Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Issue 13, Autumn 2008: Article 2


Issue 13, Autumn 2008: Article 2

U.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal

Issue 13, Autumn 2008

‘Producing the Highest Standard of Manhood’: Masculinity and the City Beautiful Movement in Progressive Era Denver, 1893-1920

Brendon G. George
© Brendon G. George. All Rights Reserved

Eager to establish Denver as one of the United States’ most beautiful cities at the turn of the twentieth century, Denver’s municipal government adopted the goals and ideals of the City Beautiful movement to alter both the physical landscape of the city as well as the very character of the citizens who called Denver home. Early in the city’s beautification process, the Denver Real Estate Exchange Committee on Public Improvements produced a pamphlet criticising the city and its residents for failing to erect a monument celebrating the true history of Denver. At the time, the city’s landscape contained several monuments, but the designers of these pieces were of German-American and Scottish-American heritage and the Commission used this fact to contend that the pieces failed to represent the soul of Denver, a soul based on the heroism of Anglo-American masculine exploits in conquering the dangerous lands of the west.[1] Desperate to rectify this deficiency of the urban landscape, in 1906 the city government commissioned the internationally renowned sculptor Frederick MacMonnies to design a monument true to the city’s heritage.

The decision to commission MacMonnies was not a difficult one for the committee. MacMonnies first gained recognition while working in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in New York from 1880-1884, and then moved to Paris to study at the École de Beaux-Arts, twice winning the Prix d’Atelier, the highest award for foreign students, as well as receiving an honourable mention at the Salon of 1889. He then returned to the United States and by 1900 won commissions in Boston, New York, Brooklyn and Washington D.C.[2] For his piece in Denver, he drew inspiration from the popularly supported civilizing narrative of ‘the frontier’, designing the Pioneer Monument as a fountain base supporting sculptural groups representing various characters from the history of the frontier and a central column adorned at the top by a horse-mounted Native American with outstretched arms in an offering of peace.[3] The citizens of Denver objected to the inclusion of a Native American in a monument intended to celebrate the heroic exploits of the white men who made life in Denver possible. Adding to the reluctance to accept such a design was the still-fresh memory of the bitter conflicts that took place between the white settlers and the Native Americans in the previous decades.[4]

MacMonnies defended his design in a public letter, stating that because the monument was designed as a fountain, the base, not the Native American, functioned as the crowning piece.[5] The intent of the monument’s design was to depict the stages of settlement, with the Native American and horse as the most primitive stage followed, in succession, by sculptural groups celebrating the heroic deeds of the pioneers, hunters, miners, and mothers of the frontier, and finally the fountain, connected to the urban ground on which the monument stood. The piece served as a reminder of the belief that white civilization on the frontier culminated in cities such as Denver, San Francisco and Seattle. In his letter, MacMonnies even stated that, ‘the greatest enemy of civilization known to history, the redskin’ was ‘inseparable from the noble achievements of the pioneers who made Colorado…’.[6] Despite such rhetoric on his part, Denver citizens’ understanding of the Pioneer Monument was even more strongly one of white heroics overcoming the savagery of the Native Americans. In the end, MacMonnies acquiesced to the demands of the Real Estate Exchange Committee and the public, his final design featuring a likeness of the famed explorer Kit Carson mounted on a horse, pushing westward and taking with him the idea of white civilization. The representation of Carson in the monument served two important purposes: to credit the historical personages who had become mythological in the history of the frontier and to celebrate specifically the ‘white man’s domination of the native peoples and their land’.[7] In using a laudatory visual imagery, the monument communicated a celebration of the masculine exploits—exploring, hunting, mining—as the exploits which prepared the frontier for the eventual civilisation. Denver’s Pioneer Monument stood tall as a tribute to the men and their masculine exploits as necessary components in the civilising of the West.[8]

Denver’s Pioneer Monument was only one of many alterations to the aesthetic landscape of the city during the process of beautification under City Beautiful, but the clash over the monument represents the complexities of the movement in Denver, complexities that make City Beautiful on the frontier unique to the rest of the country. City Beautiful in Denver had an express goal of altering the built landscape so as to distance the city from the image of the rough and tumble frontier. But, Denver’s story of the City Beautiful movement is more complicated than a simple narrative of the transition from frontier town to urban centre; it is also about the regulation of the morality of the citizens of Denver. One way in which the movement accomplished this was through bringing about a shift in masculinity in the recently incorporated areas of the American West. Due to a host of anxieties stretching from immigration to the feminisation of the workplace, white, middle-class men at the turn-of-the-century feared for their manhood and had consequently adopted the ‘strenuous life doctrine’ of Theodore Roosevelt to quell their anxieties. In doing so, men had engaged with a dominant discourse of masculinity that championed the American West as the region where the activities of the ‘strenuous life doctrine’—hunting, fishing, camping—were best performed, and through which men could most fully guard against fears of feminisation in urban life.[9] Located in the heart of the American West, however, Denver nevertheless challenged both Roosevelt’s ‘strenuous life doctrine’ and the myth of the American West as the preserve of the ideal male who had shed the enervating shackles of urban life.

