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1,000-1,250 words.Works Cited required.Pick one of the following three articles:Harold L. Platt, “Clever Microbes: Bacteriology and Sanitary
Technology in Manchester and Chicago during the Progressive Age,” in Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 19, Landscapes of Exposure: Knowledge and Illness in Modern Environments (2004), pp. 149-166Harold L. Platt, “Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited: Class, Politics, and Public Health in Chicago, 1890-1930” in Environmental History, Vol. 5, No. 2, environmental Justice in the City: A theme for Urban Environmental History (Apr., 2000) pp. 194-222Margaret Garb, “Health, Morality, and Housing: The Tenement Problem in Chicago” in American Journal of Public Health, September 2003, Vol 93. No. 9, pp. 1420-1430.Analyze the intersection of the different analytical categories as they appear in your self-selected reading.Think about other assignments where you were asked to reflect on
urban lives / city cultures through the lens of a single analytical
category. What is the benefit of looking at a particular issue through
the intersection of several analytical categories rather than one? What
is gained by doing so? What is lost?Use at least 5 (five) other course sources (in addition to the self-selected article) in your analysis.
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From the analytical category dealing with social factors, the lives of the people of
Chicago can be viewed from various perspectives. There is denying that Chicago is a city with a
dark history, especially for many African Americans who have been subjected to racism for ages.
The racial debate is a serious social issue that affects the lives of a significant percentage of the
people of Chicago. Social factors are broad—they include ways in which people and societies
see and understand the world, as well as how they act in various contexts and circumstances
surrounding them.
In the context of Chicago, the social lives of many peasant workers were difficult because the
capitalist class did not give them room to rest. The film Chicago: City of the Century highlights
some of these difficulties that these people went through, especially considering that most of
them were Native Americans and blacks. There was a combination of ruthlessness, barbarism,
and determination before Chicago could attain its dramatic transformation into one of the most
advanced cities in the world. In the book A century of Negro migration, Carter Woodson points
out the challenges that Negroes went through as they struggled to improve their lives in the
continent that never seemed to appreciate their efforts. The social classes of the Negroes were
still in a mess, considering that the law still did not acknowledge many blacks as Americans. At
one point in the book, Woodson says, “In most parts of the South the Negroes [were] still unable
to become l andowners or successful businessmen” (Woodson 341). This means that they could
not be fully integrated into the society to which they belonged. Despite all this, they were still
pivotal to the rise of the economic might of Chicago. While the film City of the Century tries as
much as possible to ignore the perspective of racism and social classes into which the blacks
were classified, there is sufficient evidence that all was not well with the blacks and that even
after all the struggles and the achievements that they thought they made, racism was still real and
a lot had to be done for them to achieve any tangible progress as far as racial equality was
concerned.
Upon comparing the previous and the current sources, the main similarities that were
identified include the fact that they all reveal the struggles of the blacks of the South objectively
and somewhat empathetically. For example, Scott’s article “Most invisible of all: Black women’s
voluntary associations” tries to paint a picture of the associations in which Southern black
women were involved in, and the challenges that they faced despite their effort to contribute
positively to the society. The article clearly shows that it was not that the black women were lazy
or unwilling to help, but the opportunities were rare. Stovall’s “the Chicago Defender” also
follows a similar perspective and shows that while many people wanted the world to believe that
Chicago had eliminated racism, it was still rampant in many parts of this region: “Although
conditions in Chicago during the Progressive Era compared favorably to those in the South, there
were many instances of discrimination and prejudice” (Stovall 161). In “Chicago social workers
and Blacks in the Progressive Era,” Diner also adds that for blacks to get any social services and
such services as settlements, they had to have committed and confident people to fight for them,
mostly one of their own. Another similarity from these sources as that most of them was written
from the perspective of the Negroes’ place in society with little regard for the role that their white
counterparts played in this struggle. Impliedly, the whites were represented by the system, and
therefore most of them did not even care about whether there was any inequality or not. The
overall point that can be drawn from the sources is that the blacks were left to fight their fight,
and to make the matters worse, the system was against them.
Citations
Diner, Steven J. “Chicago social workers and Blacks in the Progressive Era.” Social Service
Review 44.4 (1970): 393-410.
Scott, Anne Firor. “Most invisible of all: Black women’s voluntary associations.” The Journal
of Southern History 56.1 (1990): 3-22.
Stovall, Mary E. “The” Chicago Defender” in the Progressive Era.” Illinois Historical Journal
83.3 (1990): 159-172.
Woodson, Carter G. A century of Negro migration. Courier Corporation, 2003.
Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited: Class, Politics, and Public Health in Chicago,
1890-1930
Author(s): Harold L. Platt
Source: Environmental History, Vol. 5, No. 2, Environmental Justice in the City: A Theme
for Urban Environmental History (Apr., 2000), pp. 194-222
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Forest History Society and American
Society for Environmental History
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3985635
Accessed: 12-04-2019 07:24 UTC
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Environmental History
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Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited
Class, Politics, and Public Health in Chicago, 1890-1930
Harold L. Platt
Introduction: Environmental Perspectives on Urban Politics
Despite repeated obituaries that proclaim that the study of bosses and reformers has
reached a dead end, troubling questions about power and class in the city persist.
