Project Description

Hyde Park People, Places, Things February 2010

By the Hyde Park Historical Society
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This regular column from the Hyde Park Historical Society features snapshots of the individuals, sights and history of the interesting and diverse community that is Hyde Park. As always, comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome to msafar@ameritech.net. This month we look at an early graduate and professor of the University of Chicago and the organization he founded.

From Divinity School to Hyde Park Social Reformer
Dr. Allan Hoben graduated with a PhD. from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago in 1909 making him one of the very early graduates. After graduation he went on to teach in the Divinity School as an Associate Professor of Homiletics (composition and delivery of sermons) where he stayed until 1919. One of Dr. Hoben’s interests was the value of physical exercise to moral character and he was especially concerned that children have opportunities for recreation. During this period Dr. Hoben lived near 55th and Blackstone Avenue. During the summer and fall of 1908, a group of unattended boys congregated in a nearby tenement yard. Soon, they began building small club houses in Dr. Hoben’s back yard, which was near the vacant lot. Much to the boys’ surprise he allowed them to stay. Soon he put up a basketball net and other equipment for their use. The boys formed a club and elected Dr. Hoben an honorary member. When the weather became too cold to play outside, Dr. Hoben went to the principal of Ray School and asked that the basement be opened for these boys. Permission was granted and preference was given to those who could not afford to join the YMCA and other facilities. Dr. Hoben recruited University students to supervise the boys and by the summer of 1909 200 children were involved in summer programs. In 1909 local educators and civic leaders, including Dr. Hoben and Mrs. William Rainey Harper, came together and founded the Hyde Park Community League, which opened The Hyde Park Center, located in a refurbished Illinois Central Railway station on 57th Street. This was the beginning of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. In 1919 Dr. Hoben left Chicago for France to serve with the 5th Division of the American Expeditionary forces and later become the President of Kalamazoo College. He returned regularly to Hyde Park and maintained his dedication to recreational activities for children.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club
The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club celebrated its 100th birthday in 2009. After its founding in 1909 as the Hyde Park Community League, the Center provided activities for both boys and girls, and organized a women’s club for social and relief work in the community. By 1911 the Center was providing programs for over 500 children. In 1923, after several moves within the neighborhood the organization took the name Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club continued throughout the next 25 years moving several more times as circumstances dictated. In 1948 the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club was able to purchase the lot at 5480 S. Kenwood and in 1953 erected a permanent facility. Over the years this facility has grown and currently serves the entire Hyde Park community in a wide variety of educational, social, and recreational programs.

Hyde Park Lost and Found
The information for this article was collected while researching an inquiry from Polly Greenberg, granddaughter of Allan Hoben. She knew that her grandfather was involved in social welfare while he was a professor at University of Chicago and thought he had helped found a local organization, but did not know its name. Through the course of research in the Hyde Park Herald and the Chicago Tribune, references were found to Allan Hoben as the founder of The Hyde Park Center. The Historical Society was able to track down this reference to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. Jennifer Bosch, director of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, provided a history of the organization written by Eleanor Campbell in 1996 that documented Allan Hoben’s participation in the founding. This history is the source of much of the information in this article. Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the full history should contact msafar@ameritech.net.
The Herald archives have been invaluable to HPHS in research into Hyde Park, and enough cannot be said about the Sagans’ efforts to preserve this archive. Unfortunately the archive is missing the years 1894-1918 – a fascinating period in Hyde Park History. Anyone with copies of Heralds from this period is invited to donate or loan them so that they can be digitized and become part of the permanent archives.