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City of American Dreams

A History of Home Ownership and Housing Reform in Chicago, 1871-1919

In this vivid portrait of life in Chicago in the fifty years after the Civil War, Margaret Garb traces the history of the American celebration of home ownership. As the nation moved from an agrarian to an industrialized urban society, the competing visions of capitalists, reformers, and immigrants turned the urban landscape into a testing ground for American values. Neither a natural progression nor an inevitable outcome, the ideal of home ownership emerged from the struggles of industrializing cities. Garb skillfully narrates these struggles, showing how the American infatuation with home ownership left the nation’s cities sharply divided along class and racial lines.

Based on research of real estate markets, housing and health reform, and ordinary homeowners—African American and white, affluent and working class—City of American Dreams provides a richly detailed picture of life in one of America’s great urban centers. Garb shows that the pursuit of a single-family house set on a tidy yard, commonly seen as the very essence of the American dream, resulted from clashes of interests and decades of struggle.

256 pages | 15 halftones, 6 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Historical Studies of Urban America

Chicago and Illinois

Geography: Urban Geography

History: Urban History


“The history of home ownership in the United States is enshrouded in myths about American national character and middle class aspirations. Margaret Garb’s important book cuts through the fog of nostalgia. Through an original and well-written case study of Chicago, Garb shows how workers and reformers contested notions of property rights and housing policy. City of American Dreams makes a persuasive argument that home ownership was not a leveler of class distinctions but rather it reinforced economic and racial inequalities with enduring consequences.”--Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Origins of the Urban Crisis


Thomas J. Sugrue

“Margaret Garb’s City of American Dreams connects home ownership to urban design in Chicago between 1871 and 1919. This beautifully written book explores housing policy in terms of both public health and private investment, showing the importance of housing design for attitudes to family, gender, race, and public life. This is a compelling work of urban history that should also be of interest to architects and planners.”--Dolores Hayden, author of Building Suburbia


Dolores Hayden

“This is an original, provocative, and stimulating book that will be of interest to current and former residents of the Chicago area. A truly interdisciplinary work, it not only makes an important contribution to the field of urban history, but also speaks to issues in labor, legal, and African American history. Garb presents a new and convincing approach to the meaning of home ownership for working class Americans.”--Gail Radford, author of Modern Housing for America


Gail Radford

"Valuable for its ambitious argument and ingenious insights into the cultural significance of property ownership."—Amanda Irene Seligman, Journal of American History

Amanda Irene Seligman | Journal of American History

"[The] book is expertly researched, it is written in a clear and very engaging style, and it does an outstanding job of fulfilling the promise that [Garb] makes to her reader. . . . [It] will make an excellent addition to the syllabus for a wide variety of courses. It would serve as a superb resource for a course in urban economic history. . . . It would also be a nice addition to an urban economics course. . . . A thoroughly engaging read, and I learned a great deal about Chicago from reading it. But, more importantly, Garb’s book left me feeling as though I now have a much better understanding of why o wner occupied housing is such an important part of the American dream."

Fred Smith | EH-Net

"A sound study based on a conscientious examination of the primary sources."

Thomas J. Jablonsky | Indiana Magazine of History

"Garb has produced an impressive and timely work of scholarship. . . . Few studies provide comparably insightful analyses of both housing and home ownership and the role those two phenomena have played in the cultural construction of the ’American dream.’ Garb’s book will prove useful to business historians, scholars of urban development and housing, and graduate students in a number of disciplines."

Scott Henderson | Business History Review

"[A] thoughtful, well-written, and important study of Chicagoans’ ideas about housing at the turn of the twentieth century."

Elaine Lewinnek | Journal of Social History

Table of Contents

List of Figures
1: Equal Rights, Equal Property
2: Staking a Claim in the Industrializing City
3: Health, Morality, and Housing
4: Cleanliness and Capital Investments
5: Selling Health, Independence, and Home Ownership
6: Reforming the Family Home and Improving Neighborhoods
7: Drawing the “Color Line”: The Roots of Residential Segregation

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