In City of Grit and Gold, Maud Macrory Powell chronicles the experience of twelve-year-old Addie, the youngest daughter of a German Jewish immigrant family living in 1886 Chicago.
Outside Addie’s apartment, the city is in chaos. People are rioting in the streets, rallying for workers’ rights and labor unionization. Addie’s father, who owns a hat shop, is ardently against the movement and fears anarchy. However, her beloved Uncle Chaim openly protests for better wages and fairer workdays. This discord causes friction in Addie’s family. Her older siblings disagree with their father’s “old country” beliefs and harbor aspirations to live independently; her mother is torn between staying loyal to her husband and supporting her brother. On the way to fetch medicine for her ill cousin, Addie witnesses a riot in the streets, and sees Uncle Chaim right in the middle of it. Though frightened, Addie struggles to remain respectful of her father’s outlook while wanting to stand up for what she believes is right. She begins to question authority and finds herself particularly involved when Uncle Chaim goes into hiding. After she witnesses the harsh conditions of child sweatshop workers (including one who is gravely injured) Addie questions her place in the city and her plans for the future. She wonders, “Where do I fit into this great city of grit and gold, illness and adventure?”
Powell weaves in details of the Haymarket Affair (a rally which resulted in a bomb explosion and several deaths), including the impact it has on Chicago’s immigrant community and the devastating effect it has on Addie’s family.
Featuring powerful descriptions and emotionally charged circumstances, City of Grit and Gold presents a difficult time in American history. Recommended for ages 9 and up.