's geographical advantages. Former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives John Cochran and former Dallas school superintendent Justin F. Kimball added sections on "self-sacrificing pioneers" and the "Dallas Spirit," but neither suggested that the city had no reason to exist or was purely the product of boosterism. As late as 1936, in the midst of the hoopla surrounding the Texas Centennial Exposition, a profile in the Chamber of Commerce's magazine touted Dallas as the product of its fertile hinterland, which attracted a population of over 2,000,000 to within a 100-mile radius of the city.
Holland McCombs's 1949 article in Fortune magazine, which introduced the founders of the Dallas Citizens Council to the nation, was the first widely disseminated purveyor of the city-with-no-reason-toexist myth. McCombs probably based his conclusions on interviews with R. L. Thornton and other members of the city's postwar elite. Thornton's ahistorical views are legendary in Dallas; as part of his argument that the city should host a centennial celebration of statehood won before John Neely Bryan built his cabin, Thornton asserted that people "weren't looking for history.... What they wanted was progress." Although Thornton's Chamber did not create the origin myth, neither did it use the state's centennial as an occasion during which to explore Dallas's past. The year of the fair, the Chamber of Commerce's introduction in the Dallas directory contained no historical material whatsoever and the above-mentioned profile in the Chamber's magazine dispensed with history in a mere two paragraphs. It is likely that McCombs came to Dallas with little or no knowledge of the city's past, noted the lack of "obvious" natural advantages (i.e. a harbor or oil wells), and relayed the infectious bravado and ahistoricism of local business leaders.
According to local lore, the town's historical origins are incidental—since no logical reason for settlement existed, it could have happened anywhere. This assumption ignores the discoveries and ambitions of John Neely Bryan. When Bryan left Van Buren, Arkansas, in 1840, to establish a trading post on the upper Trinity River in North Central Texas, he was attracted to a site on the east bank of the river that later became Dallas's central business district. His was not a random choice. The Republic of Texas had already provided funds for a military highway from Austin to the Red River to cross the Trinity near the convergence of its three forks. There the width of the river valley narrowed from five miles to one, and gummy mud river banks—almost impossible to negotiate with heavy oxcarts—gave way to a limestone ridge that provided a natural river crossing. Col. William Cooke began his survey of Preston Road, as the highway was known, a year before Bryan built his first cabin in 1841. Bryan's ability to persuade three families to move to the site from Bird's Fort, a Texas Ranger stockade to the northwest, and the absence of hostile Indians convinced him to abandon his career as a frontier trader in favor of speculating on his 640-acre tract of land. By the end of 1842, other settlers had taken up residence in the new town, which was already called Dallas.
Like Dallas County, organized in 1846, the town could have been named for George Mifflin Dallas, a Pennsylvanian elected vice president in 1844 partly on the issue of Texas annexation. But the town was called Dallas before the election campaign, and the future vice president had a brother who, as a naval commander, also had a well-known name. To further complicate the question, John Neely Bryan had a friend named Joseph Dallas who moved to the region from Washington County Arkansas, and settled at Cedar Springs, three miles north of Bryan's settlement. The uncertainty surrounding the town's name is indicative of both Dallas residents' ambivalence toward the past and the recent nature of local interest in the city's historical identity. For whomever Dallas the city was named, the town site was surveyed and platted by 1846. Bryan became the first postmaster, dividing his time between running a post office and store from his home, waging a campaign to have Dallas named county seat, and encouraging settlement in the new town. Dallas defeated Hord's Ridge (now Oak Cliff) in an 1852 election for county seat, and two years later Bryan sold his holdings in town to Alexander Cockrell for $7,000.
A native of Kentucky, Cockrell was an early migrant to Hord's Ridge, a settlement on the west bank of the Trinity, established in 1845 by Judge William Hord. Cockrell manufactured bricks and branched into the lumber business. His materials supplied early settlers on both sides of the river. Cockrell operated a ferry across the Trinity that linked Hord's Ridge and Dallas, and he was a principal investor in the first bridge spanning the river.
