Ohio University: Illiberal Reformers in the Progressive Era

George Washington Forum Event: “Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era”


Factory workers

Thomas C. Leonard, of Princeton University, will give a lecture at Ohio University’s George Washington Forum on topics addressed in his book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Leonard will reexamine the economic progressives whose ideas and reform agenda underwrote the Progressive Era dismantling of laissez-faire and the creation of the regulatory welfare state, which, they believed, would humanize and rationalize industrial capitalism. But not for all. Academic social scientists such as Richard T. Ely, John R. Commons, and Edward A. Ross, together with their reform allies in social work, charity, journalism, and law, played a pivotal role in establishing minimum-wage and maximum-hours laws, workman’s compensation, antitrust regulation, and other hallmarks of the regulatory welfare state. But even as they offered uplift to some, economic progressives advocated exclusion for others, and did both in the name of progress. Leonard will reconstruct the influence of Darwinism, racial science, and eugenics on scholars and activists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, revealing a reform community deeply ambivalent about America’s poor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 • 7:30 PM
Galbreath Chapel • Ohio University

Free and open to the public

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Thomas C. LeonardThomas C. Leonard is an historian of economics, specializing in the American Gilded Age and Progressive Era.  He is Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University and Lecturer in the Department of Economics, which has twice awarded him the Richard D. Quandt Prize for outstanding teaching. His widely acclaimed book, Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era, was published by Princeton University Press in January 2016.



The George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics, and Institutions at Ohio University is a participant in JMC’s Ohio Political Economy Initiative, made possible by a grant from the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. The Forum teaches America’s foundational principles in their Western intellectual, political, and institutional contexts. It is grounded on the idea that students facing an increasingly globalized world need to understand what characterizes and distinguishes the nation in which they live and the civilization from which it emerged. The Forum helps students become enlightened citizens in a liberal democracy whose roots run deep in Western civilization, but whose ideals and interests transcend the West.

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