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Graham Taylor papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Taylor

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence, scrapbooks, clippings, photographs, works, diaries and other material relating to Taylor and his Chicago Commons settlement, his career at the Chicago Theological Seminary, and his founding of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy. The records also reflect the correspondence between Taylor family members, and activities of Taylor's children, primarily of his daughter Lea D. Taylor. In fact, Lea Taylor annotated many of the materials in this collection with dates and/or clarifications, and many of the series include her papers as well. Subjects covered in Taylor's papers include the history and development of the 17th (currently the 26th) ward of Chicago on the Near North Side, immigration (particularly Italian and Polish), labor, civic reform, housing, education and social conditions in the neighborhoods, public health, and the effects of the Great Depression on the population of the neighborhoods.


  • Creation: 1820-1975
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1866-1940



Materials are primarily in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Graham Taylor papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Graham Taylor papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Graham Taylor

Graham Taylor was born in Schenectady, New York on May 2, 1851, into the fifth generation of a family of Dutch-reformed ministers. Taylor had no doubts as a youth about his chosen career. After graduating from Rutgers College, he entered the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church in America in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1870. Three years later, he accepted the pastorate of a small church in Hopewell, New York, where he stayed for seven years. In 1880 he moved to Hartford, Connecticut, to be the pastor of the Fourth Congregational Church. It was there that Taylor first experienced working with the poor and immigrant communities, and where he saw firsthand the effects of vice (alcoholism, prostitution, etc.) on society. His experiences led him further and further away from the conservative Dutch-Reformed theology to a more liberal social gospel theology and outlook. Therefore, when he was invited to move to Chicago to teach at the Chicago Theological Seminary (where he was given unrestricted liberty to develop his own courses of teaching), he was more than pleased to accept the offer.

Taylor moved himself and his family to Chicago in 1892. He began to explore the idea of starting a settlement house akin to Jane Addams' Hull House, and in 1894 the Chicago Commons Settlement was founded. The house was located at 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 in the Commons, he wanted the house to be non-sectarian, open to all faiths, economic levels, and ethnic groups. Soon it became apparent that the current building was not sufficient for the growing needs of the Commons, and between 1900-1901, a new Commons building was constructed on the corner of Grand and Morgan Streets, where the old Tabernacle Congregational Church had stood.

In addition to teaching Seminary students in working with the poor and starting kindergarten classes at the Commons, Taylor also was interested in expanding coursework into a new school, and in 1908 the Commons Association sponsored the first classes in the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, which in 1920 was incorporated into the University of Chicago as the Graduate School of Social Service Administration. Taylor was active in Chicago politics as well, serving on the Mayor Busse's Vice Commission and acting as a witness in court cases and an arbiter in labor disputes. He was a member of several local reform groups, including the Civic Federation, the Municipal Voters' League, Chicago Plan Commission, and the Special Park Commission. He disseminated his feelings on reform and social action in the periodicals The Commons and The Survey, as well as in a weekly column in the Chicago Daily News newspaper.

Taylor toured the United States frequently, and went abroad several times to lecture on reform and organizing settlement homes and social programs. He established the Chicago Federation of Settlements with Jane Addams, which led him to become president of several national organizations, such as the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (1914; later called the National Conference of Social Work), and National Federation of Settlements (1917). In 1921 Taylor retired from active administration of the Commons, leaving that work to his daughter Lea, although he remained active in Commons concerns and issues such as Prohibition, public health, and the fate of the poor during the Depression for the rest of his life. In 1926 the University of Chicago completed Graham Taylor Hall, a part of its Chicago Theological Seminary building complex. Taylor died in his sleep on Sept. 26, 1938.


32.7 Linear Feet (72 boxes and 2 oversize boxes)


Works, correspondence, and family papers of minister, social worker, professor, and founder of Chicago Commons settlement house, Graham Taylor.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Biographical Series, 1867-1966
Boxes 1-5
Series 2: Outgoing Correspondence, 1873-1938
Boxes 6-11
Series 3: Incoming Correspondence, 1873-1938
Boxes 12-22
Series 4: Family Series, 1820-1938
Boxes 23-24
Series 5: Works, 1866-1939
Boxes 25-32
Series 6: Subject Files, 1833-1947
Boxes 33-49
Series 7: Chicago Commons Files, 1894-1975, bulk 1894-1944
Box 50-60
Series 8: Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy Files, 1903-1922
Boxes 61-63
Series 9: Chicago Theological Seminary Files, 1892-1945
Box 64
Series 10: Lea D. Taylor Files, 1921-1975
Box 65
Series 11: Photographs, undated, approximately 1868-1958
Box 65
Series 12: Scrapbooks - Daily News Columns, 1902-1938
Boxes 66-72

Collection Stack Location

1 33 4-5, 1 43 7


Gift, Katharine Taylor and Lea Demarest Taylor, 1951, with subsequent donations.

Processed by

Alison Hinderliter, Leigh Ann Ripley, and Lindsay Van Loon, 2004


This inventory was created with the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this inventory do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Inventory of the Graham Taylor papers, 1820-1975, bulk 1866-1940
Alison Hinderliter
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021-03-16: This finding aid was revised to contextualize out of date terminology regarding mental health.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States