From its origins as a river crossing strategically placed along a proposed military highway, early Dallas benefited from the rapid settlement of much of its hinterland. In the United States during the 1840s, those who settled the frontier obtained land from the public domain at a minimum of $1.25 per acre or purchased it from prior owners. In the Republic of Texas, frontier land was almost free—as it had been since Stephen F. Austin first opened the country to white settlers from the United States. The Republic's last act donating land to settlers expired in 1842. Between 1842 and 1854, the period during which Dallas emerged as a county seat, most migrants to Texas had to purchase land, usually from speculators. The only areas in which land remained free were the established empresario reserves—the Republic's reserves of the 1840s stemming from Austin's original contract with Mexico and the State Colonization Law of 1825. Just as the settlements of East Texas began to expand onto the blackland prairies, Texas granted William S. Peters and his associates from Louisville, Kentucky, approximately 16,000 square miles in the region of the upper Trinity. In 1841 they established the Texan Emigration and Land Company to organize settlement of what became known as the Peters Colony. Texas law prohibited an empresario from settling a colony with migrants from other parts of the state, so Peters's reserve attracted small farmers from areas to the north and east—mostly without slaves and many from free and border states. This relatively homogeneous introduction of Peters Colony settlers so close to early Dallas had a tremendous impact on the region. Committed to family farming, the Peters colonists came largely from the Ohio River valley and were slightly more prosperous than other Texas migrants. The majority grew grains and vegetables. Those growing cotton did not do so on the same scale as the plantation owners of South Texas. Many farm families granted 640 acres of free land near Dallas, and therefore possessing cash reserves, developed an interest in trade. The colonists were able to support a comparatively large artisan and commercial class and attracted teachers, lawyers, doctors, and ministers virtually from the beginning of settlement.
Another impetus for Dallas's rapid rise as the region's dominant town was the settlement of La Reunion, established four miles west of Dallas. The first French settlers of La Reunion arrived in 1854 via New Orleans, and the main body of the French, Swiss, and Belgian colony arrived from Houston with a caravan of oxcarts the next year. Its leader, Victor Considerant, a disciple of the French socialist Francois Marie Charles Fourier, sought to establish a cooperative community. Considerant, exiled by Napoleon III for protesting French military adventures in Italy, believed the acquisitive nature of human beings could be regulated through their organization into self-supporting groups of 1,600 individuals. Although the utopian settlements were to be primarily agricultural and cooperative, Considerant did not abolish private ownership of property. La Reunion was to be the first of many such cooperatives in Texas. All members of the community, including women, enjoyed equal political rights and the opportunity to achieve economic independence.
Initial encounters between La Reunion colonists and citizens of Dallas took place in the colony's cooperative store. La Reunion's merchants carried an unusual selection of goods, many far superior to what was available in Dallas. The cooperative store quickly developed a clientele among Texans as well as colonists. Dallas residents regarded the foreigners with more curiosity than apprehension. In spite of initial concern that parties with music might desecrate the Sabbath, many regularly accepted invitations to the Europeans' Sunday afternoon and evening dances.
Eventually numbering almost 350 persons, the La Reunion colony contained highly educated professionals as well as scientists, artists, writers, musicians, artisans, and naturalists. La Reunion, however, lacked the agricultural expertise to ensure success under primitive and strange conditions. Considerant purchased a beautiful tract on a limestone bluff that reminded him of vineyard country in France but was, in fact, the worst agricultural land in Dallas County. After a three-year struggle, the immigrants disbanded La Reunion and many of the colony's leaders, including Considerant, returned to France. Most of the European settlers remained, however, and by 1860, 160 La Reunion colonists lived in Dallas. Others purchased farms in Dallas County, and one group began a new settlement six miles south of La Reunion on Mountain Creek.
The infusion of so many skilled Europeans into a commercial crossroads serving relatively prosperous farmers further distinguished Dallas, a town of not quite 2,000 in 1860, from county seats to the north, south, and east. The colonists were quickly integrated into community life—one served as the city's mayor. Another former La Reunion resident founded Dallas's first brewery. Julien Reverchon, who came to La Reunion in his teens, and Jacob Boll, who left Switzerland to join his family after it moved to Dallas, won international acclaim as naturalists. Portrait artists, piano tuners, cigar makers, jewelers, dancing masters, and the like added their talents to those of carpenters, stone masons, shoemakers, and immigrants possessing skills more practical in a frontier town to supply goods and luxury items to area farmers who, fortuitously, could afford them.
