From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 9COMMUNICATION CONCERNING ESTABLISHING A FREE SOUP HOUSE
January 5, 1877
The economic depression which set in after the Panic of 1873 did not abate until 1878 when recovery came as a result of railroad expansion, increased immigration, excellent agricultural yields, and placement of the currency at parity with gold. This latter move made investments attractive and led to increases in manufacturing. During the hard times of 1873-1877, sharp decreases were experienced in land values, construction and employment. As a consequence of deflation the wages of a common laborer fell from two dollars to one dollar a day. Nationally at this time skilled workers earned fifty percent more than the unskilled and white-collar workers earned twice as much as blue-collar workers. Adult males received seventy percent more than adult women for the same work and two-and-a-half to three times as much as children.
The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871, was a brief struggle during which Prussia defeated unallied France soundly, thus ending the empire of Louis Napoleon. Prussia exacted a large indemnity and forced France to cede Alsace and part of Lorraine. During the hostilities Paris was under siege from September 19, 1870 to January 28, 1871.
The council rejected A. Duverne's proposal because it was "confident that a good lunch can be obtained at most saloons by buying a glass of beer at five cents."
Points to Consider
What was A. Duverne proposing to do? Why?
Which kinds of vegetables would have been available in the winter of 1877?
What was the war between France and Prussia mentioned in this document and why had the city of Paris established soup kitchens?
Were soup kitchens realistic means of addressing the needs of the poor and hungry in 1877? Are they today?