Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chicago: America's City

Chicago can most certainly be noted as the “American” city that reflects the transformation of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. For example, the construction of its skyscrapers represented the power and wealth that was transforming society during the Gilded Age. The skyscrapers brought a business attribute to Chicago that differed from the industrial setting of the Stock Yards.
Chicago had a substantial immigrant population and this represents a change in the cultural make-up of America that was occurring at the end of the nineteenth century. The typical working-class immigrant lived in tenement housing and the living conditions in this housing were quite dreadful. The lifestyles of the working-class poor greatly differed from those of the upper-middle and wealthy classes. The upper-middle-class and wealthy people had leisure time and represented the two economic classes to consume the most new products resulting from technological advancements of the late 19th century. This divide between the working-poor and wealthy occurred in other big American cities at the close of the nineteenth century also.
To continue, Chicago featured Jane Addams who created the “Hull House” which was a settlement house that she lived in with other female social reformers who wanted to help improve the lives of the immigrant population. This settlement house offered educational classes to immigrants, daycare for immigrant children, and a safe place for immigrants to socialize.
Chicago was home to the “White City” in the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and represented America in this fair. This showcase attracted over 27 million people. They viewed what composed America's value system at the end of the 19th century creatively displayed here. This event depicted American culture of the time period. It depicted what was important to Americans at the close of the 19th century: national unity, material progress, and technological innovation through its displays and exhibits. The Midway portion of the “White City’s” exhibition featured the, “…contrast between ‘manly civilization’ and savagery…” (Gilded Age, 211). A view held by many Americans in 1893 was that the white race was superior to all other races. This view was showcased at Chicago’s 1893 Exposition in its exhibits and was also held as popular thought throughout the country. Ida B. Wells believed that Chicago’s Exposition was, “’literally and figuratively a White City,’…symbolizing ‘not the material progress of America, but a moral regression—the reconciliation of the North and South at the expense of Negroes’” (Gilded Age, 212).
Furthermore, a popular thought of the late 19th century was that the physical environment needed to represent the very best of American character. The skyscraper represented the “power craze” of American character. The “White City” of 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition featured magnificent, opulent structures that beautified Chicago. Beautification of one’s physical environment was held in high regard in other big cities in America at the time also such as New York City. New York City feature “Central Park” which was created to provide a natural, relaxing setting for which New York City’s inhabitants could “escape.”

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