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Chicago History Fair 2024: Archival Collections

Suggested topics featuring archival material from Special Collections and University Archives

Cruel and Unusual?

In 2000, Governor George Ryan of Illinois issued a moratorium on executions, and in 2003 he pardoned or commuted the sentences of every person on Illinois's death row. Ryan's actions gave new life to a movement to abolish capital punishment in the state that ultimately succeeded in 2011. The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty records document the campaign that organization waged.

Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty records (1963-2011, bulk 1976-2011); 15.25 linear feet

The Search for Fair Housing

The civil rights movement, along with the prosperity that followed World War II (1939-1945), gave African Americans the resources to organize to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods while at the same time challenging housing segregation maintained by threats of violence and such practices as "red lining.”

Chicago Urban League records (1916-2000); 664 linear feet

North Shore Summer Housing Project (1965-1966); .25 linear feet

Richard J. Daley collection; 700 linear feet

Are Animals People, Too?

By the late 1800s, reformers had begun to challenge prevailing notions about animal cruelty., urging the state to more aggressively enforce laws for the prevention of cruelty to animals. The Illinois Humane Society records contain annual reports, correspondence, and case records of animals the organization tried to protect.

Illinois Humane Society records (1889-1960); 280 linear feet

Making the Wilderness Public

The creation of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in 1914 represented a new turning point in managing wild lands for public use. Unlike park districts, which maintained carefully cultivated spaces within cities, the Forest Preserve District tried to keep nature in as pristine a condition as possible and to educate the public about natural lands. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County records, contains speeches, nature bulletins, and in-service guides that demonstrate the Forest Preserve District's commitment to informing the public about the forests right next to Chicago. This series also contains "historical" files that document the early campaign to establish a forest preserve in Cook County.

Forest Preserve District of Cook County records (1904-2011), Series III; 331.25 linear feet

Innovations for End-of-Life Care

The Horizon Hospice was the first hospice in Chicago. The hospice opened in 1978 to provide palliative care and comfort for the terminally ill and their families. Horizon Hospice served patients in the Chicago area regardless of their ability to pay. Most patients were cared for at home, but often Horizon Hospice worked with local hospitals, nursing homes, and AIDS residences. Horizon Hospice was at the forefront of the development of hospice care, founding many programs aimed at expanding access to end-of-life care and educating the public about the benefits of hospice. The hospice was also one of the first to train health care professionals in hospice and palliative medicine.

Horizon Hospice records; 32 linear feet

Digital resource:

What does ‘the Right to Keep and Bear Arms’ Mean?

Beginning around 1970, advocates for gun control laws met increasing resistance from individuals who argued that the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of a "right to keep and bear arms" and other considerations ought to prevent the enactment of such laws. The United States Supreme Court eventually sided with such arguments in their decisions United States v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010). The records of the Committee for Handgun Control documents the sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful efforts of one gun control group during the 1970s to counter these arguments and to win the enactment of laws to prohibit or regulate handguns.

Committee for Handgun Control, Inc. collection (1969-1978, bulk 1973-1978); 10.5 linear feet

A Turning Point in Mental Health Treatments

Dr. Abraham Low established one of the first self-help programs for people with mental illness which is now known as Recovery International. His “Recovery Method” represented a combination of group therapy and what today is known as cognitive-behavioral training. Because Dr. Low died in 1954, just as the “Recovery Method” was being perfected, his contributions to mental health treatments and particularly cognitive behavioral therapy are not yet well known.

Abraham Low papers; 13.5 linear feet

Recovery International records; 18 linear feet

Caring for Displaced Children: Institutionalization or Home Placement

In 1883 a Methodist minister created what became the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society, which proved a turning point in the way private charitable organizations tried to improve the lives of displaced children. The society tried to place children with adoptive parents and foster parents. It also operated residences and schools for those children who it believed needed a more regimented environment. The records of this society contains several of its publications, including its magazine "Homelife for Children," that document the society's efforts to meet the challenges posed by its mission to care for displaced children.

