Chicago’s public officials were a colorful cast of characters who managed the government institutions that dealt with the immediate, pressing concerns of urban life: sanitation, safety, and infrastructure, to name a few. Researchers exploring a variety of aspects of urban life and governance might benefit from learning about the individuals who shaped Chicago’s institutions.
Purpose of this section:
This guide helps researchers learn: 1) who held the various Chicago city government offices at different points in time; and 2) where to begin looking for archival records about public officials.
Identifying City officials:
The best method to determine who held various City offices at different points in time is to consult the "Centennial List of mayors, City clerks, City attorneys, City treasurers, and aldermen, 1837-1937" (PDF|HTML), as well as the "Centennial List" update listing aldermen, City treasurers, and City clerks, 1933-1999. To determine who headed other City agencies at different points in time researchers can consult the historical list of Chicago City department heads. To determine which aldermen led Chicago's wards at different points in time, researchers can also consult this list of Chicago aldermen by ward. Other methods of identifying City officials at different points in time include reading historical studies, perhaps starting with those on the bibliography of studies of Chicago, as well as examining the published Proceedings of the Chicago City Council, described in the City Council section of this guide, to find references to various legislators and public officials.
Finding records about City officials:
A key strategy for finding documents related to a Chicago city government office-holder is to use the Chicago Collections Consortium (CCC) website. The CCC is comprised of Chicago-area libraries and archives that hold collections related to all aspects of the city’s history. The CCC’s website features a tool that allows researchers to search member institutions’ collections using keywords, including the names of specific individuals. The CCC search engine yields comprehensive results. A researcher who searches for particular person, for instance, will see results from all the collections where that person’s name appears in the finding aid, not just collections primarily about that person. The tool has the benefit of being thorough; at the same time, it might yield results that are only tangentially related to the subject of the search.
There are two particularly useful websites for finding archival sources about Chicago mayors. The Chicago Public Library offers a list of Chicago's mayors with links to short biographies and, in many cases, their inaugural addresses. The website of the City Clerk offers links to all the executive orders of Chicago mayors from 1983 to the present.
Another strategy for finding collections related to people who held offices in Chicago city government is to search beyond the scope of Chicago-area archival collections. The CCC’s search engine only points researchers to Chicago-area archival collections. Consequently, it does not help researchers locate the papers of individuals who served in Chicago city government but who have papers that are located in places outside of the region—a situation that most often arises for historical actors who did not spend their whole lives in Chicago. The best method to search for the records of these individuals is to use the keyword search tool on the website ArchiveGrid.