United States and American History: 1908

About the history of the United States in 1908, the Supreme Court rules against unions but for social justice in Muller v. Oregan, riots in Springfield, Jack Johnson becomes heavyweight champion in boxing.


--In his autobiography, A Mind That Found Itself, Clifford W. Beers described the brutalities of attendants toward inmates in mental institutions. In spite of the harsh treatment he had received as a mental patient, Beers recovered and went on to establish the National Committee for Mental Health.

--The Supreme Court inhibited the growth and limited the effectiveness of unions by its rulings in 2 cases that came before it. In Loewe v. Lawler, the Supreme Court declared the 1902 boycott by the United Hatters of America against D.H. Loewe and Co. of Danbury, Conn., a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890 to regulate trusts and monopolies, was being applied to unions for the 2nd time. If the use of the boycott was an illegal restraint of trade, any act to raise wages, shorten hours or improve conditions, might be declared unlawful. In Adair v. U.S., the Supreme Court invalidated the Erdman Act of 1898, which had said railroads engaged in interstate commerce could not prevent workers from joining a union by making it a condition of employment (the "yellow-dog" contract). The Court called the act a violation of freedom of contract as guaranteed by the 5th Amendment.

--A ray of hope came to the working woman and ultimately to the working man in the Supreme Court's decision in Muller v. Oregon. The Supreme Court for the 1st time acknowledged the need for facts, not just legal arguments, to establish the reasonableness of social legislation. Louis Brandeis, chief counsel for the State of Oregon, used sociology rather than a legalist approach to prove the reasonableness of Oregon's law to restrict the hours that a woman could work.

--Most popular song of the year: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

Feb. Angered by the slights of the conservative National Academy of Arts, artists Robert Henri, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Pendergast, Arthur Davie, and former newspaper illustrators George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens, and Everett Shinn arranged for their own show, the Exhibition of the 8. The critics were disturbed by the realist subject matter of their paintings and called them the "apostles of ugliness," labeling the group "the Ash Can School." The cityscapes, portraits and slices of life portrayed by the artists were considered "too frank and vulgar," and caused one critic to comment, "Is it fine art to exhibit our sores?" Although the 8 never exhibited as a unit again, Henri established his own art school in 1909 and held a 2nd exhibition of 200 artists in 1910, which included examples by the original 8 as well as his students.

Aug. 14-15 Some 4,200 militia men were called in when a race riot erupted in Springfield, Ill. The riot started when a white woman claimed she had been raped by George Richardson, a black man. Richardson was removed from the town for his own protection. Meanwhile a mob gathered and began to destroy black homes. After 2 days of rioting, 2,000 blacks had left the city, 2 had been lynched, 6 others killed, and over 70 blacks and whites wounded. The alleged riot leaders escaped punishment despite arrests and indictments. Before a special grand jury, the woman later admitted that a white man, whom she refused to identify, had raped her.

Dec. 26 Jack Johnson, a black boxer from Galveston, Tex., knocked out Canadian Tommy Burns for the heavyweight championship of the world. White promoters searched for a "Great White Hope" to defeat the new champion. In 1915, Johnson was defeated by Jess Willard. Hounded by racial tension and accusations of violating the Mann Act, Johnson, it was rumored, threw the fight. Johnson's ring career lasted over 30 years, with 7 losses in 112 fights.

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