The Staff Breakup of McClure’s Magazine

“The Explosions of Our Fine Idealistic Undertakings”

By Greg Gross, Allegheny College class of 1983

Table of Contents:


This thesis analyzes the staff breakup of McClure’s Magazine and demonstrates its historical significance by placing it in the context of the progressive era. The McClure’s schism occurred in late March and early April, 1906, and triggered the gradual decline of one of the era’s most popular mass-circulation periodicals. To present this study in a logical manner, I have divided this thesis into three segments, which can best be visualized by imagining three concentric spheres. The “outer sphere,” Chapter I, analyzes the rise of the progressive mentality, which had a strong influence on American culture at the dawn of the twentieth century, from approximately 1900-1912. I introduce the reader to the outer layer of my area of study, presenting an analysis of the origins of progressivism and its Protestant-oriented, middle-class character.

Chapter II, the “middle sphere,” chronicles the rise of McClure’s Magazine to national prominence as the forerunner of the muckraking movement. I introduce the central figures responsible for the expose journalism that “arraigned,” on a nationwide scale, the lawlessness and immorality of the American people, while analyzing the staff’s ideological ties to progressivism.

In Chapter III, the core of this thesis, I explore the ideological tensions that wrenched apart the McClure’s staff. Samuel Sidney McClure, the majority stockholder and chief editor of the magazine which bore his name, committed the “sin” of adultery, which affronted the moral standards of the progressive mentality. His staff reacted by sternly disapproving of his actions. Their disdain caused McClure to suffer from feelings of guilt, which aggravated his already unstable mental condition. In the face of his colleagues’ disapproval, he sought to regain their esteem by establishing a business empire which would serve society. McClure undertook to establish a new magazine,McClure’s Universal Journal, and subsidiary enterprises, including a bank, life insurance company and correspondence school, all geared to serve the “common man.” McClure’s “grandiose scheme” backfired, however, and only succeeded in convincing his staff that he was attempting to found a trust-like business conglomerate.

Convinced of their editor’s mental instability, and affronted by love affairs and unrealistic schemes they considered economically dangerous and morally untenable, the McClure’s staff left the magazine. Ida Tarbell, one of the “insurgents,” aptly summarized the breakup as “the explosions of our fine idealistic undertakings.” (1) I ultimately seek to demonstrate the relationship between these exploded ideals and the movement which nurtured them.

My thesis is intentionally limited to an analysis of how the McClure’s staff members perceived themselves and their mission; this paper is not, nor was it intended to be, a comprehensive history of muckraking or progressivism. Wherever possible, I have used the primary resource materials of the Ida M. Tarbell Collection at Pelletier Library, Allegheny College. The Tarbell Papers proved invaluable in assessing the tensions which led to the breakup of a prominent progressive magazine and the staff that created it.


“IMT Collection” designates Ida M. Tarbell Collection.

(1) Ida Tarbell to Ray Stannard Baker, October 17, 1939, IMT Collection, Correspondence between Ida Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker file, Allegheny College Library, Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Copyright 1997 by Greg Gross. All rights reserved. This work may not be used for any reasons other than noncommercial research and scholarship. For any other use, please email