Hull House Heroine

Jane Addams (b. September 6, 1860 d May 21, 1935)

Hull House was a settlement house in the United States that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams (pictured above) and Ellen Gates Starr. Located in the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House (named after the home’s first owner) opened to recently arrived European immigrants. My interest in Ms. Addams stemmed from my delving deep into the history of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, which in its latest title  of National Guild of Community Arts Education, is celebrating its 80th Anniversary this year.

By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally.

Most of the Hull House buildings were demolished for the construction of the University of Illinois-Circle Campus in the mid 1960s. The Hull mansion and several subsequent acquisitions were continuously renovated to accommodate the changing demands of the association. The original building and one additional building, which has been moved 200 yards, survive today.

On June 12, 1974, the Hull House building was designated a Chicago Landmark. On June 23, 1965, it was designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. On October 15, 1966, which is the day that the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was enacted, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hull House was one of the four original members to be listed on both the Chicago Registered Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places list (along with Chicago Pile-1, Robie House & Lorado Taft Midway Studios). The Hull House Association ceased operations in January 2012, but the Hull mansion and a related dining hall remain open as a museum.

When Jane’s father died, the inheritance left her with enough money to live on. Addams traveled to Europe. During one of these trips, she decided what she wanted to do with her life.  In 1888, she visited Toynbee Hall in London, England. Operated by Oxford University students, Toynbee Hall served one of London’s poorest neighborhoods. It offered recreation and educational programs to the poor. Addams left England determined to set up a similar “settlement house” (community center) in the United States.

Jane Addams supported other causes, including trade unions and winning suffrage (the vote) for women. Not all of her efforts won public support. During World War I (1914-18) she organized the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which worked to end the war. Many called her an enemy of the people because of her antiwar stance.
In the end, though, Addams was lauded for her life’s work. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her work with the peace organization. When she died in 1935, Hull House filled an entire city block. It had inspired the creation of hundreds of similar houses across the U.S. Many Hull House residents went on to pursue other important social reforms. Through Jane Addams’ efforts, women had blazed a pioneering role in improving the lives of others. But Addams always insisted that Hull House served her own needs as much as others. “I should at least know something of life firsthand,” she said.

My own history of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts covering the period 1981-2001 includes a background note that reads:
Janet D. Schenck wrote in Chapter V of her monograph Music Schools and Settlement Music Departments (National Federation of Settlements, Boston, 1923):
“The decade and a half between 1893 and 1911 constituted the period of pioneering in settlement music instruction. By 1910 the idea had thoroughly proved its worth under the restricted conditions imposed upon it in the settlement house. Well-established departments of music with groups of people more interested in the spread of music than in any other field of culture had been brought into being. The movement to establish
schools and departments gathered fresh momentum.
“An important off-shoot of the establishment of a number of new schools in 1910 was the desire on the part of founders to meet and discuss problems having to do with organization and administration. The first national conference of music school representatives was held in New York in 1911. The meeting formed itself into the
National Association of Music School Societies, which met again in 1912. The reports of these two conferences were most helpful and stimulating.”

Reference: Wikipedia

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