Title Reviewed:
All Our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit

Author Reviewed:
Frank B. Woodford; Arthur M. Woodford

Walter R. Houf


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 372-373

Article Type:
Book Review

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All Our Yesterdays: A Brief History of Detroit. By Frank B. Woodford and Arthur M. Woodford. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969. Pp. 410. Maps, illustrations, notes on illustrations and maps, selected bibliography, index. Paperbound, $3.95.)

As Dwight Hoover so aptly demonstrated in the 1968 summer supplement of American Quarterly, urban history has no clearly established methodology or predominant theory. Although a number of urban historians are emphasizing the process of urbanization characteristic of the more complex municipalities or testing some of the older social and historiographical concepts with data from cities, the traditional form of urban history—the biography of a city—is likely to persist for some time.

All Our Yesterdays, billed as the first history of Detroit published in the last twenty-five years, is such a biography. Written primarily by the late Frank B. Woodford, a native son, longtime staff member of the Detroit Free Press, author of several books on aspects of Detroit history, and city historiographer late in his life, the work displays the assets and flaws of a very close familiarity with its subject. Woodford's research for books on several prominent men of Detroit as well as the author's lifetime association with the city, enabled him to accumulate the unsurpassed reservoir of anecdote and detail which appears in this general survey. Yet those who are neither antiquarians nor natives or residents of Detroit may be distressed by the detail included.

The basic chronological organization of the book touches upon early exploration in the Detroit area; initial acquisition by the French, whose cultural stamp persisted for some time beyond their political authority; the brief British interlude; then the official, but tenuous, though increasingly secure, American possession of Detroit. Political, social, and economic events are woven together in the survey of the French and British periods. Once the narrative reaches the transfer of Detroit to the United States, the treatment shifts to topical chapters on cultural, philanthropic, political, social, and economic matters within the chronological skeleton. At the midpoint of the book there is a nostalgic look at Detroit during the last decade of the nineteenth century. By that time population standards qualified Detroit as a city, and its cultural variety created an appealing charm which unfortunately diminished during the next fifty years. Throughout the book the relationship of regional and national events to Detroit's history are noted.

Most readers of All Our Yesterdays will welcome the extensive chronological table at the back of the book, and, although the maps and photographs are typical of biographies of cities, they do capture some of the character of Detroit. Professional historians will regret the scanty bibliography and the absence of reference notes.

All Our Yesterdays is both too long and too short as a study of one of America's major cities. If much of the inside information, meaningful only to natives and residents, and the antiquarianism had been eliminated, the book would have been shorter and tighter in composition. If more analysis and greater insight into the nature of Detroit and its special qualities had been provided, it would have been longer and more satisfactory. As it is, the book fairly compactly chronicles the major events in Detroit's past from initial settlement down to the riot of late July, 1967. Any rigorous and thorough study of such a large and complex city must be more extensive and must furnish the reader with a better understanding of Detroit's character and the driving forces behind what appears on the surface.

Drake University, Des Moines Walter R. Houf

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.