Untold Stories of Chicago Government: How a City United to Survive the Great Depression

SJ Baker Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Kathy Paulson Gjerde Butler University, Peter Grossman Butler University, Vivian Deno Butler University
During the Great Depression, Chicago’s unemployment rate climbed to a staggering 50 percent- twice the national rate. With nowhere else to turn, people looked to their government for solutions to their issues in unprecedented ways. Both narrative and economic histories of the Great Depression tend to focus on federal New Deal programs. As such, there is a gap in scholarship that focuses specifically on the roles of local governments in aiding their constituents through critical relief from the Depression. The direction of nearly all scholarship towards the analysis of federal programs originates from the assumption that local governments were inactive or ineffective during the Depression. The newly formed Chicago Park District’s success in improving the city’s economy prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to describe their progress as “the most notable civic achievement in any American city.” By documenting and measuring the effectiveness of the Chicago Park District and other local government agencies in stabilizing Chicago’s economy, Untold Stories dismantles and ultimately reconstructs the way we historicize the role of local government in responding to the Great Depression. By examining the Chicago Park District, we gain a better understanding of how Chicago, and local urban governments in general, functioned during the Great Depression. Chicago archives, including the Roosevelt University Center for New Deal Studies and the Chicago Park District Records Special Collections, provide valuable insight into the previously overlooked, substantially impactful activity of local government during the biggest economic downturn in American History.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:15 AM
Jordan Hall 301