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Elizabeth H. Miller


Main Ideas
The term renaissance, describes a period in which significant changes take place in the cultural life of a people, city, region, or nation. In this narrative, the changes occurred in a wide range of expressions about life in Chicago between 1890 and 1925: literature, poetry, architecture, museums, the World's Columbian Exposition, and political/economic views of workers and industrialists. In particular, during this exciting period of intellectual life, many creative individuals produced works of, or relating to, poetry, including three especially important literary figures: Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, and Harriet Monroe. The accomplishments of many of the contributors to the Chicago Renaissance are still in evidence today in Chicago's institutions, in American poetry and literature, and in educational and social service theories, architecture, and rights of working people.

Connection to the Curriculum
This material may be used to teach U.S. history, social studies, humanities, English, or language arts.

Teaching Level
Grades 8-10


Harriet Monroe

Materials for Each Student

• The narrative portion of this article
• Paper for the book jacket
• A copy of Spoon River Anthology
• Stiff poster-size paper, preferably gray, for tombstones
• Colored markers, colored pencils
• Activity handouts

Objectives for Each Student

• Learn and use skills to enable students to read the narrative with understanding.
• Read a poem with understanding.
• Interpret characters in a poem.
• Research and write about a historical topic.
• Draw conclusions based on historical events and actions.
• Create a critical expression about a historical period.
• Work to complete assignments independently, in small groups, and as a class.
• Understand and appreciate Chicago's Renaissance period and its effect on development of the city and its contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of the United States.


Opening the Lesson
Have the students begin reading the narrative in class, encouraging them to write down what they think are important ideas and information and identifying words they do not understand. In small groups, the students could share those important ideas, information, and vocabulary, each group having a spokesperson to bring their ideas to the class. The rest of the narrative should be completed as homework along with Activity 1 so that students can process the information in a format directing their reading. Younger students benefit and gain confidence when there is some structure to aid in assimilating the assignment.

Developing the Lesson
• Before proceeding with the activities, review the narrative to be sure that the students understand the concept of renaissance, the events in Chicago that helped set the scene for change, and the expressions and contribution of the three literary figures—Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, and Harriet Monroe.

• Activity 1 presents a structure for the students to write down important information from the narrative and draw conclusions about the significance of events of the period. Using their completed chart, they could be required to write an in-class summary of the narrative that would help reinforce the reading and enable the teacher to evaluate how well they understood the content.

• Activity 2 introduces the student to Carl Sandburg's poem "Chicago," and provides questions to examine the literal meaning of the poem as well as opportunities for interpreting and expressing individual understanding of the poem. After reading the poem silently, have students choose the lines of the poem they like best and read them for the class. Then, read the entire poem aloud, as the language of "Chicago" lends itself to being heard. Familiarize students with the poem before assigning classwork or homework. What words in the poem illustrate the personification of the city? What elements of work are described? What group of Chicago people are the focus of the poem and how are they depicted?

• Activity 3 presents an opportunity for the students to interpret the citizens of Spoon River in a choice of creative expression. Have the class work on only one of these projects so they can work individually and together. To provide them with an example of the assignment, choose one poem from Spoon River Anthology, providing each student with a copy of it so he can examine the person, think about how (s)he could be characterized, or what could be said in a newscast. The class can share ideas about how to do the assignment and ask questions before the project begins.

• Activity 4 places the students in Chicago at the turn of the century. Individually they must research a topic or person that will fit into a larger picture of the era. In small groups they will decide how all these topics can be meaningfully arranged into a history of the period that will be presented in their own historical magazine. Upon completion of the project, see if the school library will display the magazine and allow it to be checked out to other students in the school.

• Activity 5 requires students to predict both positive and negative outcomes of events and actions. Students will gain an understanding that historical events and ideas are not simple, but complex, that they can be interpreted differently by people, and that these differences are comprehensible and should be valued as individual expression even if the student does not agree.

• Activity 6 offers students an opportunity to express a negative view of an event, idea, or historic period. They will have to think carefully about their choices in order to present an argument or view that is critical, perhaps even unpopular, and be ready to defend their perspectives.


Such a Good Day for Field Trips
Carriage Ride

To assist the teacher in adding to the narrative, a number of videos that investigate aspects of the era are available from the Film/Video Center of Chicago's Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street to holders of Chicago public library cards.

