Skokie Historical Society

The Geographical Growth of Skokie, Illinois

       by Joseph Beaver dated February 1983


Introduction | Original Boundaries of
Niles Center
| First Annexation:
January 28, 1924
| Annexations of
1925 and 1926
         
Annexations of
1928 and 1930
| The First Disannexations | The Problem of the
"Western Arm" Annexation
| Major Changes in the
1950's and After
         
Odds and Ends | Some Interesting Aspects
of the Skokie Boundary
in 1983
| Neighboring Municipalities | Acknowledgements


Geographical Growth Maps


Introduction

In this pamphlet we attempt to depict, with the assistance of map representations, the growth of the Village of Skokie from its original boundaries, as incorporated in May of 1888 as the Village of Niles Center(a name it retained until 1940) through the latest change in boundary. Some preliminary words clarifying conventions used on the maps are in order.

The entire village lies within the bounds of Niles Township, which is Township 41 in the State of Illinois. The township is further geographically subdivided into one mile squares, known as "sections." The sections are conventionally subdivided into "quarter sections" in the various legal documents having to do with real estate, including the village ordinances of annexation and disannexations. The township is, furthermore, geographically a partial township, not having for example, the easternmost column of sections, and its northern sections are not complete mile squares. This makes the official numbering of the sections appear a little strange.

The "quarter sections" are conventionally referred to as the NW quarter, the SW quarter, etc.(northwest, southwest, northeast, southeast). Now we have chosen to designate major modern day streets on the maps for purposes of reader orientation and understanding of the extent of particular annexations or disannexations. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the north-south and east-west streets in Skokie coincide with fractional parts of the township sections. (There are a few exceptions, the most notable being the very old streets, many originally Indian paths, which do not run east-west or north-south: Lincoln Avenue, Niles Center Avenue, Gross Point Road, Prairie Avenue). It is important to recognize that the street names so used on the maps are used for convenience of reference. The streets themselves did not in many cases exist at the time of annexation depicted. Even today the streets may not exist as shown on the maps — for example "Lunt" as it appears on Map "G". This is merely the fence at the south border of Teletype Corporation. The reader must extend mentally the street as it actually exists elsewhere.

Nevertheless an attempt has been made on the maps to represent legal realities by designating pertinent section numbers of the township. This has been done by using a squared paper background and showing pertinent township section numbers within circles at the very northwest corner of the section. In addition to providing a kind of map scale, these may serve as a continual reminder to the reader that it is with respect to section and fractional section lines that borders are fixed, not with reference to streets. Finally, this pamphlet is based upon records to be found priMarily in the Village Clerk's office, specifically the file of ordinances passed by the Village Board, upon the Minutes of the meetings of the Board, and upon available maps found in the Clerk's office and in the Village Planning office. The maps referred to are mainly zoning naps, and none have been found prior to 1946. The only other actual map discovered was a map of the

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The Original Boundaries of the Village of Niles Center.

The original extent of Niles Center is depicted in Map "A". Essentially it consisted of a square, three quarters of a mile on each side, with a rectangle about 5/8 of a mile long and 1/4 of a mile wide on the north side of this square, but positioned to the west. The Village Ordinance incorporating the village and establishing these boundaries was the second ordinance the Village Board passed, in May of 1888. Modem day streets corresponding roughly to the boundaries of the 5/4 mile square are Mulford on the south, Main Street on the North, Skokie Blvd. on the east, and Long Avenue on the west. In all cases, the center line of such streets are the boundaries referred to. The little rectangle 16 the northwest of the square is bounded on the east by modern day Laramie, on the north by Greenleaf, on the west by Linder, and on the south by Main. Only Long, and the western segment of Main are still part of the Village boundary today. The frame house standing on the east side of Niles Center Rd. at the intersection with Mulford affords an interesting physical marker of the original village boundary. If one stands in the middle of Mulford, either east or west of Niles Center Rd., and looks past the north edge of this house, it will be seen that the north edge of the house comes almost exactly to the center of Mulford. The house was built circa 1895 just outside the village boundary.