Scholars have long complained about the failure of the new social history to incorporate politics as a causal factor in its mode of analysis. In a series of essays, Terrence
J. McDonald offers not only the most comprehensive indictment of this problem
but also the most compelling recent appeal “to bring the state back in.” Echoing
previous critics, McDonald charges that politics has been marginalized in American scholarship, turning it into a static backdrop against which seemingly more
important processes of ethnocultural strife and class formation were played out.
Even the work of those such as Theda Skocpol and Ira Katznelson who have taken
politics seriously is “contaminated” because it focuses too narrowly on pluralism,
patronage, and machine rule. The burden of urban history, he proposes, rests upon
the restoration of agency to government and ideology in the making of modern
society. Our conceptualization of politics must undergo a transformation analogous to E. P. Thompson’s reformulation of class from a static category into a dynamic process.’
If postwar scholarship tended to restrict the study of urban politics within tight
channels, the adoption of environmental perspectives can go a long way toward
opening broad areas of the public sector for historical investigation. A closer look
at the political formation of urban space will more fully expose the interplay
among class, power, and government. One of the most distinguishing features of the
industrial city was its tendency to sort itself out into specialized land uses and
residential districts. Historians have asked few questions about the role of City Hall
and partisan politics in drawing the boundaries of these landscapes of social segregation and exclusion. To what extent was the public sector responsible for horrible
slums such as the one Jane Addams entered on the Near West Side of Chicago in the
late i88os? As she came to understand, the environmental concerns of the working
classes were pragmatically concentrated on their immediate surroundings: the home,
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Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited 195
the neighborhood, and the workplace. What part did public policy actually play in
degrading the quality of life in these places below accepted standards of human
health and decency? What was the complicity of local regimes in helping to maintain these intolerable conditions in the face of demands by their unfortunate victims for improvements?2
By raising issues of environmental justice in the city, the scope of inquiry must
extend far beyond electoral contests to embrace a wide variety of governmental
and political activities. In the case of land and its uses, the public sector created
the built environment in many ways, including the provision of public works and
utility services, the enactment of building, plumbing, and health codes, and the
enforcement of these regulations. Together these activities cut across every level
of city government from the street sweepers to the highest elected officials and
jurists. Such an environmental approach rests upon the genuine foundations of
political activity at the local level. From the origins of municipal government to
the present, the roots of urban politics grew out of the economic concerns of the
property owners, real estate developers, and manufacturing interests. Graft from
gamblers, pimps, and saloonkeepers may have helped grease the money machines
of the political parties, but contributions from landowners have supplied the fuel
to keep them running. Environmental perspectives on urban politics can help
situate ethnicity, patronage, and machines within broader, more inclusive frameworks of analysis.3
The Education of an Urban Environmentalist
A new look at the famous battle for municipal reform between Jane Addams and
the notorious ward boss and alderman John Powers offers a test case to measure
the efficacy of McDonald’s provocative challenge. As one of the most celebrated
leaders of urban progressivism, Addams has been the subject of a continuous stream
of scholarship that follows the main currents of postwar historiography. Beginning
with a 1960 essay by Anne Firor Scott, the story has been told several times about
the social reformer’s campaign to clean up the slums around Hull-House by unseating the city’s most powerful and corrupt politician. During the same period
when Addams set up her settlement house in the early 189os, he established a
dubious reputation as the leader of the city council’s “gray wolves,” as they were
called for their predatory approach to government. Addams orchestrated an insurgency movement to rectify the appalling lack of sanitary and health services in a
neighborhood crowded with poor immigrants. Despite hard-fought campaigns in
1896 and 1898 with stand-in candidates, the reformer lost not only the immediate
objective at the polls but also the enduring contest of historical interpretation.
Scott reasoned that “as a practical matter there was no use waging another opposition campaign. Powers held too many cards . . . he proved too tough a nut to
crack.” From the narrow perspectives of electoral politics, scholars must conclude
that revolts against the machine by social reformers were exercises in futility.4
The application of the wider lens of an environmental approach to Addams’s
campaign to clean up the slums offers an opportunity to gain fresh insight on the
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196 Environmental History
political formation of urban space and the related process of spatial segregation by
ethnicity, class, (and race). The reformer looked at her defeats at the polls as just the
beginning, not the end of the battle to hold City Hall accountable for the conditions of the working classes in the industrial slums. She scorned any accommodation with Powers, declaring in 1900 that “the protest of Hull-House against a man
who continually disregards the most fundamental rights of his constituents must be
permanent.” Adopting the tactics of British urban reformers, Addams initiated a
comprehensive mapping project to document the status of housing and sanitation
in the area. When a typhoid epidemic clustered mysteriously in her ward two years
later, the women of Hull-House undertook another door-to-door survey in an effort
to link the incidence of the disease to the environmental settings of its sufferers.