Children's Home and Aid Society of Illinois records (1883-1999); 42 linear feet

New Ideas in Sex Education

In 1916 public health activists created the Red League, which was the forerunner to the Illinois Social Hygiene League, later renamed the Institute for Sex Education. Its founders envisioned a cooperative effort with hospitals and universities to raise awareness and combat the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The organization never abandoned that goal, but by the 1970s, it focused increasingly on sex education in public schools. The records of the Institute for Sex Education demonstrate the evolution of the new idea that sex education was a necessary part of a school curriculum.

Institute for Sex Education records (1916-1971); 15.5 linear feet

Sidelining the Quacks: Professionalizing Medicine

Throughout the nineteenth century, the medical profession attempted to discourage patients from relying on “quacks” for medical advice and drugs. The earliest medical schools were established in the late 1800s. The College of Pharmacy (founded in 1859) was the first pharmacy school in the heart of the Midwest. The College of Physicians and Surgeons (founded in 1881) and the Illinois Training School for Nurses (founded in 1880) were two other schools that played a role in the development of modern professional medicine.

College of Pharmacy – Publications – Announcements and Course Catalogs, 1859, 1874-1880, 1882-1940, 1951-1986/87, 1.8 linear feet

Chicago College of Pharmacy – Publications – The Pharmacist, 1868-1871

Plexus, 1895-1911

William E. Quine Collection, 1894-1923, 1984, 1994, 0.25 linear feet

Ludwig Hektoen Papers, 1884-1952, 0.25 linear feet

Charles S. Bacon Papers, 1895-1947, 1.5 linear feet

College of Physician and Surgeons of Chicago – Buildings – Cornerstone, 1862-1882, 1.5 linear feet

Illinois Training School for Nurses Records, 1881-1980, 22 linear feet

Beatrice Fisk Papers, 1904-1979, 1997, 4 linear feet

Bulldozing Blight: New Approaches to Urban Planning and Slum Clearance

Public housing has been on the agenda of local, state, and national leaders since the First World War. In Chicago, the 1940s and 1950s saw the bulldozing of hundreds of square miles of dilapidated housing and the building of high rise “projects”. Seen as the most innovative designs to date, the city, along with private developers in several cases, built thousands of homes for lower and middle class families. How did these innovations in housing transform our understanding of urban planning?

Aldis Family Papers (1897-1953); 6 linear feet

Fort Dearborn Project Records (1948-1959); 4 linear feet

Chicago Council on Urban Affairs Records (1968-1985); 42 linear feet

Industrial Areas Foundation (1952-2004); 85 linear feet

The Right to Life, the Right to Choose, and the Power of the State

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision made first-trimester abortions were legal throughout the U.S. The court overturned that decision in its 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision. The fifty-year period in which abortions were legal throughout the U.S. represented a turning point in the ongoing debate over whether, and in what circumstances, the government ought to have the power to outlaw abortions. The Jane Abortion Collective Oral History collection contains interviews from some of those who collaborated in Chicago to secure access to abortion before the Roe v. Wade decision. The records of the Abortion Rights Association of Illinois and of the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance document some activists' efforts before the decision to change the laws in Illinois and after the decision to defend what they saw as the right to legal abortion.

Jane Abortion Collective Oral History collection (1980); 0.5 linear feet

Abortion Rights Association of Illinois records (1963-1976); 8.5 linear feet

Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance records (1977-1995); 16.5 linear feet

Juvenile Court and New Ideas of Justice

In 1899, Chicago reformers created the first Juvenile Court in the country with the goal of providing what they saw as a fairer system of justice for minors. By the 1960s, however, court proceedings had been criticized for unfairness. The papers of Mary Bartelme, a juvenile court judge, give insight into an early challenge to the Juvenile Court. Evidence of later challenges can be found in the records of the League of Women Voters. That collection contains the observations of court watchers from the 1960s and 1970s who monitored the trials of children to check for abuses.

