The Logan Street "Slum"

In the papers of the late Edith Ash given to the Society by her daughter Liz Webb was a report entitled "Study of Hillsdale." It was researched and written by six women in the late 1930s. Unfortunately, there is no clue about what group sponsored the report or why it was written. In it are found a general history of Hillsdale, its institutions and its labor force, and then two distinct groups were studied. The first was the Italian community, four members of which were interviewed. They spoke of the reasons for the move to this country, the employment found by the men and the culture of strict parenting based on Italian tradition. The other account in the "Study of Hillsdale" was based on what was called the "slum" on Logan Street. In that report, interviews weren't with the residents of Logan Street, but rather with people who worked with them. 

Alice Knapp and Eva Spencer, authors of this report, noted that "it takes time and reliable sources of materials to really know what a particular community is like." They commented that the people living on Logan Street had been "over-studied," both by the college and by the people of the city. In fact, the residents of the street had been studied so frequently that they were leery of outsiders coming to their area. Who can blame them? They must have felt like lab animals! 

Absent first hand accounts, information about the residents of Logan Street came from people who worked with them: a county nurse, a social worker, the doctor from the Hillsdale County Health Unit, a Probate Judge, a child conservation worker and a professor of sociology at Hillsdale College, whose class had done an extensive study of the Logan Street families in 1933.

Several years prior to the study a special school in Hillsdale for the "retarded" had been closed. The children of Logan Street were tested to see which would attend Bailey and Mauck schools, while the "feeble-minded" were sent to an institution. Without any facts in the report to confirm it, this  statement gives the impression that the children on Logan Street made up much of the population in the special school. One asks, "Why were these children feeble-minded? Were there conditions, like lead in the water or widespread malnutrition, that negatively affected their growing brains?" The cognitive difficulty seemed to be extensive. In some cases all the children in a family had been judged to be feeble-minded. Some parents, standing up to the authorities who wanted to send their children to an institution, agreed to have only some of their children removed, saying "that was all they owed the state." Perhaps the extensive identification of feeble-mindedness rested more in the beholder. The social worker, who counted "blank stares" as evidence of mental handicap, suggested that sterilization was the only solution to the "problem" of Logan Street. She was clearly outraged at how the children were cared for and what she saw as promiscuity. Judge Arch, the Probate Court Judge at the time, agreed with the emphatically negative observation of the social worker. He declared that the people on Logan Street were "100% delinquent!" 

Other people charged with helping the Logan Street residents, while still acknowledging the poorly repaired homes, the junk in the yards and the lack of inside bathrooms, saw them through eyes and attitudes unclouded by so much prejudice. Miss Dill, the county nurse, who visited the families as part of her duties, pointed out that the identification of "feeble-mindedness" was done only on Logan Street and questioned why all the children in Hillsdale weren't examined. She observed that the residents were relatively happy, living the lives they wished to live. Dr. Gray of the Hillsdale County Health Unit, shared a wider philosophical view, asking, "What is a slum?" He agreed that Logan Street housing was sub-standard, but he didn't consider it a slum. They had no more communicable diseases than in the rest of the city and diseases didn't emanate from there. Warming to his indignation and pursuing a pet peeve (and non sequitur), the doctor sputtered about the St. Joe River being used as a repository for sewage and how that would come back to haunt the City Council. He asserted that the clean up would have to be at the total expense of the city since Hillsdale County was "a very strong Republican county" and wouldn't accept aid from a Democratic Administration (that of F.D.R.). For good measure, he threw in his belief that the city wouldn't accept any Work Progress Administration (WPA) grant either, even it was the right thing to do.

The doctor recounted a do-gooding experiment that demonstrated the futility of one group deciding for another what is best for them. An unnamed group of people responsible for the "poor" in Hillsdale moved one Logan Street family to the country. With lots of support the family was helped to assume a rural life, which was judged to be healthier. Eventually the agencies, sure that they had saved the family, withdrew from involvement. Shortly after, the family moved back to Logan Street to resume the life they preferred. 

The families living in the 14 homes on the street actually had a fairly good record of self-support, despite the study being done during the Depression. Among them, four fathers were employed, there were three widows and two retired men. Four of the homes were owned by the occupants, all had city water and nine homes had electricity. (In all of Hillsdale, 1,746 out of 1,762 homes had electricity.) None of the Logan Street homes had gas, indoor bathrooms or furnaces. 

Dr. Herman, who was a professor of sociology at Hillsdale College, had extensively studied the residents of Logan Street with his students in 1933. The account of Logan Street in the "Study of Hillsdale" didn't give details about how this was done. However, imagination can conjure an approach that would feel like intrusion to the families studied. On one side you had the college students, earnest in their pursuit of knowledge, and possibly unknowingly conveying a sense of superiority. On the other side you had people who may very well have felt diminished by the examination of their lives by strangers. It was no wonder that the authors of the Logan Street report observed that the people living there were leery of outsiders.

When Miss Hall, the Child Conservation Worker assigned to the junior high, was interviewed, it was clear that she truly cared for the children who were with her after school a couple days a week. Beyond indicating that she took them on hikes and picnics, played games with them and did simple handiwork, she was not forthcoming. She was protective of these children, refusing to give their names or any details about them. In her own way, she was just as leery of the study of them by outsiders as they were themselves.

This study says as much about the people interviewed as it does about those being studied. Some saw the residents of Logan Street as a stereotype, while others saw them as fellow citizens of Hillsdale.


JoAnne P. Miller     2014