Building the South Side: Urban Space and Civic Culture in Chicago, 1890-1919 available in Paperback
- Pub. Date:
- University of Chicago Press
Building the South Side explores the struggle for influence that dominated the planning and development of Chicago's South Side during the Progressive Era. Robin F. Bachin examines the early days of the University of Chicago, Chicago’s public parks, Comiskey Park, and the Black Belt to consider how community leaders looked to the physical design of the city to shape its culture and promote civic interaction.
Bachin highlights how the creation of a local terrain of civic culture was a contested process, with the battle for cultural authority transforming urban politics and blurring the line between private and public space. In the process, universities, parks and playgrounds, and commercial entertainment districts emerged as alternative arenas of civic engagement.
“Bachin incisively charts the development of key urban institutions and landscapes that helped constitute the messy vitality of Chicago’s late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century public realm.”—Daniel Bluestone, Journal of American History
"This is an ambitious book filled with important insights about issues of public space and its use by urban residents. . . . It is thoughtful, very well written, and should be read and appreciated by anyone interested in Chicago or cities generally. It is also a gentle reminder that people are as important as structures and spaces in trying to understand urban development."
—Maureen A. Flanagan, American Historical Review
About the Author
Robin F. Bachin is the Charlton W. Tebeau Associate Professor of History at the University of Miami.
Read an Excerpt
Building the South Side: Urban Space and Civic Culture in Chicago, 1890-1919
By Robin Faith Bachin
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2004 Robin Faith Bachin
All right reserved.
1 - A New Order Of Things
Planning and Building the University of Chicago
IN AN 1895 ARTICLE, writer and University of Chicago English professor Robert Herrick spoke of the momentous development of the university in its few short years of existence. "The university has done more than grow," he wrote, "it has sprung into existence full-armed." He recounted its physical growth as well as the architectural design that gave the school its cohesive presence. Yet the most significant feature of the school's expansion, according to Herrick, was its emerging relationship with surrounding civic, educational, and cultural institutions in Chicago. The university was a "complex organism" that reached out to other institutions and brought them within its grasp.
For Herrick, the modern research university and its new system of affiliation with outside institutions represented the "democratic spirit" of the University of Chicago. The school forced exposure to a larger matrix of people and ideas, providing students with a wide range of associations and becoming a dominant presence in the civic life of the city. The new university was like the city of Chicago itself, according to Herrick, for it represented the hope that the West held for the nation. In contrast to eastern institutions like Harvard, "We look to a new order of things in learning, as in national and social life. In that new life, one fancies, the dominating forces will be traditionless.... Our new student will be contemptuous of mere culture, of anything that derives its respect from the past alone; he will despise forms and ceremonies, but he will be powerful in life."
Herrick's celebration of the vast possibilities for learning afforded students of this modern university highlights the University of Chicago's role in forging new ideas about student culture, "scientific" expertise, and the relation between knowledge and social action. Herrick captured the emerging faith in scientific investigation as a means of social action that was embodied in the ideas of those who would become leading University of Chicago scholars, especially pragmatist philosophers John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. The Chicago pragmatists offered theories of truth grounded in human interaction and lived experience, with the scientific study of social behavior shaping public life and political authority. The result of this new approach to learning, according to them, would be nothing less than the reformulation of American democracy, with a knowledgeable citizenry coming together to shape public policy and create a civic culture defined by active individual participation in community life.
Yet even before the official opening of the University of Chicago there were apparent tensions between its expressed ideals and their application. The goal of Chicago-area Baptists to create a college designed to offer a firm theological and classical education seemed at odds with the desire among some promoters to establish a university devoted to modern empirical investigation and scientific research. The founders, along with university president William Rainey Harper, attempted to mitigate this tension by suggesting that locating the university in a city like Chicago made it possible to jointly serve both goals: tending to the moral and theological needs of urban residents and using the city as a laboratory, with students applying the methods of scientific research to better understand the processes fostering social order and civic cohesion. At the same time that administrators supported this uneasy alliance between religion and science, they also created an institution that centralized all aspects of education. The university became what Robert Herrick called "a college trust," reaching out to local educational institutions and then swallowing them up. The university's relationship with the city developed as one based on control rather than collaboration, consolidation rather than cooperation.
The metaphor of the trust is significant because the university was indebted to several wealthy industrialists both within Chicago and outside. Its financing, and the real estate practices that grew out of it, made the university into a central player in shaping land-use decisions, real estate valuation, and spatial segregation in the city. These processes increasingly insulated the university from the city around it.
The planning, design, and building of the University of Chicago exemplified these practices and reflected the university's vision of its role in the city, for the school's prescribed function was reflected in the physical space it occupied. The built environment of the university suggested an institution that was insular, detached, and exclusive. The design of the campus exuded this aloof image not only through its spatial configuration but also through its vision of time. The University of Chicago represented a space where time stood still, shielded from the rapid change and expansion of a growing city by the walls of Gothic towers, a place where members were transported back to a place and time that symbolized stability and protection. The decision making regarding the design of the university hinted at some of the tensions that emerged over the nature of the institution's relationship with the city. As historian Neil Harris points out, the university was in the city but not of it.
