• IDENTITY AND EMPOWERMENT: GANGS IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY PHILADELPHIA

      Kusmer, Kenneth; Waldstreicher, David (Temple University. Libraries, 2013)
      This is a study of the gangs that inhabited Philadelphia and its neighboring districts in the mid-nineteenth century. In discussing the drastic societal shifts taking place in major American cities during this period--industrialization, immigration, urbanization, and the solidifying of class lines, this work paints a chaotic scene. Within this tumultuous setting, gangs emerged in working-class neighborhoods to meet two basic needs of their members and the communities they occupied. First, gang membership allowed working-class boys and men to establish shared identities. Utilizing a gender analysis, this study will demonstrate how working-class males developed a distinct version of masculinity. Set in defiance of middle-class values of self-control, wealth accumulation, and respect for the social hierarchy, this brand of masculinity embraced rowdiness, intemperance, and libertinism. Participation in activities such as assault, drinking, and battling rivals allowed gang members to assert their working-class manhood. Additionally, gang membership helped working-class boys and men carve out identities within their own neighborhoods. In the rapidly changing urban landscape, native-born whites, immigrants, and African Americans often lived alongside one another. By forming gangs along ethnic, religious, and political lines, these young men developed a sense of community and camaraderie in a sea of strangers. The second function mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia's gangs served was to empower their members and communities. Through violent attacks, gangs could establish a degree of control over which ethnic, racial, or religious groups lived and worked within their neighborhoods. Second, gangs empowered their members and communities politically. Recognizing their skill in using force, politicians in the mid-nineteenth century allied themselves with gangs in order to win elections. In return for their services, gang members received patronage positions and a degree of protection from the law. To Philadelphia's ruling elites, the poorer masses' increased participation in politics was unacceptable. In an effort to curb the influence of the city's and surrounding districts' gangs, reformers fought to establish a more effective system of law enforcement and to bureaucratize local government. As this thesis argues, the consolidation of Philadelphia and its neighboring districts in 1854 represents the traditional authorities' attempt to wrangle political power from the ward bosses of less affluent communities.