After Civil War Americans Joined More Organizations Than Ever, Professor Postel Writes

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
SHEPHERD EXPRESS (MILWAUKEE) -- America had always been a nation of joiners, but according to Charles Postel, Americans joined more organizations than ever once the Civil War ended — including many groups that pursued equality of opportunity for all citizens. The latest book by Postel, a San Francisco State University History professor, is a rebuke to the American folklore of rugged individualism and Horatio Alger success stories. In the late 19th century, labor unions, farmers associations and women’s groups were “widely understood as a means to pursue one’s individual social, economic and political interests, as well as the social good.” Postel also explores the dark side to this earlier vision of collective action: Unions excluded immigrants, the farmers allied themselves with white Southern planters and women’s temperance groups worked with the Ku Klux Klan. Growing disparity of wealth in our own time threatens to return America to the era that is Postel’s subject. The author concludes that the problem of establishing “living forms of solidarity” in a socially divisive nation “remains unresolved.”