Paul Underwood Kellogg to John Rogers Commons, April 10, 1913


April 10, 1913.

Professor John R. Commons,
Wisconsin Industrial Commission,
Madison, Wisconsin.

My dear Professor Commons:

Professor Seager tells me that your term on the Industrial Commission runs out, and that you are not going to accept a new appointment. By any possibility, therefore, is your summer to be free, so that you could shoulder a piece of work for the Progressive Service?

Let me explain: -- As you know, the Progressive Service is divided into four departments and two bureaus, one on education (Dr. Lindsay, Chairman) and one on legislation (Dean Lewis, Chairman).

The scheme of organization is as follows: -- The scope of the two bureaus is general. They serve all four departments; and the four special departments in turn are to supply the bureau of legislation with the essentials which are to be drafted into laws in line with the progressive platform, and the bureau of education with the data to be used in their propaganda.

My understanding is that the legislative reference bureau tried to get Mr. McCarthy as secretary or director, but that they could not pry him loose. This past week they have engaged Mr. Donald R. Richberg, a Chicago lawyer, who has had experience in legislative work, and who is spoken highly of by Prof. Merriam and Mr. McCarthy. His work will be to equip and organize the legislative reference office so that it can be of real service in the fall; incidentally [cooperating] with the congressional progressives at this special session. The plan will be to have in the hands of the legislative reference bureau by mid-fall a series of standard bills, national and state, which they can recommend to congressmen and members of legislatures. Of course this involves very considerable work on the part of the departments in working out what are the essentials which should go into that legislation.

It is about the work of the social and industrial justice department, of which Miss Addams is director, in relation to the bureaus of education and legislative reference that I write you. Miss Addams is away until about the first of July, and I am acting for her in her absence. [page 2]

What ought to be done between now and fall is to work up under each of the main headings in which our social and industrial justice platform falls, the essentials which we should ask the legislative reference bureau to draft into standard laws; to get out the data which will enable that bureau to convince congressmen and legislatures of the needs for these standards; and which in turn will give the education department the material for its pamphlets, lectures, etc., under these heads.

The range of subjects covered under social and industrial justice is large. The enclosed is the list. With the exception of matters affecting children which Dean Kirchwey's committee has been taking up, I do not see that much has been done in the way of crystallization since the platform of last August. Of course, in each one of these fields there are exports, and there are organizations which have been mulling over the subjects for years past. Therefore under some of the headings, it would be merely a matter counselling with experts in this field. Under other headings more original work would have to be done -- not research, there is not time for that; but the mustering of the wisest opinion that could be had on the subject.

We want to get one man of the very first [caliber] to be responsible for this process of [coordination] and judgment. I feel that the fragments of time that I can put on it, or that Miss Addams can put on it when she returns, or that the executive officers, like Mr. Richberg, can put on it from the other departments, are wholly inadequate. The thing would be foozled and disorganized six months from now in the same way it is at present. Nor would the active work of two or three young fellows, each assigned to a special subject, get across. They would have to be directed; have to acquaint themselves with the subjects and their judgments would not be the right sort of footing on which to proceed.

What we want is a man of general knowledge of the field of practical economics; with practical experience in the drafting and administration of laws; with large vision and statesmanship. Of all the men I know of, you and Mr. McCarthy fill the bill. Decision has been held up pending Miss Kellor's return from the South. In the interval I took it up with Mr. McCarthy, who said that at the close of the school and legislative year, he could put two or three of his assistants on the work. I did not understand from his letter that he himself could get leave of absence in order to put in solid time on it personally -- which I feel is very important. And while there will be advantages in the resources of your Madison legislative reference store house, it would be very advantageous to do a considerable share of the work here in New York, in view of the fact that here are the chief national organizations operating in these fields, and the more we can get them to [cooperate] in this matter the better. So, when I heard from Professor Seager that you would possibly be free for the summer, I jumped at the notion, thinking that you could come on to New York for such parts of the work as are necessary, and get the [cooperation] of Mr. McCarthy's staff in Madison up to the hilt. [page 3]

Miss Kellor is backing up my recommendation that $2500 be appropriated for this work. The most satisfactory method of procedure would I think, be to turn the full amount over to you, asking you to secure such assistance and incur such expenses as will be most effective. My hope would be, however, that some $1000 to $1500 would go to you personally for your summer's work. We might be able to get an additional $500 if the work needed it.

