Faith in the City: Religion and Urban Life in Chicago, 1870-1920

Christopher D. Cantwell and Daniel Greene

In 1870, three-quarters of the United States lived in rural areas; by 1920, over half the nation lived in cities. How, if at all, did religious communities change their inherited traditions in the midst of new surroundings?

Introduction

In the fifty years between the Civil War and World War I, the United States experienced a dramatic transformation. In 1870, three-quarters of the population lived in rural areas; by 1920, over half the nation lived in cities. This rapid urbanization was fueled by European immigration and the migration of rural, native-born residents who flocked to cities to work in factories. As a result, cities across the country exploded in size. Chicago’s population, for example, ballooned from just under 300,000 in 1870 to over 2.7 million in 1920. This demographic explosion brought with it a remarkable religious diversity. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews lived together in close proximity few had experienced before. Moreover, the rapid arrival of newcomers from across the globe brought new kinds of diversity to religious communities themselves. Irish Catholics, for example, not only had to learn how to coexist with European Jews and white and black Protestants from the American South and Midwest, but also with other Catholics from Italy, Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere.

Chicago’s religious diversity posed a number of challenges. Migrants and newcomers had to consider how, if at all, their religious traditions, customs, and institutions would follow them to the city. Religious leaders and ordinary people alike worried that certain practices or communities could not survive the city’s industrial rhythms and myriad distractions. How, for example, would Sabbath observance persist in cities where business and recreation occurred seven days a week? How would churches, synagogues, and parishes thrive in new urban spaces like the vice district, immigrant ghetto, or industrial slum? How, in short, would religious communities change their inherited traditions in the midst of new surroundings?

At the moment of the city’s ascendance in American life, many observers and religious leaders claimed that urban living would destroy religious life. Some early scholars of American religious history would largely agree that cities were secular spaces that contributed to religion’s decline. More recently, however, using sources like the documents collected here, scholars have argued that the city was a space of religious innovation, rather than decay. Many of Chicago’s religious communities creatively engaged the challenges presented by urban life. Some altered or adapted existing rituals; others reaffirmed traditional beliefs in new or more fervent ways; and some generated entirely new religious ideas and practices. All, however, found ample space within the city to fashion their religious lives.

Please consider the following questions as you review documents:

  • What religious ritual, practice, or belief does each document discuss? What roles do family cohesion, ethnic identity, and social morality play in these practices? How does living in the city challenge these rituals?

  • How do the individuals and communities here negotiate the tensions between their religious practices and urban lives? Do they alter their traditions? Refuse to accommodate? Or do they invent new practices? What reasons do the authors here give for their decisions?

  • In addition to the religious motivations behind these decisions, what role do social and economic considerations play? According to the authors, in what ways do religious practices promote or hinder economic advancement and social mobility?

  • What are the relationships between religious communities and different kinds of urban space? What role does religious affiliation play in the shaping of neighborhoods or other forms of community? How does the existence of nonresidential spaces like Chicago’s downtown “Loop,” vice districts, or factory sites influence these writers?

  • How do the experiences of the different religious communities covered here compare? How are their engagements with the challenges of urban life similar? Where are they unique? How, for example, does the debate among Chicago’s Jews over the Sabbath compare with Protestant concerns over evangelization? What accounts for these similarities and differences?

Brick and Mortar: Catholicism in Chicago

Catholics have long had an imprint upon Chicago’s history. The area’s first non-Native American resident was an Afro-French fur trader named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable who settled on the Chicago River in the 1790s. Catholics have also been Chicago’s largest religious community throughout much of the city’s history. Immigrants from Ireland and Germany comprised the city’s first Catholic community, establishing twenty-two “territorial” parishes in the thirty years after the Archdiocese of Chicago’s creation in 1843. These territorial parishes were open to all Catholics within a defined geographic area and thrived during Chicago’s early years. The rapid arrival of immigrants from Italy, Poland, and other parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, however, radically transformed Chicago’s Catholic communities. Finding work and preserving ethnic heritage were the most pressing concerns for these largely unskilled newcomers. Many preferred to worship and associate with their ethnic brethren. The Archdiocese responded by reluctantly allowing the formation of “national” parishes where membership was based upon one’s country of origin and not current residential location.