The Idea Of The University Of Chicago
On October 1, 1892, the new University of Chicago officially opened its doors. The first day of school exhibited a noticeable lack of fanfare. President William Rainey Harper, along with founder John D. Rockefeller, agreed to proceed as though the university had been operating for years and was simply continuing with its usual business. Harper wrote to Rockefeller, "After careful consideration I have proposed to our Board of Trustees that they hold no opening exercises; that the work of the University begin October 1 as if it were the continuation of work which had been conducted for a thousand years." Harper here implied that he wanted to lend an air of authenticity and legitimacy to the new university by suggesting its timelessness. The university would stand as a symbol of new, modern methods of research and education but at the same time would insert itself into a historical tradition of the quest for knowledge and truth.
The uniqueness of opening day could not have been lost on students and faculty members, however, when they walked to classes amid construction crews and the lingering swampy areas that made up the "campus." The condition of the campus on opening day led Theodore M. Hammond, who was then in charge of buildings and grounds, to put his impressions into verse.
Mortar beds, and brick bats,Despite this conscious downplaying of opening day, the rhetoric surrounding the birth of the university in the preceding months and years was far from mundane. Indeed, it reflected Harper's grandiose plans. The University of Chicago was to be worthy of the greatest institutions in the country, even in the world. Harper envisioned an institution designed on the German university's model of cultivating scholars at the graduate and professional level. Like Johns Hopkins University, the new University of Chicago embodied modern educational ideals, as a research institution at the forefront of scientific advances. Harper exhibited his faith in positivist science and its social function, advocating educational programs to produce "objective" research that could be used for practical social and civic betterment. Moreover, Harper believed that such a focus could attract the best students and the best faculty, even inducing prominent scholars and presidents from other top colleges to join him at Chicago.
Lumber, lath, and lime,
Carpenters and plumbers
Pounding all the time.
"Of uninviting places
This is sure the worst!"
But we've kept the promise,
Moved in on the first.
The University of Chicago opened just at a time when higher education itself was being transformed. More and more institutions reformed their courses of study at the turn of the century, moving away from purely classical education and incorporating new models of professionalization and specialization. Northwestern University, just north of Chicago, began as a Methodist institution offering a classical education to undergraduate students. By the time the University of Chicago opened, though, Northwestern was establishing more highly specialized disciplines and was also incorporating graduate programs. By contrast, the Roman Catholic universities in the city, St. Vincent's College (renamed DePaul University in 1907) and St. Ignatius College (renamed Loyola University in 1909) had a primary devotion to the ideals of the church rather than to the increasing emphasis on highly specialized and increasingly scientific knowledge. Still, changes in higher education nationwide forced both schools to expand their offerings and create professional schools in law, medicine, and business. Administrators argued that they made these changes to meet the needs of their Catholic constituents within the city.
The University of Chicago sought a unique role in the city. It would be a world-class institution devoted to both undergraduate study and graduate research. It combined Baptist missionary ideals with a catholic atmosphere to foster the free exchange of ideas. And it was a self-consciously urban institution, dedicated to addressing the issues confronting the city of Chicago even as it cultivated a national and international community of students and scholars. The initial charter for the university said that it must be located within a city, not in a suburb or rural area. According to Harper, the city would serve as a vast laboratory in which students and professors could explore contemporary problems and find solutions through the scientific method. Harper hoped that the university would be a central fixture in the city. Speaking at Columbia University in 1902, Harper expressed his view of the role of urban universities: "A university which will adapt itself to urban influence, which will undertake to serve as an expression of urban civilization, and which is compelled to meet the demands of an urban environment will in the end become something essentially different from a university located in a village or small city.... It will gradually take on new characteristics both outward and inward, and it will ultimately form a new type of university." According to the rhetoric, then, the new University of Chicago was not a remote ivory tower, but rather an integral part of a rapidly developing urban center. For Harper, the production of knowledge went hand in hand with public service and civic engagement, at least initially.
The new University of Chicago opened two weeks before the dedication of the World's Columbian Exposition. Since the site for the exposition was to be just south of the new university in Jackson Park, all attending would have an opportunity to see the future of Chicago and the nation as they glimpsed the progress made possible by grand design working in tandem with modern research facilities. From the Ferris wheel, the symbol of technological innovation and commerce, they could see the Gothic buildings reminiscent of earlier days. This image of the Ferris wheel rising up from the Midway, with riders peering in from the outside, also illustrated the tensions between proximity and distance that came to characterize the university's relationship with the city around it.
Planning The University Of Chicago
The idea of creating a new Baptist university in Chicago dedicated to promoting modern research methods stemmed from both local and national concerns. The initial impetus came after the failure of the first University of Chicago in the 1870s. Established in 1857 by Stephen Douglas as a Baptist mission school, the university soon encountered financial setbacks and was forced to close in 1879. Several scholars and administrators affiliated with the old University of Chicago, most notably Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, appealed to the Baptist community in Chicago to help establish a new Baptist university in the city. When Goodspeed heard that industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller was interested in donating money to found a Baptist school, he quickly appealed to him for help. Goodspeed pointed out that the Baptists had no first-rate institution of higher learning in the West. He argued they must educate the intelligent members of their religion or lose them: "Our Baptist youth must be educated somewhere and they will be mightily influenced by their religious surroundings in college. If we neglect to provide for their education we shall lose them and the generations after them."
