ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES
From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
RESOLUTION AND ORDINANCE RELATIVE TO ESTABLISHING FREE LODGING HOUSES
December 8, 1873
On September 18, 1873 the powerful New York brokerage firm of Jay Cooke and Company failed. This event precipitated a panic on Wall Street and a subsequent severe economic depression of five years. Nationwide over five thousand major businesses went bankrupt in 1873 alone. Before substantial recovery came in 1879, over ten thousand significant employers had closed their doors. During the twelve years prior to 1873 the economy had been fueled by extreme optimism. Causes of the depression included over-speculation in the financial markets, over-production of manufactured goods, over-issues of paper money, and inflated prices.
This resolution and ordinance were referred to the council's Committee on Judiciary. Its investigation found that since these proposed measures had been introduced, other means had been found to address the needs of the homeless. The Chicago Relief and Aid Society had fitted up a lodging house for the poor in a church building located at the northwest corner of Clark and Harrison Streets, adjoining a police station there. Also the Society had obtained the city's permission to use an old firehouse on Erie Street near Milwaukee Avenue and had converted it to a shelter as well. Because those two establishments were judged to be sufficient to house the homeless poor, the resolution and ordinance were not acted upon.
Points to Consider
According to this document what accommodations were being provided the homeless poor?
Why would those finding public shelter require police protection?
Nationally, what were economic conditions at this time? What caused this situation?
In December of 1873 the temperature fell to an extreme of minus thirteen degrees one night. What would have been the plight of homeless individuals who failed to find shelter that evening?