Thursday, November 3, 2011

CHICAGO! the Model American City

Chicago reflected the transformations that mutated the American cities during the Guilded Age. In Chicago, like in many other US cities, a noticeable trend in crime and corruption was observed, Mr. Larson points out, "vice thrived, with official indulgence...outside their windows, the devil was still capering in a flare of brimstone "(11). The industrial hustle and bustle, signature of the late 1800's, was also omnipresent in Chicago. The transformed role of women made Chicago representative of the national trend for train loads of young women, to be set loose on the city stage, unsupervised and to "work under alien roofs"(11), to come trundling in daily.
The city of Chicago reflected all the major transformations happening in the US during the late 19th Century. One such transformation was the dreadful increase in crime, aided by the huge influx of inhabitants. As Larson remarked upon the hectic nature of the city, "it was easy to disappear..."(12). The intense increase in crime, similar to the national recorded increase in crime, was met with insufficient sources of authoritative man power. And with no prior experiences from which a suitable plan of action could be devised to attack and manage the crime problem, solutions were hard to come by. People were under threat living in the city (a threat shared by all people living in cities in the US during this time), and the police simply did not have the means to handle the problems. Fire and disease also added to the chaos that engulfed city life, not exclusive to Chicago. As disease, fire, and crime spread, immorality was bread and tainted the lens through which all people approached America's big cities.
The industrial boom, signature of the largest US cities, erupted in Chicago, bringing hordes of youthful hopefuls, searching for independence, and an improved way of life. Chicago was the host of 29 daily newspaper companies, and the population had just toppled over the one million mark (13). Chicago was home to bright yellow streetcars, skyscrapers (all the rage in the US in the late 1800's), crowds of people (men and women) going to and from work, in a visibility of only a few blocks (due to the overhanging cloud of smoke from the fires, furnaces, fireplaces, industrial factories etc).
Another way Chicago represented the transformations emblematic of the 19th Century, was in how the role of women was seen to be much changed. Thousands of single, inexperienced women stepped off of a train and landed in Chicago, determined to pave their way, for the first time without protection or and escort, in the new version of the American civilization. Women were being hired for jobs as weavers and seamstresses, but also as stenographers and typists. Women's new, independent role, freed them and allowed them to become, to some degree, the masters of their own fate.
All in all, Chicago was a perfect example of the "American" city, especially during the late 1800's.

Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. New York: Vintage, 2003. Print.

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