"City in a Garden: Parks and Plans"

"Jane Addams," American Women of Achievement Video Collection

'The Loop: Where the Skyscraper Began"

'The Progressive Movement," U.S. History Video Collection

"Spoon River Anthology," The Master Poets Collection

Concluding the Lesson
• Review the narrative, looking for a broader and deeper understanding of this period of Chicago's history as a result of the students' reading and the chosen activities.

• Discuss with the students how the intellectual/artistic life of a community expresses itself in how a city looks (i.e. architecture, gardens, parks), the institutions it supports (museums, orchestras, theater, service agencies, universities, sport teams), and the way it feels about itself (optimistic, excited, concerned, proud). Are all groups of people included in such a phenomenon? If no, who is not and why? Draw the students to the activities they undertook to find examples that illustrate the relationship of ideas and outcomes.

• Create a timeline of Chicago's history, 1890-1925, using all the events that the class investigated as part of their assignments. It should support the idea that many varied activities went on in the city during the thirty-five years. Discuss the categories of events that occurred and how they might be related.

Extending the Lesson
• Consider the nature of Chicago at the end of the twentieth century. What are the relationships between today's Chicago with the Chicago Renaissance of the beginning of the twentieth century? Is there any evidence that another renaissance might be taking place in Chicago? If yes, what examples would support your answer? If yes, is the renaissance the same for everyone? Again, provide evidence and examples.

• Contact an alderman or a community or business leader to discuss Chicago's twenty-first century future and the element of change and/or renaissance with the class. Have the students prepare questions for the guest speaker.

• Contact a local book store for suggestions of a poet or author who could come to speak to the class about literary life in Chicago today, how they find inspiration for their words in the city, and other information about being a poet or writer. If the students have written their own poems about Chicago, share them with the guest. Also, have students share the copy of the class historical magazine if that assignment was undertaken.

• Field Trips in Chicago: Lessons should be created to fit with each trip so the students are pro-active in their learning away from the classroom.

Walking Tour of early Loop Skyscrapers:

Monadnock Building, 53 W. Jackson; Rookery Building, 209 S. LaSalle; Reliance Building, 36 N. State; Carson Pirie Scott Store, Southeast corner State and Madison; Auditorium Building, Northwest corner Michigan and Congress. More modern skyscrapers (Richard J. Daley Center, Klucynski Federal Building, James R. Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building, Sears Tower). Resource: Chicago Architecture Foundation, 224 S. Michigan, (312) 922-3432.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour, 951 Chicago Av, Oak Park, IL, (708)848-1976. Oak Park walking tour is also available.

Jane Addams' Hull House and Museum at University of Illinois, Chicago, 800 S.Halsted, (312)413-5353.

Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark St., (312)642-4600. Check with the Education Department for relevant exhibits.

Assessing the Lesson
• Individual and small group assignments will be evaluated by the teacher. Determine if all students are assuming responsibility for the completion of group activities. A test at the unit's end assessing the students' understanding of the Chicago Renaissance should include both factual questions and ones that require the students to draw their own conclusions with reasonable evidence to support their ideas.


Activity 1
Reading for Comprehension -
The Chicago Renaissance in Poetry

Chicago Renaissance Worksheet


Activity 2
Responding to a Poem:
Carl Sandburg's "Chicago"

Carl Sandburg

To an artist, paint and canvas are used to present a picture. For Carl Sandburg it was words that encouraged the reader to form images. Read the poem "Chicago." Answer the following questions and choose to do one of the two activities.


Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nations Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your
painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen
the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is; On the faces of women
and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my
city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be
alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall
bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted
against the wilderness,
Building, breaking rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs,
the heart of the people,

Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked,
sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.


Activity 2 - continued

Man dancing

  1. A) What words/phrases does Carl Sandburg use to describe the life and energy of Chicago?

    B) Sketch some of those images.

    C) How can some of the images and the descriptions of the city be considered positive?

    D) Negative?

    E) What does it mean that the same description can be considered complimentary and insulting?

  2. A) Sandburg recognizes that some people "sneer" at his city. What kinds of sneers does he refer to?

    B) How does he answer those people who are critical of his city?

  3. Why do you think Sandburg begins and ends his poem with the same images?

  4. A) The poem presents many word pictures of Chicago. Which image from the poem appeals the most to you?

    B) Why?

    C) Sketch your favorite word picture.

