Throughout Chicago’s history, the City Council has passed laws dealing with a wide variety of issues including: crime; business; taxation; morality; infrastructure; public health and safety. The City Council also ordered reports about various legislative issues and received numerous petitions from residents and businesses. For researchers interested in any aspect of the city’s legislative history, the records of the City Council are a crucial source.
Purpose of this section:
This section offers researchers: 1) a list of who the aldermen were at different points in time; 2) a list of the various Chicago City Council committees; 3) an overview of what City Council records exist; and 4) advice on where to find City Council records.
The City Council is comprised of aldermen, elected representatives from each of the city's wards. To determine which aldermen led Chicago's wards at different points in time, researchers can consult this list of Chicago aldermen by ward.
City Council committees:
Throughout Chicago's history, the Chicago City Council formed various committees of aldermen to work on specific legislative issues. Over time, some of those committees have remained intact while others were eliminated, changed names, or were merged with different committees. To understand the structure of those committees from the 1910s to the early twenty-first century, consult this Chicago City Council committee genealogy.
The published Proceedings of the Chicago City Council:
The City Council produced two key sources: the published Proceedings of the City Council and the unpublished Chicago City Council Proceedings Files. The Proceedings of the Chicago City Council are the official, published records of the City Council and contain accounts of all the legislative actions taken by that body. The Proceedings include: legislative committee reports; the text of adopted legislation; roll call votes; motions and parliamentary actions; notifications of filings with and legislative publications by the City Clerk; approval of the City Council Journal; and other actions taken by the council.
The Proceedings are comprised of a set of printed volumes organized in chronological order. Each volume includes: a list of key officers of municipal government and a subject index to the proceedings contained in the volume as well as the proceedings themselves. Researchers can find the Proceedings, starting with the year 1858, at the Municipal Reference Collection at the Harold Washington Library. Librarian Lyle Benedict has published an informative blog post about using the Proceedings. Researchers can also gain digital access to many volumes of the Proceedings. The Newberry holds digital copies of the Proceedings from 1866 to 1963 (missing 1873-75). The City of Chicago has digitized the Proceedings of the City Council dating from 1981 to the present.
The unpublished Chicago City Council Proceedings Files:
The Chicago City Council Proceedings Files are the unpublished records of the City Council. According to the Illinois Secretary of State, they contain:
petitions, resolutions, ordinances, remonstrances, acts and orders of the city council; communications with the city council; reports of committees and officers; reports of teachers; physicians' reports on deaths from smallpox and cholera; accounts of treasurers and other city officers; claims against the city; election returns and poll lists; lists of licenses issued; bonds and oaths of officials; commissions, appointments and resignations of officials; tax assessment rolls; and calls for special meetings. The proceedings concern fiscal matters; elections of city officials; construction and maintenance of city streets, alleys, bridges, sidewalks, sewers, railroad viaducts, and docks; city taxes; licensing of businesses such as peddlers, ferries and entertainment; animal control; annexation; maintenance of city property; conditions of schools, jails and pesthouses; fire and police protection; public health and safety; the operation of markets, wharves, schools, jails and bridewells; and claims against the city.
The Chicago City Council Proceedings Files for the years from 1833 to 1945 are housed in the Illinois Regional Archives Depository located in the basement of the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. There is a keyword-searchable database for the records from 1833 to 1871 located on the Illinois Secretary of State's website. There is also a multi-volume, hand-written paper index to the proceedings from 1872 to 1945. The index is available in microfilm at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository. Digital PDF volumes of the index are in the process of being hosted on Northeastern Illinois University's Digital Commons website and will be linked from this webpage by March of 2022. Researchers can review original, paper copies of the Chicago City Council Proceedings Files in person at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University.