‘No longer will policemen beat the heads off malefactors’

marshallIn April 1911, voters in Granite City — a company town founded by steelmakers near St. Louis — elected Marshall E. Kirkpatrick, a 28-year-old shearer at the Niedringhaus mills, as mayor. Kirkpatrick, a Socialist, would prove to be a capable administrator, serving nearly two decades in that office, until his death in 1942.

In an introduction to the new mayor — he enjoyed dancing and “ball playing” — the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Kirkpatrick wanted a municipal-owned coal yard and ice house, which would sell fuel and ice to residents at cost. He also promised a new approach to law enforcement under Police Chief Adolph White, also a Socialist.

The Post-Dispatch reported, “No longer will policemen beat the heads off malefactors, and it is going to be bad form for a Granite City policeman to kick a prisoner in the ribs.

“’Prisoners will not be beaten up by policemen while I am Mayor,’ said Mayor Kirkpatrick, telling what it is going to be like in the only city that has a Socialist Chief of Police and two or three Socialist policemen, as well as a Socialist Mayor. ‘And all prisoners will be treated alike. A poor man will have just as much consideration as a rich man.’”

Kirkpatrick promised a “clean administration.” No more slot machines and gamblers. Saloons would have to close at midnight. And government appointments would be based on qualifications. “We Socialists believe in the merit system,” he said.

Kirkpatrick was defeated in 1915, but reelected in 1917.  During his tenure, the city built its public library, city hall and a 151-unit housing project.

Kirkpatrick was one of more than 1,000 members of the Socialist Party of America elected to public office. A map produced by the Mapping American Social Movements Project at the University of Washington shows some of the places they were successful.

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