Archive ID: 2020-022-02

Great-Aunt Jenny’s boarding house

Date Created: undated

Donor: Arlene A. Walley

Media Type: Photograph


One of the most common ways that married women earned money in the steel mill neighborhoods of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was by taking in lodgers. Often young male immigrants came alone in search of work, or worked intermittently before returning to their home country. Consequently, they were in need of affordable lodging. Sometimes these were more formalized arrangements. Steel mills maintained production around the clock to keep equipment from breaking down, and steelworkers generally worked 12 hour shifts, either night or day, during this period. Consequently, one man might rent a bed during the night and then relinquish the same bed to another worker during the day. Later, as more family members followed male workers to Southeast Chicago, women might take a few lodgers into their homes to contribute to family finances. They would generally provide meals and wash clothes for the lodgers who were usually of the same ethnic group. Census records for early Southeast Chicago residents indicate how widespread the practice was of taking in lodgers. However, few images clearly identify the practice. This photo was donated by Arlene Walley. The woman pictured was the wife of one of her male relatives, and the men were lodgers. Arlene was also a secretary at a Swedish church on the East Side called Bethesda Lutheran to which her family had belonged for many years. In going through church records in the 1970s and 80s, she was puzzled to notice that many of the oldest male members of the congregation all had the same address after arriving in the United States. Later, she discovered that, as early Swedish immigrants, they had all lodged in the same boarding house.

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Community Life   Immigrant Experiences   Other   Women’s Experiences   1900-1919 (WWI Era)   East Side   European Descent   Photograph