The streets swarm with children: children and urban space in Chicago, 1890-1910

The streets swarm with children: children and urban space in Chicago, 1890-1910
31 Oct 2017, 17:30 to 31 Oct 2017, 19:30
IHR Peter Marshall Room, N204, Second Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Oenone Kubie , University of Oxford

Children in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century worked, played, and lived on the streets of the city. Middle-class urban reformers, like Jacob Riis, who visited the poor neighbourhoods of America’s cities in this period wrote of streets ‘teeming’ with children, children ‘pouring’ in and out of buildings, and children ‘surging’ around the outdoor spaces of the tenements. The most common imagery commentators employed, however, was the swarm. Jacob Riis, for example, in his influential exposé, How the Other Half Lives (published in 1890), started his chapter on children in the tenements with the words: “The problem of the children becomes, in these swarms, to the last degree perplexing.” What was it about children’s street usage in this period that conjured up the image of the swarm in middle-class adults’ minds and worried reformers like Riis? Using a variety of source material including photography, reform literature, newspaper articles, court cases, and life histories, this paper looks for answers in children’s numbers on the city streets, their potential for destructive and dangerous behaviours, and their mobility. Finally, this paper explores the ways turn of the century child-savers hoped to transform swarms of children into productive citizens through a variety of institutional and regulatory reforms.
Chair: Mary Clare Martin


IHR Reception
020 7862 8740