Tag Archives: Labor movement

“Faces Along the Bar”

I picked up a book at a student book store in New Orleans because it’s title leaped out at me. “Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon 1870- 1920” by Madelon Powers.  It’s an academic, well foot-noted but not dry analysis of the saloon culture that arose in the U.S.  with industrialization.  Various middle class progressive reformers like the “Committee of Fifty” comprised mostly of clergymen and academics studied this culture partially to figure out how to create substitutes for it.  They tried to take the energy of the informal working groups in saloons and shovel them into union halls and temperance tearooms. But the saloons prevailed until prohibition.  They served as a way of self-organization and a way of integrating into American life.  They followed a tradition that Alexis de Tocqueville noted earlier.  He called it “the art of association”.  He observed that Americans seemed obsessed with material acquisition and individualism.  The only thing tempering this dangerous self-interest was their equal tendency to form voluntary associations.  And Powers includes saloon life as a form of voluntary association much like joining lodges, political parties, church groups, and Social Aid and Pleasure clubs like the ones that still exist in New Orleans. Continue reading