User Tools

Site Tools


Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago (1919-1939)

Ethnicity in the New Era

People who wanted to reclaim their European identity could return to Europe by claiming a new citizenship in a new European nation like Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania. Most people decided that they wanted to stay in the United States which caused for questioning of nationality. Gianna

Between 1880s and World War I there was a fear among community leaders that their people would lose their ethnic identities when they arrived in America because of a growing trend of “Americanizing” the surname in order to make it less ethnic and simply standard European. This occurred primarily with Jewish people, Polish people, and eventually Irish people. The leaders of their immigrant communities worried that they would lose their cultures and their connection with Europe through this Americanization. However, for many of these people, making their names less ethnically definitive made it easier for them to assimilate into American culture, and was less about losing their ethnicity and heritage as it was combating racism and xenophobia. -e.m.

In the 1920s, newspapers of “new immigrant group“ communities from Eastern and Southern Europe expressed concern about members of the community falling away from their ancestry and tradition. Immigrant groups were facing increasing pressure after WWI because of immigration laws. American nativism expressed through these restricting laws caused hesitation about public displays of ethnicity. Ethnic Americans who preferred to stay in America (which was the majority of them) as opposed to moving to the new nations of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania had to rethink the meaning of nationality and ethnic identity. During the 1920s changes in Chicago threatened the strength of ethnic identity and community (ex. moving from old ethnic centers to new neighborhoods, less of a community). The Catholic Church began promoting the idea that there is only a distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics, and that there was no place for ethnic Catholics. In addition, mass expansion of commercial leisure and retail threatened ethnic shops and organized activities. Efforts by ethnic leaders to maintain community ties during this time included promoting holidays for national pride, schools and clubs that educated members on language and tradition, and encouraging citizenship to elect their own representatives.Leaders made 4 major efforts to support their communities using the prosperity and stability of the 1920s:Expand community welfare programs, Stabilize mutual benefit societies on statistical grounds, Promote ethnic alternatives to American leisure activities and institutions like banks, and protect leaders (Parashes) from Catholic attempts at control.

With the rise of new mass culture in the 20th century, people were concerned about the loss of ethnic enclaves that had been forming before and a loss of culture altogether. Neighborhood shops and church events became threatened by chain department stores, movie theaters, and other different types of leisure activities which offered people the choice on what to do instead of just having a decided activity with their community. Church leaders worried that this new trend would cause the younger generations to forget where they came from and only focus on the new rising commercial culture. – Ellora Larsen

Daily life was changing in Chicago due to the mass influx of immigrants. There were so many second generation immigrant children that schools began shaping instruction to include those children learning the native language and culture. Ethnic communities were establishing themselves all over the cities, to include sports and also were being encouraged to become citizens so they could choose and elect officials of their city. Ethnic stability was also an important aspect in the cities. The focus on maintaining ethnic communities and organizations in order to keep the immigrants invested in their national communities. - Devin Wright

Helping The Needy

Before social security and unemployment insurance, ethnic groups took care of themselves, as in their cultures, public relief did not exist, or if it did exist, it was shameful and humiliating. Believing that destitution not only stigmatized the poor individuals, but also the whole community, formed their own communities’ charities. Although, people were more likely to go to family, friends, and neighbors for help before those charities (56-57). Starting before World War 1, more than informal help from those sources were needed, which is where the ethnic welfare institutions came in, which were similar to American charities but had ethnic values. Jewish Chicagoans had great success, with divisions between the German Jews, an earlier ethnic group, and their charitable organizations, and the newcomers the eastern European Jews, who were more orthodox and thus created their own charitable system (58-59). By 1920’s, these ethnic agencies had cemeteries, hospitals, and some relief services, to name a few. After World War 1, the welfare institutions consolidated, become larger and more centralized. For example, there was the Jewish Charities of Chicago and the Associated Catholic Charities, with the Central Charity Bureau (60). While these did not erase ethnic agencies, it did start the notion of less ethnically-divided identities (61). -Francesca Maisano

In the 1920s when ethnic communities were tied primarily to the labor force, the people within the communities took care of each other as best they could in the face of financial and political hardships. A family and community spirit tied these people together and was one of the reasons that these communities continued to exist at all. Thanks to discrimination and lack of financial compensation for their work, people relied on the kindness of the others in their community and occasionally the people outside of it to help maintain their lives and social standing. -e.m.

In the 1920's ethnic communities were there for each other, and helped one another when needed. There was not much assistance from the state for them back then. Many foreigners had to prove they were taking the steps to become naturalized if they wanted aide. However, the aide wasn't much. Ethnic Communities did not want to receive public aide anyway because they did not trust public assistance.

