George White Marston, circa 1908.
Some years back I wrote on this blog about George Marston. As the presidential campaign continues to heat up, I think it’s worth recalling Marston’s civic and political ideas and activities.
Marston was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of San Diego in 1913 and 1917. He is far better known as a successful department store owner and philanthropist. He was also a strong advocate of park development and city planning. He built the Serra Museum and Presidio Park at his own expense and then donated them to the city. In the early 1900s he put up his own funds to hire expert planners who crafted the first comprehensive plans for Balboa Park and for general urban development in San Diego.
He clearly had a lot more on his mind than just making money. One surprising aspect of his thinking turned up in a 1986 essay in The Journal of San Diego History written by Gregg R. Hennessey, entitled, “George White Marston and Conservative Reform in San Diego.”
The essay noted that Marston in his adult life was politically independent. “Raised a Republican, he never hesitated to swing back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, choosing the person or the party most likely to push for reform,” Hennessey wrote.
The article then quoted from a letter Marston wrote in 1932 in response to a contribution request from a local Republican party fundraiser for the November election campaign.
“I wonder how you got the idea that I was a Republican,” wrote Marston. “I did vote for Hoover four years ago and sent you a check for the campaign, but I also voted for Wilson and for Cleveland and very much prefer the political platform of the Democrats to that of the Republicans. However the Democrats are deteriorating badly these days and are controlled by the big financiers of the country as the Republican party is.”
Marston went on to write this: “In our little San Diego field you and I are both in the plutocratic, aristocratic and big financial privileged class! But there is this difference between us. I am willing to admit that we get too big a share of the good things of life and that we ought to be good enough democrats to let the people in general have a larger share…. “
Marston closed by saying, “Therefore, I am still a non-partisan, entertaining hopes that sometime a liberal, progressive party will be established in the United States. I am not a Socialist, but this year I am inclined to vote for Norman Thomas as a protest against both of the dominant parties. “
Norman Thomas was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party in the 1932 election.
Mary Gilman Marston, George Marston’s daughter and biographer, confirmed that her father did indeed vote for Norman Thomas in 1932, and that he voted for Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats thereafter, since, in her words, “The social aims of the New Deal were in accord with his political beliefs.”
In addition to The Journal of San Diego History, sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and William E. Smythe’s History of San Diego: 1542-1908.
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