Thursday, February 12, 2009

Progressivism in Chicago

Reading both the textbook and “The City of Big Shoulders” offered an interesting comparison on the Progressive era in the nation, but in particular in Chicago. While both books generally conveyed the same or similar information, there were nevertheless some aspects in which the two books differed.
The textbook pinpoints the beginning of the Progressive Era to 1900. It describes how early progressivism was mainly an Anglo-Saxon protestant movement, often accompanied by the temperance movement and generally driven by the desire to “rid the society from moral wrong”. Reading in “The City of Big Shoulders” left me with the impression that much of the reform movements and social improvements that are associated with the progressive era actually took place in Chicago well before 1990.
The temperance or prohibition aspect for example was discernible in Chicago as early as in the 1850s, when the city contemplated banning alcohol consumption on Sundays and raised the prices of liquor licenses to immensurable costs that drove many little immigrant-run taverns out of existence. In addition, the Know-Nothing Party, running on a nativist and temperance platform, gained recognition in Chicago in the 1850s and 1860s. The resulting Lager Beer Riot of 1855, protesting the city’s attempt to restrict alcohol consumption showed that the prohibition movement was not very successful in Chicago, and explains why the rest of the Progressive Era focused more on issues of municipal reform and city beautification.
In addition, I think that “The City of Big Shoulders” does a good job showing how ethnic tensions were reflected in time period of the Progressive Era. Temperance and prohibition were largely attempts of the Anglo-Saxon protestant class to get control over the immigrant population, particularly over Catholic immigrants, Irish immigrants and German immigrants. Other progressive reforms such as the development of assistance and public housing for foreign born immigrants, such as for example Chicago’s Hull House (opened in 1889), shows a much more conciliatory attempt to integrate and “Americanize” immigrants, but nevertheless shares the common desire of temperance progressives to regulate the behavior of these immigrants, which they often considered the cause for the perceived “moral decay” of society.
Chicago was not only a “forerunner” in regards to immigrant reform and temperance, but also very active concerning the urban improvement and municipal reform aspect of the Progressive Era. In 1894 Chicago established a free public bath for urban dwellers living in housing that did not provide them with such options. This placed Chicago quite ahead of some other major US cities. In addition, Chicago was one of the first cities to establish a sewer system as early as 1856.
Reading in “The City of Big Shoulders” was very enjoyable because it allowed me to connect of the Progressive Era I had read about in the textbook to the events in Chicago during the time period. Comparing the timeframe of events in the textbook and events in Chicago also showed me that Chicago was a quite innovative and progressive city, establishing many reforms far before 1900.

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