At the heart of the City Beautiful movement there existed an intense desire to enact reform through alterations to the urban environment. Across the country, advocates of City Beautiful adopted architecture and the creation of public leisure spaces as the two foci of the movement. Concerning public leisure spaces and public monuments, Alan Trachtenberg and others, drawing on the writing of some of the nineteenth century’s most prolific urban designers and architects (chiefly Frederick Law Olmstead and Daniel Burnham), have analysed these spaces as sites of disciplinary regulation of the immigrant and working-classes; sites intended to articulate white, middle-class norms that crystallise into a normative discourse within the urban environment.[10] Hence the silencing of Native American contributions to Denver’s history by removing the original mounted figure from the city’s proposed monument, and the supervision of ‘rowdy’, working-class frontiers-people by disciplined ‘mothers’ immortalised on the monument’s second tier. Such racialised and class-based readings of these spaces flatten out the experience of the white middle and upper-classes, holding them static and unaffected by the creation of public leisure spaces. In this essay, I propose a consideration of the relationship between urban planning and gender through connecting City Beautiful and the regulation of masculinity as it affected white middle and upper-class men in Denver. Probing how the turn-of-the-century discourse of masculinity shifted in conjunction with the alterations of City Beautiful, I argue that, by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, the dominant discourse privileged a compassionate masculinity over the previously dominant ‘primitive masculinity’ and that these leisure sites, which in Denver consisted of both urban and extra-urban sites, proved instrumental in communicating and articulating this shift in the discourse of masculinity.[11]

Given that few historians of City Beautiful have followed the advice of Joan W. Scott in using gender as ‘a useful category of historical analysis’, much of the extant literature examines only the planners, politicians, and outcomes of the movement.[12] Though this approach has created a very male-centric narrative of City Beautiful, such analysis fails to recognize the role of gender, and masculinity in particular, in directing the actions undertaken by the participants as well as the relationship of the movement to the discourse of masculinity. The gendered analyses that do exist examine only the feminine in the movement, arguing that the origins of City Beautiful extend to the works and ideology of various women’s clubs throughout the country and reducing the masculine in City Beautiful to an adoption of the previously laid feminine groundwork to fit the various business and economic interests of the male city officials.[13] Nevertheless, a compassionate discourse of masculinity remains key to understanding the city. Women were only allowed to control male behaviour because their targets were working-class men and non-whites (i.e. all those who were ill-disciplined). Their middle class husbands were still dominant, but they did not remain impervious to the process of moral reform. With this in mind, I shall now turn to the City Beautiful movement in Denver.

The City Beautiful movement in Denver grew out of an initial push for reform that began in the 1890s. With the granting of suffrage by the state’s legislature in 1893, Denver’s middle and upper-class female citizens involved themselves in cleaning the city, both figuratively and literally.[14] Among the many civic societies that developed with the express goal of beautifying Denver, the Civic Federation of Denver, the Women’s Club of Denver and the Civic Improvement Society led the movement.[15] These societies desired an equal effort from both private citizens in their actions as well as the municipal government. While agitating for cleaner streets, the Civic Improvement Society influenced both private citizens and the municipal government to increase their efforts in providing street cleaning services.[16] The ideals of the civic clubs fit within Bonj Szczygiel’s description of the early ideology for reform through City Beautiful. The methods of these reform clubs rested in:

(1) a shared belief in personal responsibility of all citizens, (2) a belief in the importance of collective action and cooperation, (3) embrace of small projects that could be easily implemented, (4) a belief in the essential responsibility of the governmental body to aid in matters of social welfare, and (5) a middle-class, elitist attitude of desiring to shape citizen behaviour through environmental modification.[17]

As hard as these clubs worked for change throughout the city, a lack of unification among the groups rendered their efforts futile, leaving Denver in desperate need of a leader capable of mediating between the city’s factions.[18] The man who eventually led City Beautiful from its nascent days as a disjointed civic improvement effort into a large-scale endeavour directed by the municipal government was Denver’s three-term mayor, Robert W. Speer.