The reason for the inclusion of the northwest rectangle would appear to be that the Protestant cemeteries of St. Peter's United and St. Paul's Lutheran churches were located in this area. There has been a subsequent extension of St. Paul's cemetery to the north of the Greenleaf line, and of St. Peter's to the west of the Linder line. The central business district of the original Niles Center was of course the intersection of Lincoln and Niles Center Road, and remains so today, except that the major shopping area has shifted to Old Orchard, in the northern part of the village.

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The First Annexation: January 28, 1924

For over thirty years the original boundaries of Niles Center remained unchanged. In 1922 a referendum was held on annexing basically the land shown in Map "B", but the legality of this annexation was challenged. Consequently, the "special election" of April 18, 1922 was held again on December 28, 1925, and passed by a vote of 141 to 15. The Village Board then on January 18, 1924, made official the annexation of the new property shown in Map "B" by endorsing the results of the election.

The land thus annexed, and shown in Map "B", was a large area contiguous to the original village on the east. Its boundaries were present day Howard Avenue to the south, and the east line of the township (Township 4l) to the east. Note that this east line is not McCormick Blvd., as is frequently supposed, nor the Metropolitan District Sanitary Canal east of McCormick either, but is in reality the eastern boundary of the township, a line approximately 100 yards east of the canal itself. The western boundary of the annexation was Skokie Blvd. running up to the intersection with "Iserman Road"(Niles Center Road), where that road became the boundary up to the intersection with Gross Point Road, where that became the boundary up to Central (the east-west- Central at the north of the present day village). From that point, the boundary ran south along Crawford, then straight east on Golf until that line intersected with the east boundary of the township.

Theodore Iserman (whose name Niles Center road north of Main Street bore in those days) was one of the signers of the petition for this annexation. The petition itself was done under the aegis of a state law of July 1, 1872, providing ways for legal annexation of unincorporated territory. In general, the annexations we shall observe are of two kinds; the sort just described, and those, (as well as disannexations) which deal with the land of a neighboring incorporated municipality, which require approval of the governing bodies of both municipalities. All annexations and disannexations are initiated by a "petition" of a majority of the "landholders" and "voters" in the area in question.

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The Annexations: 1925 and 1926

Three annexations took place in these years, though two of them were separate propositions on the same special election ballot. All are depicted on Map "C". On January 25, 1925, a special election was held on two acquisition propositions. A village ordinance of January 29 shows that both of these propositions passed. The first annexed an area of land directly to the north of original Niles Center, and to the west of the 1924 acquisition. The second proposition annexed land lying to the south of the original village and of the 1924 acquisition.

Specifically, as shown in Map "C", the first annexed land west of Skokie Blvd. and Iserman Road, and west of Gross Point north of "Sharp Comers" (the intersection of Iserman - Niles Center Rd. - and Gross Point) up to Golf Road only. Golf was the northern limit of this annexation, and the western boundary was Linder.

Proposition two extended the western boundary of Long Avenue south to Howard, then east to Laramie,then directly south to Pratt Avenue. The southern boundary of this annexation was dictated by the presence of Tessville (Lincolnwood). From Laramie and Pratt, the boundary ran east to Lamon, north on Lamon to Jarvis, east on Jarvis to Hamlin, south on Hamlin to Touhy, east on Touhy to the eastern border of the township, hence north to Howard, (it should be repeated that the use of street names in this account does not mean the streets actually existed yet: the legal descriptions are in terns of sections, and lines of fractions of sections of the township, also shown on the maps.)

At this point in history, then, a long stretch of Laramie was a border of Niles Center, The corner of the village at Howard and Long lay directly in the middle of what is today the north-bound lanes of Edens expressway (built in the ‘50’s).

In the next year, 1926, a special election was held on January 4, and a village ordinance of January 8 confirms the passing of the resolution by a vote of 85-4. The area thus annexed is the quadrilateral at the north end of the village, having as a western boundary Linder, as a northern boundary Central, as a southern. Golf, and as an eastern, Gross Point. (Several times we shall have occasion to refer to a "Central Ave." There are two—the north south Central, at 5600 West, and the east-west Central, at about 10,200 North.)

