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1 Learning to Be Civic Higher Education and Student Life 1890 1940 Prepared for Panel on Educating Leaders Higher Education and Civic Elites 1870 1970 Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association Chicago IL November 2001 Peter Dobkin Hall Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations John F Kennedy School of Government Harvard University All studies of American civic life identify the years between the 1890 and 1940 as the high tide of civic engagement the period in which voluntary associations and other formal organizations for profit and nonprofit proliferated rapidly in which citizens participated in unprecedented numbers Skocpol 1999 Putnam 2000 Putnam Gamm 1999 Hall 1999 A variety of forces and collective experiences have been offered to explain this phenomenon the unifying and paradoxically civilized impact of war efforts to overcome the atomizing effects of immigration urbanization and industrialization the enactment of laws facilitating corporate and associational activity efforts by religious and economic conservative activists to privatize religion and culture While all of these factors undoubtedly played significant roles in teaching Americans how to pool and collectively govern private resources for public purposes none have addressed either the extent to which civic values and skills were selectively distributed or the concern of this essay how these competencies were imparted Of the major recent studies of civic engagement only Verba Schlozman Brady s Voice and Equality offered any insight into the venues in which Americans acquired civic competency highlighting not only the general role of religion but the fact that some religious communities were far more effective than others in doing so The selective distribution of civic competencies and preferences is evident in these incontrovertible facts the concentration of corporations proprietary and eleemosynary in the Northeast and upper Midwest evident from the beginning of the nineteenth century



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