Embark on a captivating journey through time with us as we explore the ‘130 Years of Chicago Commons’ History Series on social media. Our narrative commences with the visionary founder, Graham Taylor, whose life’s work has indelibly marked Chicago
Graham Taylor was born in Schenectady, New York on May 2, 1851. After graduating from Rutgers College, he entered the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1870. In 1892, Taylor was invited to move to Chicago to teach at the Chicago Theological Seminary under the condition of exploring the idea of starting a settlement. In 1894, he founded the Chicago Commons Settlement.
The Taylor family moved into a large but dilapidated house located near the corner of Union Street and Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago’s 17th Ward. The neighborhood was working class, with large populations of Scandinavian, Irish, German, and Italian immigrants. Although Taylor brought in his seminary students as residents and teachers, he wanted the house to be non-sectarian and open to all faiths, economic levels, and ethnic groups.
About his vision for the organization, Graham Taylor writes: “We hoped that Chicago Commons might be a community center where all people, without distinction of class, color, race, or sect, could meet and mingle as fellow-men to exchange their social values in something like a clearing-house for the Commonwealth. Here we hoped that friendship, neighborship, and fellow citizenship might form the personal bonds of that social democracy.” -Graham Taylor, 1936
Chicago Commons Association was incorporated in 1896. Taylor served in the dual capacity of director and president of the board from then until his death in 1938.
As we celebrate our 130th year, we extend our gratitude to Graham Taylor, our visionary founder whose commitment to service and community has laid the foundation for a legacy of impact that continues to empower individuals across Chicagoland today.
Pictured: A portrait of Chicago Commons founder Graham Taylor in 1909 from Chicago Daily News / Chicago History Museum.