Thursday, May 13, 2010

Honest Ward Healer and the Phony Reformers - John Powers and Jane Addams

I am no fan of Jane Addams. Hull House? Nice. However, I have much greater regard for the man who cared for more Jewish, Italian, Greek and Irish families who lived in the most densely populated Ward in America - the 19th Ward.

The 19th Ward today comprises stately Beverly, as well as working class Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods. In the 19th Century, the 19th Ward took in the near west side where Jews, Greeks and Italians crowded out the Irish around Taylor, Congress, Roosevelt with Halsted as the axis.

Halsted Street is thirty-two miles long, and one of the great thoroughfares of Chicago.... Hull-House once stood in the suburbs, but the city has steadily grown up around it and its site now has corners on three or four foreign colonies. Between Halsted Street and the river live about ten thousand Italians—Neapolitans, Sicilians, and Calabrians, with an occasional Lombard or Venetian. To the south on Twelfth Street are many Germans, and side streets are given over almost entirely to Polish and Russian Jews. Still farther south, these Jewish colonies merge into a huge Bohemian colony, so vast that Chicago ranks as the third Bohemian city in the world. To the northwest are many Canadian-French, clannish in spite of their long residence in America, and to the north are Irish and first-generation Americans. On the streets directly west and farther north are well-to-do English-speaking families, many of whom own their houses and have lived in the neighborhood for years; one man is still living in his old farmhouse.

Jane Addams - Twenty Years at Hull House

Hull House is accepted to be the be-all-and-end -all in Chicago's Social Justice Olympus - it is the Progressive St. Peters.

Hull House at that time it served some impoverished people by offering staged productions of Aeschylus, readings of William Lloyd Garrison, tips on grooming and Bologna sandwiches for pennies a day.

The Alderman of the 19th Ward was John ( Johnny De Pow) Powers, a saloon keeper grafter.

At the time John Powers held its aldermanship, the 19th ward included the area between Van Buren and 12th (now Roosevelt Rd.), and between Loomis and the south branch of the Chicago River. Always a poor immigrant neighborhood, it was adjacent to “Bloody Maxwell,” the famously crime-ridden district just to the south. The Tribune described conditions in the 19th graphically in 1897:

Do the drivers on the wagons indulge less freely in profanity? Do the workmen in the street show love and peace? Halsted street betrays it not. Ewing [now 12th Pl.] and Forquer [now Arthington St.] streets look otherwise. Bunker [now Grenshaw St.] and De Koven streets hide it well. Soiled children play upon the walks. The tin can travels on its endless way. Girls bend low over their work in the sweatshops making shirts at eight cents apiece. Six hundred saloons, twenty for each church in the ward, cast their exhilirating influence over the scene. The only thing bearing indisputable marks of a celestial nature is a Chinese laundry.

When Powers was first elected in 1888, the ward was almost entirely Irish, but in the 1890s and 1900s, Italian immigrants flooded into the neighborhood, and by 1910 the voting population was over 80% Italian. The savvy Irishman Powers managed to hold onto his seat, however, by assiduously incorporating potential Italian rivals into the lower levels of his political organization, who then promoted him to their fellow countrymen, even giving him quasi-Italian names like “Johnny de Pow” and “Gianni Pauli”.

Johnny (Powers) provided more fundamental aid, too, when a breadwinner was out of work. At one time he is said to have boasted that 2,600 men from his ward (about one-third of the registered voters) were working in one way or another for the city of Chicago. This did not take into account those for whom the grateful holders of traction franchises had found a place. When election day rolled around, the returns reflected the appreciation of job-holders and their relatives.
American Heritage
This paragon of sin (mortal and venial) also cared for a "Diverse" population of many tongues, diets, historical/political contexts, and aspirations. It was Powers who designated Ms. Addams and her gal pal Ellen Starr as part and parcel of the 19th Ward - Addams was appointed to a very lucrative and important position as Ward Garbage Inspector. Jane Addams returned this gesture* with contempt and two decades of insurrection.

John Powers had the support of the population and especially parish priests. That sticks in the craw of Progressives always - then and now.

Mother Cabrini worked the same side of the streets as Jane Addams and long before the Cedarville, IL failed medical student and her girlfriend Ms. Starr arrived on Halsted Street, the Sisters of Mercy were doing the work that did not begin and end with Jane Addams.

