valuations have been excessively irregular (e.g. the “equalized” value for 1875 was $55,000,000 greater than that for 1892), and apparently very low. The average assessment valuation for the years from 1904 to 1908 was $438,729,897 (403.28 millions in 1904, and 477.19 millions in 1908), and in 1907 the highest taxing rate was 8%. The bonded debt in 1908 was $25,157,400, about half of it old ($11,362,726 in 1870; 4.5 millions contracted to aid the World’s Fair of 1893). In the early years following 1900 the city paid more than half of its income on police; this expenditure, per capita of population, was not high (in 1901 Boston $5.03, New York $3.21, Chicago $2.19), and the results were not exactly efficient. The difficulty is that the city is poor and can pay only for strict necessities. Its poverty is due mainly to state laws. The taxation limit on property is 1% on the cash value, thus compelling special dependence upon all sorts of indirect taxes; the debt limit is 5% on the assessed valuation. Since 1900 relief has been given by state law in some matters, such as for the park system. The water system has been operated by the city since 1851, and has been financially very successful from the beginning: rates are far lower than in the other great cities of the country, and a handsome net revenue accrues to the treasury. A municipal electric-lighting plant (1887), which was paid for gradually out of the general tax levy and was not built by the sale of bonds, gave excellent results in the city service. The city, like the state, has power to regulate the price of gas sold by private companies. The elevation of the railway tracks within the city was begun in 1892; at the close of 1908 the railway companies had accepted ordinances of the City Council for the elevation of 192.77 m. of main tracks and 947.91 m. of all tracks, and the construction of 724 subways, at an estimated cost of $65,000,000; at that time the railway companies had completed the elevation of 133.83 m. of main tracks and 776 m. of all tracks, and had constructed 567 subways, at a total expense of $52,500,000. The system of intercepting sewers begun in 1898 to complete the service of the drainage canal has been constructed with the profits of the water system.
In addition to the movement for a new charter to remove the anomalies and ease the difficulties already referred to, two great problems have been in the forefront in recent years: the lessening of municipal corruption and the control of local transit agencies.
The traction question may be said to have begun in 1865, in which year, and again in 1883, public opinion was bitterly aroused against an attempt of the traction companies to secure a ninety-nine year extension of franchises. Following 1883 all lines were consolidated and enormously over-capitalized (in 1905 about $150,000,000 of stocks and bonds on a 6% basis, two-thirds of which rested only on the franchise). In 1895–1897 bold attempts to secure a 50-year extension of franchises were defeated by Governor John P. Altgeld (1847–1902), by the formation of a Municipal Voters’ League, and by a representative committee of 100 sent from Chicago to attend the legislature at Springfield. The transit service of the city had for years been antiquated and inadequate. At the mayor’s elections in 1897, 1899, 1901 and 1903 the victory lay with the opponents of the companies, and in 1905 the successful party stood for immediate municipal acquisition of all roads. Meanwhile, under the state referendum act, the city in 1902 voted overwhelmingly for municipal ownership and operation (142,826 to 27,990); the legislature in 1903 by the Mueller law gave the city the requisite powers; the people accepted the law, again declared for municipal ownership, and for temporary compulsion of adequate service, and against granting any franchise to any company, by four additional votes similarly conclusive. At last, after tedious negotiations, a definite agreement was reached in 1906 assuring an early acquisition of all roads by the city. The issue of bonds for municipal railways was, however, declared unconstitutional that year; and at the municipal elections of 1907 there was a complete reversal of policy; a large majority voted this time against municipal ownership in favour of leaving the working of the street railways in private hands, and strengthening the powers of municipal control.
The active campaign for the improvement of municipal service and politics may be said to have begun in 1896. A civil service system was inaugurated in 1895. The salaries of the councilmen were raised with good effect. Numerous reform associations were started to rouse public opinion, such as the Citizens’ Association of Chicago, organized in 1874, the Civic Federation (1894), the Municipal Voters’ League (1896), the Legislative Voters’ League (1901), the Municipal Lecture Association (1902), the Referendum League of Illinois (1901), the Civil Service Reform Association of Chicago, the Civil Service Reform Association of Illinois (1902), the Merchants’ Club, the City Club (1903), the Law and Order League (1904), Society of Social Hygiene (1906), and many of the women’s clubs took an active part. They stood for the real enforcement of the laws, sanitation, pure food, public health, the improvement of the schools and the widening of their social influence, and (here especially the women’s clubs) aesthetic, social and moral progress. The Merchants’ Club reformed the city’s book-keeping, and secured the establishment (1899) of the first state pawnbrokers’ society. The Civic Federation demonstrated (1896) that it could clean the central streets for slightly over half what the city was paying (the city has since saved the difference); it originated the movement for vacation schools and other educational advances, and started the Committee of One Hundred (1897), from which sprang various other reform clubs. The Municipal Voters’ League investigated and published the records of candidates for the city council, and recommended their election or defeat as the case may be. Moreover, a “Municipal Museum” was organized in 1905, mainly supported by private aid, but in part by the board of education, in order to collect and make educational use of materials illustrating municipal administration and conditions, physical and social.
Education and Charity.—The school board is appointed by the mayor. Since 1904 a merit system has been applied in the advancement of teachers; civil service rules cover the rest of the employees. Kindergartens were maintained without legal sanction in connexion with the public schools for several years, and for more than twenty-five years as private schools, before their legal establishment as a part of the system in 1899. Free evening schools, very practical in their courses, are utilized mainly by foreigners. Vacation schools were begun in 1896. So far as possible the school buildings are kept open for school, lectures and entertainments, serving thus as wholesome social centres; and a more adequate use is made of the large investment (in 1908 about $44,500,000) which they represent. In all the public schools manual training, household arts and economy, and commercial studies are a regular part of the curriculum. A department of scientific pedagogy and child study (1900) seeks to secure a development of the school system in harmony with the results of scientific study of children (the combination of hand and brain training, the use of audio-visual methods, an elastic curriculum during the adolescent period, &c.). The expenditure for all purposes by the city in 1903 for every dollar expended for schools was only $1.713; a ratio paralleled in only a few cities of the country.
Hospitals, infirmaries, dispensaries, asylums, shelters and homes for the defective, destitute, orphaned, aged, erring, friendless and incurably diseased; various relief societies, and associations that sift the good from the bad among the mendicant, the economically inefficient, and the viciously pauper, represent the charity work of the city. Among public institutions are the Cook County hospital (situated in the “Medical District” of the West Side, where various hospitals and schools are gathered near together), asylum and poor house. Since 1883 a Lincoln Park Sanitarium has been maintained for infants and small children during warm weather. Two legal-aid societies, the Chicago Bureau of Justice (1888) and the Protective Agency for Women and Children, collect small wage claims and otherwise aid the poor or helpless. The most important charitable societies of the city are the United Charities of Chicago (1909), the United Hebrew Charities (1857), and the Associated Jewish Charities (1900). The first is the union of the Relief and Aid Society (1857) and the Bureau of Charities (1894),
- The net revenue per million gallons in 1890–1899 was $35.04.