As the nation grew, the gap between people and the natural environment was widening. The introduction of railroads, telegraphs, and stockyards, helped transform cities into major industrial centers. Populations within cities increased, as immigrants flocked to them seeking employment. The resulting noise, grit, and industrial waste compelled women in the cities to take action. In Chicago, social worker Jane Addams was prepared to do just that. Coupled with the efforts of Alice Hamilton and Mary McDowell, Hull House was formed in 1888.
The creation of Hull House helped mark what is known as the Settlement House era. Across the United States, settlement houses sought to reform communities by raising public awareness about problems to find resolutions. Working-class neighborhoods were in the most dire straits, with overcrowding and poor sanitation. Hull House was concerned with the need for solid waste and sewage management in poor working neighborhoods. To remedy this, Addams became trash inspector for her Chicago ward. Likewise, McDowell motivated people to consider reduction, and pressured industries to take responsibility for their trash and sewage disposal.
The crusade for reforming working-class neighborhoods continued as McDowell opened a new settlement house in the meat-packing section of Chicago. Between the polluted waters of the Chicago River and the fields of slaughterhouse waste, McDowell began to make a strong connection between the conditions of work and daily life. Most people working in the industrial sections of the city couldn't afford to live anywhere else. Industrial byproducts that contaminated the city's air and water were unregulated, and industries weren't compelled to address the problem. Under Teddy Roosevelt, reformers
The Clearwater, a sloop built to promote the antipollution cause, is sailing down the Hudson river past a junkyard on its way to the first Earth Day activities in 1970. (© Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)
like Addams were drawn to the Progressive Party. Joining the political ranks, reformers provided greater visibility to the problems of pollution and social injustice. Consequently, leagues representing women and consumer interests gained popularity. In the 1920s the National Consumer's League exposed the use of dangerous chemicals in the watch industry, and the Gauley Bridge deaths put the national spotlight on the role played by industry in the health of its employees.
Was this article helpful?