A Commoner Writes: What Wisconsin’s ‘Sewer Socialists’ Wanted Sounds Good Today


Emil Seidel, a pattern maker by trade, was elected Mayor of Milwaukee in 1910 in a landslide in an election which gave the Democratic Socialists a majority of seats in the Milwaukee Common Council. John Nichols’, in his book “The “S” Word”, quotes Seidel “explaining the point of socialist rule in human terms”:

“Some eastern smarties called ours a Sewer Socialism. Yes, we wanted sewers in the workers’ homes; but we wanted much, oh, so very much more than sewers. 

“We wanted our workers to have pure air; we wanted them to have sunshine; we wanted planned homes; we wanted living wages; we wanted recreation for young and old; we wanted vocational education; we wanted a chance for ever human being to be strong and live a life of happiness.

“And we wanted everything that was necessary to give them that: playgrounds, parks, lakes, beaches, clean creeks and rivers, swimming and wading pools, social centers, reading rooms, clean fun, music, dance, song, and joy for all.

“That was our Milwaukee Social Democratic movement. There was but one way to get all of that – GO AFTER IT AND GET IT.”

The sunshine is beautiful this morning. Imbuing me with momentary optimism, I think most of us would like these things still that motivated residents of Milwaukee over 100 years ago. Maybe a contemporary take could substitute “clean water” for “sewer.” Note how so much of what Seidel says is attached to water. How have we forgotten?

Jon Lund