Speer, a Pennsylvanian by birth, arrived in Denver in 1878 suffering from tuberculosis. Speer was not alone in his relocation, as many men in the East looked longingly to the West as a masculine ‘hospital’ capable of curing physical ailments with its dry, crisp climate, which acted as a salve to maladies.[19] Eager to repay the city that helped him restore his health, in 1880 Speer involved himself in municipal activities in Denver. Beginning his career as a city clerk, Speer then served as postmaster, held two non-consecutive tenures as a member of the fire and police board, a tenure as a member of the board of public works and in 1904 he won the first of his three mayoral elections.[20] In 1907 Speer gave a lucid description of his vision of reform to the councilmen and businessmen of Denver, proclaiming, ‘city government should be progressive along conservative lines—push needed improvements and add the ornamental at the lowest possible cost. Refuse to be puritanical, or used in spasms of reform, yet earnestly strive for a betterment year by year along all moral lines’.[21] Echoing Theodore Roosevelt, Speer adopted moral reform as a central platform of political actions and worked to legitimate the concern with moral reform as an acceptable cause for men.[22] Throughout the country during the early decades of the twentieth century, men became fearful of the outcome of allowing women to guide morality and in response they directly involved themselves with the moulding of the moral character.[23] Speer squarely placed his municipal government in the (previously female) reform camp while still maintaining masculine qualities: fiscal restraint when at all possible and the desire to transform the morality of the city’s residents so that it accorded with the morality of the middle and upper-classes.[24]

Speer clearly believed the urban environment in Denver provided the necessary conditions for his reform projects to take hold. In a speech given at the National Paint, Oil and Varnish Association’s national gathering in Denver, Speer hailed the city as the crowning achievement of civilization and praised the developments made by the citizens of Denver in their quest to beautify the city. Contrasting the city’s companionable atmosphere with the Victorian idea of manliness, which limited social interaction between men, Speer told the Association, ‘there is something about the city life which attracts and holds. Men want to live where they can find comradeship in their joys and in their sorrows…The life, pleasures, comforts, and opportunities act as magnets in drawing men and women to towns and cities’.[25] The new prescriptions for masculinity in an urban environment required men to interact and move beyond the reserved and individualistic manliness prescription of their fathers. In finding an outlet for the performance of compassionate masculinity amongst each other, camaraderie became common within the city and a common occurrence among men. As part of the beautification process, the city government created new public spaces such as the Denver Public Library, the Museum of Natural History, and the Denver Civic Center, all spaces open to both men and women.[26] These spaces drew men away from their masculine sphere, thrusting them visibly into the urban landscape in a manner that facilitated the regulation of their masculinity and the moulding of the masculine character into the compassionate man of the twentieth century.

Denver’s Civic Center is one example of a City Beautiful project with strong connotations of the new masculinity. Arguments for the building of the Civic Center were coded in a masculine language that extolled the importance of a Civic Center as a necessary alteration to downtown Denver’s street layout. Before the building of the Civic Center, the streets of Denver’s central business district diagonally abutted the gridiron platting of the residential section and the Art Commission of Denver argued for a professionally designed space to harmonize the discordant relationship of the two sections. The argument in favour addressed the concerns of Denver’s businessmen, assuring them that only one-eighth of the acquired property held value to business interests and the outcome of the creation of the Civic Center would be a space that would draw potential customers to the downtown area, thereby increasing business activity. Additionally, the Commission reminded the citizens of Denver that they had a civic duty (a reference to their masculinity) to support the city in its endeavours because Denver was on the precipice of becoming ‘one of the country’s most beautiful and prominent cities’.[27] Public buildings and spaces such as city halls and town squares have long held importance for municipal governments in the United States because of the civic pride they inspire in the citizens.[28] The architects of Denver’s City Beautiful, like those in many other cities throughout the country, felt the need to create a public space that would elicit the pride necessary to ensure that the city did become the ‘Paris of America’.[29] The Civic Center aided in the process of beautifying Denver as well as altering notions of masculinity.

