Chicago: The Toddling Town

Bill Sr. [from The Witness, May 5, 1955]

Chicago grew out of bull sessions at Berkeley where we used to chew over what we planned to do in the ministry. Several of us decided that if we were to be intellectually honest we had to be economically independent. So we talked about working as a group in a parish while earning our living at some secular job. We believed in this way we could preach as free men, could run forums and discussion groups and do many things thast could not be done in an ordinary parish without running into trouble with a vestry.

Four men were strong for the idea: Charles Collett, later a master at St. Paul’s School who quit at the time I was fired and became rector of St. Stephen’s, Boston; Horace Fort, who became secretary to Dean Ladd after graduating; Bob Johnson, who became an assistant at Christ Church, West Haven. We got together one summer, decided the group-ministry was sound, and since I was not tied down by a job, was delegated to see if a bishop could be found who would go along with the idea. It was was first outlined to a dozen or so in a letter.

Bp. William Lawrence of Massachusetts replied that he was having difficulties enough with the clergy he already had. Others did not bother to reply at all. Three expressed interest so I went to see them. Bp. Israel of Erie, who was then vice-president of the Church League for Industrial Democracy, liked the idea but at the moment had no place available. Bp. Vincent of Southern Ohio had doubts about the scheme but was willing to take us on if we really meant business.

It was Bp. Anderson of Chicago, later Presiding Bishop, who put an end to the search. He was enthusiastic. “You young fellows will get into trouble…but come ahead and count on me. I’m bored with dull clergy who never get out of parish routine and I will be delighted to have something going on here that promises something different.” He then asked me to visit three churches that were available, St. Andrew’s on the west side; St. Philip’s in the stock yards; St. George’s on the south side.

The latter, a rather rundown frame church without a parish hall, but with a working class congregation, looked like the best bet and I so reported to the other men when I got east. So it was agreed that I would start that fall and they would join me as soon as they could free themselves of their present jobs. So, off we went to Chicago…me, with our lone $100 in my pocket, and Dot with a 3-month old daughter, Marcia, at her breast. We got a room in a third-class hotel while I went looking for a flat. There just wasn’t any. So Frank Clarke, a printer who was a vestryman of St. George’s, asked us to double up with his family in a tiny apartment until I could locate a place to live. There were six of us during those few weeks…of the six, my wife and I alone remain.

I hunted for a place of our own to live. I also hunted for a job since I was to receive no pay from St. George’s or from the diocese. Evenings I mostly spent reading proofs of the Christian Century and The Witness, both of which were then printed in Clarke’s shop.

Landing a job really was something. A dozen or more employment managers were seen. But a college degree, plus seminary, p;lus graduate work didn’t mean a thing…I just didn’t have what they were looking for. It was then that I learned one of the facts of life…there is nothing so depressing as to have a wife and child, no money, no job! And even in that situation, I really could not put myself in the same position as the unemployed–after all I could give up the whole scheme and return to my bishop who would assign me to a parish.

Bishop Anderson finally got me a job. One of the big-shot Episcopalians in the city was Fred Allen, head of Brink’s Express. The business was to make up payrolls in a loop office, then drive to factories on pay days. Two men, armed, got into an open model-T Ford and started off with the money. Following were two other men, also armed, in a similar car. We paid off large concerns so the holdup hazard was considerable and it didn’t ease things much to be instructed, in case of a stick-up, to ‘give it to ‘em. We’re insured!’ Brinks was insured but I wasn’t, and I had lived long enough to know that stickups sometimes shoot first and talk afterward. As a matter of fact there was a holdup of another crew when one of Brink’s men was killeld. The pay, $125 a month, I figured wasn’t worth the hazard…so I quit.

Labor Manager

So, I walked the streets again looking for work…no jobs. Then I wrote my old companion in the Sinn Fein movement, Owen Lovejoy, head of the National Child Labor Committee, asking him if he could put me on to a social service job in Chicago. He gave me an introduction to the United Charities. They offered me work as a case worker but the assistant director who interviewed me said that my interest seemed to be in labor relations so ‘why don’t you see Prof. A.J.Todd who is living at Hull House. He has just given up his job as head of the sociology department of Minnesota to head a department of labor for B. Kuppenheimer & Co. He’s looking for assistant. Here’s a note…go see him.”

Todd was a dignified, charming gentleman, very enthused over his new job. Workers in the clothing industry had just won their strike, in s;pite of thugs, cops, newspapers and priests. A few people had supported them, notably Jane Addams and her associate, Ellen Gates Starr; also one of our clergy, Irwin St. John Tucker, a parson who always went to bat for people getting kicked around and who, at the time, had a prison sentence hanging over his head for his trouble. But the workers won, under the guiding genius of Sidney Hillman, and an agreement was signed by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the firms. It was Todd’s job to see that Kuppenheimer’s interests were protected under the agreement. He was looking for assistants who would be stationed in the plants while he directed policy from the main office in the loop.

But he, very politely, wanted none of me. He did not mind when I told him, had I been in Chicago during the strike, I would be for the strikers. He thought that might be an advantage since it indicated an interest in the welfare of the people with whom his department had to deal. But when I told him I was a parson…’nothing doing. this job has to be done scientifically. We have to get facts and go by facts. There is no place for sentiment and I never met a clergyman yet who was not sentimental.”

However I desperately needed a job. What’s more, I wanted this one. So I asked him to give me a shot at it with ‘if you find after a bit that I can’t handle it, fire me.”

I was on that job over five years, the last four as labor manager of Kuppenheimer’s largest plant.