Bughouse Square/ Washington Square Park
Bughouse Square, Chicago’s oldest park, is prominent because of its role as “Chicago’s most boisterous and radical free-speech space from the 1910s through the 1960s,” as described by the Newberry Research Library. It served as a platform for powerful voices like Lucy Parsons, a Mexican-American, African-American woman who fought for the rights of disenfranchised peoples until her death. Other members of the Industrial Workers of the World were the Square's most celebrated in its heyday; now, the annual Bughouse Square Debates honor their devotion and continue Bughouse Square's traditional role as a home for loud, free speech.
Backstory and Context
Washington Square Park, colloquially known as Bughouse Square, was created from donated land in 1842, and is located in Chicago’s Near North Side. The primary and most praised contributors to the Square’s influential discourse in the early 20th century were members of the Industrial Workers of the World union. The group was substantially comprised of Mexicans and other LatinX workers who wanted better pay, safer conditions, and 8-hour work days. There were also female influencers like Lucy Parsons, an African American and Mexican woman and one of the IWW’s most prominent members and Bughouse Square’s most prominent orators in the early 20th. While its popularity died down in the 60’s, the Newberry Library and Chicago activists hold the annual Bughouse Square Debates to honor the memory of important speakers like Parsons who improved Chicago and gave voice to the marginalized, and continue their work.
While it was initially a beautiful space, Bughouse Square was in poor shape by the 1890’s when Alderman Robert McCormick devoted his aldermanic paycheck to renovating it. *More about early history; the pioneering speakers, the rising role of IWW speakers in the early 20th century*
IWW was founded in Chicago by industrial unionists on January 2, 1905. Within a year of the IWW’s 1905 founding, Mexican organizers were working among Mexican laborers in the borderlands of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States.*more about poor labor conditions that provoked the IWW”s emergence, most popular speakers, and impact on LatinX identity, rights and activism in Chicago and nation-wide*
One of its most prominent members was Lucy Parsons, the second woman to join the IWW. Until her life’s end, Lucy Parsons, an activist of Hispanic, African American and Native American descent, gave fervent speeches in Bughouse Square. She worked improving the lives of disenfranchised minorities in Chicago and nationwide, working with labor reform, feminist, and civil rights movements. She led boycotts, gave speeches in other countries, and wrote to government officials. She worked with the coalition for International Labor Defense to save the Scottsboro Eight from the death penalty, and started Children’s Hunger demonstrations in Chicago that culminated in the government changing hunger and unemployment policy. Lucy is a key figure in LatinX history because despite government persecution, the Latina woman fought veraciously until the day she died to help the disenfranchised. The Industrial Workers of the World Union states on its webpage honoring Parsons, “Lucy's radical activism challenged the racist and sexist sentiment in a time when even radical Americans believed that a woman's place was in the home.”
*The current Bughouse Square Debates, recent Latinx subjects of debate, how they honor their predecessors and continue their work*
Washington Square Park. Chicago Park District. Accessed May 25, 2019. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/washington-square-park.
Bughouse Square Debates. The Newberry. Accessed May 25, 2019. https://www.newberry.org/bughouse-square-debates.
Lucy Parsons: Woman of Will. Industrial Workers of the World. . Accessed May 25, 2019. https://www.iww.org/history/biography/LucyParsons/1.
Weber, Devra Anne. Mexican Workers in the IWW and the Partido Liberal Mexicano. Industrial Workers of the World. Accessed May 25, 2019. https://depts.washington.edu/iww/mexicaniwws.shtml.