    Activity: Choose one

  5. The publishing company that is going to print the book of Sandburg's 1916 Chicago Poems collection has hired you to create the book jacket (cover). Your cover must include the title Chicago Poems, the poet's name, and an illustration of Chicago based on the poem you have read. If you like, you can develop one of the sketches you did above as your cover.


  6. Write a poem about Chicago. Be sure to include your own insights, emotions, and images about the city.


Activity 3
Bringing the Citizens of
Spoon River Valley to Life

Choose one of the poems in Spoon River Anthology and create a tombstone for the person of your choice. Tombstones of the poem's era could be rather elaborate, so include a design representing your character, the person's name, birth date and date of death, and a short statement describing the individual based on information in the poem. Leave a small space open on the tombstone so you can glue a copy of the poem. Imagine how your person looked and dressed when (s)he was alive. In costume, read your poem to the class. Have your classmates ask questions about your poem person so they understand that life. After the class members have completed their presentations, discuss the kind of people Edgar Lee Masters was writing about. Could he have written about these people when they were alive? Why? Why not? Display the tombstones with poems in the room or school hallway.


Using the poems in Spoon River Anthology, and imagining these individuals alive, create a newscast about them and life in Spoon River. Working in small groups, write the stories, events, history, culture, and values that you see in the poetry. A character could be in an advertisement or two or more characters could be in the same piece of news, if appropriate. To help you produce an authentic newscast, watch some evening news programs. Tape some of them and view them as a class, discussing the format. Choose classmates to act as anchor persons, specialty reporters, advertisers, and producers of the newscast and present it to your class or other classes. If possible, videotape the production so that students can watch themselves on camera.

Woman Playing the Violin


Activity 4
The Class Authors Chicago
in Review
, 1890-1925

Express Yourself

The cultural and intellectual life of Chicago was very rich and significant at the turn of the nineteenth century. Harriet Monroe gave a part of that expression a voice in the magazine Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Such a magazine was important for presenting an art form to a wider audience and providing a place for new poets to be published.

It is your class's turn to create a written vehicle for the history and culture of the city. Your own magazine, Chicago in Review, 1890 - 1925, will describe the changes and growth of Chicago, not only artistically, but socially, politically, and physically. Express yourselves in essays, poetry, cartoons, historical pictures and drawings using the narrative and outside sources. Your magazine should have an editorial staff, table of contents, and appropriate advertisements. The following individuals and topics could be included.


Carl Sandburg
Edgar Lee Masters
Harriet Monroe
Vachel Lindsay
Hamlin Garland
Theodore Dreiser
Upton Sinclair
William LeBaron Jenny
Louis Sullivan
Frank Lloyd Wright
Daniel Burnham
Jane Addams
Ida B. Wells
Bertha Honore Palmer
John Dewey
Charles L. Hutchinson
William Rainey Harper
Carter Harrison
Carter Harrison II
William "Big Bill" Thompson


Hull House
Chicago's immigrants
Maxwell Street
Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago Symphony
World's Fair (1893)-World's
Columbian Exposition
Burnham Plan (1909)-city
plan by Daniel Burnham
University of Chicago
Elevated trains
The Little Room
Chicago Woman's Club
Labor strikes in 1893
(Pullman) and 1894
Play recreation, and the
development of city parks


Activity 5

Fire, Fair, Strikes and more

Changes in Chicago and its cultural life were influenced by certain events, developments, new ideas, and individual lives. Explain possible outcomes of the events, conditions, and expressions listed below. Consider both positive and negative results. Use an American history text or other sources if you need more information to draw your conclusions.

  1. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

  2. The 1893 World's Fair

  3. Strikes by the workers at the Pullman Factory (1894)

  4. The use of steel and elevators in building construction

  5. The development of a transit system out from the center of Chicago

  6. Carl Sandburg's love of the city and its working citizens

  7. Edgar Lee Masters having the citizens of Spoon River "speak" from the grave

  8. Harriet Monroe's long-standing interest in poetry combined with unusual nerve and determination

  9. Why is it possible to have positive and negative results from the same situation or expression?


Activity 6

Not everyone appreciated all the changes in Chicago life at the turn of the century. Some found the new style of poetry unpleasant to the ear and the artists disrespectful to old ways; others found the changes in the city's growth inconvenient, disruptive, unattractive, and happening too fast; many were concerned about immigrants and strikes. Create a cartoon or an editorial expressing your critical or negative feeling about some aspect of Chicago's modernism between 1890 and 1925. Share your project with the class and be able to defend your view.


Making Faces

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