Look Out Chicago!

30 teachers from Colorado are on our way to this historic city, and let’s just hope that Chicago will be the same when we leave.  I fear that both Boston and Philadelphia experienced something that they never expected, especially when a big group of slow-talkin’ Westerners got in their way on the subway! 

I just wanted to wish everyone greetings and good wishes as we plan for the journey not too far away!  See you soon!



"As the lights go out in the city..."
“As the lights go out in the city…”

Gender roles in turn-of-the-20th-Century Chicago were socially well defined.  Not surprisingly, men dominated leadership in politics, economics, religion, and family.  “Good women” were housewives that abided by strict social etiquette and maintained a Godly Christian home, but Chicago was at the threshold of a new era.  Women gained a voice during the Progressive Movement in America and the vice of Chicago gave “good women” a platform on which to stand.  In 1901 Chicago hosted the National Purity Congress.  For three days, ministers, doctors, missionaries, and housewives preached against the sinfulness of the City and advocated “purity in thought, word and deed.”   Lectures given by both men and women on the goodness of the family life and against the vice of the City dominated Chicago (Abbott 66).  However, the City’s underbelly could not be ignored and there, gender roles were not so strictly Christian in nature.  In turn-of-of-the-Century Chicago, gender could bring about power for both men and women especially if one avoided the social rules.

Karen Abbott tells the story of two unlikely entrepreneurs who emerged during the early 20th Century in Chicago, in her work, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul.  Despite the fact that the business owners were not men, they were successful.  The Everleigh Sisters ran the most profitable and notorious house of ill repute in Chicago, the Everleigh club.  The sisters were shunned by men and women alike in upstanding society but interestingly enough, had plenty of business to turn a masterful profit.  The irony in the situation is that the Everleigh sisters ran their business as did many other successful company owners in Chicago during the early 20th Century, with class.  They provided a service with high standards and the majority of their profits came from return business. The Everleigh’s provided their patrons with only the finest, food, surroundings, linens, and service.  Champaign, imported oil paintings, marble inlaid brass beds, and a ballroom fit for a king, fountains, perfume, and incensed air brought men who had everything to the Everleigh Club (Abbott 69).  The women had strong minds for business and knew that money would attract more money.  The sisters were successful in a man’s business world and used those very men for every profit they turned.  In the case of the Everleigh’s, gender was the role and the sisters knew how to use it toward success.

Promiscuity was not gender specific in turn-of-the-20th-Century Chicago.  The Everleigh sisters quoted, “if it weren’t for married men, we wouldn’t have carried on at all, if it weren’t for the cheating married women, we would have earned another million” (Abbott 68).  The Overweighs entertained an array of men from royalty to criminals and everything in between (Abbott 77).   The sisters always encouraged the girls in their establishment to keep highest regards for the men and never leave a black mark on their record, for it would be devastating if a future husband found out that his wife had mistreated a man (Abbott 80).

In a time of change, Chicago was a frontrunner in progressivism.  The Everleigh sisters were not the typical entrepreneurs, but nonetheless, had a booming business and were well-respected among their “colleagues”.  Social roles and gender issues were at the forefront of political debate and women were beginning to spread their wings.  The Everleigh sisters were not unlike many forward thinkers, they just happened to run a business that was not respected.  Argument might be made that it was that same forward thinking that made their business successful that also made institutions like the Hull-House successful, or even the suffrage movement.  There is no question that the platform that the Everleigh’s endeavors created, provided women who did not approve of them with much needed publicity.  They gave women a woman’s issue to debate in public.

The Everleighs were not ignorant to labor concerns either.  They ran their business with the social issues of their gender in mind.  The Everleighs always provided their “girls” with the safest accommodations and provisions available at the time.  They were concerned about the well-being of their employees which was not necessarily the concern of all business owners.

 While gender roles were well understood in turn-of-the-20th-Century Chicago, they were on the doorstep of change.  Women were taking a prominent role in society and men were beginning to see the validation in that role but there was a great deal of work to be done.  The Everleigh’s were not upstanding and respected business owners in Chicago, but they were successful business owners in a male-dominated society.  They were not listed among the elite, but they had the money to compete with the elite.  Despite their field, the sisters were successful women in a time when women did not even have the right to vote for their representatives in government.  They were forward thinkers and they were smart in a time when some believed that women’s abilities were compromised simply because they were women. 

lincoln book

Did Lincoln Own Slaves?, by Gerald J. Prokopowicz was written for the purpose of answering commonly asked questions about the man behind the legend of Abraham Lincoln.  It was intended not to serve as a biographical reference piece, but it certainly does give insight into Lincoln, the man.  The questions posed in the work are nearly as interesting as the answers themselves and the work really does provide food for thought on one of the greatest President’s America has ever known.