Many Community leaders for the Jews, Poles, and Italians feared of there customs disappearing in the next generation due to the rise of other sources of social gatherings (Cinema, mass commercialization in American Culture, etc.). As a result Hebrew schools grew significantly and Jewish parents were encouraged to place there children within these schools to teach Jewish culture, history, and language. The decrease of immigration posed a threat to Ethnic communities as well in behalf of communities not being able to grow within cities such as Chicago and New York.

Transportation and language difficulties, preference for their own ethnic or religious institutions, and general distrust of large public institutions often kept ethnic Americans away from external sources of charity and aid. When they did turn to outside sources, they usually used local political leaders, precinct captains. These precinct captains were usually members of the ethnic community, and thus they were seen as insiders. These ethnic precinct captains played a crucial role in the machine politics of Chicago during the 20s and 30s. They established links between the political parties of the city and ensured the votes of their communities. The captains played two roles: they mediated and distributed within their communities for external charity organizations, and they facilitated the good reception of these services by making it seem as through the aid was provided by the community, rather than charitable outsiders. -Jason Elms

Mutual Benefit

Mutual benefits societies played a role in ethnic culture. These societies developed systems of insurance within communities during the 1920's. Commercial insurance companies launched campaigns that sold “industrial insurance policies”(64). Their biggest target was the urban ethnic workers. This gave the workers options to helped increase their families security. Many workers started to get life insurance policies. This was another way to protect, and help workers families incase something happened to them. To add to the above, mutual aid societies provided a few benefits to members: the largest benefit was funeral insurance which would allow anyone to hold a suitable funeral and avoid the shame that came with not being able to shuffle off in an appropriate manner, sickness insurance which could support families if their breadwinner was incapacitated for a length of time due to illness, and social benefits such as meetings at an association hall or weekly picnic gatherings. The benefits provided by these mutual aid societies were crucial to maintaining the health and cohesion for ethnic communities. -Jason Elms

Because of the social institutions, along with the distance away from their homes, immigrants had to learn how to depend upon each other. Predominantly immigrants from ethnic groups already used to being insular had an easy time adapting to this, such as Jews, Poles, and Italians. To a person of a non-white ethnicity, they suddenly had the ability to have a fallback plan that was not for them in the public sphere. (Daniel Noel)

Banking on the Future

Ethic leaders were complaining over the fact that people were “moving away from the flock” and were realizing that the members’ economic success might threaten the communities just as much if not more than the hardships experienced. With the Prosperity that they were fearing, this would usher in more people into a more American World that would be stable to a lot of Chicagoans in the twenties. With the pressure mounting to what ethnicity would be compatible with achieving success in America. With that in mind and the few new immigrants to America, the survival of ethnic communities and the institutions were at stake. The Ethnic banking institutions creation during the 1920s would serve as a linchpin for this strategy. -Hunter Dykhuis

While storing your money within the bank is a sound idea today, it was not always the case. For the ethnic immigrants, in many places that they were forced to live, none were nearby or usable. A complicated system of using taverns, saloons, and local money keepers emerged, but this could not last. Small, ethnic led banks began to appear and be trusted in, but when they failed none of their investors would get their money back. For these immigrants, not just acquiring money was the problem, but saving it up as well. (Daniel Noel)

How Catholic a Catholic Church?

In the 1920s, industrial workers continued to rely on their ethnic communities. When receiving help from a neighbor or welfare agency, workers were able to be in the same group as the economic superiors because of the support from the ethnic elite. Fraternal associations brought together people from different economic statuses in a beneficial way, in a way that society has not because the elite and working classes were kept separate. Workers and bosses could now belong to the same order. Gianna

The most interesting part of this section is how it describes Mudelein's attempt to make Catholicism American. Describing Catholicism in that way is striking because it is not typically thought of in that way. But in the same ways that the banks and social securities of these ethnic communities, they are remarkably similar. (Daniel Noel)

Polish and Italian people had opposing approaches to the Catholic Church in Chicago. The Poles fought for the church while the Italians fought against it. Both strategies ensured cohesion in communities and strengthened ethinic identity. Gianna

Italian resistance to Mundelein’s church reform took on a very different form than Poles’. While Poles doubled down and defended their national church, the Italians withdrew from the church. This was driven by a greater attachment to religious folk festivals over orthodox church services and a socialist anti-clericalism which predominated in some neighborhoods. While withdrawing from the church, the Italians embraced saint’s feasts festivals that they organized outside of the church hierarchy to keep their culture alive. Mundelein eventually relented on his drive at church unification and gave churches in Italian neighborhoods to Italian religious orders. -Jason Elms

cohen_making_a_new_deal.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/01 18:09 by jelms