The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 412
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Texas, ... in the name of the womanhood of Texas, ... [and] in the name
of common humanity." The existence of such sentiments among many
Texas leaders and other voters, all of whom were male, raises the impor-
tant question: "Why?" Perhaps the best answers to this question focus upon
the role of "yellow journalists" in the state's leading newspapers. In Texas,
reporters Briggs, Finty, and Putnam embodied the muckraking tradition
through their investigations of Texas penal institutions. It was in this cli-
mate of opinion that in 1912 Putnam wrote the aforementioned report
that detailed the horrific beating of a state convict. Undoubtedly the fact
that the Putnam story appeared in a widely read daily during an election
year motivated both Colquitt's decision to suspend whipping and Ramsey's
call for the bat's abolition. The prevailing political milieu also permitted
both candidates to make prison reform an important issue.29
When advocating the abolition of the bat and the adoption of more
humane and modern penal methods, the journalists drew from their
knowledge of practices within other states. Embarrassed perhaps by
Texas prison conditions, editors of daily newspapers hoped to promote
a better image for their state in order to attract outside capital and stim-
ulate business growth and development. Atrocities and poor convict liv-
ing and working environments did not present the state in a favorable
light. Certainly, though, many Texans believed that whipping was critical
for maintaining discipline and for increasing the productivity of prison-
er labor. Recent scholarship, to be sure, has seriously questioned the
reality of the idyllic images of "progressive" reforms in other states that
journalists praised in their reports. Penal institutions in Texas and else-
where within the United States, both North and South, have reflected a
sordid aspect of American history. Usually, policy makers and prison
administrators have succeeded in concealing penal realities from public
view. To the muckrakers' credit, they managed to push prison issues to
the forefront of political discussion at least for a brief period of time.30
i" Broadside: "An Unholy War Built Upon a False Issue, Speech by Barry Miller," box TXC-O,
Colquitt Papers (1st quotation), Fitzpatrick, Muckrakzng Three Landmark Articles, 1-3; and
Grantham, Southern Progressvism, 25-35. Also see Houston Chronicle, Mar. 8 and June, 14, 1912.
o0 Concerning the relationship between Texas newspapers and state business promotion and
development, see Patrick L. Cox, "An Enemy Closer to Us Than Any European Power: The
Impact of Mexico on Texan Public Opinion Before World War I," Southwestern Historical
Quarterly, 104 (July, 2001), 41-80. See Briggs's testimony before legislators in 1909 in Report of
the Penztentiary Investzgatng Commzttee, 192-203 For a scholarly study of the realitiess" of prison
hfe m what was generally regarded as the most "enlightened" or "advanced" reformatory in a
northern industrial state, see Alexander W. Pisciotta, Benevolent Repression: Social Control and the
American Reformatory-Prison Movement (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 16-28. Also
see David J. Rothman, Conscience and Convenience: The Asylum and its Alternatives in Progressive
America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1980), 117-158, 399-421; Blake McKelvey, American
Pnsons A Hstory of Good Intentions (Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith Publishing Company, 1977),
234-265. For a somewhat contrary view concerning the role of journalists, see Matthew J.
Mancini, One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928 (Columbia, S.C.:
University of South Carolina Press, 1996), especially 18o-182.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/480/: accessed September 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.