The documents here provide a glimpse into Chicago’s parish life at the turn of the century. Holy Family is the city’s second oldest Catholic Church, organized as a territorial parish in 1857 on Chicago’s near West Side. St. Boniface parish, on the other hand, was from its founding in 1862 a church for German immigrants staffed by German priests. The Daprato map, published by the Archdioceses to celebrate its hosting of the 1926 International Eucharistic Congress, continues to underscore the ethnic nature of Catholicism in Chicago. Meanwhile, the address by Cardinal George Mundelein (1872–1939), Archbishop of Chicago from 1915 through 1939, reveals some of the tensions that existed between old immigrants who ran Chicago’s Archdiocese and the new immigrants who filled the churches. An American-born son of German immigrants, Mundelein argued that parishes should be places where immigrants adopt their new identities as American, not reaffirm their foreignness. Throughout his tenure as Archbishop of Chicago, Mundelein would lead a campaign to return to territorial parishes over national ones. His efforts had decidedly mixed results.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the relationship between parish life and the preservation of ethnic culture?

  • On the Daprato map, how do ethnicity, community, and religiosity overlap?

  • Describe the activities and objectives of the sodalities, or devotional societies, described in Holy Family and St. Boniface’s parish histories. What are their religious purposes? What are their social roles? How do the men and women’s sodalities differ?

  • According to Mundelein, what is the parish school’s role in American Catholic life?

  • What role does economic advancement and social mobility play in the functioning of the parish school and sodality?

Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People

Thomas Mulkerins. 1923.

Image of Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People

“Sodalities” are voluntary devotional organizations of local Catholic churches often organized by age or sex. But in the rapidly urbanizing late-nineteenth century, these religious organizations also took on important social roles.

Image of Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People
Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People
Short Title Holy Family Parish, Chicago, 1923
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher Universal Press
Creator Thomas Mulkerins
Publication Date 1923
Number of Pages pp. 547–549, 608
Call Number Case BX4603.C5 H635
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

“Young Men's Sodality Baseball Club, 1910 Champions”

Thomas Mulkerins. From Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People, 1923.

Image of Young Men's Sodality Baseball Club, 1910 Champions

“Sodalities” are voluntary devotional organizations of local Catholic churches often organized by age or sex. But in the rapidly urbanizing late-nineteenth century, these religious organizations also took on important social roles.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Young Men's Sodality Baseball Club, 1910 Champions
Publication Title Holy Family Pairsh, Chicago: Priests and People
Short Title Young Men's Sodality Baseball Club, 1910
Book Title Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher Universal Press
Creator Thomas Mulkerins
Publication Date 1923
Pages pp. 608
Call Number Case BX4603.C5 H635
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926

F. L. Kalveage. 1926.

Image of The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926

“Sodalities” are voluntary devotional organizations of local Catholic churches often organized by age or sex. But in the rapidly urbanizing late-nineteenth century, these religious organizations also took on important social roles.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926
Short Title St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926
Creator F. L. Kalveage
Publication Date 1926
Number of Pages pp. 205-206
Call Number oBX 4603.C5 S2954
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Young Ladies' Society, June 27th, 1897”

F. L. Kalveage. From The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926, 1926.

Image of Young Ladies' Society, June 27th, 1897

“Sodalities” are voluntary devotional organizations of local Catholic churches often organized by age or sex. But in the rapidly urbanizing late-nineteenth century, these religious organizations also took on important social roles.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Young Ladies' Society, June 27th, 1897
Publication Title The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926
Short Title Young Ladies' Society, 1897
Book Title The Annals of St. Boniface Parish, 1862–1926
Creator F. L. Kalveage
Publication Date 1926
Pages p. 206
Call Number oBX 4603.C5 S2954
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

Daprato Map of Chicago Showing the Location of all Catholic Parishes

1926.

Image of Daprato Map of Chicago Showing the Location of all Catholic Parishes

In 1926, Chicago hosted an international celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Here, a comemorative map shows the location and ethnic composition of every Catholic church in Chicago.