While serving as a supply center for the Confederate army west of the Mississippi River, Dallas's location shielded the town from destruction during the Civil War. The wartime demand for wheat, saddlery, and leather goods enabled residents to rebuild quickly after an 1860 fire destroyed most of the business district. As southern migrants poured into Texas after the war, Dallas County's thriving wheatlands and the city that served them became, for many, the destination of choice.
Bryan's locating the town at a natural river crossing along what would become a major thoroughfare ensured that all traffic between the United States and the heavily populated central portions of Texas would pass through its limits. Unlike Fort Worth, which was located at the very edge of settlement, Dallas could rely upon a large, fertile hinterland spreading out in three directions. The blackland prairies surrounding the city to the north, south, and east make up a considerable portion of the narrow arc of easily plowed land that extends northeast from the Rio Grande to the Red River. Known as the Blackland Belt, the upper reaches of this most heavily populated section of the state were ideally suited to wheat production. Dallas began as a typical commercial city—dependent on the products of its region. The timing of its emergence coincided with that of many inland areas of the South and West. Geographical considerations, the financial resources of Peters Colony settlers who paid very little for their land, and the presence of a large number of skilled artisans provided early Dallas not only with ample reason to exist but also with an impetus for growth.
The new elite that founded the Dallas Citizens Council in the 1930s clearly enjoyed the national recognition it received from the Fortune article and incorporated McCombs's version of Dallas's development. The myth of Dallas as the product of local businessmen's ability to "sell" others on an indistinguishable piece of the prairie undergirded the Citizens Council's argument that the business community could represent the interests of all citizens. As recently as the early 1980s, advertising campaigns linked what was good for local business with prosperity for the city as a whole. The origin myth and a lack of historical inquiry still characterize public discourse in Dallas. Together, they obscure both the contentiousness of civic affairs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the variety of actors who built the city.
The character of migration to the Dallas area shifted somewhat after the end of Peters Colony settlement. Between 1860 and 1880, the majority of new settlers came from Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas. They were joined by migrants from Louisiana, East Texas, and other southern states where lives had been disrupted by the Civil War. Most remained small-scale farmers or practiced trades in town. Unlike the Peters Colony settlers, however, southern migrants who either rented land near Dallas or purchased their own farms planted cotton instead of wheat.
The decades following the Civil War transformed Dallas from a thriving crossroads marketplace of 2,000 to the largest city in North Texas, second only to Houston in the state (see Table 1). Although all of Texas experienced rapid growth (a statewide increase of just under 500 percent between 1861 and 1878), the population of Dallas County and the counties immediately surrounding it leaped by almost 1,000 percent during the same period. No other section of the state experienced growth at this rate. During the 1872-1875 triennium, which included the year of the panic, the increases in Dallas and surrounding counties were enough to offset declines in other parts of Texas and created a pattern of slight increase statewide.
Dallas was insulated from the hard times because of its mixed economy and acquisition of two railroads, the Houston & Texas Central in 1872 and the Texas & Pacific the following year. During the decade of the 1870s, the city's population jumped from 3,000 to 10,358. Aside from processing wheat and cotton, the town possessed important lumber planing, publishing, and saddlery industries. Dallas's production of $100,000 worth of saddles and harnesses in 1880 was roughly double that of Austin, its nearest Texas competitor. The city became a regional distribution center for farm equipment, wagons, and plows as the northern-most Texas outfitting point along the Shawnee Trail. The most important Dallas County industries (in order of dollar value of goods produced) were grain milling, lumber planing, publishing, saddlery and harness making, cigars and cigarette making, foundries and machine shops, brick and tile factories, production of tin, copper, and sheet-iron ware, bakery products, the manufacture of ice, carriage and wagon building, and confectionery making. Within Texas, the total industrial output for Dallas County in 1880 trailed only that of Galveston.
Like other southern and southwestern cities, early commercial Dallas was a violent place. In addition to farm families, artisans, and small business owners, the city attracted a floating population of buffalo hunters, trappers, and day laborers and some of the legendary figures of the West. John B. ("Doc") Holliday practiced dentistry, Belle Starr sang in a local dance hall and supposedly fenced stolen horses from her livery stable, Sam Bass robbed trains until he was killed by the Texas Rangers, and Frank James (Jesse's brother) worked as a salesman at Sanger Brothers. Free drinks to customers from tin cups at whiskey barrels in the town's stores proved to be, necessarily, a short-lived custom. Benjamin Long, a veteran of the La Reunion colony and two-term Dallas mayor, was shot and killed in a saloon after confronting a man who refused to pay for a beer. Merchants and settlers combined to subdue the most troublesome of the early drinking establishments, brothels, and gambling houses, but, as late as 1880, the city of barely 10,000 possessed fifty-two saloons.
