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John Coughlin (alderman)

John J.[a] Coughlin (August 15, 1860 – November 11, 1938), known as "'Bathhouse' John", "the Bath", and other such nicknames, was a Democratic alderman of the Chicago City Council from 1892 until his death. Representing the 1st Ward for the entirety of his tenure, he was the alderman for Downtown Chicago and in later years the Near South Side as well. He was the longest serving alderman in Chicago history until November 2014 when his record was surpassed by Ed Burke of the 14th ward.

John Coughlin
Bathhouse John Coughlin.jpg
City of Chicago Alderman for the 1st Ward
In office
1892 – November 11, 1938
Serving with John R. Morris (1892–1893)
Louis I. Epstean (1893–1895)
Francis P. Gleason (1895–1897)
Michael Kenna (1897–1923)
Preceded byNicholas A. Cremer
Succeeded byVacant, then Michael Kenna
Personal details
Born(1860-08-15)August 15, 1860
DiedNovember 11, 1938(1938-11-11) (aged 78)
Political partyDemocratic
ResidenceChicago, Illinois


Early lifeEdit

Coughlin was born August 15, 1860 in Chicago. He acquired his nicknames as a result of working in a bathhouse as a masseur.[1] Eventually he was able to purchase a tavern and several bathhouses of his own.

Political careerEdit

Coughlin was elected alderman as a Democrat[2] from Chicago's First Ward on April 5, 1892 despite having no prior experience in public service.[3][b] Coughlin and his partner, fellow First Ward alderman Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, were known as the "Lords of the Levee", a district which was part of their ward. The Levee was known as being a vice-ridden section of Chicago and home to many saloons, gambling dens, prostitutes, pimps, and flop houses. The two also led the Gray Wolves of Chicago.[4]

First Ward BallEdit

Cartoons from the Chicago Tribune depicting "Bathhouse" John (left) and "Hinky Dink" Kenna (right)

Coughlin and Kenna were also the hosts of the First Ward Ball, an annual political fundraiser which brought together safecrackers, sex workers, gangsters, politicians, businessmen, gamblers, and a variety of other types. The event raised more than $50,000 a year for the two First Ward aldermen until it was closed down in 1909 by Mayor Fred Busse. By the time it was banned, the ball was so large that it had to be held in the Chicago Coliseum, the city's major convention center. Besides its notoriety in attracting many unsavory characters it often ended with the police having to curb disorderly conduct bordering on rioting.

Later careerEdit

Later when Coughlin was accused of corruption, he demanded a retraction, not for the charge of graft, but for the claim he was born in Waukegan, Illinois.[1]

Despite being almost invariably excoriated by the reform-minded Municipal Voters' League, Coughlin was re-elected 19 times and never defeated.[5] After 46 years as alderman of the First Ward, Coughlin died in office at age 78 of pneumonia at Mercy Hospital in Chicago on November 11, 1938.[1] After a vacancy in the position his longtime partner Kenna would assume the office of 1st Ward alderman.[6] Like Kenna, Coughlin is buried in Cavalry Cemetery, Evanston, Cook County Illinois[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sources are silent as to what, if anything, the J. stood for
  2. ^ Reference incorrectly states Coughlin's age at election as 35.


  1. ^ a b c Evans, Arthur (November 12, 1938). "Coughlin to Get Kind of Funeral That He'd Wish". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL: Tribune Co. p. 12.
  2. ^ "Chicago's New City Council". Chicago Tribune. 3 April 1929. Retrieved 25 July 2018.
  3. ^ "All Down But Nine: Out Of 34 Old Aldermen 25 Are Retired". Chicago Tribune. April 6, 1892. p. 1.
  4. ^ Maureen A. Flanagan. "Gray Wolves". Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-03-22.
  5. ^ Doherty, James (May 24, 1953). "The Story of Bathhouse John: Chicago's Fabulous First Ward Alderman Coughlin". Chicago Tribune.
  6. ^ "Centennial List of Mayors, City Clerks, City Attorneys, City Treasurers, and Aldermen, elected by the people of the city of Chicago, from the incorporation of the city on March 4, 1837 to March 4, 1937, arranged in alphabetical order, showing the years during which each official held office". Chicago Historical Society. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  7. ^ John Coughlin at Find a grave

Further readingEdit

  1. Wendt, Lloyd; Kogan, Herman (2005). Lords of the Levee. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-2320-7.