First to arrive, in 1846, the Sisters of Mercy were soon operating three schools, running an employment bureau for working women, volunteering at a free clinic, and teaching literacy classes. Attending to many non-Catholics during the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854, they also took over what was to become Mercy Hospital.

Nuns and other Catholic women attended to the needs of wave after wave of immigrants. They ran orphanages, hospitals, housing for the elderly, and day care centers. They worked with unwed mothers and tried to “rescue” female prostitutes. While almost never publicly challenging the male authority system—although some did not shrink from doing so privately—these religious women created for themselves an enormous sphere of autonomous or semiautonomous activity within the confines of an extraordinarily patriarchal ecclesiastical structure.

Above all, nuns taught school: without their labor and devotion, the Catholic school system would not have existed.
Powers served for 39 years - from 1888-1927 - that is a 19 year jump over the twenty at at Hull House.

Powers took care of thousands more people than Jane Addams and 'the short haired women and long-haired gentlemen' of Hull House, but there are no tributes, ket alone kind words allowed in our milky Progressive conversations.

The Democratic Ward bosses did more for the indigent and immigrant that the apostles of reform. A newpaper man of time understood that, Finley Peter Dunne. His Mr. Dooley offers this honest assesment.

"Whin Jawnny Powers wint into th' council I don't suppose
he had anny idee what a gr-reat man he'd make iv himsilf. He
thought iv most all th' wurruld except th' nineteenth as honest.
He believed that th' la-ads that presided over th' municipyal purity
meetin's was on th' square en' he hated th' ladin'mimbers iv
churches an' th' boys that gives money to home missions an'
thrainin' schools because he thought they were inhumanly honest.
It didn't take long f'r to make him see diff'rent. Inside iv his
first term he begun to undherstand that they was rare, flesh-an'-
blood, bribe-givin' men. They was good fellers, th' same as Chick
McMillan, an' betther to dale with because if things didn't go
right they'd not be apt to come down an' shoot bullets through th'
sawdust ham in front iv a man's grocery store. An' whin wanst he
got their measure he knew how to threat shim. He's quick to lam,
Jawnny Powers is. None quicker. But I wudden't iv had his expeeryence
f'r twict his money. I'd rather set back here en' believe
that whin a man dhresses dacint he's respectible an' whin he has
money he won't steal."
"Somethin' ought to be done to rayform th' rayformers," suggested
Mr. Hennessy.
"Thrue," said Mr. Dooley. "I'm thinkin'iv gettin'up an organization
to do th' wurruk. I'd attimpt to put a branch in ivry church
an' charitable society in Chicago an' in ivry club. An' whin anny
man that abuses Jawnny Powers an' Yerkuss while buyin'th' wan
an' guaranteein' th' bonds iv th' other'd come up f'r Main Shepherd
or Chief Angel I'd agitate again him. I wudden't let him set
by while Jawnny Powers was bein' done up en' portend he was In
on th' pray; I'd get afther him.
"Thin I'd put up a social colony like Hull House down town
near th' banks an' th' boord iv thrade an' th' stock exchange. I'd
have ladin' citizens come in en' lam be contact with poor an'honest
people th' advantage iv a life they've on'y heard iv. I think th'
Hull House idee is right, but I'd apply it diff'rent. A man wurrukin'
in a bank all day thryin' to get money anny way he can,
how's he goin' to know anny diff'rent? What he needs is to be
cheered up, have th' pi-anny played to him be nice-lookin' girls,
an' find out somethin' iv th' beauties iv honest poverty be convarsin'with
poor en' honest people."
"But where'd ye get th' la-ads to rerun it?" asked Mr. Hennessy.
"That's easy," said Mr. Dooley. "If ye'll get th' bankers I'll get
th' others. I know thousands iv poor but honest men that ar-re
on'y waitin'f'r th'chanst to get wan crack at a banker."

NINETEENTH-CENTURY ETHNIC GROUP, ed. Charles Fanning (Washington: Catholic
University of America, 1976), pp. 220-22, 242-44



JB Powers said...

Thanks for the plug Hickey.

Your Pal,
John Powers

KrisBD said...

20 years at Hull House was written by Jane Addams reflecting on her FIRST 20 years at Hull House---she remained there, working and listening to her community until she died there in 1935. So that would be 46 years.
Also, you never say why you are not a fan, but you quote her more than you write