1 Cathedral of the Holy Name N. State and Superior 2 St. Adalbert’s Polish W. 17th and Paulina 3 St. Agatha Douglas and Kedzie 4 St. Agnes Washtenaw and 39th 5 St. Agnes Bohemian 2651 S Central Park 7 All Saints 25th Pl and Wallace 9 St. Alyosius German N Claremont and LeMoyne 10 St. Alphonsus German Southport and Wellington 11 St. Ambrose E 47th and Ellis 13A St. Ann Polish NW cor S Leavitt and 18th 14 St. Anne Cor. Garfield and Wentworth 15 Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Paulina and Wabansia 16 St. Anselm 6045 Michigan 17 St. Anthony of Padua German Wallace and 28th 19 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Italian, English W Illinois near Orleans 20 Assumption Croatian 6001 S Marshfield 22 Assumption Slovak California and Marshall 23 St. Augustine German Laflin and 51st 24 St. Barbara Throop near 29th 26 St. Basil 1747 Garfield 29 Blessed Sacrament 22nd and Central Park 30 St. Bonaventure Diversey and Marshfield 31 St. Boniface German Noble and Cornell 34 St. Bridget Archer and Church 34A St. Bruno’s 4746 Kominsky 35 San Callisto Italian Polk and DeKalb 37 St. Casimir Polish W 22nd and Whipple 40 St. Cecilia 45th and Wells 41 St. Charles Borromeo W 12th and Cypress 43 St. Clare of Montefalco 55th and Talman 44 St. Clement German, English 642 Deming 47 St. Columbkille N Paulina and Grand 49 Corpus Christi Grand and 49th 51 Sts. Cyril and Methodious Bohemian 50th and S Hermitage 53 St. David 32nd and Union 54 St. Dominic 357 Locust 57 St. Elizabeth 41st and Wabash 58 St. Ephrem Chaldean Rite 1415 N Park 59 Epiphany 2510 S Keeler 61 St. Finbarr 1359 S Harding 62 Five Holy Martyrs SE cor. 43rd and S Richmond 64 St. Francis of Assisium German W 12th and Newberry 68 St. Francis Xavier German 2840 Warshaw 69 St. Gabriel 45th and Sherman 70 St. Gall 55th and Millard 72 St. George German Wentworth near 39th 73 St. George Lithuanian 3230 S Auburn 78 St. Hedwig Polish Webster and Hoyne 79 St. Helen Polish 2315 W Augusta 81 Holy Angels 607 Oakwood 83 Holy Cross Lithuanian 65th and Maryland 84 Holy Family 1085 W Roosevelt 85 Holy Guardian Angel Italian 717 Forquer 87 Holy Innocents Polish 743 Armour 90 Holy Rosary Italian 612 N Western 91 Holy Trinity German S Lincoln and W Taylor 92 Holy Trinity Polish 1118 Noble 93 Holy Trinity Croatian 1850 S Throop 94 St. Hyacinth Polish 3651 W George 96 Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary N Park near Schiller 97 Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary German Bonfield and 31st 100 Immaculate Conception Lithuanian 4400 Fairfield 103 St. James Wabash and 29th 105 St. Jarlath Hermitage and W Jackson 107 St. Jerome Croatian 2823 Princeton 109 St. John the Baptist French, English 50th and Peoria 110 St. John the Baptist Syrian 1249 S Washtenaw 112 St. John Berchmans German 2517 Logan 113 St. John Cantius Polish Carpenter and Chicago 114 St. John’s Basilica 18th and S Clark 115 St. John Nepomucene Bohemian 2953 Lowe 116 St. John of God Throop and W 52nd 117 St. Josaphat Polish Belden and Southport 118 St. Joseph French California and 38th 119 St. Joseph German Orleans and Hill 120 St. Joseph Polish 48th and Paulina 122 St. Joseph Slovak 720 W 17th 131 St. Ludmila Bohemian 24th and Albany 132 St. Malachy Walnut and Western 134 Sancta Maria Addolorata Italian Grand and Peoria 135 Sancta Maria Incoronata Italian 218 Alexander 136 St. Mark Campbell and Thomas 137 St. Martin German 59th and Princeton 138 St. Mary Wabash and 9th 141 St. Mary of Perpetual Help Polish 32nd between Morgan, Mosspratt 142 St. Mary of the Angels Polish N Hermitage and Bloomingdale 145 Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Monticello and North 146 St. Matthew Walnut and Albany 148 St. Mauritius German 36th and S Hoyne 150 St. Michael German Cleveland and Eugenia 151 St. Michael Archangel Slovak 4821 S Racine 152 St. Michael Archangel Italian 2325 W 24th 154 St. Michael Lithuanian Wabansia and Paulina 158 Nativity of Our Lord 37th and Union 159 Notre Dame de Chicago French Oregon and Sibley 160 Our Lady of the Angels N Hamlin and Iowa 161 Our Lady of Good Counsel Hermitage and 35th 162 Our Lady of Good Counsel Bohemian 916 N Western 163 Our Lady of Grace Hamlin and Fullerton 167 Our Lady of Lourdes Bohemian S Keeler and W 15th 171 Our Lady of Perpetual Help German St. Louis and W 13th 172 Our Lady of Pompeii Italian 1224 McAllister 173 Our Lady of Solace 62nd and Sangamon 174 Our Lady of Sorrows Jackson and Albany 176 Our Lady of Vilna Lithuanian 2327 W 23rd 176A St. Pancratius 4037 S Sacramento 178 St. Patrick Adams and Desplaines 180 St. Paul German Hoyne and W 22nd 181 St. Peter German Clark and Polk 183 Sts. Peter and Paul Polish 37th and Ashland 185 St. Philip Benizi Italian Oak and Cambridge 187 St. Philomena German Cortland and N Kedvale 188 St. Pius Ashland and W 19th 189 Precious Blood Western and W Congress 190 Presentation Springfield and Lexington 191 St. Procopius Bohemian 18th and Alport 192 Providence of God Lithuanian 717 W 18th 194 St. Raphael German 60th and Justine 197 St. Rose of Lima Ashland and 48th 199 Sacred Heart 19th and Peoria 201 Sacred Heart Polish 4600 S Honore 203 Sacred Heart Slovak 2248 W Huron 206 St. Sebastian Wellington and Blucher 207 St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Noble and Ingraham 209 St. Stephen W Ohio and Sangamon 210 St. Stephen Slovenian W 22nd and Lincoln 211 St. Sylvester Humboldt and Palmer 212 St. Teresa German Cor. Center and Osgood 214 St. Thomas Apostle 55th and Kimbark 220 St. Vincent De Paul Webster and Sheffield 221 Visitation Garfield and Peoria 222 St. Vitus Bohemian Paulina and W 18th 223 St. Wenceslaus Polish DeKoven and Desplaines 278 not listed in directory

