In a 1907 lecture to Harvard undergraduates, Theodore Roosevelt
warned against becoming "too fastidious, too sensitive to take part
in the rough hurly-burly of the actual work of the world."
Roosevelt asserted that colleges should never "turn out
mollycoddles instead of vigorous men," and cautioned that "the
weakling and the coward are out of place in a strong and free
A paradigm of ineffectuality and weakness, the mollycoddle was
"all inner life," whereas his opposite, the "red blood," was a man
of action. Kevin P. Murphy reveals how the popular ideals of
American masculinity coalesced around these two distinct
categories. Because of its similarity to the emergent "homosexual"
type, the mollycoddle became a powerful rhetorical figure, often
used to marginalize and stigmatize certain political actors. Issues
of masculinity not only penetrated the realm of the elite, however.
Murphy's history follows the redefinition of manhood across a
variety of classes, especially in the work of late
nineteenth-century reformers, who trumpeted the virility of the
By highlighting this cross-class appropriation, Murphy
challenges the oppositional model commonly used to characterize the
relationship between political "machines" and social and municipal
reformers at the turn of the twentieth century. He also
revolutionizes our understanding of the gendered and sexual
meanings attached to political and ideological positions of the
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