Dallas opened its first public school in 1883. Colored School No. 1 admitted students a year later. The influx of southern migrants reinforced national patterns of racial separation and limited educational as well as economic and social opportunities for the city's blacks (19 percent of the total population in 1880).
A decade after the arrival of the railroads, Dallas possessed six flour mills, two grain elevators, and two cotton compresses as well as six banks, two foundries, and over seven hundred other commercial structures." Between 1880 and 1890, assessed property values in Dallas jumped from just over $4,000,000 to more than $30,000,000. Workers installed electric lights and telephone lines and paved Main and Elm streets with bois d'arc blocks. Traffic nearly strangled the congested downtown area. Busy streets were made even more dangerous by grade rail crossings. By 1886 six railroads operated in Dallas. Building was haphazard and unregulated. Even public buildings had short life spans and, after an 1890 fire, the thirty-six-year-old county began construction of its sixth courthouse. "Old Red," as Dallas's courthouse is known locally, was constructed in traditional Romanesque style of red sandstone and granite. The structure, which recently celebrated its centennial, is one of a handful of nineteenth-century landmarks that have survived natural disasters, Dallas's leaders' preference for modern buildings, and the business district's continued expansion.
In addition to the rapid construction of the physical city, Dallas residents sought to "catch up" with older American cities by imitating established forms of association. Many new migrants brought with them the Victorian penchant for establishing new organizations. Others simply founded local affiliates of groups active in their hometowns. Physicians organized the first Dallas County Medical Society in November of 1871, succeeded five years later by the Dallas County Medical and Surgical Association. County attorneys organized a Bar Association in 1880 and claimed 150 members after just twelve years. Sports enthusiasts established an amateur baseball association in 1883. The city's upper and middle classes patterned social and literary clubs, musical societies, and charities after prestigious organizations in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia and organized local affiliates of Masonic Orders, the Oddfellows, and the Red Cross. A combination of the transference of established cultural patterns and mimetic development characterized Dallas's social and cultural institutions well into the twentieth century.
Although the majority of the frontier population attended evangelical protestant churches, Dallas residents had a variety of religious choices. In 1892, 511 members supported St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral downtown on Ervay Street. The city's more than 5,000 Catholics divided themselves between Sacred Heart and St. Patrick's, and the Jewish Temple Emanu-El, already seventeen years old in 1892, served 125 regular members. Organized in 1888, Emanu-El's Ladies Auxiliary attracted women from other synagogues and claimed 150 members,
At the turn of the century, Dallas was a T-shaped city with a fairly even distribution of prosperous and working-class neighborhoods and separate shanty towns along flood plains inhabited by impoverished whites and blacks. The bar of the "T" included the business district and East Dallas (annexed in 1890) separated by a sparsely settled area dotted with the homes of prosperous businessmen, workers, and shopkeepers. This central area also contained one of several freedmen's districts. Neighborhoods south of the downtown area and Oak Cliff—across the Trinity River to the southwest—formed the "T's" stem (see Figure 1).
The social register for 1895 lists approximately equal numbers of the city's elite south, north, and east of downtown and across the river in Oak Cliff. Many merchants, like Albert and Ben Linz, kept permanent residences downtown—in the Grand Windsor and Oriental hotels. Other prominent landholders and business leaders, including Col. Tom Kingsley, Wildy Gibbs, and J. L. A. Thomas, were long-time residents of the Oriental. The downtown residences of prosperous farmers strengthened ties to the city and especially to the business district. The proximity to downtown of The Cedars, an exclusive neighborhood immediately south of the business district, also stimulated contact between agriculturalists and local merchants.
Since the State of Texas awarded Dallas its charter in 1856 (the original town charter was exchanged for a city charter in 1871), Dallas's independent and often unruly citizens were represented by a mayor and aldermen who served on a single council. In 1880 two aldermen were elected from each of four wards and the mayor was elected at large. Over the next decade, the council grew to include the mayor and as many as twenty-four aldermen representing twelve wards. The number of city officials varied but generally included an elected marshal and tax assessor-collector and an appointed secretary, treasurer, attorney, engineer, and health officer.
