The images found in the On the Streets of Des Plaines, 1915 collection offer a tantalizing glimpse of life in Des Plaines during what historians call the Progressive Era. During this time, the citizens of Des Plaines were surely experiencing the social, technological and economic forces reshaping the world into the modern age.
The people of Des Plaines shopping, selling goods, working and playing on Miner Street and Ellinwood Street. There are also many photographs of passengers embarking and disembarking the commuter train in the busy railroad station in downtown Des Plaines. The collection consists of photographs made from glass plate negatives. The photographer, who remains unknown, captures a feeling of spontaneity. Very few of the photographs appear to have been formally posed. There is a casual quality to the photographs, similar in feeling to modern snapshots.
Many of the issues the Des Plainesites of that time were dealing with resonate with the issues of 21st century American society. The role and rights of women were galvanizing around the suffrage movement. In 1915, Illinois women could vote in presidential and some local elections, after the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Suffrage Act in 1913. Racial tensions were escalating in the state, due to widespread, organized violence against Blacks. The Illinois State Legislature responded by implementing a series of anti-lynching laws in 1909. Unbeknownst to the people of 1915, a pandemic was looming in the future. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2021 has often been compared to the influenza pandemic of 1918, which resulted in thirty-two thousand deaths in Illinois.