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On September 18, 1889, Hull House, which would eventually become America's most influential settlement house, opened its doors. The project, initially funded with the inheritance left to (Laura) Jane Addams by her late father, John H. Adams, a prosperous miller, who served in the United States Senate for sixteen years, would soon expand to become the Jane Addams Hull House Association. Notably, Jane's dedication would make her the first woman in America to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Early Years
Born in Cedarville, Illinois, Jane was the family's youngest daughter. Her mother, Sarah, passed away when Jane was only three years old. After her mother's death, Jane's oldest sister Martha took on the role of caregiver, but Jane soon became her father's shadow. She worked alongside him in the mill and became a voracious reader. It was only John Addams' eventual remarriage in 1868 that separated the two, a separation that caused her to resent her new step-mother.
During their marriage, John and Sarah Addams agreed that their daughters would attend college. Jane's first choices were the eastern colleges of Mount Holyoke or Smith. None-the-less, she would follow in her sisters' footsteps and enroll at the Rockford Female Seminary. While there, Jane involved herself in everything from school politics to journalism and graduated at the head of her class. The years that followed would be full of self-reflection, travel, and the discovery of what she truly wanted to do with her life, of who she really wanted to be.
At the age of twenty-seven, Jane, at the urging of her family, toured Europe shortly after her father's death. Her companion, Ellen Starr, was a friend from school. While in London, the two women visited a settlement house called Toynbee Hall, and it was there that Jane and Ellen realized their futures. Upon their return, they expressed their new found purpose, which was to " provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago." (1)
19th Century Chicago
Chicago was a bastion of progress during the late 1800's, and the years following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 found its boundaries expanding both vertically and horizontally. The Home Insurance Building claimed the honor of the tallest building (ten stories) and made its mark as the world's first skyscraper. Business tycoons, George Pullman, Marshall Field, and Phillip Armour all called Chicago home and provided a wealth of jobs for its residents. Unfortunately, the boom in real estate, manufacturing, and transportation wasn't enough to provide jobs for the mass of immigrants arriving in the city, hoping to fulfill their dreams. Poverty was abundant, and in response, Jane and Emma tackled the needs of the people living in the industrial neighborhoods of the city.
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After what seemed like a neverending search, the two women came across the Charles Hull Mansion, built in 1856. Located at Polk and Halsted, the mansion, once home to Charles J. Hull, a wealthy real estate developer, was deserted, spacious and available for lease. It was also dilapidated and rumored to be haunted.
Tales of the supernatural would lead numerous visitors to the settlement's doors, only to be turned away. But the story of a "devil baby," complete with cloven hooves, tail, and horns would continue to circulate and eventually make it onto Hollywood's big screen...... the title, "Rosemary's Baby."
In the beginning, Addams' primary goal was to lessen the effects of poverty on those less fortunate. The doors of Hull House were open to everyone. Emma and Jane both believed that positive changes could be made in the Near West Side neighborhood, which would be beneficial to all. That they were correct in their beliefs is an understatement, and within a year, Hull House would be visited by more than 2,000 people per week.
Hull House provided food for the hungry, clothing for the needy, and medical attention to the sick and weary. A multitude of different ethnic groups learned about and from each other, at a time when 50,000 of the residents living in the 19th Ward were unable to speak English. In time, the Hull House settlement would expand to include thirteen separate buildings, which included a bathhouse, gymnasium, women's lodgings, and Chicago's first kindergarten. Its staff was hands on and lived on site.
By 1920, five hundred settlements would be founded across America based on the Hull House prototype. Jane Addams would remain at Hull House and serve as its head resident until her death in 1935; Hull House would continue her legacy and provide services to the area until it was pushed aside to make room for the University of Illinois campus in the 1960s. The Jane Addams Hull House Association was active until January of 2012, when it ceased operating.
Today, the Jane Addams, Hull-House Museum is open to the public, and visitors are welcome to peruse two of the original settlement buildings; the Hull Home and the Resident's Dining Hall. Group tours are welcome.
(1) Addams, Jane. "Page 112." Twenty Years at Hull-House, with Autobiographical Notes . New York: Macmillan, 1910. N. pag. Print.
"Rosehill Cemetery and Mausoleum." : Charles J. Hull . N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2014.
"Jane Addams." Jane Addams . N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2014.