While failing to demonstrate a direct correlation, the project uncovered widespread corruption and malfeasance in the bureaus charged with the enforcement of
the city’s health, sanitation, and building codes. Holding the inspectors accountable before the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Addams triggered an investigation that eventually reached the mayor’s office. The unraveling of this scandal
exposed a conscious and systematic use of government by politicians to profit from
the perpetuation of the slums in the river wards. The betrayal of the working class by
the ward bosses for personal and partisan gains was reflected in the misery, sickness,
and death of those condemned to live in these polluted districts without recourse to
the public authority.5
Jane Addams’s education as an urban environmentalist began in earnest in 1889
when she moved into one of Chicago’s poorest, most rundown neighborhoods.
Her first lessons consisted of direct observations, which are recounted in a famous
passage from Twenty Years at Hull-House. “The streets are inexpressibly dirty,”
Addams wrote, “sanitary legislation unenforced, the streets lighting bad, the paving miserable and altogether lacking in the alleys and smaller streets, and the
stables foul beyond description.” Her impressions portray one of the oldest, most
built-up sections of the city that had become an immigrant port of entry because
of its proximity to the Loop, as the central business district is known (see Figures
1-3). Although the Great Fire of 1871 started just a few blocks away from Addams’s
home, Hull-House and most of the West Side escaped the conflagration. Many of
the wooden frame tenements, some dating as far back as the Civil War, had been
constructed on the low-lying land bordering the river, several feet below the artificially raised street grade. Subject to frequent flooding, sewer and privy overflows,
and debris from the streets above, the backyards and alleyways of Johnny Powers’s
Nineteenth Ward were dumping grounds for the city’s liquid and solid wastes. Its
location just across the river from the high rent offices and stores in the Loop also
made it a convenient site for stables and sweatshops. Appointed as chief factory
inspector of Illinois in 1893, Hull-House resident Florence Kelley began learning
how to turn casual impressions into systematic studies of the environmental con-
ditions of the slums. During the next few years, Kelley and Addams produced a
series of surveys and maps that laid a solid foundation for the social science that
underpinned a compelling case for municipal reform.6
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Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited 197
Figure i. Ward Map of Unsanitary Conditions in Chicago, 1906
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198 Environmental History
Figure 2. Population Density of Wards, 1900
Et . i , 5.iX * 45,600to88,
i. 20Q100to432,00900(6(8))
Population Density
No. pe Squa Mile
i1 32900to45,60 (7)
C]6,90D0to 20,100 (8)
Ei i D Ot6,9 (6)
Source: Chicago, Vital Statistics of the City of Chicago for the Years 1899 to 1903.
The headlong plunge by the women of Hull-House into the ring of elector
politics also helped make rapid advances in their understanding of how mon
and power worked together in the construction of a social geography of inequa
Of first importance was Chicago’s fragmented structure of government, which
lowed aldermen to rule within their own ward. Powers held undisputed comm
over as many aS 2,600 payrollers, one-third of the ward’s voters. He exercised ne
absolute authority over the enforcement of public regulations and the distribu
of city services within the Nineteenth Ward. A weak mayor, strong council form
government left chief executives with few instruments of power other than
force of their personalities to discipline renegade aldermen or pressure them
line behind administration policies. Mayors were more likely to be held hostag
the ward bosses who controlled the all-powerful finance committee of the cou
Only by giving free reign to the aldermen within their own fiefdoms did a few c
executives like the Carter Harrisons, father and son, achieve success as leaders of
City.7
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Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited 199
In her battles against Powers at the ballot box, Addams faced a particular kind of
machine, one characterized as a political party that “has a tight, hierarchical organization, includes party agents at the grassroots level, and systematically distributes
patronage among its members.” This type of partisan mobilization based on ward-
level factions rather than a central dominant figure has been the most common
form of urban regime in the United States. If Chicago varied from the norm, it was
in the direction of extreme fragmentation of power. The highly decentralized
structure also affected the city’s party organizations, making them prone to especially vicious forms of internal competition, strife, and betrayal. The devolution of
both official and partisan power into the hands of the aldermen and the ward
committeemen effectively precluded the kind of coalition building among traditional groups of reformers in Chicago that successfully challenged machine rule in
other places. But the entrenched positions of the ward bosses were not entirely
immune from subversion.8
The very structural fragmentation that erected a barrier against a consolidation
of power to insurmountable heights offered an unusual opportunity for women to
operate in the public arena. A similar splintering of the labor movement allowed
women to fill in the resulting vacuum of power as “class-bridging activists.” Addams,
for example, explained the sources of the grassroots support of the ward boss in
terms of class rather than ethnicity. In January 1898, she delivered a progress re-
port on her education as an urban reformer to a meeting of the Ethical Culture
Society. Launching her second campaign to unseat Powers, she argued that poor
people had very different needs and standards than the middle and upper classes.
“[Their] sense of just dealing,” Addams argued, “comes apparently much later [to
the working classes] than the desire for protection and kindness. The Alderman is
really elected because he is a good friend and neighbor.”9
In other words, the ward boss’s secret of success was an ability to perceive and
respond to their desperate nee …
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