Niles Center was now roughly 3 miles by 3 1/2 miles in area. It had grown from" approximately 2/3 of a square mile originally to something over 10 square miles in the two-year period, 1924-1926.

At this time major development and settlement in Niles Center was expected, and many of the streets were laid out, and sidewalks built in 1926. The expected development did not immediately follow, the major reason 'perhaps being the great depression.

But acquisition of unincorporated territory was not yet at an end.

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The Annexations of 1928 and 1930

On May 8, 1928, a small area lying in the inside corner formed by Howard and Laramie was annexed. The northern boundary of this annexation was Howard, and the eastern boundary Laramie. The annexation ran 1124 feet south on Laramie, then cut due west 849 feet to "Carpenter Road," thence up Carpenter a very little way, then west again 495 feet to Long Ave., thence north to Howard. This and the subsequent three annexations are shown on Map "D".

There are two prominent extensions to the west from the main body of Skokie. The lower, and much the larger of these was annexed on May 24, 1928. There are curious problems related to this acquisition, and we shall return to them later. But starting from Mulford and Long, the border of this acquisition ran west to Central (the north-south Central), then north to Oakton, then west to "Railroad Avenue" (modern day Lehigh), thence south to Howard along Railroad Avenue, then back east to Long. On this rather large acquisition stands today Niles West High School, Orchard Village, a number of light industrial plants, and along Lehigh some heavier industries, including Block Steel corporation. The ordinance making this acquisition uses the words "pursuant to a petition in writing" but does not state whose petition. We return to this matter later.

On July 31, 1928 the upper left arm was annexed. This area is bounded on the west by Harms Road and on the south by Old Orchard Road. On the north, the boundary extends Central (east-west Central) to the point which would be north-south Central (which is the east border of various township sections — 8, 17, 20, 29). From there it goes south 1/16 of a mile, then directly west to Harms Road. Though a relatively narrow strip, it houses today the Cook County District Two building.

The last major annexation took place on January 7, 1950, and this also is shown on Map "D". The border of this acquisition runs south from Howard and Central, along Central to a point just below Pratt, actually the center of Ionia Avenue. It then goes southeastward down Ionia to Waukesha, hence northerly up Waukesha one block to Dowagiac, then southeasterly along Dowagiac to Carpenter Road; hence up Carpenter to Pratt, and east on Pratt to Laramie. A significant part of this annexation was later to be disannexed to Chicago.

At this point in history, even though one small disannexation had taken place (to be discussed next) it is worth commenting that the Village of Niles Center was as large as it was ever to be — larger than present day Skokie, and remained so until another small disannexation in 1955. We turn now to the first disannexations.

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The First Disannexations

In 1928 and 1933 occurred the first two disannexations, as shown in Map "E". On May 16, 1928, a small rectangle at the northeast corner of Skokie bounded at the west by Greeley Ave. (Evanston) and at the south by Harrison was disannexed to Evanston by a Village Board vote of 4-2, upon petition of 1/2 of the electors and property owners in that area. Thus the west side of Greeley became a boundary of present day Skokie. (This entire area remains, however, part of the Skokie Park District.)

On September 19, 1933, as shown also in Map "E", the triangular section north of "Elgin, formerly known as Emerson" (and today generally called Golf) was similarly disannexed to Evanston.

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The Problem of the "Western Arm" Annexation

The May 24, 1928 annexation shown on Map "D" must now be discussed. The village map of 1937 drawn by the village engineer Turpin shows the western arm annexation still intact. However, as we shall see, ordinances of 1956, 1961, and 1962 again annex portions of that western arm, specifically land belonging to Carl Schnur and to his descendants. The problem is, nothing to be found in extant village records shows that any of the western arm annexation had subsequently been disannexed, or found to be illegal. Yet something of this sort must have transpired, and further, it would appear that whatever did occur happened before 1946, for we have a zoning map of that year in the Planning Office which shows the Schnur land not part of the village. In fact, a map in the engineer's office dated 1939 shows the same drawing, so it would appear that our missing event transpired between 1957 and 1959. (The village has indicated that they will research the matter further.)

