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How Pigs Helped A Group of Rebellious Women Fix Chicago's Trash Problem

By Linze Rice | March 3, 2016 6:10am | Updated on March 5, 2016 2:17pm

EDGEWATER — If you think garbage pickup is bad in your neighborhood, consider what it was like in 1913 Edgewater.

After weeks with no garbage pickups, things got so bad that a group of women decided to take matters into their own hands.

Their solution? "Old fashioned garbage disposers — large, hungry pigs," according to a Nov. 3, 1913, Tribune article.

A newly surfaced photo, provided by the Edgewater Glen Association, shows what's believed to be the group of women — rebels of their time — on the front porch of Eleanor Krauter's home aty 1314 W. Glenlake Ave.

In the early 1900s, Chicago was dealing with the beginning of what would turn out to be a long struggle to take care of the city's refuse.

Considering garbage dumps "the enemy," according to WBEZ, Chicago officials were spending much of their City Council meetings trying to figure out what to do with different types of waste — including organic materials.

An Oct. 7, 1913 Tribune article detailed the city's current waste conditions and noted at the time garbage had not been picked up in six days.

Three women on the porch of 1314 W. Glenlake Ave. in Edgewater, who were involved in finding a solution when the city's garbage collection stopped. [Edgewater Glen Association]

By Nov. 3, women in Edgewater had become "disgusted" with the conditions and began organizing for solutions.

The story describes how six women "have decided to go back to natural methods" to get rid of organic waste that came from their kitchens.

They fenced in a vacant lot along West Glenlake Avenue in the Edgewater Glen subsection of Edgewater, where they opened a sty and stocked it with "hungry porkers."

Until then, while the city continued to neglect garbage pick up, the article hints many residents had been burying garbage in their yards as a means of disposal.

To the women, carrying out the refuse to pigs was a "little more work" that also offered a financial reward.

"They also figure they will make a profit on the sale of the pigs," the article stated. "Mrs. Leonard Peterson, 1320 Glenlake Avenue, who first thought of the plan, said she could see no reason why women should donate their garbage to the city when they could turn the refuse into pigs and get pay."

Though photos of the pig sty haven't surfaced, the photo of the house at 1314 W. Glenlake Ave. is believed to have been taken in 1912 and shows a vacant lot next door where a neighboring house had not yet been built.

An article from a Nov. 3, 1913 Tribune newspaper profiled the group of women in Edgewater who turned to pigs to eat their kitchen scraps while the city's garbage was piling up. [Chicago Tribune]

Though the idea was radical for its time, the Edgewater women were hardly strangers to stirring the social and financial pots.

For example, Florence Peterson, whose husband was the president of Leonard Peterson and Co., the longest standing wood casework manufacturer in the country, was an early suffragette for women's rights and was an outspoken advocate for voting and religious tolerance.

Documents show she was a speaker and presenter at various Unitarian conferences and events, and was an active member of the Women's City Club of Chicago, founded in 1910, whose members included Jane Addams, Ruth Hanna McCormick, Mary McDowell, and Sophonisba Breckinridge.

She was also the chairwoman of the Efficiency in Government Committee with the Illinois League of Women Voters, during which time she "laid special stress" that "women voters should be equally represented at all party conventions and on all partisan committees and boards elected by the voters," according to a May 1922 edition of the Women's City Club Bulletin.

She occasionally wrote columns for the Tribune calling for "mother's rights" and in June 1913 "surprised" a meeting of men with the West North Edgewater Association holding a meeting at Hayt Elementary School.

Her unannounced presence was the first time women were admitted into the meeting.

Florence Peterson, often referred to as Mrs. Leonard Peterson, was an early women's rights advocate in Chicago who came up with the idea to utilize pigs. [Chicago Tribune]

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