In Print—St. Louis from Village to Metropolis

27, December 2009

St. Louis from Village to Metropolis: Essays from the Missouri Historical Review, 1906–2006, edited and with an introduction by Louis S. Gerteis (Columbia: The State Historical Society of Missouri, 2009)

Reviewed by Emily Troxell Jaycox
Librarian, Missouri History Museum

Sometimes I find historical anthologies frustrating. Their component articles do not always paint as full a picture of the larger volume’s theme as I would wish. Happily, St. Louis from Village to Metropolis: Essays from the Missouri Historical Review is a satisfying example of a collection of interesting parts that are strengthened by their proximity in a thematically linked volume.

Editor Louis S. Gerteis’s excellent introduction puts the individual articles (14 in all) into a larger context and highlights the trends of which they are a part. It also stands on its own as a coherent 12-page overview of St. Louis history from the colonial era through World War II.

Many of the articles included in this anthology, with their narrow focus, provide intriguing particulars and longer quotes, making the topics come alive. Here is an example from Helen Williams’s article on St. Louis social life in the mid-19th century: During a hard freeze in 1854 a boarding house keeper “bought a tent, which he pitched on the ice about midway between this city and the Illinois shore, and stocked it well with red eye [liquor]. Towards evening…he concluded to add a ten-pin alley to the drinking saloon. The alley and saloon were in full blast before night, doing a fine business.”

Immigration is naturally a significant topic in the formation of a frontier society. Religious immigrants are profiled through three entries, including Walter Ehrlich’s essay on the first Jews in St. Louis and Louise Robbert’s exploration of Lutherans in St. Louis and Perry County. James Neal Primm’s treatment of merchants from New England and Lewis Atherton’s article on businessmen writing home to North Carolina use commerce as a lens through which to view the immigrant experience.

Race relations and the rights of the individual are central topics in Missouri history. Slavery, the Civil War, and 20th-century civil rights are represented by Bonnie Laughlin’s work focusing on abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy, Louis Gerteis’s piece on Civil War military prisons, Lawrence O. Christensen’s essay on postbellum race relations, and Patricia Adams’s study of World War II protests over segregation.

Examining the role of St. Louisans in national or world events are R. S. Cotterill, with an essay on the 1849 railroad convention, and Anne Kenney, who writes about journalist Virginia Irwin’s early coverage of the end of World War II. Irene Cortinovis’s study on China at the 1904 World’s Fair, Sharon Brown’s piece on the inception of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and Lynn Morrow’s article on sportsmen’s clubs showcase St. Louis as a tourist destination.

St. Louis from Village to Metropolis should interest general readers, as well as those seeking inspiration for a historical research project.