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Testable claims about The Masses

On this page we'll collect some significant claims about The Masses, made by scholars over the years, that can be tested using the tools available on the Masses work site.

Ross Wetzsteon, Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960 (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

Topic: The Masses before and after Eastman's arrival as editor

Max [Eastman]'s inaugural issue, dated December 1912, which featured a cover by Charles Winters of a clown looking into a crystal ball, established three standards that would guide the magazine for the rest of its existence.

First, Piet Vlag’s solemn, cumbersome layout was replaced by John Sloan’s lively, graceful design, with bold headlines, wide margins, and large drawings—indeed, The Masses would remain one of the most beautifully designed publications in the history of American journalism.

Second, Max's editorial, entitled ‘Knowledge and Revolution,’ made it clear that the magazine now pledged itself to revolution rather than reform. . . .

And third, the tone as well as the subject matter of the magazine challenged the decorum of mainstream journalism. (Wetzsteon, 54-55)

Christine Stansell, American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century (Henry Holt & Co., 2000)

Topic: The Masses before Eastman

Originally, [The Masses] was nothing more than a formulaic contribution to the socialist press. Its pages sagged with chunky type; icons of brandished fists and allegorical illustrations of heroic workers and evil bosses embellished long dry expositions of socialist doctrine and the virtues of workers' cooperatives. With a circulation limited to Socialist Party circles, a scant ability to attract advertising, and a tedious emphasis on the cooperative commonwealth, the journal failed to sustain itself. (Stansell, 116)

Topic: The Masses after Eastman's arrival

[Within months of his arrival as editor, Eastman] revamped the magazine, introducing sophisticated elements of graphic design (a layout that in the 1920s, Eastman claimed, inspired the design of the New Yorker), giving over the centerfold to drawings and cartoons, expanding the pool of writers, and greatly widening the scope of political discussion. . . . It was Eastman's gift to sense the existence of a national readership for free-speech socialibity and an audience for the play of eclectic metropolitan minds. Circulation increased from ten thousand to, in the best months, upward of forty thousand issues. In his hands, the journal played up the vitality of free-speech bohemia; its Village and Ferrer School contributors wrote, as they boasted to their readers, unrestrained by either the limits of the magazines or the dogmas of the left. (Stansell, 167)

Topic: The new design of The Masses

[Eastman] made the journal, literally, an open modern space. He took on the typographical version of the crisis of ornamentation--the profusion of florid decoration, the Victorian horror vacui that in the old Masses resulted in crowded lines with scant margins and heavy, ornate headlines. Much like the modernists in Central Europe who spurned archaic Germanophile lettering, he replaced the clogged format with lean, stripped-down typography, the headlines different in size but not in font. With the help of the downtown artists he recruited--especially John Sloan--he created an elegant layout: clear headlines, generous margins, and widely spaced type. He stopped the practice, universal to American magazines at the time, of chopping up columns to make room for advertisements--"ad stripping"--thereby registering, graphically, the anticommercial value of the journal.

The effect was to liberate the writing and graphics from claustrophobic columns of exposition. The page breathed, functional, efficient, inviting--a space not to burrow into, as with the old paper, but to move about in, free-footedly, free-thoughfully. Poems, short stories, cartoons were displayed as discrete pieces rather than subordinated to a dominant pedagogical purpose, so that the journal became a collage of offerings rather than a lecture. (Stansell, 169-70)