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Historian Explores St. Louis’ 250-Year Past In New Book

Fred Fausz
University of Missouri–St. Louis

St. Louis founder AugusteChouteau set out with a simple goal: he wanted to build one of the nation’s finest cities.

Historian Fred Fausz believes St. Louis is living up to that goal.

“I think the vibrancy of the city, the spirit of the city is still here, even if you have to include 90 other communities because we’ve created a metro area,” said Fausz, a University of Missouri–St. Louis associate history professor whose new book explores the area’s history, “Historic St. Louis: 250 Years Exploring New Frontiers.” “It is a truly vibrant city as the founders envisioned.”

The same mindset that invigorated St. Louis 250 years ago continues today.

“The energy is what cities generally focus on, and the energy comes from entrepreneurs, the energy comes from explorers,” Fausz said.

But it’s St. Louis’ history that provides today’s building blocks, Fausz said.

“When you ignore history, the country suffers. It’s more than just another subject in high school; more than just another subject in college,” he said. “History has to be remembered by humans. History has to be transmitted to other humans or history will die. It’s unthinkable that at some point people might forget there was a Pearl Harbor or D-Day.”

Fausz’s book is available at the Missouri History Museum store, and at the University of Missouri–St. Louis bookstore.

Discrimination And Demographics

For St. Louis, discrimination is not new.  

“You see a pattern of discrimination, a pattern of remaining separate,” Fausz said of St. Louis’ past. “Ironically, the best time, in one sense, for race relations, including living next door to one another in close contact, was the 18th century. Obviously as a city expands, a city has a greater population, you see an increase of prejudice and discrimination after every large influx of African-Americans.”

But discrimination in St. Louis wasn’t always a black versus white issue.

“In 1780, 97 percent of the adult males came from a French region, including France itself,” Fausz said. “When you see the influx of the Americans, shortly before and certainly after the Louisiana Purchase, there was a conflict there — a cultural conflict involving language and religion and so forth. If you were neither French nor American (and) coming directly from Europe, there were people in the majority population that were very resentful and even violent.”

As St. Louis grew, so did its immigrant population. In 1830, St. Louis had 14,000 people and was ranked the 44th largest city in the nation, Fausz said. By 1850, it was the sixth largest city with 78,000 people, and 40,000 of them were German or Irish. By the time the World’s Fair started in 1904, St. Louis had a “truly global population from every corner of the earth,” Fausz said.

The Civil War, 1861-1865, signaled a change.

“St. Louis did a lot during the Civil War to create schools, to help the refugee blacks that were coming in from out of state,” Fausz said. “Then by the end of the 19th and early 20th century, you have total reversal.”

St. Louis Versus Chicago

The St. Louis vs. Chicago battle is older than the Cardinals and Cubs rivalry.

“If we rebounded quickly from the great fire of 1849, Chicago rebounded extremely quickly from the fire of the early 1870s,” Fausz said. Chicago also was able to grow much faster than St. Louis, adding to its population and its acreage. And there’s the location of both cities.

“Geographically, Chicago was in just an ideal situation to connect to the northern cities — Erie Canal, the Great Lakes, the railroads west,” Fausz said.

The Civil War also played a role.

“Frankly, the so-called Yankee capitalists that were here prior to the Civil War moved back to New York or moved to Chicago and funded all of that because of slavery — because of St. Louis’ perception as a southern city.”

But with the good, Chicago also suffered a lot of bad that St. Louis did not.

“It’s just two different communities that matured in different ways. They had a lot more violence, they had a lot more immigrant violence and so forth, and we didn’t,” Fausz said. “We had relatively peaceful labor relations, and when we did have strikes and so forth, it was violence against property and not people.”

“We have no apologies to make and no regrets.”

Related Event

Book signing

  • Author Fred Fausz will sell and sign copies of “Historic St. Louis: 250 Years Exploring New Frontiers” after a presentation.
  • When: 12:15 p.m. Sept. 29, 2014
  • Where: Room 402 of the J.C. Penney Building at the University of Missouri–St. Louis

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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