Lincoln’s personality was shaped by a multitude of experiences beginning with his childhood.  He only went through one year of formal education and was not always necessarily a gentleman.  When he was younger, it wasn’t his nature to be rude but he didn’t  always deal well socially with people, most likely because he was self-taught and didn’t socialize formally much as a kid (40).  He was a gentle man that didn’t necessarily “fit in” on the frontier.  He once shot a wild turkey and decided from that moment that he would not kill any other creatures (16).  Lincoln was not known for questionable behavior; he liked to laugh, but for the most part kept his jokes clean.  He did not use tobacco and he had no bad habits.  Prokopowicaz describes Lincoln as a nonconformist, but he did not flaunt it, or anything else for that matter (41).

Lincoln is well-known for having quality character traits.  He actually was honest, and probably did walk miles to return money to a customer as legend tells (28).  He had strong beliefs in hard work and was not afraid to get out there and do it.  He was a rail splitter, shopkeeper, and at one time, a postmaster who literally carried his letters around in his hat (29).  He was not a religious person and his character was not shaped by Christian beliefs, but he did believe in God (32).  Lincoln was known for his strong character and honesty and for all intents and purposes, it appears that Lincoln’s character really was what American’s have been taught to believe. 

One question about Lincoln’s life that Prokopowicz associates with character is the question of his sexuality.  The question was posed, “was Lincoln gay?”  The answer was interesting and left for the reader to evaluate, but technically, Lincoln was not gay as the word was not coined until a few years after his death.  There was some question with regard to his relationship with men, he did sleep with men, but during his lifetime, that was not uncommon.   People did not live with the luxuries we enjoy today and sharing a bed was common.  The thing that makes people really wonder is Lincoln’s feminine qualities.  He was not overly masculine and showed feminine qualities about character.  He led an entire Civil War, the bloodiest American losses in the history of the nation, and never one got hot headed or acted in the manner of testosterone laden decision making.  He was careful (and had to be given the time period) to keep his sexual orientation private and of course, he was married.  Maybe his gate was odd and he was not masculine but it didn’t seem to impair his judgment and his legacy certainly has not suffered regardless of this particular possible “character” trait (49).

Lincoln was a good man and remarkably, in the same breath, a good politician.  His honest personality and character shaped the politician in him.  He was a Whig (today a Republican) and led the party with respect of both his party members and his opponents.  He did not go into politics for fame for the sake of fame.  He wanted to be well-known, but he wanted people to know him for his good works.  Lincoln stated, “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition.  Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem” (76).  Lincoln was certainly concerned about his legacy, but no so much what people would say, but what he did to earn those words.

Lincoln was a smart politician.  He was a great public speaker and he held the “right” position politically with regard to slavery in order to win the election over Stephen A. Douglas (104).  His ability to impress the masses though his oratory was essential to his political successes.  He was well loved and respected, but took a great deal of teasing.  The troops under his command revered him as a leader, but had a good time making fun of his odd mannerisms and behaviors.  He was not loved by everyone, but he had the ability to make people listen.   

During his climb to the Presidency, he made allies, but was not held in high regard by all of the members of his party.  By the time he became president, he, like all leaders had his foes, even in the Republican Party.  Lincoln disregarded the issues he had with many of his party members and filled his cabinet with friend and rival members of the Republican Party.  He sought strength and wisdom in his tenure as President and he appointed according to ability, not from a meeting of the “good ol’ boys club” (106).

Lincoln was tall, odd, and very smart.  He was a people person and he knew what he wanted and where he wanted to go.  He was not always successful, but his hard work and diligence took him to the White House.  Today he is one of the most revered President’s in American History.  He is also one of the most talked about.  His legacy was not born on a wing and a prayer; it was built on hard work and deep thought.  Lincoln wanted what was best for the nation and spent his life striving to attain that goal.  Gerald Prokopowicz gives readers a look into the man through questions and leaves the reader searching for more answers.


The fact that Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, is a work of fiction renders it more effective as a work of propaganda.   In his edited version of Sinclair’s work, James Barrett explains the progression of the influence of The Jungle.   The book became immediately popular upon its publication in 1906 and that popularity has continued throughout the decades.  Only six weeks after publication, The Jungle gained both a national an international fame (xii).  The fact that the book was fiction and not a professional journal or government report made it more readable for the masses.  It landed into the hands of the populous as well as the elite and it was the popularity of the book that made it a success, not necessarily the word for word content.             

 Upton Sinclair most certainly had success as a muckraker, but while the public missed his main point, his work changed history nonetheless.  Sinclair explains, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach” (xiii).  It was the popularity of the work that got it into the hands of the public and from there, it emerged, not a novel on the social injustices of Progressive Era labor issues, but the catalyst that pushed the already stalled Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 onto the desk of President Roosevelt (xiii).  America was sickened by the conditions of the plants, treatment of the animals, and absolute filth that was the meatpacking industry.  It is safe to say that had the book not been a readable work that appealed to the masses, it may never have landed on their reading tables in the first place.  The general population does not typically purchase professional journals, where information of this nature normally winds up, they purchase novels.  Upton Sinclair’s work was geared to the perfect market, the public.

