Fairfield University history professor's book on Bridgeport's Socialist history receives 2002 Homer D. Babbidge, Jr. Award
Frustration with the corruption and ineptitude in Bridgeport's municipal government brought labor unions and ethnic communities in the city together many years ago.
Those groups effected a stunning 1933 electoral victory that saw the Socialist party sweep to power, taking the mayor's seat and half the city council from the traditional Democrat and Republican parties. The exciting history behind that fantastic triumph, which saw slate roofer Jasper McLevy become mayor, is masterfully told in Cecelia Bucki's book, "Bridgeport's Socialist New Deal, 1915-36," (University of Illinois Press).
The Association for the Study of Connecticut History recently awarded Dr. Bucki's book the 2002 Homer D. Babbidge, Jr. Award, which is given for the best work on a significant aspect of Connecticut's history published the year before.
"It starts with the question, 'why was the socialist party elected in 1933?'" said Dr. Bucki, an associate professor of history at Fairfield University. Frustration during the Great Depression with the reigning political parties, both tainted and ineffective, drove Bridgeport's population to seek an alternative. The Bridgeport Socialist Party was composed of moderate socialists, Dr. Bucki said. "The politics of Bridgeport illuminate the New Deal in the state of Connecticut," Dr. Bucki said.
"Her investigation of the city's industrial boom during the first World War and subsequent labor issues illustrates how the working class agenda eventually led to capturing City Hall," said Amy Trout, a member of the awards committee, and curator at the New Haven Colony Historical Society.
"This is a book that shows how valuable local history is into understanding broader issues such as Socialist movement and New Deal reform efforts."
"Indeed, Dr. Bucki's book is a path-breaking case study of a labor community coalition with an alternative vision of organizing an industrial city in the heart of the depression," said Dr. David McFadden, Ph.D., and chair of Fairfield University's history department.
"This is a faculty member at Fairfield University who tells exciting stories about a part of Bridgeport's history that most people don't know," Dr. McFadden said.
And those stories have plenty of cachet today.
Dr. Bucki tells of the birth of Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course, a work-relief project favored by the Democratic mayor Edward Buckingham in 1931, but a symbol to many of the inability of the leading party to understand the needs of the people. McLevy seized upon this during his unsuccessful 1931 campaign, railing at his opponent:
"While hundreds of thousands of dollars are being sunk in a golf course in the town of Fairfield, the administration can find no funds to provide sewers that are sorely needed in Bridgeport, nor can it find money to improve streets within the city."
Social activism was strong at the time, Dr. Bucki said. Perhaps, she suggested, it was because this was a political party unlike the mainstream Democrat and Republican parties, with a clear program and message that spoke to the needs of the ordinary citizen. The people of Bridgeport came out by the hundreds for the street corner Socialist rallies during the campaign season, Dr. Bucki said.
"Dr. Bucki's book is a groundbreaking examination of an amazing period in Bridgeport's history," said Orin Grossman, Ph.D., academic vice president at Fairfield University. "She combines social history with an acute sense of the local political scene to fashion an illuminating look at one of the great working class cities in America. She richly deserves this wonderful recognition."
Editors: Dr. Bucki is available for interviews. You can reach her at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2307.
Posted on November 15, 2002
Vol. 35, No. 128