The method of procedure would, I think, be first a conference here in New York between you and heads of the committee under Miss Addams' department. These include Prof. Kirchwey's on Children, Miss Kellor (acting) on Immigration, Miss McDowell's on Women's Work, Dr. Moskowitz's on Men's Labor, and P. U. Kellogg (acting) on Social Insurance; together with Miss Kellor as chief of the service, Dr. Lindsay, as chairman of the Education Committee, and his secretary, Mr. Hibben; Dean Lewis, as chairman of the Legislative Committee; Mr. Richberg, his assistant, and Walter E. Weyl, labor member of the legislative bureau.

My hope would be that you would reduce the rather broad terms of the platform to fairly specific essentials under each heading. In some instances -- such as, for example, minimum wage legislation -- two or three choices could be presented of alternative plans for decision by our department in turning the matter over to the legislative committee. It would be simplest if we could have <These decisions could be [issued?] to the Social & Industrial Departments> at meetings between you, Moskowitz, Miss McDowell, Prof. Kirchwey and myself, and <it> probably would save time if Dean Lewis, <Mr Richberg> Dr. Lindsay and Miss Kellor acted with us. For, as I understand it, the legislative committee is the final judge in committing the Progressive Service to any position at this stage of the game.

In some instances, of course, neither our department nor the legislative committee would want to decide as between two alternative positions -- but we should enable the legislative committee to be in a position to describe the alternatives, and tell the reasons for each.

In other cases, where the subject is involved, and no general conclusions have been reached by students of the problem, we could, instead of taking a position, recommend investigation of the subject by commissions. For example, the progressives are introducing at my suggestion a bill for a federal commission on social insurance at this extra session.

All the work of reducing <the> proposals decided upon to actual bills will be done under Dean Lewis' legislative reference bureau, and would not be part of this summer's commission; on the other hand, of course it would be very desirable for you to keep closely in touch with them, when they do the drafting. Indeed, it might be possible to arrange to have considerable of the drafting done in Madison by Mr. McCarthy's bureau, if that were possible, under money from Dean Lewis's appropriation. But on that point, of course, I do not speak with authority.

Whether or not the progressive group in Congress or in the nation ever arrives, it seems to me that a well grounded, well thought out, [page 4] radical program in this field, stood for by a minority, will be bound to have a constructive influence on what the majority do.

Also it would be my hope that the Progressive Service and the congressional group will be big enough to endorse this for legislation, advanced and fought for earlier by other political groups, or individuals or organizations. For example, I hope the congressional group will back up the La Follette bill providing eight hours for women in the District of Columbia, prepared by the National Consumers' league; and the Kern bill, covering accidents and trade diseases of federal [employees], proposed by the American Association for Labor Legislation.

On our committees in the social and industrial justice department -- I think the thing is <true of other departments> to talk over other judgments  -- are Republicans, Democrats and Socialists; so that your commission as an expert in this work would not compromise you in any way, as I see it.

I have written you at length, so that the whole situation is before you, and have written to you rather than to Mr. McCarthy because we have been old [coworkers], and because, if you are able to put in your undivided time this summer on this work, it would seem to me that that we would be the most consistent and effective way to do it. On the other hand, I should be very glad if you would canvass the situation with Mr. McCarthy (I am sending him a copy of this letter) and let me know whether you think it could be done on the sum named; how it could be [done], and which, if either of you, would shoulder the responsibility.

The more initiation of our progressive platform last summer had, it seemed to me, a profound reaction in giving ordinary American people, to the boundaries of the country, a notion of the scope of internal industrial statesmanship. The planks, however, were very broad and vague. If in this summer's work we could sharply define them and put forward a coherent group of proposals, using that platform as the charter, it seems to me that we will carry the whole process of education forward by another stage.

Miss Kellor will probably got out to Chicago and Madison within the next ten days. She does not leave until the first of the week, however, and I should be very glad if you would get me word, even if it were not at all final, by Monday, so that we could talk things over before she sees you.