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Glory, Darkness, Light: A History of the Union League Club of Chicago.

Glory, Darkness, Light: A History of the Union League Club of Chicago. By James D. Nowlan. (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2004. Pp. 290. $29.95.)

Civic-minded businessmen founded The Chicago Club of the Union League of America in December of 1879, renaming it the Union League Club of Chicago (hereafter, ULCC) in 1882. With no connection to the Civil War Union League, this organization began with the ideals of patriotism and honest, efficient government. To flourish as a proper club, the ULCC acquired a clubhouse, which functioned as bar, hotel, and restaurant. Seemingly then, it was a typical downtown gentlemen's club of the Gilded Age. Yet certain members consistently supported and often organized campaigns to improve safety, sanitation, and government. During its first fifty-five years, they contributed to such worthy causes as the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, defeat of tycoon Charles Yerkes, creation of the Sanitary and Shipping Canal, impeachment of Senator William Lorimer, and the jailing of Al Capone. In 1886 they built a grand clubhouse, designed by William LeBaron Jenney, replacing it with one still grander in 1926. They developed a large collection of paintings and founded two Boys Clubs and a summer camp for boys in Wisconsin.

Such achievements fill the first eight chapters and explain the first word in James D. Nowlan's title, "Glory." In the next three chapters, "Darkness," the author reviews the checkered record of the ULCC regarding Jews, African Americans, and women. From founding member Dankmar Adler to Sears, Roebuck CEO and humanitarian Julius Rosenwald, Jews were among the most prominent leaders, yet in the 1930s the club began rejecting Jewish nominees on the basis of religion (or ethnicity) alone. In 1940 the club began refusing admittance to African Americans, even as guests of invited organizations such as the YMCA. This provoked a national scandal in 1951 when the manager barred Dr. Percy L. Julian from attending a luncheon meeting for notable scientists. In its early years, the ULCC was comparatively liberal toward women: wives of members had access to separate rooms, plus a private entrance and elevator. They could also dine with their husbands. By the 1970s, pressure was mounting to admit women as equal members. Led by the frequent users of athletic facilities, most members resisted until the Board welcomed women as full members in July 1987. Two years earlier, Fred Ford, a black member admitted in 1969, became club president for the standard one-year term, and the Boys Clubs became Boys and Girls Clubs; there are now four of them.

In chapters twelve through eighteen, "Light," Nowlan concludes the book with a survey of the ULCC's recent and current accomplishments. Membership benefits from the reinvention of downtown as a place to live for rising young executives. ULCC's standing committees support scholarships, the fine arts, and music, while expanding support for underprivileged children. If the ULCC is a bastion of wealth and privilege, it has also proved through its membership and its members' activities that humble birth is no bar to success in Chicago and that noblesse oblige can be good for the city.

Nowlan writes with vigor and sound judgment. There are twenty glossy pages containing thirty-six photographs.

Robert McColley

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Author:McColley, Robert
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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