The land is question is shown in Map "F", where the entire western arm is depicted again, but with dashed lines around territory that must have been lost, As stated before, this land was annexed again in 1956, 1961, and 1962. An interesting consequence of the affair is the precise path of the western boundary of present day Skokie. The 1928 acquisition had gone to (the middle of) Lehigh ("Railroad Avenue"). The annexations of 1961 and 62 deal only with Schnur property, and thus go up only to the right-of-way of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. Hence the Skokie boundary today crosses the tracks (according to zoning maps) to the middle of Lehigh in the neighborhood of Mulford. The track area from that point south to Howard remains as an unincorporated acre or so of land in the township.

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Major Changes in the 1950’s and After

On October 19, 1954 occured the first and largest of three changes that were to result in the present configuration at the southwest corner of Skokie (the village had officially changed its name in 1940) known as the "hockey stick," which consists of the north side of one block of Ionia(otherwise a Chicago street) attached to the main body of Skokie by a one foot wide strip of land running straight north for 1/4 of a mile on the line of Central Avenue to the line of Lunt Avenue (the south fence of present day Teletype Corporation).

This first change was the disannexation to Chicago, on October 19, 1954 of the area west of Carpenter Road, south of Lunt, except for the block of Ionia referred to and a 100 foot wide strip of land, running north to Lunt, as depicted in Map "G". In this account we have deliberately avoided conjecturing "reasons" for annexations and disannexations. It is presumed that an annexation was considered advantageous by the petitioners (over one half the land holders and voters in the area concerned) and to the village; similarly with disannexations. Specific "reasons" do not appear in the legal documents, the ordinances, or the minutes of Board meetings. The story frequently repeated on this ceding of land to Chicago was that Loyola University wanted to build a hospital on this land, if the land was in Chicago. For whatever reason, the hospital was never built.

The 100 foot wide strip of land connecting Ionia to the main body of Skokie was reduced to a strip just one foot wide by the disannexation ordinance of September 19, 1972. The petitioners in this case were the owners Walter and Charles Rojek. This sizeable strip of land was developed with houses, and constitutes the west side of the Chicago street Dowagiac where this street turns and runs north and south. The houses are separated from the Village of Niles by the one foot strip of Skokie, which, interestingly enough, is zoned "residential." This also is shown in Map "G".

The western most house on the Ionia block was situated on property that actually lay both in Skokie and in Niles (though mainly in Skokie), and the north-south Central line made for awkward division of responsibility for the end of the street known as Chicory. Accordingly, an annexation ordinance of July 24, 1974, at the petition of the Village of Niles and of the owner, ceded this land to Skokie as in the interests of both villages. The addition of this little triangular heel to the hockey stick is the last legal action to date (1983) affecting the boundary of Skokie.

Map "F", shown previously, shows the western arm of Skokie and the successive annexations of the Schnur land which had been part of the 1928 acquisition of the entire western arm. On February 21, 1956 was approved the annexation of a rectangle Carl Schnur and others wanted incorporated. The rectangle lies west of Central between roughly Mulford and Brummel, and goes west to Mansfield. The southwest corner of this annexation slants down Gross Point a little west of Mansfield, as shown on the map. An annexation ordinance of October 10, 1961 added further unincorporated property of the Schnur heirs. It is depicted also on Map "F". As noted earlier, this land does not include the railroad right-of-way. Finally, on January 30, 1962, the Village of Skokie incorporated the northwest piece of Schnur land adjacent to the tracks, though most extant zoning maps show this property as never disannexed.

A major disannexation of November 3, 1965 ceded to Evanston a 100 yard wide strip of land east of the M. S. D. (Metropolitan Sanitary District) canal, extending from Main to Emerson, as shown in Map "H". This action was in response to a petition by the Metropolitan Sanitary District, which owns approximately 100 yards on each side of the canal throughout Skokie. Evanston approved a similar petition at about the same time. Skiles School and Shore School are now located on this property.