Although the addition of a Civic Center to Denver’s central business district was viewed as a necessary step in the beautification of the city, the process of this urban landscape alteration led to a public space where the new masculinity was visibly present. Geographers have long considered the city as a masculine space because of the city/nature dichotomy that historically assigned to nature a femininity and to the city a masculinity. The acts of planning and manipulating the urban environment have long held a masculine connotation. Such a coding comes from the supposed rationality visible in the male-dominated design of urban spaces.[30] Building a Civic Center to harmonize the discordant platting of downtown Denver represented a masculine manipulation of the environment, but Denver’s Civic Center acted as more than a simple tribute to masculine alterations. As the crowning achievement of City Beautiful, the Civic Center provided a public space in the city where husbands and fathers freely and without regard to the perceptions of others spent recreational time with their wives and children. During the summer, the grounds of the Civic Center played host to weekly free concerts, a Denver tradition begun during the early years of Speer’s mayoralty, and in the winter the Civic Auditorium continued to host musical events for the citizens of Denver.[31] The creation of a public space that reduced the need for men to perform the testosterone-driven masculinity of the strenuous-life resulted in men spending more recreational time with wives and children in public leisure spaces, placing the compassionate masculinity prominently in the urban environment. The last three decades of the nineteenth century ushered in a new marriage relationship between suburban men and women. A masculinity with domestic overtones developed, one lauding the virtues of men who actively participated in the family as involved fathers to their children and companionate husbands to their wives.[32] The suburban domestic masculinity laid the groundwork for the eventual evolution of compassionate masculinity as the zenith of masculinity in the city.

Denver’s Civic Center was not the only landscape alteration to have an effect in the regulation of masculinity. By the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, urban park settings had become available to both the general population of Denver as well as the class-conscious. Wellshire Park, a residential development in southern Denver advertised its residential offerings by depicting life in the development as a western Garden of Eden:

In your fondest dreams you have often pictured the home you would build some day. It was up on the rolling hills. Standing on your veranda you had an unobstructed view of the mountains and the nearby city. This dream home was in a beautiful location. The streets were winding, the parkings were wide and planted with flowers and trees. There you saw the ideal conditions and environment in which you longed to raise your family and meet your friends.[33]

Men learned that in an environment such as Wellshire Park, a place providing the perfect combination of urban amenities and nature, they could best perform their masculine duties as fathers. The children of the families who lived in the park were guaranteed to meet parental scrutiny and fathers could rest assured that their children would find friends of the highest moral standards.[34] Not only did the park provide men with the best social environment in which to raise their children, it also provided areas catering to their recreational needs. The main draw of the residence was the golf course and club, proclaimed to be of a quality reminiscent of the most exquisite golf clubs of the country.[35] Where as strenuous-life recreational activities for men rested on the ability to prove masculinity through manly exploits, the melding of the urban and the natural worlds gave men an avenue to perform masculinity in a more refined and less demonstrably ‘primitive’ atmosphere. A game such as golf actually allowed men to engage their wives in their leisure activities, as early accounts of golf depict men and women playing the game together.[36]

Speer’s most important contribution to Denver’s city beautification efforts came in the form of the park system that greatly increased in size during his mayoralty. Speer recognized the importance of incorporating nature into the urban environment, as open spaces greatly added to the quality of life of all citizens, regardless of class. Due to Denver’s proximity to the Rocky Mountains, certain civic groups within the city pushed for the creation of a mountain park system. These forces saw their wished fulfilled in the winter of 1910-1911 when the municipal government formed a committee composed of members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Exchange, and the Motor Club to begin planning the park system. After several years of planning by the commission, the public voted in 1912 to amend the city charter to allow the city to assess a one-half mill property tax to finance the park system. Mayor Speer did not run for re-election in 1912, but his successor continued the plan and in August 1913 Denver opened two mountain parks, Lookout and Genesee, which lay twelve and sixteen miles beyond the city limits respectively.[37] These parks, maintained by the city of Denver and readily accessible to the residents of the city, further combined the urban and natural environment. If the city parks and the suburban residential developments placed nature in the city, the mountain parks extended the city and all the luxuries of urban life to the natural environment.

Denver did much to ensure that it perpetuated its image as the ideal setting for providing urban amenities with easy access to the natural environment. The Tourist Bureau of the City and County of Denver published a pamphlet depicting men and women enjoying the prepared mountain settings immediately outside Denver. The city built and maintained a developed roadway system into and through the mountain parks as well as producing maps of the highways leading out of Denver and into the park system. The Tourism Bureau printed a depiction of the Lariat Trail captioned, ‘Showing the mighty Rockies lassoed by the Mountain Boulevard’.[38] This language evoked not only imagery of conquering nature, but also a specific masculine conquering by using the term ‘lassoed’. Such a term would surely carry a masculine connotation in Denver due to the city’s connection with the American West and the idealized masculine activities performed by the independent cowboy on the frontier. Any man reading the pamphlet would also have found depictions containing only men celebrating masculine activities such as fishing or reaching the summit of a mountain.[39] The ultimate outcome of the mountain park system though was not a return to the frontier as the land of primitive masculinity performed in solitude, instead these parks opened the potential for the frontier as a heterosocial environment in which men and women enjoyed the company of each other. Both men and women interacted in activities of mutual enjoyment such as picnicking in the park or walking along prepared trails.[40] The mountain parks retained their masculine connotation by allowing men the opportunity to engage in either the masculinity common to the strenuous life in solitude or the compassionate masculinity that extolled the virtues of wifely companionship in public settings.

