Title: The Social Problem at the Chicago Stockyards by Charles J. Bushnell
Location: Google Books Date: 1902
Take a look back at life “back of the Yards.” It wasn’t pretty. While the efficiency of the Chicago Stock Yard became an industrial age model, the human toll and living conditions of those whose sweat greased the wheels of progress became the most pressing social issue of the city.
THE STOCK YARD COMMUNITY AT CHICAGO.
The chief cause of the difficulty in the problem of modern city life is the lack of accurate public information about local conditions. With our cities growing much more rapidly than the country districts, great hordes of population, of diverse languages, customs, and habits, are being annually crowded into congested city wards, where, in the absence of any adequate knowledge of the special laws and the peculiar conditions of health and livelihood, life becomes a wild, sodden sickening, inhuman, and infinitely tragical struggle; not only a menace to those finer dreams of a noble, joyous, and beautiful national life, but a threat even to the very essentials of a common and decent civilization itself. To supply some of these needed elements of knowledge, therefore, in the case of a single typical industrial community of a great American city, and thus to illustrate a method of gathering such data in general, is the purpose of the present chapter. The aim will be to take up, after a preliminary survey of the general physical and racial conditions of the locality, a description of the present local status of each of the fundamental elements which go to make a complete democracy…
The Stock Yard district is very badly paved, where there is any paving. Most of it is of wood, in a very bad state of repair, so that riding over the district on a bicycle is a difficult and uncomfortable process. This wood paving, of course, absorbs considerable impurity from the drainage and from the air. In the Hyde Park district, on the other hand, except on Wabash avenue and streets immediately adjacent, the paving is largely of macadam or asphalt. (Some of the older east and west streets, such as parts of Fifty-first and Forty-seventh, are of wood.) But in this district almost all of the streets are paved, while in the Stock Yard district many of the streets are for miles in rainy weather scarcely better than mudholes.
A glance at the health department reports shows that the amount of sewering per mile of streets is also considerably less in the Stock Yard district than in Hyde Park. Of course, this is partly to be accounted for on the ground that there is more unoccupied land in the former district than in the latter.
The housing conditions of the two districts are so diverse in point of quality as to be at times almost incomparable. Anyone who rides observantly throughout the Stock Yard district, and then throughout the district east of it, cannot fail to be struck with the general appearance of squalor, dirt, and general dilapidation in the former, and of comparative neatness, cleanliness, order, and beauty in the latter. Many of the houses in the more thickly populated portions of the Stock Yard district are built in the rear of those fronting the streets, and the sanitary conditions are correspondingly bad.
Another element vital to the interests of health of the community is that of food. Aside from the mere question of quantity, or luxurious delicacy, of the food, the quality of the food of people in the Stock Yard district is neither as nutritious nor, on the whole, as well prepared as that in the other district. A mere glance into the lunch boxes of the school children is sufficient to satisfy any candid mind of this fact. It may very truthfully be said that the families of the district near the yards do not, as a rule, know how to buy or to prepare food in the most economical and nutritious way. Poor cakes, jellies, and unwholesome pastry will frequently form a large part of the luncheons of the school children, who seem to have almost a special craving cultivated for such things ; and a study of the budgets of some of the most typical families of the district reveals much the same condition of affairs.