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Odds and Ends

The above account completes the story of the major annexations and disannexations which brought Niles Center from its original size to its present configuration. However, various smaller annexations and disannexations have taken place since 1950, most of them occasioned by the completion of the Edens Expressway.

One of these — having, however, nothing to do with the Edens — is an ordinance of February 25, 1964, which annexed the west side of Hamlin from Touhy to Jarvis. It will be recalled that typically the Skokie border runs down the middle of streets. And so it did on Hamlin as a result of the January 25, 1925 annexation (see Map "G"). Skokie did acquire the western half of the street as well in 1964. This is not shown on any map in this pamphlet. Interestingly, where the border turns west from Hamlin into Jarvis, there is a gate in the wooden fence, the east end of Jarvis at this point being a cul de sac.

One of the two areas affected by the construction of Edens is a small triangle just south of Oakton, west of Central, as shown in Map "I". The western arm acquisition of 1928 had created a kind of Morton Grove "key" inserted into Skokie, running from Oakton south on Central to Mulford, hence east to Long, then north on Long. The completion of the Edens, together with the configuration of Gross Point at the Oakton overpass created a little triangular pocket of land west of Central and south of Oakton belonging to Skokie, but effectively separated from the rest of Skokie. In two successive disannexations, as shown in Map "I", this land was ceded to Morton Grove. The north portion was ceded by disannexations ordinance of December 10, 1955 at Morton Grove's request, there "being therein no electors," the bottom part by an ordinance of September 1, 1959, by petition of more than 50% of the property owners.

The other area with activity occasioned by Edens lies south of Dempster, north of Lincoln, and west of Linder, as shown in Map "J". It will be recalled that at one time the border had gone straight north on the Linder line. With the completion of Edens, a section of Morton Grove was isolated to the east. Most of this area is in fact still Morton Grove. But between Dempster and Lincoln, some of Morton Grove was ceded to Skokie. This was done in two steps as shown in Map "J". An annexation ordinance of April 19, 1955, pursuant to a petition of all the property owners, there being no electors on the property, added the triangle east of Edens and north of Greenleaf, bounded on the west by Edens. Two further annexation ordinances, both dealing with essentially the same area, annex property to the south of the triangle and west of Linder, as shown also on Map "J". The ordinance of July 15, 1957 omitted for some reason the western end of St. Peter’s cemetery. An ordinance of February 4, 1958 duplicated the annexation, but this time included the cemetery property. There were no buildings on the property, and it was unoccupied by residents or electors.

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Some Interesting Aspects of the Skokie Boundary in 1983

In discussing the geographic growth of Skokie, we have already noted some points of unusual interest. Although the streets of Skokie are laid out on north-south and east-west section and fractional section lines with the consequence that the boundaries for the most part follow middle of street right-of-ways (the long eastern boundary being a significant exception), it is by no means the case that one may traverse the boundary of Skokie closely by walking on streets alone.

One especially interesting feature of Skokie’s geography has been discussed — the "hockey stick" configuration of the southwest part. The western line of the one foot wide strip running approximately one quarter mile down from the Teletype property to the Ionia block is on the central line of Central Ave., 5600 west, which does not happen to exist at this point. Three or four industries in Niles are separated from the back yards of houses on Dowagiac in Chicago by two fences, about one foot apart. As for the block of Ionia, it is only the northern side of the last (most westerly) block of that street that belongs to Skokie: the border runs around these houses and up the alley in back of then. The dozen or so resident families of this block are on Chicago water and have a Chicago P. 0. address (60646, Edgebrook). Otherwise they are serviced by Skokie.

Another feature already mentioned is the fact that due to the curious "double" annexation of a portion of the western arm, the border of Skokie runs up the east side of the railroad tracks next to Lehigh until approximately Mulford, then crosses to the middle of Lehigh. Zoning maps are themselves unclear on this point until about 1968 or 1969. (The matter may be still unclear, since if the 1928 annexation was valid except for the Schnur land, then the line should still cross the tracks at Howard.)

