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
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Charles E. Merriam, aldermanic campaign brochure, 1913.

Charles E. Merriam, aldermanic campaign brochure, 1913. After losing the mayoral race in 1911, Merriam won a second term as alderman, promising to continue his fight against vice and "spoils politics."


T. V. Smith, state senate campaign brochure, 1934.

T. V. Smith, state senate campaign brochure, 1934. Smith pledged to support the policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to fight Nazism and religious bigotry.

The Political Arena

Expertise and Reform
Most of the University's early presidents, including William R. Harper and Harry P. Judson, supported faculty participation in social service organizations, reform groups, and civic boards. Partisan politics were greeted less favorably. The corruption and spoilage of Chicago politics, some University officials feared, would taint the spirit of liberal education. For faculty members Charles Merriam, Paul Douglas, and T. V. Smith, however, electoral politics offered the most direct route to good government. As reformist politicians, they joined the progressive call for "good government," advocating the creation of public agencies that would be administered not by political hacks but by trained experts. They believed that social policy based on research like that conducted in the University's social science departments could rationalize the democratic process and put an end to the waste and corruption of party patronage.

Charles Merriam came to the University in 1900 to teach political science. Merriam's first entree to Chicago politics came in 1905 when he was asked by the reform-oriented City Club of Chicago to conduct a study of municipal revenues. The study was financed by Helen Culver, a progressive philanthropist who had recently donated money for the University's Hull Biological Laboratories. Culver saw Merriam's involvement as a way to align the University community with the efforts of progressive reformers. Merriam's study led to his appointment to the Chicago Harbor Commission, where he familiarized himself with issues of urban planning.

Despite a lack of enthusiasm from President Judson, who was also head of Merriam's academic department, the young political scientist decided to run for alderman on the Republican ticket. In 1909, Merriam won his first term representing Hyde Park in what was then the 7th Ward. Once on the city council, he immediately called for, and headed, a City Commission on Expenditures. There he discovered such widespread graft and other corruption, much of it linked to aldermanic and ward machines, that the council shut off the commission's funding and tried to repress its findings.

Julius Rosenwald, a generous benefactor of the University and progressive causes, financed the continuation of the commission's work and urged Merriam to run for mayor of Chicago in 1911. The ensuing campaign, managed by Harold Ickes (AB 1897, JD 1907), pitted Merriam as a reform Republican against party regulars in Chicago's first direct mayoral primary. Merriam won the nomination, but lost to Carter H. Harrison II in the general election. After a second term in the city council, Merriam ran unsuccessfully in the 1919 Republican mayoral primary on an internationalist platform against isolationist William Hale Thompson.

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