Suffragists were not just waiting to get the vote to be actively improving their communities.
Hull House is a prime example of the intersection between suffrage and social reforms that transformed America as a nation.
After graduating college in 1881, wealthy Chicago socialite, Jane Addams, spent a few years touring Europe. While in London, she learned about Toynbee Hall, a community center offering recreation and educational services in London’s poorest neighborhood, Jane Addams brought the idea back with her to Chicago.
She rented the Charles Hull mansion which was in one of the poorest neighborhoods and with the help of her friend, Ellen Gates Starr, opened Hull House in 1899. It was originally going to just be a small cultural space where Addams and Starr could teach art and literature.
Hull House quickly became a full-service community center serving the mostly immigrant population of Irish, Russian, Jew, Italian, German, Polish, and Greek who lived in the area. It offered accommodation, education, day care services for working mothers, English and citizenship classes, American government classes, and training in both technical skills and recreational hobbies. Most importantly it gave people a sense of community and value so that they could establish themselves in this new country and be productive citizens. It was so successful that it grew into a 13 building complex with social clubs and groups for everyone as well as a labor museum, and spaces for the arts. Because so many people brought their kids with them, Addams even started an on-site kindergarten and Chicago’s first public playground.
In order to serve even more people, Addams helped establish the Chicago Federation of Settlements and the National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers.
Settlement houses are not about giving charity; they are about creating opportunity, support, and a sense of community so that the residents can help themselves.
The name “settlement house” comes from the fact that the social workers who worked there lived, or settled, in the neighborhood by residing at the main service house but that’s not very common today. Many have dropped the name “settlement house” and just go by some variation of “community center” because the old name was confusing to most people so it’s difficult to put a number on how many settlement houses are currently in existence. The original Hull House closed its doors in 2012, but the work is carried on through Metropolitan Family Services (Formerly United Charities) which still provide outreach support for families, services for victims of domestic violence, financial education, and more.
Hull House was only one of Jane Addams many accomplishments. Besides being an active leader in suffrage, she was the first female president of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections (later known as United Charities), served on the executive boards of the National Playground Association and the National Child Labor Committee, and vice-president of Campfire Girls. She lent her support to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In 1931 Addams became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Women’s Peace Party in 1917-- later known as Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
This week’s song pick:
“Florence” by Andrea Echeverri https://youtu.be/P02t5kGzNzQ
(No translation available but it’s easy to understand the message from the video. Echeverri tells women that finding a man is not the purpose of life. She encourages women to love themselves first and build a strong independent life, then they can decide if they want to share it with someone who will be an equal partner.)
Episode 36 Sources