This badge belonged to my Great Grand Uncle Wm. H. Ehemann. He was the same ancestor that was a Chicago Alderman that I mentioned earlier in this litany of stuff I’ve been posting on this site. Apparently he was also the County Agent for Cook County; a position that I knew he held for long enough for me to now own a couple different badges with that title. Thanks to the amazing world of Google (seriously, I’m impressed with their digitization project) I found a 1918 listing of him with this title, which I would imagine was a pretty good feet for someone to hold an elected office in 1918 with a German last name. Anyway, the position of County Agent was unknown to me and I couldn’t think of why he would leave being an Alderman which in Chicago is a pretty powerful position. The reasons became apparent… According to the Chicago Social Service Directory of 1918 the position “Administers out-door relief for Cook County. Furnishes food, gives medical aid, to needy families in homes, and shoes to school children. Co-operates with the Health Department and the Infant Welfare Society in furnishing special diet to tubercular patients and milk to babies. Issues rations to soldiers under the Bogardus Law; also pensions to the blind and mothers’ pension relief. Issues permits for admission to Oak Forest Infirmary and Hospital, County Hospital, and State School for Blind and Deaf at Jacksonville.”
At first this may sound like a nice social welfare type job to hold. But if you put this into the context of turn of the century politics, especially big city political machines like Chicago, the level of power this job wielded becomes apparent. Think about it a minute. If his office gave a family some much needed assistance, then let it slip that Alderman so-&-so, or State Rep X, helped (or hindered) in the giving of this assistance, one can easily imagine that household voting for or against that person in the next election. Now take that household and multiply it by the number of poor, sick, infirm, or pension receivers in Cook County and you get a pretty good idea of the potential power. The County Agent could become a King maker simply by helping sway the vote of recipients of any of the services his office provided. One could help control the fringe of the electorate and in turn could easily push a candidate over the top in a close election.
I completely understand why this title no longer exists in Cook County, and all of these services were decentralized and put under various civil service agencies. The amount of clout the County Agent held was simply too much for other politicians to take.
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