The University of Chicago Centennial CataloguesThe University of Chicago FacultyLife on the QuadsThe University and the CityPresidents of the University of Chicago
The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
page 3 of 3| « previous | next »


In pursuing their urban research, professors from the University soon learned that the city was home to an important array of liberal intellectuals and cultural critics. Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, an eloquent spokesman for reform Judaism in Chicago, held a University professorship of rabbinic literature and philosophy. Frank W. Gunsaulus, the pastor of Chicago's popular Central Church and founding president of the Armour Institute of Technology, taught on the Divinity School faculty. Francis W. Parker, the noted educational reformer who headed the Cook Country Normal School and the Chicago Institute, joined the University's School of Education in 1901. Many in the University community came to know Chicago settlement leaders such as Jane Addams, Julia Lathrop, Florence Kelley, Mary McDowell, and Graham Taylor and worked with them on research projects and reform campaigns. Writers from the University shared friendships and journal pages with literary figures from Hamlin Garland and Sherwood Anderson to Carl Sandberg and Harriet Monroe. Faculty associations with Chicago reformers in the arts reformers led to commissioned works from architects such as Tallmadge & Watson, Robert Spencer, Dwight Perkins, the Pond brothers, and Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed a Montana vacation retreat for several University professors.

Important connections were also made with progressive Chicago philanthropists who were prepared to support the research of individual faculty members. Anita McCormick Blaine helped underwrite John Dewey's educational experiments, while Julius Rosenwald encouraged Sophonisba Breckinridge in the creation of the University's school of social work. Helen Culver, who gave Hull House to Jane Addams and whose generosity made possible the Hull Biological Laboratories on the University campus, also funded sociologist W. I. Thomas's pioneering research into the Polish immigrant experience. In these and other ways, the University faculty came to appreciate the level of personal support that members of the Chicago community were prepared to give.

This pattern of relations was maintained through World War I and the years immediately thereafter, but with the onset of the depression, change began to affect both the city and the University. The South side of the city, where the University was located, felt the cumulative effects of ethnic mobility and shifting patterns of residence. Older buildings in Hyde Park began to show their years, and larger houses and apartments were subdivided for a poorer and less residentially stable population.

The academic image of the University as it had been developed within the city was also affected. A new University president, Robert M. Hutchins, became known for his brilliant educational iconoclasm and, especially after the elimination of varsity football on campus, his opposition to traditional American collegiate values. Charles Walgreen, head of a Chicago chain of drug stores, leveled charges that University professors were importing leftist ideologies and imposing them on naive students. The co-founder of the Chicago-based Benton and Bowles advertising agency, William Benton, was recruited to evaluate the University's public image and recommend effective ways to strengthen and maintain strong relations with the Chicago community. There were conspicuous successes in this effort, particularly with Charles Walgreen, who withdrew his accusations and established a distinguished University lecture series on American institutions and values.

This period of University-city relations culminated with the secret work of the Manhattan Project during World War II. Operating on and near the University campus, scientists created the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction and provided additional research support for the development of the atomic bomb. The close cooperation of the scientific community and the federal government resulted in the post-war creation of the University's Research Institutes. It led directly as well to the University's involvement in the development of the Argonne National Laboratory in Du Page County, the beginning of the scientific and technical research and development corridor in the western Chicago suburbs.

In the years after the war, attention shifted to the Hyde Park neighborhood, where city, state, federal, community, and University leaders created one of the nation's earliest comprehensive redevelopment programs. Controversial though it was, urban renewal in Hyde Park successfully determined the character of the community for decades to come and ensured that the University itself would remain a Chicago institution.

Consultation between the University and city officials also encouraged interactions between scholarship and public policy. As technology and social forces transformed the character of the city, the University's scholarship and teaching continued to explore the emerging pattern of the urban community. Faculty members at the University are currently providing expertise on a wide range of local issues including legal aid, gang violence, aging, poverty, tax policy, job training, housing, demography, education, and medical care.

In exploring the theme of the University and the city, this exhibition can only begin to suggest the variety and strength of the ties that have bound the institution and its urban home. Over the past century, the nature of the relationship has changed as both University and city have developed and matured. In many respects, the city has outgrown its early regional ambitions and assumed an international perspective closer to the academic cosmopolitanism that Harper's University adopted from the beginning. The University's perspective on the city has also changed as scholarly disciplines have shifted and coalesced and sources of financial support have become more diffuse. For both the city and the University, however, the bonds and commitments of the 1890s have proved remarkably resilient. The vision of William R. Harper, Charles L. Hutchinson, Thomas W. Goodspeed, Martin Ryerson, and the other Chicago founders of the University was largely realized, even if in ways they could not have anticipated. As the University marks its Centennial, Chicago -- the University and the city -- will measure the significance of the anniversary on the scale of their achievement.

page 3 of 3| « previous | next »
Home | The Faculty | The Quads | The City | The Presidents | Special Collections