Mary Bartelme papers (1904-1958); 4.75 linear feet

League of Women Voters of Illinois (1916-2000); 38 linear feet

1896 Election: A Missed Opportunity or the Triumph of Fiscal Stability

A key issue in the presidential election of 1896 was whether the United States should maintain the gold standard for its currency or adopt a “bimetal” standard based on silver as well as gold. William Jennings Bryan, the candidate endorsed by both the Democratic Party and Populist Party, argued that the bimetal standard would empower farmers and limit the power of gigantic corporations that benefited from a gold standard. William McKinley, endorsed by the Republican party, argued that bimetallism would create an unstable currency and hurt industrial workers who would see their wages drop. The Bimetallism and Currency reform collection includes publications, reports, and correspondence that shed light on the movement for bimetallism and on the presidential election that raised the debate to the national level.

Bimetallism and Currency Reform collection; 21.5 linear feet

The New Left

The 1960s and 1970s represented for some a new era of activism for causes such as promoting civil rights and ending the Vietnam War. Some of the activists formed a “new left” that questioned what they saw as the fundamentally repressive system maintained by the United States government. Did they truly represent a turning point? How successful were they at promoting their vision?

Students for a Democratic Society collection; 0.25 linear feet

Russ Gilbert “New Left” Pamphlet collection; 8.25 linear feet

The Great Depression: New Challenges, New Opportunities for Organized Labor

The Great Depression of the 1930s presented new opportunities and new challenges for organized labor in Chicago. The fall of economic activity meant more unemployment and less power for workers. But hard times inspired many workers to band together and advocate for their interests and promote fresh visions for governing society. The “New Deal” programs ushered in by President Franklin D. Roosevelt seemed to further empower workers by giving the federal government a role in helping unions pursue their goals. The Victor A. Olander papers and the Illinois Federation of Labor collection represent the views of organized workers, while the John F. Sherman collection represents the view of one of their opponents.

Victor A. Olander papers; 33.5 linear feet

Illinois Federation of Labor collection; 4 linear feet

John F. Sherman collection; 0.5 linear feet

What's an Archival Collection? What Are Archives?

An archival collection is any collection of documents, photographs, or other materials that have been donated for safekeeping and public access.  Donors can be persons or organizations, and the items in an archival collection are usually one-of-a-kind and cannot be found anywhere else. Archival collections are also called archival records or manuscript collections.

 Archives house archival collections. You can often find them in some libraries and museums, and they are usually called "special collections" or "archives."

Archives also house what are known as rare books. Most of these are books that are out of publication and might be difficult to find elsewhere.  Some of them are very old and fragile and need special care. Others might not be rare yet, but reflect the topical strength of the library. At UIC Special Collections, we have thousands of rare books on Chicago History.  Many of them were donated by generous collectors who wanted to make their vast personal libraries available to the public. To see a list of some of these rare book collections, click here.

Some archival collections  are housed in places other than libraries or museums. For example, some organizations keep their own archives on their premises. And some people keep their own collection of documents or other materials they own in their house or apartment.

Who Uses Archives and Why?

Historians use archives to find and study primary sources. A primary source is a firsthand account from history, and examples of primary sources can include a letter someone wrote, a diary, a photograph, or a newspaper article written by a reporter who witnessed an event or interviewed those who did.

Think of archives as one way to travel back in time and find out what other people in years gone by were thinking and doing.

Historians use these sources in several ways. The most obvious is to find out more about the person or organization who donated the materials.  But sometimes they use archival collections more creatively. For example, they might use a collection to learn about a famous politician the donor may have known, about the neighborhood he or she lived in, or about a famous event he or she witnessed.

But archives are not just for historians. They serve all sorts of purposes. Genealogists use them to trace their ancestry. Journalists use them to supplement their reporting. Students use them to write research papers.  Homeowners use them to trace their house's history.  In short, people use them to explore whatever may be of interest.

Archives at public universities, public libraries and museums, and even some private libraries, are generally open to anyone who wishes to use them. Even some archives not open to the general public make their collections available on a case-by-case basis. It never hurts to ask.

And remember: UIC Special Collections is open to the general public. So come and give us a visit!