Endless Conversation

The Season in Full Swing at the Dill Pickles
The Season in Full Swing at the Dill Pickles
Enlightened Public Opinion
Enlightened Public OpinionU.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Education
College of Complexes curriculum, November 1960
College of Complexes curriculum, November 1960

>The Dill Pickle fed the insatiable appetite of young Chicagoans for unvarnished debate about their world. It was not the only venue of its kind. Just as every major industrial city had a neighborhood of young artists and political activists-often known as “bohemia”-one could find coffeehouses and taverns like the Dill Pickle all across the modern world. In this way, the club linked local people to debates about the nature of modern life that resonated globally.

After the demise of the Dill Pickle Club, Chicagoans had no shortage of public lectures and debates to fill their evenings and weekends. Freelance speakers continued their work in Bughouse Square and Washington Park. Even local and federal governments funded lectures and forums during the 1930 and 1940s as part of a broad effort they deemed “adult education.” Seeking a third way between Fascism and Communism, these government-sponsored forums usually avoided the militant opinion and sexual innuendo of the Dill Pickle and other bohemian clubs. Although they sometimes brought in large crowds with famous speakers, their purpose was quite different: not to shock, but to educate.

What made the bohemian clubs so successful in their time, however, was their use of shocking and unorthodox material to provide an education of a kind. The bohemians were definitely not out to create model citizens. Emerging from the radical movements that spread across the industrialized world in the years before the First World War, cultural entrepreneurs like Jack Jones and Ben Reitman aimed to make a living and change the world.

Like the outdoor open forums, the “education” one might glean at the Dill Pickle Club was a mixed bag, with a large amount of “bull.” Challenging orthodoxy was an end in itself, debate for the sake of debating. Knowledge was less a quantity of information than an endless conversation about the world.