Sport and the Americanization
of Ethnic Women in Chicago
Gerald R. Gems
Sociologists and historians began their examination of ethnic groups in Chicago as early as the 1890s. The diverse population, almost 80 percent of which was foreign-born at that time, provided fertile ground for such research. Many of these early works portrayed the city as a patchwork of ethnic neighborhoods. Such enclaves provided a ready supply of workers for the dynamic growth of Chicago's industrial plants, but they also proved an obstacle to the social reformers who sought a more homogeneous culture. The reformers' efforts were particularly frustrated by ethnic leisure practices, especially those that emanated from the social, fraternal, and athletic clubs designed to maintain ethnic nationalism.
Previous studies of such nationalistic groups have focused upon male members and have, for the most part, been limited to the German Turner movement. Other ethnic groups, particularly those from eastern Europe, remain relatively unstudied. The role of women within such organizations is largely unknown and is often assumed to be a passive one which followed the dictates of male leadership. Ethnic women, even more isolated within the ethnic enclaves than their working husbands, remained segregated from the mainstream culture. It was, however, largely through leisure that ethnic women reached some accommodation with American society and a measure of relief from male domination in other areas of their life. 1
After the 1865 flow of European immigrants to Chicago, which had begun before the Civil War, the city sprawled outward in a ramshackle fashion, its development fueled by German and Scandinavian craftsmen and an unskilled Irish labor force. By 1880 Chicago had become the nation's third largest city