Amidst West Madison Street's (skid-row), missions, cheap eateries, bars, and other establishments that catered to the transients' needs, Ben Reitman, dashing physician, reformer, and anarchist, founded a “hobo college” in 1908. There, men of the road gathered to swap stories and listen to lectures on everything from philosophy and politics to personal hygiene and vagrancy laws.
|Three hobos sitting under a covered structure in Chicago, Illinois, in 1929
It seems that the Hobo College had set up shop at many different addresses. In 1937, the Hobo College was located at 1118 W. Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois.
Chicago Tribune Article, April 18, 1916
Chicago's Hobo College Loses Students When Coffee and Doughnuts Cease. There's No Audience for the Lecturers.
Chicago's hobo college has ceased to function (for the season). Warm weather has driven its students out of the city to seek Jobs, and the loafers, who had no real Interest In the college anyway, quit when the lunch was discontinued.
Coffee was the life blood of the college and doughnuts were the stuff upon which it existed. So when coffee and rolls were missing recently at a session of the public speaking class, the doom of the college was sealed.
It's All Over Now.
Three times a week the classes were held in the college at 17 East Congress street. On Tuesdays the Rev. Irwin St. John Tucker instructed them in social economics; on Thursdays Dr. John A. Cousilns taught them sanitation and hygiene, and on Saturdays Attorney George W. Waterman lectured on common law with special reference to vagrancy.
Free coffee and doughnuts were advertised and consequently the sessions of the college were well attended by the down-and-outs, and the "casual and intinerant workers," which is the hobo college name of honor.
The Good Students Vanish.
Mr. Tucker was instructing a class of fifty young people In public speaking planning to send them out through the country to organize the unemployed so strongly that the I. W. W. and A. F. of L. could win all their strikes. The idea was that all the possible strike-breakers would be members of the hobos' union and there would be nobody to fill the places of the strikers.
"The most promising students, those that have energy, have left town to find jobs," Mr. Tucker said, "and only the bums are left. So we discontinued our college until September."
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.