Masarykova univerzita Filozofická fakulta Katedra anglistiky a amerikanistiky Bakalářská diplomová práce

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The muckraking era which lasted approximately from 1902 to 1912 saw many new aspects in the American society. The shift in the socio-economic conditions of the turn of the twentieth century such as immense immigration and the growth of big enterprises prepared the ground for muckraking periodicals and their journalists. Having found a wider audience due to mass-circulation of the periodicals and an increase in secondary education, muckrakers reported on the wrongs occurring in the form of corruption and social injustice in general. Among the number of muckrakers, Lincoln Steffens occupied a prominent position. The aim of this thesis was to identify what professional attitudes, opinions on the current state of affairs, and Steffens’s personality traits contributed to his successful career of a journalist and a commentator on politics. Further, my intention was to evaluate the impact of Steffens’s book The Shame of the Cities and reflect on it from the literary point of view.

From the beginning of his career Steffens was a diligent journalist who enjoyed discovering unknown sides of the urban environment and was keen on learning new skills. He developed a great competence in interviewing people and thanks to this talent as well as his impeccable upper-class manners, high-ranking officials invited him into their circles as a partner in the exchange of information, so that he would report favorably on them. Steffens pursued his ideal that journalism should not impart dry facts but it should be flavored by a journalist’s individual artistic style which would make the text more aesthetical.

Since Steffens’s main concern during his career in journalism was corruption and politics, he gained insight into the sphere and created his own notions of the worst problems of the USA. In his view, what caused the corrupt state of the country was business spirit which had penetrated the whole society. As a consequence, politics became business as well and the resulting corruption hindered the representation of public interests. In order to bring a remedy to the situation, he preferred reform and suggested that people demanded a better government.

With the aim of expressing his anxiety about the country’s situation and making its people aware of it, Steffens wrote several series of articles about corruption at the municipal, state and federal levels. A series of seven articles on municipal corruption in six cities was published as a book called The Shame of the Cities, and remains Steffens’s most renowned muckraking work. Despite some objections to the book’s objectivity in terms of its moralistic nature and a biased view of political bosses, it has been mostly appreciated for its new formulation of the country’s problem – based on the same principles, corruption functioned all over the country. The Shame of the Cities has also been taken for a valuable and often quoted source of examples of corruption and political conditions of the first decade of the twentieth century. However, the book is remarkable for its literary structure, too. Since it was written to convince the public of the dismal circumstances in the American cities, its literary techniques are adjusted to the purpose. Besides detailed information and evidence of concrete acts of bribery, Steffens employs techniques of fiction in order to grip the audience, namely dialogue, character development, and rising action.

In my opinion, Lincoln Steffens received acclaim because he was able to convince. He established himself in the world of journalism due to his assiduity and an effort to pursue his literary standards. He spoke to the public from the position of an expert on politics and the people listened to him. His Shame of the Cities showed his literary talent and brought to the Americans a new picture of the political system of the USA, which can be regarded as an achievement not to be overlooked.

Works Cited

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Chalmers, David M. “The Muckrakers and the Growth of Corporate Power: A Study in Constructive Journalism.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 18.3 (1959): 295-311. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Cochran, Bud T. “Lincoln Steffens and the Art of Autobiography.” College Composition and Communication 16.2 (1965): 102-05. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

Cohen, Adam. “‘The Shame’ That Lincoln Steffens Found Has Not Left Our Country.” Editorial. New York Times. New York Times, 11 Apr. 2004. Web. 5 Mar. 2011.

Dudden, Arthur P. “Lincoln Steffens's Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania History 31.4 (1964): 449-58. Penn State University Libraries. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.

Filler, Louis. The Muckrakers. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993. Google Books Search. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Ford, Henry Jones. “Municipal Corruption.” Political Science Quarterly 19.4 (1904): 673-86. JSTOR. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.

Gallagher, Aileen. The Muckrakers: American Journalism during the Age of Reform. New York: Rosen, 2006. Google Books Search. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

Jensen, Carl. Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century. New York: Seven Stories, 2000. Print.

