When it came to choosing a topic for their Chicago Metro History Fair project at Grayslake Central High School, juniors Lysette Campos and Jazmin Perez decided to focus on Chicago's youngest residents.
In their "Voices of the Unplanned" project, Campos and Perez explore Elizabeth McCormick and the baby tents she founded to provide care for sick and malnourished babies, along with Margaret Sanger, founder of the first birth control clinic.
Their project was one of more than 96 presented in the Grayslake Central arena and library over three days this week. The displays culminated a research project that began in October and included the students writing an eight- to 10-page paper.
American Studies teacher Kevin Farrell said the Chicago History Fair project started with a visit to the Chicago History Museum, where students gathered possible ideas for their papers and displays.
Students' topics included architecture-like Mies Van Der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright, birth control, Al Capone, John Dillinger, the 1968 riots, Fermilab, the Chicago Fire, McDonald's, the Chicago Bears and the city's great blizzards.
'Voices of the Unplanned'
Perez and Campos found their topic fascinating. Campos explained that McCormick founded the baby tents that allowed parents who had no money to take their babies to the hospital for care to instead take them to an outdoor tent. It was in those tents that nurses found that the underweight babies were unable to eat regular food and instead needed milk to gain weight.
The babies were sent home once they were healthy enough. Slowly, the infant mortality rate decreased, Campos said.
"It was such an impact on Chicago that other cities followed suit," said Campos.
The baby tents served as an inspiration for Margaret Sanger to move her New York birth control clinic to Chicago, said Perez.
Sanger, Perez said, grew up in a poor family with 10 siblings. After deciding she wanted to do something important with her life, Sanger attended college and became a nurse. She saw babies who were malnourished, and started meeting women who, knowing they couldn't care for the babies they were carrying, started having back-alley abortions or even giving themselves abortions.
In the early 1900s, 49 percent of pregnancies were unintended, Perez explained, and 54 percent of those pregnancies ended in abortion.
"She got frustrated and said, 'I'm not just going to just sit here and watch,'" said Perez. She decided to start her first birth control clinic in New York City. Because promoting birth control was against the law at the time, Sanger was sentenced to five years in jail. She opted to escape to England.
Upon her return, Sanger and her sister kept running the birth control clinic. Both were sentenced to 30 days in jail, but the charges were ultimately dropped, Perez said.
Sanger eventually decided to move her birth control clinic to Chicago after hearing about the baby tents. She also started the American Birth Control League to distribute information to women.
Perez found Sanger's story inspiring.
"She came out of nothing. She made something of herself," said Perez. "She bettered herself and bettered us as a nation."
Chicago's Pullman Legacy
For his project, junior Clayton Berger explored "The Pullman Empire," from the founding of the company in the late 1800s by George Pullman to the unionizing of the company's porters. All of the porters, Berger said, were minorities, largely African Americans.
"They didn't get equal rights or just compensation," said Berger. The porters opted to unionize.
"They fought for better wages and better benefits," said Berger.
Judging the Projects
A number of judges examined the projects this week. According to the GCHS Chicago Metro History Fair program, "students are judged based on their presentation and interpretation of their historical research and have the opportunity to compete at the regional, state and national levels. Throughout the competition, there are monetary awards and scholarships available as well."
The regional competition will be held March 2 at Niles North High School, followed by the Chicago Metro Finals April 16 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Illinois History Fair Finals will be held May 3 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield.