Recreation -- A Function of City Government, July 1, 1913 (fragment)

REEL 47_0804.jpg
REEL 47_0805.jpg
REEL 47_0806.jpg
REEL 47_0807.jpg
REEL 47_0809.jpg
REEL 47_0810.jpg
REEL 47_0811.jpg
REEL 47_0808.jpg
REEL 47_0812.jpg

Because I have lived for many years in Chicago in a ward which has been represented in the Common Council by an alderman who is considered notoriously corrupt, I have always been very much interested in <his> methods of political procedure and during twenty years have had ample opportunity to study them. I was much startled some years ago, when Hull-House was conducting a campaign against him, to be told by a keen politician in the locality that such an alderman could never be defeated save by a candidate who had grown up in the ward and had <had> a long experience in a gang -- that no one else <would know how to go about it. I have since learned to understand> what he meant. The leader of a gang of boys gains his prestige largely through his power of obtaining favors for his followers; he discovers the alley in which they may play a game of craps undisturbed by a policeman who pretends not to see them; he later finds the poolrooms in which minors may congregate in defiance of the law, the saloons which easily and readily sell liquor to boys or the gambling places which are protected by obscure but powerful influences. It is but a step further when he and his followers are voters and he is running for office, to extend the same kind of protection to all of the men who are "faithful". He will secure for them special privileges of all sorts and will protect them from the operations of any law which may prove to be inconvenient to them. He merely continues on a larger scale the excellent training he had in the gang by utilizing those old human motives -- personal affection, desire for favors, fear of ridicule and loyalty to comrades. 

While the power of a politician of this type is being slowly abridged through civil service and other political reforms, to my mind it is being destroyed much more rapidly at its very [page 2] source by the establishment of public recreation centers which must in the end gradually abolish this particular type of gang <training. If it is clear> that political relationships are also first formed in social intercourse, if it is clear that the boy gang of today tends to grow into the political ring of tomorrow, <then> it is obvious that the city itself has a stake in the <other> forms of public recreation and that <it is one of the the functions to> provide adequate recreational facilities is.

A group of boys will not continue to stand upon the street corners and to seek illicit pleasures in alleys and poolrooms when all the fascinating apparatus of a recreation field is at their disposal. When such a gang of boys go into such a park, the leader finds that this special power of manipulation which he has developed is of no use there and that he can obtain no special favors for his friends. The business of the superintendent of the recreation center is to see that each gang of boys is fairly treated, that "the liberty of each is limited by the like liberty of all", to use an old Spencerian phrase. The boy who is admired is not he who can secure secret favors but the one who can best meet those standards which boys maintain of running, climbing, turning, etc. They may seem like absurd standards to the adult but they are at least universal standards, with the competition open to all and dependent upon personal prowess. When the leader of a gang is in the midst of an athletic meet with the blood coursing through his body and his mind bent upon victory, there is little likelihood that he is plotting for illicit deeds, trusting the leader of the gang to save him from arrest. The leader himself finds that the boys who are there learn to resist exploitation; they come to despise and to cover with opprobrious epithets any comrade who wishes to receive special favors either for himself or his fellows. A rude sort of justice prevails and very important [page 3] it is because it is safe to predict that boys who have no opportunity to put into practice such notions of justice as they have when they are boys, will not be apt to resent social injustice when they grow to be men.

Furthermore, boys who are trained to consider the rights of the whole playground and not merely to favor their own friends, have the beginnings of a public spirit which may at length place the welfare of the city at the head of <above> all personal considerations. The opportunity which the athletic field provides for comradeship founded upon the establishment of just relationships, is the basis for a new citizenship and in the end will overthrow the corrupt politician. In fact, I see no other way of overthrowing him in a crowded city quarter where people's prejudices are easily played upon and where all are eager for special favors, except this open-air, widespread opportunity for social intercourse while the boys are still young and full of  [enthusiastic] and quick to respond to the ideals of fair play.

The fifteen small parks of Chicago equipped with clubrooms, dance-halls, refectories, reading-rooms, gymnasiums, swimming-pools and much other social paraphernalia, are, we believe, centers in which a higher type of citizenship is being nursed. Certainly, the number of arrests among juvenile delinquents falls off surprisingly in a district where such parks have been established -- a negative measure, possibly, but one which cannot be disregarded. The Juvenile Court records show that delinquency has decreased in <some of> these neighborhoods 24% and in other 70%.

The training in the small parks will also tend to produce a more active type of citizen. At the present moment much of the available recreation is entirely passive; it is said that the type [page 4] of game played by city children adapts itself to the density of the population -- craps and dice take up practically no room -- and that the contracted area for play is already resulting in a decreased power and will to live. In a recent investigation in Milwaukee to discover what children were doing after school hours, it was fond that an average of 19% were working, 31% were playing and 50% were doing absolutely nothing. This passivity often leads to great secretiveness and unnatural inertia, Many years ago <[bearing] out> Huxley [contention] that <savages> might easily be produced in the most crowded city quarter who would exhibit all the brutal characteristics which are supposed to be fostered only in isolation.

While [When?] the city child with five cents may have <with which he may procure> the delights of a moving picture show, he himself must remain quietly seated and merely contemplate the action of others. It is estimated that in the United States 750,000 people attend daily the regular [theaters] while two and a quarter million attend the motion picture shows, of this number 400,000 are children. In Chicago the [theaters] seat 93,000 people and about 32,000 children attend them daily.

Partly because the city boy has so little chance for motor activity his imagination is unduly fired by what he sees at the [theater]. The gentlemanly burgar, the expert safe-blower, the daring train-robber, the reckless scout, all fill his ideas of what a hero ought to be. At a Chicago [theater] recently a play showed a brutal father who struck his wife and in revenge was shot by his step-son. At the close of the evening when the son appeared before the curtain he was wildly applauded while the father was hissed. A boy in the audience who saw the play was so much impressed by it that the following day when his father, a hard-working man out of employment, in a moment of irritation raised his hand [page 5] against the mother, the boy shot and wounded his father and was much astonished to find that he was not regarded as a hero by the police and the public but was taken at once into the Juvenile Court. The amateur nights occasionally given in the five-cent [theaters] are very popular, partly because they offer an opportunity to the children for actual participation. Boys and girls in their craving for excitement are only too anxious to appear in public; they give the little stunts which they have learned and if they please the audience are sometimes rewarded by pennies which are thrown to them; if they fail to please they are pulled off the stages by a large hook. The whole thing is very exciting but the shows are often course and vulgar and tend to be demoralizing. Because many [theaters] offer at the close of the evening three admissions for ten cents, or two for five cents, the children wait about the doors until very late at night, sometimes begging the price of admission from the passer-by or sometimes even pilfering in order to obtain it. It is comparatively easy to unscrew an electric light bulb and as these sell in the shops for seven cents a piece they are accepted at the value of five cents at the doors of many cheap [theaters] and hundreds of them are taken in lieu of tickets. 

Even the boy of more wholesome tastes who saves his money for the baseball game at which he roots with all his energy is essentially a spectator and obtains his pleasure through other people rather than through his own exertions. A few months ago these <three> members of the Hull-House Boys' Club were offering a ball bat for sale at the exorbitant price of two dollars and a half because it had once belonged to a famous baseball player <from when they had "swiped" it> When reprimanded for their boast of stealing the bat they confessed that their story had been [page 6] devised "to raise the esteem of the bat" and they defended their dubious conduct by the statement "What use has any fellow round here for a bat except for a trophy".

In a great city, just because men are crowded into tenements and constantly jostling each other upon the streets, they are deluded into thinking they have social life when, in fact, they may be totally without it. Moreover, the American city is composed of people brought together from all the nations of the earth, who have inherited memories to hold them together and who possess no common ties of religion and tradition. In the old city states such as Athens or Florence each man could draw from a fund of experiences similar to those of his fellow-citizens. The area of government corresponded to the area of acquaintance or, at least, to that of memory and filial piety. In America we have gone straight away from these world-old ideals and if we would establish that mutual understanding and respect upon which alone a democracy can be founded, there is no doubt that the city must undertake much more fully than it has yet done to provide centers in which social life may be organized and carried on steadily and normally. <There is therefore real patriotism back of the> vigorous movement originating in Boston and New York, but fast spreading throughout the country, to open the public schools for purposes of recreation <social control>. At the present moment Wisconsin is making the most systematic effort in this direction. In Chicago there are 267 public schools and 166 parochial schools, yet last winter only ten of these were opened as social centers. As the schools are opened for educational purposes only five hours a day for five days a week, our forty million dollar plant in Chicago is used only 1300 hours a year, while the children for <people by> whom the schools are intended <were built> find their recreation outside, as best they may. [page 7]

The School Board was reproached last year by the advocates of public recreation because they had appropriated only $12,500 for school centers but had spent $125,000 for iron fences. This was all the more bitter in that the fences are primarily designed to keep the children out of the school playgrounds, [meager] as they are. The average space apportioned to each child in the crowded quarters being three feet by six, almost exactly the size of a grave!

A more careful supervision of dance halls is urged upon the city authorities because social intercourse, which is the foundation of the great domestic relationships, can for thousands of young people be obtained only in these public places. If there is further evidence that political relationships are also first formed in social intercourse, certainly a fair argument may be made that it is a public duty to provide recreational facilities for boys one may also add for girls for who can doubt that that in a very little while they too will require political training. -- it may even be charged that it is a solemn obligation of the modern heterogenous city.

J. A [initialed]

[page 8] In one playground just being built next to one of the public schools in the congested district of our city, the land has been measured and it has been found that a space of three feet by six, just the size of a grave. [page 9]

<no 8 L. H. J- sent July 1st 1913

Recreation- a Foundation of City Govt.

read for socialized Ed Chap Gomper JA. >

Item Relations


Allowed tags: <p>, <a>, <em>, <strong>, <ul>, <ol>, <li>