Perhaps not surprising in a commercial center catering to a vast agricultural hinterland, merchants and landowners figured disproportionately among the city's early leaders. No single interest group or class, however, could mount successful campaigns for civic improvements or establish public institutions without allies during Dallas's first eighty years. The three chapters that constitute Part One of this book analyze the agendas and activities of political groups and interests that vied for influence between 1880 and 1920. Together they provide "contribution histories" of Dallas clubwomen, populists, socialists, and trade unionists as well as a profile of the city's first commercial-civic elite.
Male members of the elite established a series of local organizations dedicated to economic growth and ran for political office as Democrats in what was essentially a one-party state. Disputes among businessmen typically enlisted groups favoring increased municipal spending on a particular project against fiscal conservatives. "Organized womanhood"—often the wives, mothers, and daughters of prominent businessmen—sought to refine ostensibly laissez-faire capitalism through environmental reform and increased spending on cultural institutions and social services. Through the Dallas Federation of Women's Clubs, female members of the elite exerted a powerful influence on civic affairs decades before passage of the suffrage amendment.
Between 1886 and 1917, Dallas Populists and socialists organized and maintained local chapters of national political parties. Dallas radicals emphasized cooperation, education, and the empowerment of producers. They sought to replace the prevailing economic system with policies designed to "restore" a fair balance between farmers and wage laborers and those whose livelihoods depended on the production of others. Although affiliated with national political parties, Dallas Populists and socialists functioned as local interest groups—moderating the elite's choice of candidates during their respective periods of intense activity rather than achieving consistent electoral victories. Despite their ultimate political failure, local radicals established significant and enduring urban institutions and broadened the spectrum of acceptable social, political, and economic discourse.
Dallas radicals joined local trade unionists to form the city's first Left-liberal coalitions. Although several champions of organized labor won state and local elections or were appointed to important municipal offices, Dallas unionists, like their radical allies, were unable to mount consistent political challenges to the candidates of the elite. Analyses of key strikes in 1898 and 1919 reveal both the influence of organized labor in Dallas and the limitations of a workers' movement dependent on notions of fairness shared by an aspiring middle class.
The second part of this book provides an analysis of why and how business leaders closed the door on dissent in Dallas between 1920 and 1940. The demands of local building tradesmen, the division of Dallas's middle and upper classes into camps favoring or opposing various reform and city planning measures, and the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan made the years after World War I an especially unsettling time in Dallas. Middle-class professionals and their allies among the elite who challenged the prevailing view that growth depended on extreme fiscal restraint and minimal taxation found their relatively late blooming efforts to institutionalize social reform overshadowed by those of businessmen seeking changes in the structure of city government that would thwart the Klan's political ambitions. Reformlike reaction was perceived by influential members of the elite and by many Dallas voters as a serious threat to growth.
A new generation of leaders matured by the end of the 1920s convinced that civic coherence depended on the business community's ability to speak with a single voice. This new elite sought to "manage" the politics of competition and cooperation by ignoring those issues which fostered intraclass feuds and by promoting only those on which there was a general consensus among business leaders. Local tensions during the interwar years combined with national and international crises to make the notion of apolitical officials who would guard the interests of the entire city especially appealing to Dallas voters. During the 1930s, continued internecine feuding among members of the elite, renewed demands for fairness by local factory workers, and Dallas's financial obligations to the state's Centennial Exposition motivated the city's most powerful bankers, merchants, and utility heads to establish the Dallas Citizens Council, the forum through which they dominated civic affairs for the next forty years.
The hegemony of this group—its self-discipline, control of the local media, and repression or co-optation of challengers—and the lack of inquiry into the city's past have resulted in a view among both scholars and Dallas residents that the city has always been an "empire of consensus." City building has rarely (if ever) been as simple as the city's origin myth and the rhetoric of the Dallas Citizens Council indicate. An awareness of, and appreciation for, the earlier politics of competition and cooperation could ease the way toward an urban environment in which dissent, conflict, and its resolution are perceived not as threats to civic coherence but as constructive signs of a more inclusive public life.