The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Morning Glories: Munzcipal Reform in the Southwest. By Amy Bridges. (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997. Pp. xiii+244. List of tables, acknowledg-
ments, appendix, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-691/02780-3. $35.00, cloth.)
In her award-winning book on municipal reform, Amy Bridges quotes George
Washington Plunkitt who called municipal reformers "morning glories." They
bloom beautifully in the morning but wither shortly. Perhaps Plunkitt did not
know the roots of this vine are both "tenacious and invasive" in the Southwest.
Bridges adapts the morning glory metaphor and focuses on selected larger
southwestern cities, trying to determine why municipal reformers were so much
more effective here than in eastern cities.
The goals of these diverse cities were surprisingly uniform and southwestern
reformers achieved most of them: at-large elections, city managers, professional
civil service, low tax rates, nonpartisanship. Although reformers never succeeded
at creating the businesslike governments they imagined, the foundations of big
city reform were all in place from the Progressive Era through the 1940s. "Thus,
if reformers did not secure maximum gains, they did succeed at minimizing
their regrets."
For Texas readers, the case studies of Galveston, San Antonio, Austin, Hous-
ton, and Dallas are particularly compelling. In Galveston, for example, the com-
mission plan was adopted as an emergency measure after the lethal 90oo
hurricane. Galveston's spectacular comeback focused national attention on the
commission plan: "the core of urban progressivism." Austin's progressive mayor,
Alexander Penn Wooldridge, advocated reform and championed a free public
school system and public library fifty years before they became realities. In Hous-
ton, municipal reform was championed by Oran T. Holt, retired attorney for the
Southern Pacific, and John Kirby, an East Texas lumber magnate. Their victory
marked "the first time ... local brokers of outside information, capital, and tech-
nology were offered unprecedented, almost irresistible, weight in the political
balance of power." San Antonio, established as an outpost of the Spanish empire
in 1718, presents a unique case history with its well-organized Hispanic commu-
nity which accounts for 55 percent of the population. Dallas illustrates the
southwestern tendency to place cities in a hostile and sparsely populated natural
environment. Bridges quotes Warren Leslie: "The truth is, there really isn't any
reason for Dallas. It sits in the middle of nowhere and nothing. The land around
is dry, black, and unproductive; farmers do battle with it to exist."
Morning Glories displays the political insights and careful research expected
from a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego.
But, it is much more than a significant contribution to the field of urban studies.
A present-day Dobie would almost certainly include this volume in a contempo-
rary Guide to Lefe and Literature of the Southwest.

Kathryn Thompson Presley

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October

Somerville, Texas

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed September 2, 2014.