LOUIS BRYANT TUCKERMAN, M.D.
(15 Feb. 1850 - 5 Mar. 1902)
TUCKERMAN, LOUIS BRYANT: A reformer dubbed the "Father of Cleveland Liberalism" by TOM L. JOHNSON, was born in Rome, Ashtabula County, Ohio, to Elizabeth Ellinwood and Jacob Tuckerman. He graduated from Amherst College, attended Yale Theological Seminary, and received his medical degree from Long Island in 1877. He organized the FRANKLIN CLUB, where municipal affairs, public ownership of utilities, and public health were discussed. Tuckerman claimed the club, through its petitions and delegations to city officials, was responsible for progressive reforms; while their weekly discussions, reported in the Citizen and conservative dailies, spread their progressive message far beyond the club.
An idealist and moderate, Tuckerman promoted third-party campaigns of various working-class parties before supporting the Populist party in the 1890s (see POPULIST PARTY). In 1885 and 1889 he ran for local office, campaigning for better hospital facilities, more adequate health services, labor representation on the Police Board, public ownership of utilities, and an improved school system. Though he received few votes, he generated public interest in the issues.
Beginning 1885, Tuckerman edited the Workman, a $.01 labor journal discussing important issues before the state legislature relating to labor, selling the paper after 3 years to devote more time to his medical practice; the paper collapsed a few months later. As a pioneer member of the Cleveland ACADEMY OF MEDICINE OF CLEVELAND, Tuckerman stirred up his colleagues on urban public-health issues; and heading the organization's committee on legislation, lobbied in Columbus for public-health laws. Tuckerman married Mary Ellen Hopkins and had four sons: Louis B., JACOB E, Warren H., and William C. He died of malaria and was buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.
Clevelanders had not accepted their inefficient government with absolute apathy. Only a very small minority, however, advocated any changes which did more than scratch the surface. One of the most fascinating reformers in the Forest City during the last quarter of the century was Dr. L. B. Tuckerman. Contrary to the accepted belief that all left-wing leaders were immigrants, the doctor was thoroughly American. Coming from a family which was Protestant and had lived here since the seventeenth century, his ideas were inspired by America and Jefferson, not Europe. Tuckerman was no radical but a pioneer progressive in the days when the spirit of the robber baron was rampant and progressivism was not fashionable.
In no sense an exclusive American phenomenon, he was the Cleveland representative of a vigorous minority who began agitating progressive reform almost twenty years before it was in vogue. It was a progressivism rooted in the humanitarian impulses of a kindly physician from Ashtabula. Moving to Cleveland, he observed iniquities which accompanied the rapid urbanization of so many American cities, and unlike so many of his compatriots, he was unable to remain complacent in the face of the violations of human rights which had been traditional in agrarian America.
Dr. Tuckerman was interested primarily in local affairs; as a participant in politics he saw abuses of power which he could not accept in silence; as a physician, and particularly as a public health officer, he was acutely conscious of hardships and suffering which reflected an outrageous lack of concern for the welfare of the underprivileged. Since he represented a distinct minority, discretion might have been the better part of valor, but Dr. Tuckerman possessed a different sort of courage and fought against malignant sores which accompanied urban industrialization--fought in spite of discouraging failures and in spite of the abuse and ridicule heaped upon him and his entire family. Sincere, unassuming, without personal ambition, and an effective orator, the doctor became the leader of a small coterie of reformers. He was admirably fitted for the role for two other reasons: a sense of humor helped him maintain his perspective, and a disciplined mind influenced the often confused, inarticulate thinking of the men who formed the core of the early revolt against the old order.
Dr. Tuckerman became the leader of a perennial third party which differed from many of the other independent political movements of the time in that the inspiration for its platform was almost exclusively local. The Forest City had its share of labor parties and prohibition parties, and Tuckerman often cooperated with labor leaders, but essentially he was interested in correcting abuses in municipal politics. The platform for 1885, which was typical of his interests, advocated better hospital facilities, more adequate health service, labor representation on the police board, public ownership of utilities, and an improved school system.38 Although the little party often drew large audiences, it collected few votes. Undoubtedly many enjoyed hearing the bold campaigners call a spade a spade. In the campaign of 1889 a Tuckerman address ended in a near riot when the doctor's caustic remarks aimed at the Democrats resulted in a stoning. In the election, however, the reformers polled only about one hundred and seventy votes, indicating how few were induced to desert the major parties. A second and perhaps more effective reform organization was Dr. Tuckerman's Franklin Club. Organized in 1889, it was a free forum without enrolled membership where anyone was permitted to participate in discussions ranging from municipal to national subjects. A small gathering of progressive spirits met faithfully every Sunday afternoon and the club became a Cleveland institution.
The dominant personality in the Franklin Club was Dr. Tuckerman, the Leader commenting that the "club never attempts to do anything but talk in the absence of the doctor. When the head center did arrive the discussion ceased. Since the doctor's major interest was municipal affairs, he frequently interrupted more general discussions to lead the group back to the Cleveland scene. Flagrant abuses by officeholders, necessity for more adequate health measures, greater municipal control of public utilities--such ideas were generally supported by club petitions or delegations to the city council. The immediate success of the club is difficult to measure. The newspaper reports in the conservative Leader reflected a spirit of amused tolerance for a collection of crackpots. Dr. Tuckerman, on the other hand, maintained his following was responsible for some progressive measures such as the reduction of gas rates in 1891. Undoubtedly the major contribution of this pressure group was a long range one--it helped prepare minds for subsequent acceptance of its reform program. Perhaps of more immediate importance was the fact that the little doctor attracted a group of able reformers, many of whom played vital roles in the labor movement or as progressives in Cleveland at the turn of the century. He undoubtedly inspired them with his own idealism, his unselfish humanitarianism, his patience and persistence, his faith in people and democracy, and his loyalty to reform which stayed within the limits of American traditions.
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Last update: Monday, December 12, 2016