Image of Daprato Map of Chicago Showing the Location of all Catholic Parishes

Daprato Map, Detail

Metadata Details
Item Type Map
Title Daprato Map of Chicago Showing the Location of all Catholic Parishes
Short Title Location of all Catholic Parishes, 1926
Publication Date 1926
Call Number Map6F G4104.C6E423 1926 .D3
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

“Address at the Dedication of the New School at St. Edmund's Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, October 17th, 1917”

George Mundelein. From Two Crowded Years: Being Selected Addresses, Pastorals, and Letters Issued During the First Twenty-Four Months of the Episcopate of the Most Rev. George William Mundelein, D.D., as Archbishop of Chicago., 1917.

Image of Address at the Dedication of the New School at St. Edmund's Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, October 17th, 1917

Cardinal George Mundelein was one the most active bishops in the history of the Archdiocese of Chicago, overseeing the church’s rapid expansion. His address here on the opening of a new parish school.

Image of Address at the Dedication of the New School at St. Edmund's Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, October 17th, 1917
Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Address at the Dedication of the New School at St. Edmund's Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, October 17th, 1917
Short Title Dedication of the New School, 1917
Book Title Two Crowded Years: Being Selected Addresses, Pastorals, and Letters Issued During the First Twenty-Four Months of the Episcopate of the Most Rev. George William Mundelein, D.D., as Archbishop of Chicago.
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher Extension Press
Creator George Mundelein
Publication Date 1917
Pages pp. 72-74
Call Number D 409.603
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

Return to Top

A Chosen People in a Strange Land: Chicago's Jewish Communities

Jewish immigrants from German lands established an institutional presence in Chicago during the 1840s. It was the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1924, however, that transformed the Jewish population of Chicago. By the early 1930s, Chicago had the third largest Jewish population of any city in the world, trailing only New York and Warsaw. Questions surrounding Jews’ acculturation to the rapidly growing city preoccupied Jewish communities. These three sources—a sermon by a rabbi, a memoir by a Jewish immigrant, and woodcut illustrations by an immigrant published in an important sociological analysis of Jewish Chicago—speak to a range of concerns about how Jewish traditions and customs might endure amid pressures to assimilate. In particular, the fact that the Jewish Sabbath (beginning Friday at sundown and ending Saturday at sundown) does not coincide with the more widely recognized Christian Sabbath on Sunday caused particular stresses to Jews both as individuals and as communities. The issues that arose around conflicting Sabbaths were not only religious in nature but also social and economic.

Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch (1852–1923) led Chicago’s Sinai Congregation (Reform) from 1880 through 1923. A national figure because of his particularly dynamic pulpit orations, Hirsch put Sinai at the cutting edge of Reform Judaism and argued that rituals and practices had to adapt to fit modern circumstances. Indeed, Sinai’s policies on observing the Sabbath were seen as radical even within Reform Jewish circles. Hilda Satt Polachek (1882–1967) emigrated from Poland to Chicago in 1892. She took classes at Hull-House as a child and maintained an association there as an adult, teaching classes and giving tours. She remained active in social reform causes throughout her life and published poetry, plays, essays, and this memoir I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl. Todros Geller (1899–1949) emigrated from Ukraine to Canada in 1906. By 1918, he had settled in Chicago as an artist. His popular portfolio of woodcuts, titled Yiddish Life, appeared first in 1926 and were included in University of Chicago sociologist Louis Wirth’s influential 1928 book, The Ghetto. His work provides a glimpse into the world of Orthodox Jews, who were generally less willing to alter their ritual practices.

Questions to consider:

  • How does Rabbi Hirsch reconcile the fact that “the Sabbath idea is cardinal to Judaism” with his desire to adapt Sabbath practices?

  • Rabbi Hirsch often mentions Jews’ “mission” in this sermon. What did he want his audience to understand about Jews’ mission? How does this concept of mission illuminate Hirsch’s thoughts about religious pluralism in America? (It may help to know that Jews traditionally do not believe in proselytizing.)

  • How do labor and religious practice become intertwined in Jewish immigrants’ lives, according to Polachek? Would Rabbi Hirsch and Polachek’s father agree on the limits of Jewish assimilation?

  • How do Geller’s woodcuts depict Jewish individuals and Jewish communities? What information do these woodcuts convey about labor, commerce, and religion in modern urban cities?

“Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch”

Emil G. Hirsch. From Report of the Services in Commemoration of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversaryof the Introduction of Sunday Services in Chicago Sinai Congregation January 15, 1899, 1899.

Image of Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch

Rabbi Emil D. Hirsch lead Chicago’s Sinai Congregation throughout much of his career. Under his leadership, the synagogue became a bastion of Reform Judaism, which aimed to adapt Jewish life to American Culture.

Image of Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch
Image of Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch
Image of Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch
Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch
Publication Title Report of the Services in Commemoration of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversaryof the Introduction of Sunday Services in Chicago Sinai Congregation January 15, 1899
Short Title Address by Dr. E. G. Hirsch, Minister, 1899
Book Title Report of the Services in Commemoration of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversaryof the Introduction of Sunday Services in Chicago Sinai Congregation January 15, 1899
Creator Emil G. Hirsch
Publication Date 1899
Pages pp. 9-14
Call Number F 6187. 45
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Talmudic Student”

Todros Geller, Louis Wirth. From The Ghetto, 1928.

Image of Talmudic Student

The Talmud is a sacred text of Jewish law often studied by young men going into the priesthood. Here, Todros Geller depicts an Orthodox Talmudic student, as seen in his unshaven side curls.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Talmudic Student
Publication Title The Ghetto
Short Title Talmudic Student, 1928
Book Title The Ghetto
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Creator Todros Geller, Louis Wirth
Publication Date 1928
Pages p. 28
Call Number F 616 .978
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Street Musicians”

Todros Geller, Louis Wirth. From The Ghetto, 1928.

