Changing and Expanding Social Opportunity

Where to live, what school to go to, who to marry? The objects and stories displayed here show how residents answered these kinds of questions, sometimes pushing boundaries and sometimes not, as they made the most of the opportunities available to them.

The need to house huge numbers of new industrial workers quickly posed a significant challenge to Northwest Indiana. Cities throughout the Calumet region took different approaches to city planning and housing development, resulting in a variety of architectural styles seen in few other areas.

The Gary Land Company, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, built quality housing for managers and skilled workers adjacent to the downtown business district. The land to the south of the Wabash railroad tracks was left to other developers and home builders with few restrictions, creating substandard housing for unskilled African Americans and recent European immigrants.

Gary Land Company, First Subdivision Map
C. 1907
Gary Public Library

Clayton Mark, founder of Mark Manufacturing in what is now East Chicago, hired architect Howard Van Doren Shaw to design an entire community for his workers, modeled on an English country village. Responding to turn-of-the-century surveys that showed poor housing was to blame for poor worker retention, Mark built to satisfy worker preferences, such as the ability to cook indoors, ventilation for each room, and separate bedrooms for parents.

Chicago Architectural Photographing Company
1920
Marktown Preservation Society

One of the most popular musical groups in American history, the Jackson 5 began their journey in Gary, Indiana. Their success starting in the early 1970s helped buoy the city’s brand, even as it was experiencing an economic downturn.

Jackson 5 Promotional Photo
1971
Gary Public Library

Known as the “Marriage Mill”, from 1915 to 1940, couples flocked to Crown Point, to be married without conforming to marriage norms in their religious or ethnic communities, and with no waiting period between obtaining a marriage license and the ceremony. Justices of the peace married an estimated 175,000 couples during the height of the Marriage Mill’s popularity.

Lake County Marriage Record Book
1924
Crown Point Public Library

For Gary’s first 50 years, Midtown was the center of commercial activity for the African American community, located across the understood social divide from similar shopping districts to the north. In part, Midtown was culturally distinct because of the musical entertainment it could attract, at times drawing people of all social backgrounds to enjoy stellar performances.

Broadway at 15th Avenue
1933
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

Doo-wop and R&B group, the Spaniels, got their start at Gary’s Roosevelt High School in the early 1950s, as the Hudsonaires. Their biggest hit, Good NIght Sweetheart, Good NIght, rose to #5 on the Billboard R&B chart. The group recorded with VJ Records in Gary, and have been described as pioneers who later R&B performers imitated or learned from.

Spaniels Publicity Photo
1950s
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

William Wirt, Superintendent of the Gary Community School Corporation from 1907-1938, was one of the most influential educators of the early 20th Century in America.  He popularized the “Work-Study-Play” system for urban schools that aimed to develop all aspects of the child.

William Wirt
1911
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

Despite discriminatory segregation policies, Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary, had a primarily African American faculty and staff, and became one of the best-known, all-black schools in America during the 1930s-1950s. Its creation was a reaction to the Emerson School Strike of 1927, in which white students protested sharing a building with African American students. It produced a number of well-known athletes, actors, and others who contributed significantly to society.

The Rooseveltian
1958
Gary Public Library


Explore more about Social Opportunity

Taking a Stand for Civil Rights
Garites made efforts both locally and nationally, and some national figures…

The Changing Landscape of Opportunity
By the early 1980s, many industries closed their doors permanently…

Social Opportunity: Introduction
By the early 1980s, many industries closed their doors permanently…


Explore other themes by clicking the photos below

Natural Opportunity

Industrial Opportunity

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