A well-marked course: The life and works of John Spargo

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




William Stinchcombe


John Spargo, Socialism, Progressive Era

Subject Categories



Typically John Spargo (1876-1966) merits only brief mention by historians as a progressive era child labor muckraker, a leader of the 1917 pro-war secession from the Socialist Party, or as an example of an early socialist who later became a conservative Republican. This study attempts to provide a more complete and comprehensive biography of the man. The many and various chapters of Spargo's life are traced within both the context of his entire life, and of the times in which he lived. Where others, examining Spargo's life in fragments, have seen inconsistency and perfidy, this study finds constancy.

Spargo's formative years are examined to discover those experiences, forces and ideals which shaped his own values, and animated his life and works. Three dominant life-long ideologies are identified: 19th century Liberalism, Romantic aestheticism, and evangelical Protestantism. These ideological forces remained firm through his life, guiding Spargo's beliefs and behaviors.

There is more here than just the story of a man and his many achievements. Tracing Spargo's life provides new perspectives about a variety of important events, institutions, and historical themes of the past century. The importance of evangelical Protestantism and Romantic aestheticism as formative elements of early British and American socialism is shown. So too is the recognition that American socialism of the early 20th century was a variant of the larger progressive reform movement. Significant roots of early United States-Soviet diplomacy are illuminated. The dimensions and patterns of post-World War I intellectual disillusionment are also examined. And Spargo proves to be an almost perfect model of those "Old Progressives" who in the 1930s opposed the New Deal. Finally, John Spargo's life and career, stretching from the Victorian Era through the mid-20th century, tell us much about the origins and ideological nature of modern liberal reform.


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