By the 1880s, boarding was an established way of life. Private boarding houses typically consisted of a married couple (with or without children) who kept several boarders, generally single, unrelated individuals. While married couples occasionally boarded, families with children rarely lived in boarding houses.
Women usually took primary responsibility for boarders. For many women, keeping boarders and lodgers was a readily available way to earn money that permitted a flexible schedule and was compatible with caring for children. A married woman's income from boarding was often more reliable than her husband's income, and could well be the primary income for the household. Keeping boarders was also a source of income for some widows and mature single women.
Native-born white and negro Americans often lived in boarding houses when they were single and new to the city. After the 1880s, more and more single young women and men were employed in clerical jobs in the new skyscrapers, and many of them lived in boarding houses.
|H.H. Holmes Murder Castle (the arrow is front entrance), circa 1893.|
|The Transit House, 43th and Halsted, Chicago, (1868). This boarding house served the visitors and patrons of the Union Stock Yards.|
|Notice the buildings main entrance has been moved to the second floor because Chicago raised the street level to improve drainage of water, raising the streets out of the mud in 1858.|
|Packingtown, (Back of the Yards Neighborhood), Chicago.|
The decline of boarding could be seen as a parallel to the transformation of the semipublic “parlor” or front-room (frunchroom in Chicagoese) into the twentieth-century private “living room.”
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.