Masthead analysis



  1. Give a physical description of each of the two mastheads.
  2. Describe what is specifically in each design.
  3. What symbols (if any) are used in the mastheads?
  4. If a symbol is used, is it:
    • clear (easy to interpret)?
    • memorable?
    • dramatic?
  5. Are the messages in the mastheads primarily visual, verbal, or both?
  6. The most effective posters/mastheads use symbols that are unusual, simple, and direct. Are these effective mastheads?

Step 2: Read the description of the masthead and its newspaper

These are two separate mastheads for the Cronaca Sovversiva (Subversive Chronicle). Luigi Galleani published this newspaper from Barre, Vermont starting 1903. He and its writers promoted workers’ rights and anarchism in this paper’s writings. The authors wrote in Italian and its audience was largely recently arrived Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans working as stonecutters and in factories throughout the northeast United States. Cronaca Sovversiva presented various editorials condemning the upper class and capitalists while arguing for improvement in working conditions and worker rights. Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti wrote for the paper many times. The famous Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti contributed to the paper on several occasions. The paper’s politics represent some of the more radical in the American history. The U.S. government shut down the paper in 1918 in an effort to suppress communist and anarchist media, foreboding the first Red Scare.

Step 3: Consider the masthead in its historical context

The Cronaca Sovversiva in the context of the Gilded Age

Consider both the designs and your knowledge of the time period, answer the following questions:

  1. How did technology change the types of work in the United States and Vermont?
  2. How did this change impact the demography of Vermont?
  3. How did Americans of this period define progress?
  4. How and why did Americans and Vermonters resist and adjust to the technological changes?
  5. What was the role of government regarding the tensions in American society?

Step 4: Final narrative

This is an interesting primary source because the drawings and message convey an important ideological transformation in the United States. The drawings are mastheads for the Italian-American anarchist newspaper Cronaca Sovversiva. The paper circulated largely in the northeast among the newly arrived Italian-American immigrants working in factories and as stonecutters. The paper represents the various perspectives of the immigrant workers and initial steps for the working class to begin the process of organizing and resisting within the new working environment.

Although a fringe group, anarchism reflected a growing a resistance to the technological changes taking place in the United States and Vermont. The rise of industry in the second half of the 19th century dramatically altered the working conditions of Americans. No longer were individuals working on farms or in charge of their own operations. Converserly, masses of workers moved from rural to urban areas and were employed in factories. Partly as a consquence of the new demand for labor, large numbers of immigrants came to the United States. Amidst these changes workers sought various means to adjust and cope to significantly different situation.

Inspired by the writings of Marx, nearly 50 years earlier, workers attempted to rally to defeat what they saw as a represesive system in which they were exploited. Although varying degrees of ideological thought existed within the resistance, a small minority subscribed to anarchism. Barre, Vermont was one of the main hubs for this movement as a result of the large degree of Italian immigrants. The population of Barre increased nearly five times up to 10,000 residents from 1880 to 1900. Cronaca Sovversiva served as a call for resistance and workers’ rights amidst the vastly changing working circumstances for laborers and stonecutters.

Lesson plan and commentary by

Michael Stuart
Spaulding High School
Barre, Vermont