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Secret Rituals—Book Review Synthesis

Clyde Griffen:  formerly Lucy Maynard Salmon Professor, taught American history at Vassar from 1957 to 1992. He earned his B.A. with Honors in History from the University of Iowa and his M.A. and Ph.D., under Richard Hofstadter, from Columbia University.  At Vassar, Professor Griffen’s teaching interests shifted in the 1960s and 70s to social and urban history, with courses titled “City, Town, and Countryside,” “The Making of an Industrial Society, 1877-1920,” and a departmental introductory course titled “The American Experience in the Twentieth Century.” He also began to participate in the early 1970s in the new multidisciplinary American Culture Program. Winning a year’s fellowship to a National Humanities Institute in New Haven, he developed the first version of a new syllabus focused on Individualism in America for the introductory seminar in that program.  Becoming interested through women’s history in gender, Professor Griffen co-edited Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America(University of Chicago Press, 1990).

Mary Ann Clawson BA Carleton College, MA SUNY at Stony Brook, and PHD SUNY at Stony Brook.  She studies Social Movements, Work, Leisure and Popular Culture, and Sociology of Gender.  She is currently a Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University.

Donald Yacovone:  Director of research and program development at Harvard University and Manager of Research and Program Development at W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.  BA at Southern Connecticut State University, MA in History at Trinity College—Hartford, and PhD. In US History from Claremont Graduate University.  He belongs to the AHA and the OAH.  He studies 19th Century African American History, Civil War history, and Victorian masculinity.

Dr. Yacovone states the thesis and argument of Secret Rituals when he said, “Carnes argues that middle-class men were drawn to these fraternal groups, not by a simple desire for association, conviviality, or a practical need to make business contacts, but by the rites of fraternity.”(yacavone 1)  He also says that “Carnes views social life as a dialectical process in which a culture’s definitions of social roles are resisted, by the very people who create them…In fraternal orders, Carnes shows, middle class men invented a work that repudiated middle-class theology and the domination of women over church and family.”(yacavone 2)  This is in line with much of what other reviewers say about Carnes, that fears of effeminization and women in religious leadership roles forced middle-class men into secret societies that promote ritual as religious piousness.  These men sought to replace the Victorian Era, feminized middle-class family with “fraternal and patriarchal bonds,” and Dr. Yacovone finishes by saying that “carnes work shows the true depth of nineteenth-century male sexual anxiety and hostility towards women.”(yacavone 2)

Dr. Griffen clearly states, “the central argument of this book emerges:  feminization in home and church created a need for a counter-acculturation for the young middle-class men who for a time during the nineteenth century found such intense satisfaction in fraternal rituals.”(Griffen 3)  Other than this clear statement of Griffen’s understanding of the thesis, he says little else of substance, but argues that Carnes logic may be flawed due to the limited sources he has on secret societies.  I think that has little grounding, but his other complaint is that Carnes hardly tells us “who were these young men who spent so much time in ritual performance and what kinds of careers did they have?”(Griffen 4)  I agree that Carnes does little to focus his research on a specific people group after saying he is looking at members of secret societies and he postulates that many of those were middle class men, but alludes to the idea that many may have been members of the working class and even the elite classes.  We get this idea when he says that some the highest officials continue to participate in hundreds of initiations each year, paying dues as each member was initiated, and later Carnes argues that the secret societies could not afford upkeep because of the lack of dues being paid by a growing membership who could no longer afford the cost of month dues to the lodges.

Dr. Clawson quotes Carnes when describing his thesis when she says “Carnes argues that the massive appeal of the lodge derived from its focus on gender issues, as “fraternal ritual provided solace and psychological guidance during young men’s troubled passage to manhood in Victorian America”(14, Clawson 1)  She goes on to say that this happened in two ways, “first, as a quasi-religious institution from which women were excluded, the lodge represented a masculine response to the nineteenth century feminization of the Protestant churches” and “secondly, Carnes argues that fraternalism was appealing not only because it offered a quasi-religious experience within a masculine social environment, but because its ritual dramatized and resolved some of the central conflicts of Victorian manhood…masculine initiation rites are found in those societies in which distant fathers and powerful mothers confront boys with the need to divest themselves of an initial feminine attachment in order to assume a masculine identity.”(Clawson 2-3)  Clawson’s biggest criticism of Carnes is that he does not fully consider how masculinity was influenced by fraternalism.  She argues that Carnes’ framework does not allow for the construction of masculinity as a collective identity, not does it show how it was a class-specific one.

Mark Carnes:  Mark C. Carnes, Professor of History, joined the faculty of Barnard in 1982. His academic specialty is modern American history. His courses include The United States: 1940-1975, and several versions of the Reacting to the Past program which he initiated in 1995. Professor Carnes served as general co-editor (with John Garraty) of the 24-volume American National Biography (1999). He is also Executive Secretary of the Society of American Historians.  He holds a BA from Harvard University, and an MA and PhD from Columbia.  He teaches in three departments; American Studies, History, and Reacting to the Past(a program he initiated nearly 20 years ago.  Aside from this book, Carnes also co-authored a book titled Meanings of Manhood:  Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America, with Dr. Clyde Griffen.


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