Goodspeed organized the American Baptist Education Society in 1888 to rally more Baptist leaders to the cause. Frederick T. Gates, the minister of Central Baptist Church in Minneapolis, became corresponding secretary, and several months later he issued a plea for the establishment of a new Baptist college in Chicago. Like Goodspeed, Gates pointed to the incredible population growth in the West. He also made his request on moral grounds. "If some Christian denomination does not go in and capture the city," he argued, "infidelity will." Gates envisioned
an institution with an endowment of several millions, with buildings, library and other appliances equal to any on the continent; an institution commanding the services of the ablest specialists in every department, giving the highest classical as well as scientific culture, and aiming to counteract the Western tendency to a merely superficial and utilitarian education; an institution wholly under Baptist control as a chartered right, loyal to Christ and his church, employing none but Christians in any department of instruction; a school not only evangelical but evangelistic, seeking to bring every student into surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord.Gates's report is striking in its emphasis both on Christian duty and evangelism and on scientific research and the cultivation of expertise. For Gates, and eventually for Harper, the Baptist missionary ideal and the goal of promoting scientific inquiry were not mutually exclusive. Yet how to strike an appropriate balance between the two, or to demonstrate how these ideals were integrally related, was the central question they faced as planning went forward. Initial debates about the location of the new institution and the nature of the curriculum reflected this tension.
Gates helped convince Rockefeller of the need for a Baptist institution of higher learning in Chicago. Yet the decision to locate the new college there was not immediate. Augustus H. Strong, president of Rochester Seminary, argued in favor of endowing a Baptist institution in New York. His argument centered on the additional question of whether the institution should be a college or a university. Rockefeller was in favor of endowing a college; Strong favored a university. Strong felt New York would be an appropriate site, since the city offered "conditions of highest mental activity and growth" necessary for advanced scholarship and the study of professions. He argued that Chicago was not the appropriate site for a graduate institution. "That is what Baptists hitherto have always been doing-building their churches on the back streets, and their colleges in the country towns," claimed Strong. A university established in Chicago would be "a mongrel institution," provincial rather than cosmopolitan.
Goodspeed envisioned a Baptist institution in Chicago that would be regional but not necessarily provincial. Chicago was the natural location for the new college precisely because it was such a new and dynamic city: "A first class institution here is certain to become the greatest in our denomination. Chicago is the commercial, political, social, religious, educational center of a wide empire. It is the natural place for everyone in the West to come to.. . . Of all places in the world, this is the location plainly designated by nature for a great University for our people."
Goodspeed sought to aid his cause by securing the support of prominent Yale Semitics professor William Rainey Harper, considered as a possible president of the new university. Harper was arguably the nation's leading Baptist scholar of the Old Testament, and he favored the Chicago site. A prodigy who received his doctorate in philosophy from Yale at age eighteen, he later joined the faculty of the Theological Seminary in Morgan Park, just outside Chicago. His dedication to improving Baptist education in the West made him the perfect leader for this new institution.
Harper was perhaps best known for his role in shaping the Chautauqua movement, an educational experiment started in upstate New York in 1874 that was devoted to providing summer educational programs for Sunday school teachers. Chautauqua's popularity led scholars like Harper to expand the program and offer more secular programming for anyone interested in pursuing adult education outside traditional university settings. Harper also instituted an extension program in which university professors traveled to towns across the East, presented lectures, and helped their students earn credit toward a college degree. Perhaps most important, however, Harper challenged orthodox theology and brought to his study of biblical texts what he referred to as a "rationalist" perspective. He embraced a critical approach to biblical language and literature, though he argued that his thinking represented views that "accord well with those of the average intelligent Baptist minister of today." This blend of intellectual rigor and commitment to Baptist teachings made Harper the ideal choice to lead a modern Baptist university.
Excerpted from Building the South Side: Urban Space and Civic Culture in Chicago, 1890-1919 by Robin Faith Bachin Copyright © 2004 by Robin Faith Bachin. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 - The University and the City
1. A New Order of Things: Planning and Building the University of Chicago
2. The City Seeking Aid from Alma Mater: Collegiate Culture, Coeducation, and the Boundaries of College and Community
Part 2 - Parks as Public Space
3. To Lay the Foundations for Good Citizenship: Neighborhood Parks and Outdoor Recreation
4. Let Your Watchword Be Order and Your Beacon Beauty: The Burnham Plan and the Civic Lakefront
Part 3 - Commercial Leisure and Civic Culture
5. Baseball Palace of the World: Commercial Recreation and the Building of Comiskey Park
6. A Mecca for Pleasure: Leisure, Work, and Spaces of Race Pride