Interestingly enough, the story that Sinclair was trying to tell in his novel, never became the focus of the work.  The masses that purchased the book instead focused on the disgusting aspects meat packing industry.  The social unjust of the labor conditions suffered by the characters of his book never saw the intended attention.  Sinclair believed that if citizens understood the facts of the labor issues in industrialized America, they would demand reform (xv).  America did demand reform, but not by rescuing the American worker, they rescued the food supply.  As it turns out, the novel was not successful because it was a novel, it was not successful because it was good journalism, and it was successful because it disgusted people.  How can you hit a bull’s eye, but miss the target?  Sinclair did it.  

One aspect of the book that did set it above the typical novel and really bring to focus injustice was Sinclair’s research.  The fact that he told a fabricated story; based on fact and related to some real characters, made it something that people could put their heads around.  The suffering, disease, and death that Sinclair shares with his audience were real.  Readers related to the characters and felt the grief pouring from the pages.  Audiences were captivated by his work and this made it even more effective as a form of Progressive Era propaganda.  America was becoming confident in their ability to demand reform and Sinclair provided some much needed ammunition.

The fact that Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle, was a novel made it marketable for mass-distribution.  The public, nationally and internationally gave it the attention that it needed to become a concern for public officials.  Upon reading the work, Roosevelt himself directed investigation of the meat packing industry and confirmed the truths of which Sinclair spoke.  Outraged, America took the reigns of the wagon and put it on the road to better conditions.  Sinclair sat back and watched his work change history, but miss altogether the labor issues he was trying to address.  His novel was a success, but not as a novel, nor as his intended muckraking labor propaganda, success, nonetheless. 


James Green’s Death in the Haymarket, opens with a grieving scene, but not the one of death and bloodshed depicted in the Haymarket bombing.  He describes the citizens of the City of Chicago crowded together along the streets.  Blacks, whites, Catholics, German Lutheran’s and German Jews were among those, Green describes, standing together in a united front to mourn the death of the beloved Abraham Lincoln.  Chicago was together, many people from many backgrounds all together for one cause.  Green paints a picture of a May 1st where a city born out of industry was united (16).  In a short few years, this picture of unity dissolved and Green provides the story of a city permanently divided and suspicious of the immigrants once welcomed with open arms and the laborers who literally built Chicago from the ground up.

Green’s Death in the Haymarket offers the history of the City of Chicago that is seeded in injustice and misunderstanding.  Chicago, the forerunner in Gilded Age prosperity laid victim to the plight of the suffering.  America looked to the happenings at in Haymarket Square and the nation was afraid.  The industry that had brought America to the powerful center of production was being challenged by the laborers who made that industry possible and the fear of the outcome was a chilling thought for everyone.  Chicago the once revered leader in industry in the West had become a city others now feared to emulate.

Industrialists like Carnegie and Pullman saw Chicago as opportunity.  Pullman created his company town just 9 miles from the heart of Chicago and provided workers with good paying jobs, new homes, and sanitary conditions (13).  Chicago was a dream for entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age, but there was a sense of concern brewing.  Walt Whitman described it as a dangerous undercurrent in the ocean (38).  Chicago was successful in industry and a leader, unlike other cities of the time, new and full of promise, but that ominous cloud always seeming to linger.

Republicans across the nation were angered when Chicago’s City Hall came under the control of the socialist party (89).  This meant reform.  Chicago’s population grew by 118% during the 1880’s, unlike that of any city, five times faster than New York (93).  The immigrant population was larger than in any other city in America and Chicago was beginning to burst at the seams with impoverished foreign populations.  Social inequities were on the minds of the citizens of Chicago as their plight was evident in every corner of the city.  Progressivism was taking a hold in Chicago like no other city had witnessed and people were interested in spreading some of the wealth that was being built by Gilded Age industrialism.  The political machine was being tampered with and the Republicans were not happy.

The Haymarket Square trials themselves put Chicago in the limelight of American attention.  Aside from the trial of John Wilkes Booth, not other trial was as covered as Haymarket.  The nation was watching as Chicago “tried” the defendants.  The trials were corrupt, the juries were stacked, and the testimony was rigged and it all happened in front of America.  America was ready to see someone hang and that they did (229).  Later in history the corruption was revealed, but too late for those who perished at the hand of a hangman.

Chicago was no typical American city.  The growth that came about so quickly challenged its moral fiber.  Issues like immigration, racism, labor discontent, children, and women pushed reform into new territory.  The labor issue at Haymarket brought about even more unrest, questioned the justice system, and turned lynching into a thing of the past.  Haymarket changed Chicago like no American city has been changed.  Haymarket brought to the forefront the mistreatment of people in society like no one had witnessed before.  It made Chicago and the rest of the nation take a good hard look at “liberty and justice for all” and what that really meant.  Chicago grew by leaps and bounds and the social reform of the Progressive Era put Chicago on the map as a city of muckrakers and propagandists.  Ready or not, Chicago had to face its daemons, something that other cities hoped to hide a little longer.