The creation of the mountain park system also reinforced the movement’s concern with moulding the morality of men along class lines. The control of the populace who enjoyed the offerings of the mountain parks became a useful tool in the discourse of morality by reformers in the city. As the number of citizens who chose to enjoy the mountain air and scenery increased, so too did the number of patrons who fit within ‘the rowdy element who endanger life by their reckless driving, and destruction of property, in their utter disregard for the rights of others’.[41] The editors of the Morrison Monitor called for the press of the country to join them in their demands for stronger policing protection throughout the parks because failure to do so would allow ‘the brawls, thefts, drunken, reckless chauffeurs and disorderly occupants of vehicles’ to drive away ‘the better class of citizens and pleasure seekers to other and safer localities’.[42] Although the park system was created as a public space for the enjoyment of all citizens of Denver and the surrounding communities, the enjoyment of the parks demanded men act in accordance with the characteristics of the men of the highest moral standards.

Previously, the American West had been a home to the rowdy element that engaged in drunkenness on a regular basis, but with the creation of a park system administered by the City of Denver, portions of the natural environment became the reserve of the well-mannered citizens who chose to enjoy the natural environment with their families.[43] Through City Beautiful, men of the highest classes found a stage away from the city that supported their masculine domesticity by protecting the family environment while at the same time linking the natural environment with a specific sense of morality. Even Mayor Speer recognized the importance of equating nature with moral character long before the completion of the mountain park system when he suggested that an observation pavilion in the city’s Congress Park should have views of the mountains to the west, a view of nature that would inspire ‘men and women to greater and nobler deeds in life’.[44]

Just as the mountain park system played a role in constructing the new masculinity, so too did parks within the city. The rise of urban parks in Denver during the Progressive Era occurred in conjunction with a similar trend throughout the country. During this time the burgeoning ‘play movement’ that had at its core a desire to steer all classes of the ‘American public between the drab restraints of urban industrialism and the wonton revelry of commercial amusements’ began to take shape.[45] Although the play movement targeted all classes of the population, the express goals centred on the creation of a suitable environment for children to learn recreational activities that did not involve the traditional entertainment of adults. The movement also had a more tacit goal of influencing all demographic cohorts to engage in ‘childsplay’ more regularly.[46] The urban park system of Denver provided fathers an arena to perform their own physical masculinity as well as encouraging fathers to actively engage their children in recreational activities, further supporting the compassionate masculinity of men.

The development of the parks often involved the construction of sporting facilities. In one particular park, the city placed a playground along with two tennis courts, a one-eighth mile cinder track and a fully outfitted gymnasium. Other parks contained tennis courts, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, cinder tracks, winter ice-skating rinks and public showers.[47] These sporting facilities were important to the city and those desiring to reinforce the masculinity of the residents, since strong bodies meant strong moral characters. For men adopting the idea of ‘compassionate masculinity’, a strong physical body was the most basic building block in the process of building a strong moral character. As early as 1880, religious men of the East Coast adopted ‘muscular Christianity’, a belief that physical activity within religion would combat the enervating affects of physical asceticism and allow for the building of strong moral character.[48] This belief worked its way into the developing compassionate masculinity. Men held the physical activities of the strenuous-life, characterized as ‘primitive masculinity’ by E. Anthony Rotundo, as necessary components in the performance of the compassionate masculinity. Wives even found popular literature encouraging them to facilitate their husband’s involvement in the activities of the primitive masculinity so that when the men returned to their roles as husbands and fathers they would have the highest moral character.[49] Rather than holding these two forms of masculinity as conflicting, City Beautiful helped to usher in a compassionate masculinity that accepted primitive masculinity as a necessary component for the full and perfected performance of a compassionate and civilised masculinity.

