In a House Divided, 1850-1890

Teachers Level Three

Learning Goals and Objectives--Grades 9 - 12

Voices and Choices--Alexander Curtis
Note: It is a good idea to print Level Three for easy reference.

Voices and Choices

Alexander Curtis has just gotten a job with the Pullman Company, makers of the Pullman Palace Railway Cars. He is going to move his family out of their squalid tenement into one of the nice new Pullman Company houses, but which one should he choose?


These themes can be explored with either a social studies or language arts curriculum. Use these themes to tie in other resources to your class discussion, i.e., other books, other cultures, students' own lives.


What do you think?

These questions, which come at the end of each story (minus "the answer"), can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as homework.

Can you list the ways the railroads encouraged development of the Illinois economy from a frontier to urban manufacturing centers? Take a look at Mapsmaps

Have your students take a look at the map section, which illustrates the rapid growth of railroads in Illinois during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Railroads transported people and goods into the interior of Illinois in a way river travel did not permit. Roads at this time were unpaved and progress was slow. Railroads were fast and efficient.

What impact did railroads have on Chicago?

Railroads transformed Chicago from a town into a thriving urban center. With railway lines beginning and ending in Chicago, the city became the hub of the Illinois industrial economy. A modern railway map reflects this pattern. Often travel from one part of the state to another involves a change of trains in Chicago.

Why was Alexander Curtis so thrilled to be hired by Pullman and eligible to move into the Pullman neighborhood?

For Curtis, working for Pullman Railway Cars promised a good, steady income and improved living conditions. The Pullman village offered men like Alexander Curtis and their families safe, clean housing with "modern" amenities, such as running hot and cold water. This planned village was built from the ground up and incorporated new building materials and technologies for the home.

How did Pullman think he could improve living conditions for his workers?

He believed that by offering his workers a safe, comfortable place to live with modern amenities (ranging from garbage pickup to a library for the residents only), that he would improve their lives. Happy workers, he believed, would be more efficient, productive workers.

What motivated Alexander Curtis to rent the two-story walk-up for his family?

Curtis has big dreams. He wants the best for his young family and believes that life will only get better now that he has landed a job with the Pullman company.

Do you think Curtis' decision was based on emotion or reason?

There is no documentation to establish Curtis' process of decision making. Students will need to put themselves in his shoes and consider what his life must have been like--working as a street peddler--before the Pullman job and the promise for the future that the Pullman job seemed to offer.

Have you ever made a choice based on your emotions--desire, anger, pity, impatience--without thinking about the consequences of your choice? What happened?

Ask students to share their experiences with each other. See if you can relate their experiences back to the Curtis story.


These are suggested classroom activities and student projects that you may want to use with your students or as models to create your own.

1. Social Work

Refer to Side by Sideside by side

Despite the confining role placed on women by the Victorian Age (1837 -1901), many women found ways to transcend this role and effect change in their community. One such woman was Jane Addams.

Locate Jane Addams on the timelinetimeline

Why did she start Hull House? What social conditions caused Jane Addams' concern? Whose living conditions was she trying to improve?

To find out more about the history of Hull House and Jane Addams go to:
Remote Link

Use this site to identify a person important in the history of social activism in America. The names highlighted are already profiled. Choose a name that is not highlighted and write a profile on that person.

2. Oral History

When George Pullman built the Pullman village for his workers at the end of the nineteenth century, he was trying to address the foremost problem in his workers' lives--housing. By creating the Pullman village, he hoped to provide his workers with a wonderful living environment. Happy men and women, he reasoned, would make more efficient and effective workers.

Interview an adult about his or her workplace. You might ask them the following questions:

As a class present the issues you have discovered surrounding this topic and suggest ways that companies can improve both the workplace and working conditions to meet the needs of today's workers.

As a class, compare and contrast:

Did any students suggest a solution similar to Pullman's worker village? Why or why not?

3. Class debate: The Pullman Strike of 1894

This debate concerns the Pullman workers, the Pullman Company, the American Railway Union, and the Federal Government. The debate can take place between all four entities or just between the workers and the company. Students can debate the following propositions:

After the depression of 1893, the Pullman Company was forced to lay off workers and cut back the remaining workers' wages. The company did not, however, lower the rents it was charging workers living in the company town. The employees approached the company to demand higher wages and lower rents. They were refused. Subsequently, the Pullman workers went on strike. The company's only response was to lay off those workers who had not joined the strike and close down the company shops. In 1894 the American Railway Union joined the Pullman workers to boycott the Pullman Company Railway Cars. Three-fourths of the nation's railways refused to allow Pullman sleeper cars to join their trains. The strike paralyzed transport, communication, and the economy throughout the Nation, dividing the country in two--those that supported the strike and those that opposed the strike. The Pullman company refused to arbitrate (negotiate) to the bitter end. The strike was finally broken by the Federal Government.

Use the following excerpts from the United States Strike Commission, "Report on the Chicago Strike," June - July, 1894, as background information on the Pullman Strike: The following testimonies by Jennie Curtis and by George Pullman are intended to give students an idea of the central arguments behind the strike from the standpoint of those involved:

Use this activity to take students back to the Industrial Revolution in America and the development of laws, associations, and unions to protect the worker from the power of the employer. Though the Pullman Boycott took place more than a century ago, many of the issues at the heart of the Pullman debate are important today:

Issues excerpted from: The Pullman Boycott of 1894: The Problem of Federal Intervention, edited by Colston E. Warne, Boston: D.C. Heath and Co., 1955: p. vii.

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