Since streets did not exist in many cases when the borders were fixed, some properties are bisected by the border line. The north-south border runs just to the west of the principle Teletype building. The big company parking lot to the west is in Niles. Also, the north-south border runs north from Mulford along Long Ave. to Main Street, but Long Avenue does not go all the way through. It stops at Madison Avenue, with the consequence that the border runs through the residences at 5560 Madison Ave. and 5561 Washington Avenue. Also, the properties of the four houses on the east side of Gross Point just south of Main are bisected by that line. These six properties pay divided taxes: a portion to Skokie, and a portion to Morton Grove.

From Dempster to Old Orchard Road the border runs north up Linder, but Linder stops at Foster. The rest of this north-south border runs through forest preserve, and the half mile between Golf and Old Orchard is unusually dense—one can follow the border here only with the aid of a compass, since frequently one can see no more than forty or fifty feet ahead, when the trees are in foliage.

The long northern border, running from Greeley Ave. in Evanston, 4200 West, to 5600 West (north-south Central) is the line of the east-west Central Ave., but only three blocks of this, from Lavergne to LaCrosse, is actually a street. The same border bisects the Westmoreland Golf Course, the northern two thirds of which lies in Wilmette, the southern third in Skokie. It is doubtful that many golfers there realize they are playing partly in Skokie — though the treasurer of the club is doubtless well aware of the fact.

On the eastern side, the presence of the canal within the Skokie border presents the interesting possibility that boaters may some day have direct access to Lake Michigan from Skokie. A developer has already proposed building a marina along the banks of the canal with some 400 boat slips. This would necessitate some dredging and having the lock which holds out the lake water moved from its present location in Wilmette to a Skokie location down around Howard. The water in the canal would thus rise some 2 1/2 feet to the lake level.

Those who do walk portions of the border of Skokie may eventually find themselves on Lamon, going from Pratt up to Touhy. They may be confused to see Pohatan Park, in the Skokie Park District, to the east of the Skokie border just south of Estes. The Park itself actually lies in Lincolnwood. The Skokie Park District is not co-terminous with the Village boundary. There are many places where this is so, but the presence of Pohatan Park in Lincolnwood is the only visual reminder of the fact. The rectangle ceded to Evanston on May 16, 1928 remains in the Skokie Park District. A large triangle east of Lehigh, south of Oakton, and west of the one foot wide strip of the hockey stick is in the Skokie Park District, but within the Village of Niles. A significant portion of the northwest part of Skokie is not within the Skokie Park District. But no parks other than Pohatan are situated outside the Village boundary.

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Neighboring Municipalities

The total length of the Skokie boundary is 18 miles. Skokie is contiguous with seven other municipalities, and shares borders with them of various lengths, as follows: Morton Grove, 4.9 miles; Evanston, 4.2 miles; Lincolnwood, 3.7 miles; Niles 1.8 miles; Chicago 1.5 miles; Wilmette 1.1 miles, and Glenview .9 miles. Mileages given are approximate.

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Acknowledgements

In the preparation of this pamphlet I am greatly indebted to Marlene Williams, Village Clerk, who gave me the free use of her office for some time, and access to her files of ordinances and board minutes, and to many maps; to Robert Molumby of the Planning Office for use of the various zoning maps there, duplicates of which he gave me in many cases to the Engineering Office; to Rosemary Schmitt, President of the Skokie Historical Society, for lending me constant encouragement and help of various sorts; and to my wife, former president of the Society, who is the first person in recent times, to my knowledge, to draw the map showing the original boundaries of Niles Center. She also made clean copies of my maps for purposes of reproduction in this pamphlet.

The substance of the pamphlet was originally presented in the form of a talk before the Society on December 4, 1982. The Society has many of the zoning maps I used as a guide in preparing this work, and will be happy to show them to interested persons. At its headquarters at 8031 Floral Ave. it has also the original manuscript of a rather scanty diary I kept of a walk around the border of Skokie, which adventure ultimately suggested the preparation of the talk before the Society, and the preparation of this pamphlet. A present day zoning map, showing the village in its entirety, may be purchased in the Planning Office at Village Hall for a nominal fee.

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Joseph Beaver - Sanibel, Florida - February, 1983

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Skokie Historical Society