Image of Street Musicians

Louis Wirth’s sociological analysis of Chicago’s Jewish community considered nearly every aspect of its culture. Here, Todros Geller depicts the street musicians on Maxwell Street, where many Jewish immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe settled.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Street Musicians
Publication Title The Ghetto
Short Title Street Musicians, 1928
Book Title The Ghetto
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Creator Todros Geller, Louis Wirth
Publication Date 1928
Pages p. 153
Call Number F 616 .978
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Maxwell Street”

Todros Geller, Louis Wirth. From The Ghetto, 1928.

Image of Maxwell Street

Maxwell Street was the center of Chicago’s Jewish community. Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe fleeing oppression settled in tne surrounding neighorhood and attempted to recreate their former villages in the new city.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Maxwell Street
Publication Title The Ghetto
Short Title Maxwell Street, 1928
Book Title The Ghetto
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Creator Todros Geller, Louis Wirth
Publication Date 1928
Pages p. 194
Call Number F 616 .978
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Horseradish Grinder”

Todros Geller, Louis Wirth. From The Ghetto, 1928.

Image of Horseradish Grinder

Louis Wirth’s sociological analysis of Chicago’s Jewish community considered nearly every aspect of its culture. Here, Todros Geller depicts a horseradish grinder in the open air market of Maxwell Street.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Horseradish Grinder
Publication Title The Ghetto
Short Title Horseradish Grinder, 1928
Book Title The Ghetto
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Creator Todros Geller, Louis Wirth
Publication Date 1928
Pages p. 262
Call Number F 616 .978
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl

Hilda Satt Polachek. 1989.

Image of I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl

Hilda Satt Polachek (1882–1967) emigrated from Poland to Chicago in 1892. She took classes at Hull-House as a child and maintained an association there as an adult, teaching classes and giving tours.

Image of I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl
Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl
Short Title The Story of a Hull-House Girl, 1989
Place of Publication Urbana and Chicago
Publisher University of Illinois Press
Creator Hilda Satt Polachek
Publication Date 1989
Number of Pages pp. 35-37
Call Number F 548.9.J5 P65 1989
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

Return to Top

To Save the City: Protestant Responses to Urbanization

At the turn of the twentieth century, the majority of Chicago’s Protestants were broadly evangelical in nature. With the exception of Lutherans who hailed from Germany and Scandinavia, most were white, native-born migrants from New England and the Midwest. Their religious beliefs were forged in the revivals of First and Second Great Awakenings. Despite their denominational differences, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist churches alike all agreed upon certain essential doctrines such as a belief in the Bible’s divine origins. Paramount, however, was a belief that it was the duty of every Protestant Christian to evangelize, or proselytize, nonbelievers to their faith. Through church activity and mission work, evangelical Protestants hoped that the Gospel message, or the story of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, would convert the world.

Chicago’s demographic, cultural, and religious transformation at the turn of the century posed a number of challenges to this evangelical mission. The city’s ethnic diversity made communication, much less evangelization, difficult for native-born Protestant ministers. Even more challenging were the social conditions in some parts of the city. Some ministers argued that the overcrowded, industrial neighborhoods where many immigrants lived were not conducive to the establishment of Protestant churches. Others found the concentration of saloons and brothels in vice districts such as the city’s notorious “Levee” an affront to Protestant moral standards.

The documents here represent two differing responses to the difficulties of urban evangelization. Real estate speculator and Civil War veteran George Clarke (1827–1892) founded the Pacific Garden Mission with his wife Sarah in 1877 in an attempt to convert the visitors of Chicago’s Levee district. The Mission’s name was derived from the saloon where it was first located, the Pacific Beer Garden, and reflected Clarke’s desire to take over the Levee for Jesus. In contrast, Chicago Theological Seminary professor Graham Taylor (1851–1938) took a different approach. Taylor was at the forefront of the Social Gospel movement, which sought to address not only people’s spiritual but also their material conditions. A friend and admirer of Jane Addams and Hull House, Taylor founded the Chicago Commons settlement house in 1894 as an extension of his mission work.

Questions to Consider

  • What are Clarke’s opinions about Chicago’s social life? Is Chicago a fundamentally religious place? If not, what are the sources of the city’s spiritual depravity? What potential solutions to Chicago’s supposedly “sinful” condition does Clarke see?

  • Clarke claims that the Pacific Garden Mission has provided a blueprint for reaching Chicago’s unchurched “masses.” What are the Pacific Garden Mission’s primary activities that, as he says, bring the lost “under the sound of the Gospel”?

