Progressive Plans and Urban Realities in St. Louis, 1890-1918

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Katie Myerscough


A synergy of spatial and social analyses of the city of St. Louis is made in this thesis. It provides an interrogation of the built environment and how people perceived urban space, what they wanted it to look like, what they imagined it represented, and who they thought belonged there. In this way, both the description and the experience of the city is considered. Issues of belonging and exclusion, the public good and private interests, and real and imagined geographies are of central concern. This thesis argues that women’s activism and reform activity in the city increased as their private concerns about the household and child welfare expanded into the public domain. However, female influence and authority was quickly usurped by male reformers and city boosters, who claimed expertise and professionalism in the urban environment. The experience of curtailment differed according to race, because African American women created opportunities to direct racial uplift and develop notions of respectability in their community. Hence, African American women used the marked and increasingly segregated racial space of the city to their advantage. They were, however, still contained by racial and gendered prejudice. Race, and how it was enacted in city space, is further investigated and this thesis argues that certain types of segregation happened in the city due to the particularity of St. Louis and the places within it. New leisure spaces, an increased concern about property prices, and civic celebrations of white successes and superiority contributed to the imposition of segregation measures. Contentions around ethnicity continued throughout this period. By supporting segregation measures the small, but not insignificant, ethnic population of St. Louis chose to be white. The description of whiteness is both made, and further complicated, through the occupation and claim to certain spaces and activities. By investigating the relatively under-studied city of St. Louis this thesis offers new approaches to how space was perceived and how it was used to underscore or change social categories. Cultural geographers have been interested in how definitions of place and space are made, how they change over time, and how they are related to and help enforce concepts of race, gender, ethnicity, and class. This thesis provides concrete examples of how such processes happened in an American city during the Progressive period.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2020