Although the directors of City Beautiful were excited about the transformation of the city into a cultured oasis, not all middle-class men shared in their enthusiasm for the transformations taking place because of the threat these changes posed to conceptualizations of their own masculinity, conceptualizations based on the traditional strenuous life doctrine. City Beautiful responded to these concerns by equating the city with the image of the body, referring to the importance of preventing deformities in the city rather than overcoming them.[50] The white male body, when perfectly chiselled and sculpted to the prescribed physical specifications, represented the zenith of masculinity. Serving a prominent role in the dominant discourse of the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, the white male body reconciled the more primitive aspects of masculinity—competition and physical virility—with civilization as represented by the white race.[51] The perfected body proved to be the height of white males’ performance of their gender. The city, now synonymous with the masculine male body, achieved perfection through physical alterations just as the masculine body achieved perfection through physical exercise. Not only did men perform masculinity in the city, they equated the development and ultimate goals of the city with the same goals that they held for their own bodies.

The metaphor of the city as a white masculine body also informed the building of specific monuments. One such monument was the city’s water engineering system. In 1907, Speer began corresponding with various men in St. Louis inquiring about the necessity of hiring a hydraulic engineer to appraise portions of an existing water system the City of Denver was considering for purchase. Denver’s men offered a concern that the water engineering system, as a pulic monument intended to perfect the city, should be constructed by men from Denver, men who had benefited from the city’s parks in perfecting their own bodies. One resident wrote to Speer, demanding the job of appraiser not be given to a ‘foreigner’ from the East. According to the writer, Mr. Haynes, Denver already contained plenty of men, either plumbers or contractors, more than capable of providing appraisal services for the city.[52] To consider hiring an engineer from outside was an affront to the integrity of the men of Denver who were more than capable of participating in the perfecting of the city. The author further illuminated his belief that the men of Denver were more qualified because they would not rely upon clerks or assistants and would be taxpayers.[53]

Haynes’s fear of inviting a ‘foreigner’ to Denver to participate in the beautification of the city represented the need for men to narrowly define masculinity on the basis of geographic origin. In fact, within Denver at this time, masculinity was constructed at the nexus of class, race, and gender. White men of the middle and upper-classes tied their masculinity into their hegemonic position at the apex of the masculine hierarchy. By narrowly constructing masculinity, white men protected their hegemony from men who did not fit within the defined strictures of the gender.[54] In a similar manner, Haynes participated in the dominant discourse, narrowly defining his concept of masculinity as involving a regional identity. A man from the East could not display the perfect performance of masculinity in Denver because he lacked the character of the West. Even Speer believed this to be true, asserting ‘And while it is true that much of the territory is barren, or covered with mountains, it is being rapidly developed and each year is sending forth increased streams of wealth, and producing the highest standard of manhood’.[55] Whether or not the American West exhibited any noticeable effect on masculine character, it still held mythological powers in the minds of citizens across the country. Denver’s men understood themselves to be a more perfect embodiment of masculinity because they bore the marks of western livelihood but were also capable of transforming into men of the city. As Speer claimed, ‘Our citizens are composed of men of energy and action, who came here to better conditions—the drone and the satisfied have not yet gotten this far west’.[56]

The highest standard of manhood produced in Denver regulated the actions of men in morally transgressive activities. Speer’s position as mayor and his broker-style approach to political actions placed him in a precarious position that would not allow him to directly police such activities in the city.[57] Rather, he implored Denverites to take it upon themselves to become active in policing the city’s illicit activities. The practice of prostitution received little attention from Speer, but plenty of men in the community willing to take a stand against the sale of sexual services assumed the role of moral reformer. In an address to the Methodist Brotherhood in Fort Collins, Denverite W.W. Winne pleaded with the group to take a stand against prostitution, an abominable practice he referred to as ‘slavery of the body’.[58] Mr. Winne’s argument rested in the belief that prostitution negatively affected both the prostitute and the men paying for services. Not only did Winne argue for a stronger morality from the men involved in the purchase of such services, he represented the new masculinity of the city by calling upon others to take up the crusade against a social ill. Speer even believed that the truest evidence of a city’s prosperity could be found only in the welfare of those who lived and worked within the city.[59] To add to the welfare of citizens, masculine prescriptions demanded that men not count their own wealth, but instead give back to the city both money and service.