Kaplan, Justin. Lincoln Steffens: A Biography. New York: Simon, 1974. Print.

McCormick, Richard L. “The Discovery That Business Corrupts Politics: A Reappraisal of the Origins of Progressivism.” American Historical Review 86.2 (1981): 247-74. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.

Menes, Rebecca. “Corruption in Cities: Graft and Politics in American Cities at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2003. NBER Working Paper Ser. National Bureau of Economic Research. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.

Miraldi, Robert. “Scaring Off the Muckrakers with the Threat of Libel.” Journalism Quarterly 65.3 (1988): 609-14. EBSCO. Web. 20 Jan. 2011.

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Schultz, Stanley K. “The Morality of Politics: The Muckrakers’ Vision of Democracy.” Journal of American History 52.3 (1965): 527-47. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Shapiro, Herbert. “Lincoln Steffens: Light and Shadow on His Historical Image.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 31.3 (1972): 319-26. JSTOR. Web. 29 Nov.2010.

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Smith, Rollin. “Pittsburgh’s Millionaires and Their Organs.” Annual Organ Atlas (2010): 70-79. EBSCO. Web. 7 Mar. 2011.

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Steffens, Lincoln. The Shame of the Cities. New York: McClure, 1904. Internet Archive. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.

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Young, Jennifer Louise. “‘This Is Not a Book’: Fictional Techniques in Lincoln Steffens's Exposé The Shame of the Cities.” Society for Critical Exchange. Society for Critical Exchange, 2006. Web. 8 Mar. 2011.


The thesis examines the contribution of American muckraker Lincoln Steffens and points out some aspects which helped him to build a career of an acclaimed investigative journalist. The second chapter outlines the general background to the muckraking era, while the third and fourth chapters focus on Steffens and his magazine articles. Steffens had some specific notions of what journalism should be like and also produced some theories in regard to the political and socio-economic conditions in the USA at the turn of the twentieth century. Steffens’s collection of articles about municipal corruption The Shame of the Cities brought a new outlook on the contemporary situation in the American society. The thesis aims to bring a portrait of Steffens and his work which is illustrated by scholars’ statements and quotations of Steffens’s contemporaries, as well as an analysis of The Shame of the Cities.


Práce se snaží zhodnotit přínos Lincolna Steffense, jednoho z amerických novinářů zabývajících se odhalováním nezákonných praktik a špatných sociálních podmínek (angl. „muckrakers“). Dále má za cíl poukázat na některé aspekty, které mu pomohly dosáhnout kariéry uznávaného investigativního novináře. Druhá kapitola podává základní informace o době novinářů zvaných „muckrakers“, zatímco třetí a čtvrtá kapitola se zaměřují na Steffense a jeho články psané pro časopisy. Steffens měl vlastní pohled na to, jaká by žurnalistika měla být a také formuloval hypotézy týkající se politických a socioekonomických poměrů v USA počátku dvacátého století. Steffensův soubor článků o korupci na komunální úrovni The Shame of the Cities („Hanba měst“) přinesl nový pohled na tehdejší situaci v americké společnosti. Práce se pokouší přinést obraz Steffense a jeho práce, který se zakládá na názorech akademických pracovníků, citátech Steffensových současníků a analýze knihy The Shame of the Cities.

1 Mabel Dodge (1879-1962) – a patron of the arts who used to hold a salon in New York

2 Frederic C. Howe (1867-1940) – a politician, reformer, and author

3 Boodle – “bribes and kickbacks paid for contracts and franchises” (Menes 19)

4 William Allen White (1868-1944) – one of the leading journalists of the turn of the twentieth century, newspaper editor, and politician

5 Medill McCormick (1877-1925) – owner of the Chicago Tribune, publisher, and politician

6 James Bryce (1838-1922) – a British historian, politician, and Ambassador to the United States

7 Brand Whitlock (1869-1934) – an American reformer and journalist

8 Tammany Hall – a political machine in New York

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