hearing a voice for the first time.

Anybody who has talked to me about my dissertation project in the last year has probably heard me talk about Hans W. Mattick. He was a criminologist who came of age with the “second Chicago school” of sociology’s emphasis on “applied criminology.” He was not one to hide out in his ivory tower; as such, he never finished his book on American jails (instead publishing it in an anthology) and didn’t publish many academic articles. As such, his work intersects with my project in that he worked as Assistant Warden at Cook County Jail early in his career and continued to study and advocate for jail reform for the rest of his life.

used for educational and scholarly purposes courtesy of the University of Chicago Photographic Archive.

His papers, housed at the Chicago History Museum, tell the story of a consummate scholar-activist. He was a neurotic chronicler who saved everything and meticulously annotated his papers, adding dates and commentary, always careful to point out when he was plagiarized (often by Cook County politicians and jail administrators) and when someone was lying (often Cook County politicians and administrators). Mattick’s writings have popped up in every collection I’ve looked at for the dissertation; he is perhaps the most dominant narrator in the first half of my project (from about 1954-1978).*

At any rate, I run into Mattick enough in my work that I feel an affinity to him. In Hyde Park, I’ve walked by the location of the slummy college apartment he lived in and the nicer apartment building where he took his own life. His handwriting has become familiar to me. I have gotten frustrated with him when I haven’t been able to find a document I know he would have kept (I eventually found it; thankfully his wife made sure a few straggler boxes made it into his collection after he died). Getting to know Hans Mattick has been one of the unexpected pleasures of my work.

At any rate, I was delighted to find that his appearance on “The Studs Terkel Program” has been digitized. Mattick was an advocate for Paul Crump, who was on death row at Cook County Jail (the presence of an electric chair at the jail made it quite exceptional). To be able to hear his voice (at last!) is one of the weird perks of being a twentieth century historian.

I like the way he says “rehabilitation.”


He pops up around 14:00.

*While I know it’s problematic that my window into the jail at that time is, in many ways, totally contingent upon what Mattick saved, it will always be more problematic that the Jail destroyed so many of its own records.

9 thoughts on “hearing a voice for the first time.

  1. I am Hans’ great niece. I am grateful to know via your website that his papers are housed in the Chicago History Museum. The next time that I am in Chicago, that will indeed be a priority stop for my family and me.

  2. Hello Melanie, my mother is Hans Mattick’s niece and she grew up with him and told me many stories about him. I wish I had known him. If you are interested in personal details I might be able to help with that but professionally you know more about him than we do. Either way, thank you for posting this, I never heard his voice but I always wanted to, and thanks to you, I was able to hear him

  3. Hans Mattick was my great uncle. Renee Mattick Moss was his sister and my maternal grandmother. I was born in 1972 and never had the chance to meet either of them. I enjoy learning about him and am thrilled to find so much information about him.

  4. David – sorry to say, definitely suicide – my neighbor’s (their, and now my, immediate neighbor) late husband signed the death certificate and the entire building knows about the story, although I didn’t upon purchase. What his wife told people was it was a normal morning with nothing significant that would have led her to worry, though I find that a bit surprising.

    From what I gather, the profession was changing at the time and he may have felt that he was being pushed out according to people I’ve talked to who knew him.

  5. Thank you for the obit. Seems to confirm that Hans did die a suicide, as did another of Blooms close friends, Larry Kohlberg. Gives me a small point of history to include in my brief recollection of Bloom to go with letters have sent to the U of C Bloom archive. Hans appears to have lived a fascinating and extremely useful life. Would love to know more about his time with the Sheriff’s office. I have long been a student of cities – served on the Cambridge MA School Committee and then City Council, and wrote a book, City, Save Thyself! about using cities world wide to start global democracy by directly electing a municipal global security congress. Benjamin Barber picked up some of my ideas and quotes me in his If Mayors Ruled the World. Thanks again!

  6. I had Sunday dinner with the Matticks in 1948 or 9. Hans was a good friend of Allan Bloom, with whom I lived during my last year in the college at the University of Chicago. Hans was some ten years older, and led Al, I think, into Al’s devotion, back then, to Dixieland. I wanted to see what became of Hans for a short recollection of Bloom that I have written to go with some letters that I have given to the Bloom archive at U of C. I was saddened by the reference to suicide and would like to know more as another close Bloom friend suffered similarly, Larry Kohlberg. I remember once commenting to Al that a particular passage in a Dixieland recording was superlative, like Nirvana. Bloom exploded, “Have you been talking with Hans?” I hadn’t, and Bloom was dismayed that two of his friends, independently, had identified a moment of genius that had eluded him. Thank you, Melanie, for providing information about a wonderful person.

  7. Strangely enough, I live in the Mattick’s apartment and have indirect connections to him beyond that, he’d interviewed a friend of the family for a job at UIC (I assume) in the early 70’s. I was just googling him randomly today and your page popped up (last time I did this you hadn’t posted yet) and am going to have to listen to his interview at some point. It seems the two previous owners of the unit were quirkily illustrious and I hope I eventually live up to that.

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