Like much of the country during the early decades of the twentieth century, Denver and the state of Colorado faced growing demands from prohibitionists intent on eradicating the saloon from the urban landscape. An article in the Akron Weekly Press called for citizens to vote against the sale of alcohol because the saloon did not offer a corresponding addition to the prosperity of the city. Though not a resident of Denver County, the author believed Denver served all citizens of Colorado and therefore he had a right to participate in the forming of morality in Denver. He asked readers to consider the economic benefits of outlawing houses of drunkenness and disorder: money would instead be spent in ‘legitimate channels of trade’ and tax money would not be spent on the care of the poor and infirm, two groups he believed were largely in their conditions because of the saloon.[60] Just as the fight against prostitution, the effort to end the operation of saloons also evinced men adopting the morality of compassionate masculinity and attempting to accord their own actions with the desire of Speer and the City Beautiful directors for a new, compassionate man in Denver.[61]

The interplay between City Beautiful and the masculinity in Denver demonstrates the role or urban planning in the regulation of gender. Previous studies of City Beautiful and urban planning have analysed the role of planning in moral reform along class lines, but such readings fail to address the relationship between planning and the regulation of gender, especially for men of the middle- and upper-classes. In Denver, the city’s planners and proponents of City Beautiful melded the natural environment and the park settings with the built landscape in order to create public leisure spaces that became sites of meaning and coflict within the ongoing regulation of masculinity. Through the discursive production of compassionate masculinity, the movement undermined the hegemony of strenuous-life masculinity as the dominant regulatory fiction. In undermining the hegemony of the strenuous-life doctrine, City Beautiful in Denver also did much to complicate the mythology of the American West as a male-dominated playground for men to guard against fears of a feminising urban life. As men began to spend more time with women in heterosocial spaces in their recreational activities, they jettisoned the strenuous-life doctrine as the only acceptable set of prescriptions for the performance of masculinity and in the process Denver’s men performed a masculinity representative of the now cosmopolitan character of the city and in turn, visibly placed this urban centre on the landscape of the American West.

University of Manchester


[1] Denver Real Estate Exchange Committee on Public Improvements (n.d.), Pioneer Monument Manuscript Collection, Western History and Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library. (Hereafter, PMMC).

[2] Janice Conner and Joel Rosenkranz, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works, 1893-1939 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), pp. 2, 130; Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1968), p. 421.

[3] John S. Flowers to MacMonnies, Public Letter, (n.d), Box 1, PMMC.

[4] Ibid.

[5] MacMonnies to Flowers, Public Letter, 17 May, 1907, Box 1, PMMC.

[6] MacMonnies to Flowers, Public Letter, 17 May, 1907, Box 1, PMMC.

[7] Carol McMichael Reese, ‘The Politician and the City: Urban Form and City Beautiful Rhetoric in Progressive Era Denver’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas, 1992), p. 405.

[8] Denver was not the only western city to build tribute to its history through the erection of sculpted monuments praising masculinity. San Francisco built a monument celebrating the industrial history of the city by depicting five men working a drill press. Melissa Dabakias writes of the symbolism of the monument in San Francisco, an important visual signal relaying the necessity of the white worker in the discourse of civilization of the frontier. See Melissa Dabakias, ‘Douglas Tilden’s Mechanics Fountain: Labor and the “Crisis of Masculinity” in the 1890s’, American Quarterly 47:2 (1995), 204-235 (pp. 204-212).

[9] Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 170-215; Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: Free Press, 1996), pp. 135-136; E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993), pp. 226-269.

[10] Alan Tractenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), pp. 101-112; Hall, Cities of Tomorrow, pp. 189-198.

[11] I borrow the term ‘primitive masculinity’ from E. Anthony Rotundo. See Rotundo, Manhood in America, pp. 227-232, 287.

[12] Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890: A History Commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American Institute of Planners (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971); Richard Foglesong, Planning the Capitalist City: The Colonial Era to the 1920s (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986); Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988).

[13] Bonj Szczygiel, ‘”City Beautiful” Revisited: An Analysis of Nineteenth-Century Civic Improvement Efforts’, The Journal of Urban History, 20:2 (2003); Alice Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 13-41.

[14] J.R. Le Rossignol, ‘Women’s Suffrage and Municipal Politics’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 18 (Nov., 1901), 157-169 (pp. 162-166).

[15] William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp. 171-173.

[16] Wilson, p. 172.

[17] Szczygiel, p. 113.

[18] Lyle W. Dorsett, The Queen City: A History of Denver, Volume One in the Western Urban History Series (Boulder, CO.: Pruett Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 110-162; Reese, p. 250.

[19] Some of Denver’s more entrepreneurial residents, as well as various religious organizations, operated houses catering to the health needs of relocated Easterners well into the twentieth century. For an example, see Robert Autobee, If You Strike with a Barnum: A History of a Denver Neighborhood, (Denver: Colorado Historical Society, 1992).

[20] ‘The Story of Mayor Speer: Master Builder Who Brought Denver From Provincial to Metropolitan State, Started as $8 a Week Clerk- One of Foremost Municipal Authorities in World’, Denver Municipal Facts, May 1918.

