128 Years of Justice: Jane Addams and Chicago's Hull-House
When Jane Addams, known as the mother of social work in America, founded Hull-House on Chicago’s Near West Side in 1889, she dreamed of bringing different social classes together in ways that would benefit everyone. With the help of her college friend and sometime lover Ellen Gates Starr, she set up shop in a run-down mansion in 1889. Hull-House eventually grew into a 13-building complex, laying the foundations for a larger social reform movement in America that still resonates today.
Hull-House is now stewarded by the University of Illinois at Chicago as the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and in 1963 the original dining hall was relocated next to the original Hull Home mansion on the UIC campus. (The other 11 buildings were, unfortunately, demolished.) A 1967 restoration also removed a third-floor addition that Addams had added. The museum aims to preserve Addams’ legacy, as well as the physical environment that fostered it.
Hull-House was a microcosm of the larger “settlement movement” that started in England in the early 1880s. After visiting London’s Toynbee Hall in 1888, the first such “settlement house”, where more affluent volunteer "residents" held social events and programs for poor and working class citizens, Addams decided that she wanted to start a similar institution of her own in her native Illinois. Using her family’s considerable wealth, she founded Hull-House (named for the building’s first owner, Charles Jerald Hull) to offer social and educational opportunities for the working-class members of the surrounding neighborhood, many of whom were newly-arrived European immigrants. Addams created a community of volunteer “university women” who were given the title of “residents” and held classes in history, art, and literature, as well as domestic activities like sewing. Within the first year of Hull-House’s operation, charitable donations started pouring in.
The larger aim of the settlement movement was to bring the rich and poor in society together to live more closely in an interdependent community. Hull-House started out as a place for the mostly-immigrant population of the Near West Side to access social services and cultural events, but over time, the facilities grew to accommodate a night school for adults, an art gallery, children’s clubs, apartments, and an employment bureau. Hull-House also conducted careful studies of its Near West Side community, which enabled them to advocate for programs that would benefit their working-class clientele at the municipal, state and federal levels.
In 1931, Jane Addams became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and she continued her work at Hull House until her death in 1935. She’s credited with spearheading change in the areas of public health and education, fair labor practices, free speech, and immigrants’ rights, and is still recognized today as a tireless advocate for the poor and a courageous social reformer.
The Hull Home, the institution’s original building, is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and currently houses a permanent exhibition about the history of Hull-House. The museum also regularly hosts exhibitions and events relevant to the mission and legacy of Hull-House, like current exhibit Claiming Space: Creative Grounds and Freedom Summer School, an art exhibit that aims to explore the changing nature of the public school system in Chicago’s West Side.