  • Based on the Chicago Common’s October 1916 monthly report, what are its main activities? What do these activities convey about Taylor’s understanding of Chicago’s social and religious challenges? What do the documents from the Commons reveal about Taylor’s proposed solutions?

  • Compare and contrast the photograph of the Pacific Garden Mission’s interior with the pamphlet announcing the Chicago Commons’ new structure. What do the differences in these two physical spaces say about the organizations’ different approaches to Chicago’s religious challenges?

Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895

Pacific Garden Mission. 1895.

Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895

Founded in 1877 in Chicago’s notorious “Levee,” the Pacific Garden Mission intended to convert the red-light district’s visitors to evangelical Christianity. Their annual reports chronicled the Mission’s evangelization efforts.

Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Image of Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Report of the Work of the Eighteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1895
Short Title Pacific Garden Mission Report, 1895
Place of Publication Chicago
Publisher Wm. H. Dietz
Creator Pacific Garden Mission
Publication Date 1895
Number of Pages pp. 2–4, 11–12
Call Number D8896.16
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“God is Love”

Pacific Garden Mission. From Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896, 1896.

Image of God is Love

Founded in 1877 in Chicago’s notorious “Levee,” the Pacific Garden Mission intended to convert the red-light district’s visitors to evangelical Christianity. Pictured is the interior of the mission during a service.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title God is Love
Publication Title Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896
Short Title God is Love, 1896
Book Title Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896
Creator Pacific Garden Mission
Publication Date 1896
Pages pp. 12-13
Call Number D8896.16
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“The Gospel Wagon”

Pacific Garden Mission. From Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896, 1896.

Image of The Gospel Wagon

Founded in 1877 in Chicago’s notorious “Levee,” the Pacific Garden Mission intended to convert the red-light district’s visitors to evangelical Christianity. Pictured is the interior of the mission during a service. Pictured is a Gospel Wagon the Mission

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title The Gospel Wagon
Publication Title Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896
Short Title The Gospel Wagon, 1896
Book Title Report of the Work of the Nineteenth Year of the Pacific Garden Mission Ending September 15th, 1896
Creator Pacific Garden Mission
Publication Date 1896
Pages p. 23
Call Number D8896.16
Location General Collections 2nd Floor

“Healthier Workrooms! Clean Streets! Open Schools! Better Factories!”

Chicago Commons. 1901.

Image of Healthier Workrooms! Clean Streets! Open Schools! Better Factories!

As a settlement house, the Chicago Commons focused on alleviating the living conditions of the neighborhood it served. This flyer suggest the kinds of activities the Commons took on.

Metadata Details
Item Type Document
Title Healthier Workrooms! Clean Streets! Open Schools! Better Factories!
Short Title Healthier Workrooms! Clean Streets! 1901
Creator Chicago Commons
Publication Date 1901
Call Number Graham Taylor Papers, MS Midwest Manuscript Taylor, box 55, folder 2410
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

Chicago Commons New Building

Chicago Commons. Circa 1901.

Image of Chicago Commons New Building

The Chicago Commons built an large structure to house its expansive social services. This fundraising pamphlet suggests the building’s many uses.

Image of Chicago Commons New Building
Image of Chicago Commons New Building
Image of Chicago Commons New Building
Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Chicago Commons New Building
Short Title Chicago Commons New Building, 1901
Creator Chicago Commons
Publication Date Circa 1901
Call Number Graham Taylor Papers, MS Midwest Manuscript Taylor, box 55, folder 2409
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

“Report for October 1916”

1916.

Image of Report for October 1916

Located in a poor neighbood on Chicago’s West Side, the Chicago Commons was a settlement house that focused on helping the city’s poor. This monthly report details the Commons' activities.

Image of Report for October 1916
Image of Report for October 1916
Image of Report for October 1916
Metadata Details
Item Type Document
Title Report for October 1916
Short Title Mission Activities Report, October 1916
Publication Date 1916
Call Number Graham Taylor Papers, MS Midwest Manuscript Taylor, box 52, folder 2350
Location Special Collections 4th Floor

Return to Top

This Digital Collection was generously funded by Bridging Cultures Community College Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here, however, do not necessarily reflect those of the NEH.

This collection was last updated