[21] Robert W. Speer, Address of Mayor Robert W. Speer, to Councilmen and Business Men, Delivered January Seven, Nineteen Hundred Seven, at a Testimonial Banquet Tendered by the Business Men of Denver (Denver, 1907), p. 4.

[22] Arnoldo Testi, ‘The Gender of Reform Politics: Theodore Roosevelt and the Culture of Masculinity’, The Journal of American History, 81: 4 (1995), 1509-1533 (p. 1524).

[23] Gail Bederman, ‘”The Women Have Had Charge of the Church Work Long Enough”: The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911-1912 and the Masculinization of Middle-Class Protestantism’, American Quarterly, 41: 3 (1989), 432-465 (pp. 432-436).

[24] See Maureen A. Flanagan, ‘Gender and Urban Political Reform: The City Club and the Women’s City Club of Chicago in the Progressive Era’, American Historical Review, 95: 4 (1990), 1032-1050, for an analysis of the differences in political reform between men and women.

[25] Denver Municipal Facts (n.d.) Folio 1, Box 1, PMMC.

[26] Speer, Address of Mayor Robert W. Speer, p. 5.

[27] Denver Art Commission of the City of Denver, Proposed Civic Center (Denver: 1908); See Wilson, City Beautiful, pp. 234-253, for a concise history of Denver’s Civic Center.

[28] Mary P. Ryan, ‘”A Laudable Pride in the Whole of Us”: City Halls and Civic Materialism’, American Historical Review, 105:4 (2000), 1131-1170 (pp. 1131-1132).

[29] In his address, Speer told his audience, ‘Denver can be made either one of the pleasing, ordinary cities of the county, or she can be made in fact, not in words, the Paris of American’. See Speer, Address of Mayor Robert W. Speer, p. 23.

[30]Mona Domosh and Joni Seager, Putting Women in Place: Feminist Geographers Make Sense of the World, (New York: Guilford Press, 2001), pp. 69-71.

[31] Speer, Address of Mayor Robert W. Speer, pp. 5-6.

[32] Margaret Marsh, ‘Suburban Men and Masculine Domesticity, 1870-1915’, American Quarterly, 40:2 (1988), 165-186 (pp. 165-166).

[33] Really Live at Wellshire Park (Denver: Ollinger Corp., (n.d), p. 2.

[34] Really Live at Wellshire Park, p. 6.

[35] Really Live at Wellshire Park, p. 4-5.

[36] Marsh, ‘Suburban Men and Masculine Domesticity’, p. 178.

[37] Reese, pp. 450-451.

[38] One Day in Denver’s New Mountain Parks, (Denver: City and County of Denver, 1916).

[39] One Day in Denver’s New Mountain Parks.

[40] One Day in Denver’s New Mountain Parks.

[41] Colorado Transcript, 11 June, 1914. Though the article appears in the Colorado Transcript, the editors of the Morrison Monitor authored it.

[42] Ibid.

[43] See Elliot West, The Saloon on the Rocky Mountain Frontier, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), pp. 18-24, for a discussion of the rowdy behaviour in frontier drinking establishments.

[44] Speer, Address of Mayor Robert W. Speer, p. 22.

[45] David Glassberg, ‘Restoring a ‘Forgotten Childhood’: American Play and Progressive Era’s Elizabethan Past’, American Quarterly 32:4 (1980), 351-368 (p. 352).

[46] Glassberg, pp. 356-357.

[47] Speer, Address of Mayor Robert. W. Speer, pp. 5-6.

[48] Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), pp. 11-19.

[49] Rotundo, American Manhood, pp. 222-224.

[50] Reese, pp. 22-23.

[51] Alice M. Shukaloa, ‘Communing with the Gods: Bodybuilding, Masculinity, and U.S. Imperialism, 1875-1900’, (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Texas, 2005), p. 6.

[52][Haynes] to Speer, Personal correspondence, Box 1, Robert W. Speer Papers, Western History and Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, pp. 16-23.

[55] Denver Municipal Facts (n.d.) Folio 1, Box 1, PMMC.

[56] Denver Municipal Facts (n.d.) Folio 1, Box 1, PMMC.

[57] Reese, pp. 158-160.

[58] Fort Collins Weekly Courier (Fort Collins, Colorado), 20 December, 1912.

[59] Reese, p. 275.

[60] ‘Why Colorado Should Vote Out the Saloon’, Akron Weekly Press, 25 October, 1912.

[61] In 1915 the city of Denver outlawed both prostitution and the sale of alcohol after much agitation from the community for the municipal government to take a stand against these practices. See Reese, p. 160, footnote 8.