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Social Reform in Chicago

Social reform in Chicago matured during the peak years of the Progressive movement in the United States, between 1890 and 1920. Progressive reformers aimed to remedy the ills and tensions prompted by the massive social changes in late nineteenth-century cities, from explosive growth of diverse populations to the rapid industrialization of work and commercialization of cultural life. As the nation’s second largest and one of its most socially diverse and congested cities, Chicago became a center of Progressive action and helped set the agenda for the larger movement. Chicago’s reformers targeted political corruption, poverty, unsafe working and living conditions, and the social needs of new immigrants, among other issues. These reformers relied on a variety of means to achieve their goals—empirical research into social problems; the organization of non-governmental agencies that directly provided social services; advocacy of legislation to protect the public interest; and the dissemination of their ideas in newspapers, periodical magazines, and books, both non-fiction and fiction. To provide social services directly to those in need, reformers established settlement houses in immigrant districts. At the same time, religious leaders developed similar programs in neighborhood churches and synagogues.

Progressive reformers and planners used maps as wells as photographs to represent their findings and communicate their message to broad audiences.



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