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Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century

Stories That Changed America

Stories That Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century
by Carl Jensen
ISBN: 158322517x (paper), 1583220275 (cloth)
Palatine Public Library Call Number: 070.9227 JEN
20 Chapters, 270 pp.

For me, and many persons I know, there are several critical issues facing this country. There is a tendency to feel helpless. Often I hear, "What can I do about any of it?" Reading "Stories That Changed America" can give hope and inspiration to the reader, for here we have case after case in which an individual made a difference. Although many of the authors were professional journalists, many were not, and only became well known because of their commitment to making a difference.

Take the example of Margaret Sanger. From the text:

In the beginning of the twentieth century, there was no legal birth control in the United States. The term didn't even exist. Contraceptives were illegal for married couples to use except in the case of medical emergency. Contraceptive information was so suppressed that it was a criminal offense to send it through the mail, or lecture about it.
After working as an obstetrical nurse in New York City's Lower East Side and seeing the suffering of her patients, Sanger resolved to do something about it.
... Sanger quit nursing to learn more about birth control both in the United States and Europe, where family planning clinics were already in place. She returned to New York in 1914 with a three-pronged approach to birth control. It called for education, organization, and legislation.

We are indebted to Margaret Sanger for the term "birth control". When her magazine, "The Woman Rebel", was launched in 1914, the Post Office would not deliver it and the federal government indicted her on nine counts of breaking obscenity laws. ... I heartily encourage you to read the book for the rest of the story.

In this book there are names that will probably be familiar to most readers such as Upton Sinclair, Ralph Nader, Betty Friedan, and Seymour Hersh. But I confess there are names that were new to me, such as George Seldes, who during his 80-some-year career became the most censored journalist in American history, Michael Harrington, whose book "The Other America: Poverty in the United States" so moved president Kennedy that it spurred him to start the War on Poverty, and Paul Brodeur, whose expose "Expendable Americans", brought attention to the link between asbestos and lung disease.

The chapter on asbestos-related malignancy reminded me of my time as a medical intern; one of my patients was a 23-year-old mother of two who had lung cancer. Her husband had worked with asbestos for years.

Read "Stories That Changed America", and learn how dedication to raising public awareness on an issue really CAN make a difference.

Back to Third Quarter, 2005