Place of Protest: Chicago's Legacy of Dissent, Declaration, and Disruption

Hull-House, 1915

Taking to the Streets

An unemployment march begins at a settlement house and demonstrates the limits of Progressive Era reform.

SOUTH OF HAYMARKET SQUARE IN THE DIVERSE IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORHOOD OF THE NEAR WEST SIDE, Jane Addams co-founded Hull-House in 1889. As one of nation's first settlement houses, Hull-House offered social services to immigrant and working-class communities including job training, childcare, and education. Addams' emphasis on social reform occasionally put her at odds with labor activists and anarchists who advocated for more immediate, comprehensive social change for the city's poor and working class. However, both groups questioned why the immense profits wrought by industrialization went to a few wealthy capitalists while workers continued to struggle in poverty. On January 17th, 1915, the urgent plight of the city's unemployed transformed a community meeting at Hull-House into a march through streets of Chicago.
ACCORDING TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, Addams encouraged patience and restraint to the gathering of unemployed workers. However, tensions rose quickly and activists like Lucy Parsons rallied the frustrated crowd to take to the streets. Parsons, the widow of Haymarket Trial defendant Albert Parsons, had emerged as a forceful labor activist in recent years. She was joined in the march by local Episcopal Reverend Irwin St. John Tucker as well as Sophonisba Breckinridge, a member and leader at Hull-House. Police intercepted the group on Michigan Avenue and fired gunshots into the air, claiming that the demonstration required a permit. They subsequently arrested Parsons, Tucker, Breckinridge, and others. By taking to the streets, the unemployed insisted that unequal distribution of wealth constituted a public problem demanding immediate attention.

"The whole system by which labor's surplus is cheated and beaten and betrayed entered into [the protesters'] spirit when they walked forth to face drawn guns in the hands of policemen." - Jane Whitaker 

ALTHOUGH JANE ADDAMS DID NOT JOIN THE MARCH, she ultimately supported protestor's right to demonstrate and drew criticism from the police. However, First Deputy Schuettler saved his harshest words for describing the "avowed and dangerous anarchist…Lucy Parsons." As a woman of color, vocal activist, and founder of the International Workers of the World, Parsons' assertive occupation of city streets constituted a threat to social order and revealed the tension between the respectability politics of Jane Addams and the urgent demands of a radical labor movement.

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