Skip to main content

Civic Federation records

Identifier: MSS0048

Scope and Contents

The Civic Federation collection contains a wide range of documents that span from 1894 to the early 2000s. These materials includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, press releases, financial spreadsheets, photographs, publications, and other documents needed to conduct research and communicate their findings. The materials cover the organization’s internal operations and administration as well as their research areas of education, environment, health, government and taxes, public services, and transportation.

Due to the acidic and deteriorating condition of much of the paper the Civic Federation used from the 1950s through the 1970s to make copies of letters or to draft documents, photocopy reproductions were made and substituted. Additional photocopies were made of some of the earlier bulletins and letters that are fragile for use as reference copies. Many staples were removed due to rust or were removed during the photocopying of fragile papers. Originally stapled materials are wrapped with a colored sheet of acid-free paper.


  • 1888-2001
  • Majority of material found within 1940-1980


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

The scene was set on November 12, 1893 when William T. Stead, editor of the London Review of Reviews and known as a crusader against vice in England, made two speeches in Chicago. In these speeches, Stead asked what need to be done to better the conditions in Chicago. Present at the second meeting was W. C. Pomeroy, President of the Waiters Union, who called for the appointment of a committee of twenty-one to serve as a civic federation. The select group of five included L. T. O’Brien, representing labor; Professor Edward N. Burris, representing education; T. W. Harvey, representing commerce; Dr. H. Thomas of the People’s Church, representing religion; and Jane Addams, representing women. The five proceeded to select over forty individuals with the goal of forming a concentration of non-political and non-sectarian leaders to advance municipal, philanthropic, industrial and moral interests in Chicago. This group would become known as the Civic Federation. By 1894, the group received its first charter and held its first meeting. Lyman J. Gage was elected the first president while Mrs. Potter Palmer was elected as the first vice-president. Early initiatives include gambling, prostitution, corruption, clean streets, sanitary food, and the New Chicago Charter, also known as “Home Rule” to consolidate the revenues and taxes currently deriving from multiple townships and government structures.

By 1910, the focus of the Civic Federation shifted its emphasis to the monitoring public funds and how taxpayer money was distributed for use amongst local government bodies for services and infrastructure. Their analysis of bonds, budgets, federal aid, tax revenues, and other funds throughout the Chicago area led to their advocacy for or against legislative and city initiatives as well as to further analysis into the areas funded such as education, health, parks, pensions, sanitation, transportation, or urban planning. Beginning in 1910, their research and advocacy efforts were published and distributed as bulletins. Since that time, the work of the Civic Federation has grown to encompass statements made before various boards, organizations, and government bodies; news releases; regular and specialized reports; and collaboration with various community leaders.

In 1932, the Civic Federation merged with the non-profit Chicago Bureau of Public Efficiency. This advantageous union brought skilled staff and additional membership to support the organization. Financed through a subscription-based membership of commercial business, professional firms, private citizens, and other groups, the Civic Federation operates through a combination of dedicated staff members and representatives from these contributing organizations who serve on various committees and the Board of Directors. Over the years, the Civic Federation has consistently examined the myriad sources of urban revenue and its distribution. The core areas of examination have remained over the years, but different committees and analysis shift in emphasis over the years to reflect the larger city and state initiatives and planning such as the creation of the Deep Tunnel project or the creation of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA).


88 Linear Feet (194 boxes)

Language of Materials



The Civic Federation records are arranged into 8 Series: 1. Administrative; 2. Education; 3. Environment; 4. Health; 5. Transportation; 6. Chicago/Cook County Government; 7. Illinois/Federal Government; 8. Urban Planning. Each series contains additional subseries with contents organized alphabetically by subject.

1. Administrative Subseries 001.001, History Subseries 001.002, Committees Subseries 001.003, Correspondence Subseries 001.004, Finance Subseries 001.005, Meetings and Conferences Subseries 001.006, Office Subseries 001.007, Photographs Subseries 001.008, Publications

2. Education Subseries 002.001, Board of Education Subseries 002.002, Comparative Subseries 002.003, Colleges

3. Environment Subseries 003.001, Chicago Park District Subseries 003.002, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, IL Subseries 003.003, Metropolitan Sanitary District Subseries 003.004, Pollution and Sanitation Management

4. Health Subseries 004.001, Health and Hospitals Governing Commission of Cook County (HHGC) Subseries 004.002, Health and Medical Care

5. Transportation Subseries 005.001, Airports Subseries 005.002, Mass Transit Subseries 005.003, Motor Vehicles Subseries 005.004, Regional

6. Chicago/Cook County Government Subseries 006.001, Administrative Subseries 006.002, Employment Subseries 006.003, Finance Subseries 006.004, Taxes

7. Illinois/Federal Government Subseries 007.001, Administrative Subseries 007.002, Employment Subseries 007.003, Finance Subseries 007.004, Taxes

8. Urban Planning Subseries 008.001, Buildings and Housing Subseries 008.002, Planning and Economic Development Subseries 008.003, Public Services

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Civic Federation, Accession 1995.17; 2012.13; 2015.074

Related Materials

Harry F. Chaddick papers; Robert S. Gruhn papers; Lincoln Park Neighborhood collections; Teresa Fraga papers; Latino Institute records. Stead, William T. If Christ Came to Chicago! A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer. London: Review of Reviews, 1894. SpC. 977.31104 S799I 1894

Processing Information

MJB 1996; PD 1998; CB 2001; M. McCoy 2014-2015; D. Potts 2016-2017

Guide to Civic Federation records
MJB 1996, PD 1998, CB 2001, M. McCoy 2014-2015, D. Potts 2016-2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the DePaul Special Collections and Archives Repository

John T. Richardson Library
2350 N. Kenmore Ave.
Room 314
Chicago Illinois 60614