Hull House Haunting

Hull-House
Hull-House

As Halloween nears, we turn to the more spirited side of the Hull House that Jane Addams started. The House itself, which was built by Charles Hull in 1856, was in an area of Chicago that was extremely fashionable before the Great Fire in 1871. After the Great Fire, the wealthy of the area left and moved to other areas, leaving the West Side of Chicago to be turned into a place for the poorest of the poor, from prostitutes to immigrants. It was these people that Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr wanted to reach out to. They therefore rented the house…and made a surprising discovery. The house was haunted by Charles Hull’s late wife.

Addams and Starr were not the first inhabitants of the Hull House to meet the late Mrs. Hull. The house had been rented out before and the tenants saw her ghostly figure in the room that had been hers. Terrified, they attempted to combat it by placing a pitcher of water over the threshold, believing that spirits could not get over the running water.

Jane Addams, ca. 1907 (Library of Congress)
Jane Addams, ca. 1907 (Library of Congress)

Addams slept originally in the room where Mrs. Hull died, which was where her spirit allegedly remained. While there, she saw Mrs. Hull a few times and, though Addams determined that she seemed to mean no harm, eventually decided to move into another room. They did not completely close off the room, however, and sometimes had guests stay in there. Some of these guests also saw Mrs. Hull’s spirit. Today, the house is included on Ghost Tours in Chicago and has a reputation as one of the most haunted places in Chicago, despite the relatively benign nature of the ghost.

In addition to the rather less frightening ghost of Mrs. Hull, there was the rumor of a Devil Baby ensconced in the attic of the Hull House. Though Jane Addams continually denied the existence of such a disfigured child hidden away in the attic, the legend persisted and even grew before it eventually died down, though it never vanished completely. Jane Addams herself took to The Atlantic in 1916 to explain the truth of the matter. In that article, she explores not just the legend of the Devil Baby, but why that story held the minds of the women that she serviced.

Headline from the Muskogee Times-Democrat, June 16, 1914.
Headline from the Muskogee Times-Democrat, June 16, 1914.

The Devil Baby has two different versions, one for the Italian Catholics and one for the Jews, though they were essentially the same. In both versions, there is an innocent bride whose husband is the villain and causes their child to be born with horns and a tail- a Devil Baby. In some versions, the baby can also spout profanity within a few months. All stories, however, conclude with the distraught mother bringing the baby to the Hull House, where a mystified Jane Addams locked it in the attic because she had no idea what to do with it.

This story, of course, was fervently denied by Addams and the rest of the Hull House staff. They insisted that the first time they ever heard the story was when two women appeared at the doorstep, wanting to see the Devil Baby for themselves. Though they were quickly turned away, they were just the first in a steady stream of visitors, seeking to see this mysterious child. Though the child never existed, the legends of it persisted, and in many ways are similar to other urban legends, such as the Jersey Devil.

So why do these kinds of stories hold the imaginations of the people, even today? Jane Addams’ theory was simply that they were a form of warning tale. Abuse was exceptionally prevalent in this period, particularly domestic abuse of wives by their husbands. Thus, the story of the Devil Baby is a morality tale of what can happen when the man of the household fails to be faithful and appropriately religious and therefore disrespects his wife and family. Though there was no actual Devil Baby caused by a cruel father, the hope that it gave the women that it would keep the menfolk in line to hear of the potential consequences of their actions was an important aspect of Jane Addams’ work and this rumor helped her determine where the women needed the most help.

Whether the hauntings of Hull House were real or not, they are certainly a rich part of the house’s legacy and the importance of the house in the history of Chicago.


 

Sources:

Jane Addams, “The Devil-Baby at Hull House,” The Atlantic, Oct. 1916.

Weird and Haunted Chicago: A guide to Ghosts, Local Legends, and Unsolved, Mysteries of the Windy City.

Social Settlement as Contested Space: Addams’ Personal Faith versus her Public Uses of Relgion,” in Urban Experience in Chicago: Hull-House and its Neighborhood, 1889-1963.

Jane Addams and the Legends of Hull-House,” Chicago’s Haunt Detective.

 

The Spirit of (White) Youth in the City?

Khalil Gibril Muhammad (NYPL)
Khalil Gibran Muhammad (NYPL)

On Wednesday evening, the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, spoke to a group of students and faculty here at Ramapo College about the history behind the use of criminal justice as a system of racial control.

One part of the talk looked at the ideas about race and delinquency that came out of the turn-of-the-century Progressive movement, which used statistics about rates of imprisonment to characterize black youth as particularly violent and unlawful. (These kinds of statistics are still being cited uncritically.) The assumption was that the criminal justice system was even-handed when making arrests and thus the disparity between the percentage of blacks in prisons and the percentage in the general population reflected an unbiased truth about African-Americans. This led to calls for blacks, even from black intellectuals like W. E. B. DuBois, to regulate their own behavior and take responsibility for their actions. Black criminality and delinquency were perceived as moral failings, blamed either on the criminal or his or her parents.

An 1895 summary of nationalities in the Hull-House neighborhood of Chicago.

Muhammad tellingly contrasted this view with the way that many of the same Progressives, Jane Addams included, looked at white crime. Settlements were established in areas with high poverty and crime, but in the early years of the movement, most settlements were founded in urban immigrant neighborhoods.

Most either refused entry to African-Americans, or set up settlement houses in African-American neighborhoods to serve them. Despite Jane Addams’ support for racial equality, Hull-House was segregated until the 1930s, well after the neighborhood’s African-American population had increased.  A recollection by Florence Scala, who attended Hull-House activities in the 1930s was that there was a great mix of ethnic groups there, “however, there were no blacks, blacks were not active in the Hull-House programs when I was going there.” (Near West Side, p. 139.)

Hull-House workers did help found two African-American settlements in Chicago–the Frederick Douglas Center (1904), an integrated settlement located in an African-American neighborhood in the Second Ward, and the Wendell Phillips Settlement (1908), a segregated house also located in an African-American neighborhood in the west side of Chicago.

A Hull-House playground. (news.uic.edu)

Addams’ views on the juvenile delinquency are found most clearly in her 1909 The Spirit of Youth in the City Streets. Addams chronicles the stories of Hull-House neighbors, who were overwhelmingly white immigrants, depicting the causes of crime in far more sympathetic terms:

“A certain number of the outrages upon the spirit of youth may be traced to degenerate or careless parents who totally neglect their responsibilities; a certain other large number of wrongs are due to sordid men and women who deliberately use the legitimate pleasure-seeking of young people as lures into vice. There remains, however, a third very large classes for which the community as a whole must be held responsible. . . traceable to a dense ignorance on the part of the average citizen as to the requirements of youth, and a persistent blindness on the part of educators as to youth’s most obvious needs.” (p. 51)

Delinquent youth, Addams argued, “are overborne by their own undirected and misguided energies.” Young minds were often too immature to avoid “an accidental combination of circumstances” that might entice a youth to crime. Addams argued that the environment of the city, “its thronged streets, its glittering shops, its gaudy advertisements of shows and amusements,” lead young men to seek “adventures,” which often turn into criminal charges.  Addams claims that other crimes could also be seen as “illustrating the spirit of adventure, for although stealing is involved in all of them, the deeds were doubtless inspired much more by the adventurous impulse than by a desire for the loot itself” (pp. 54-56).

This is not the way black crime was discussed.

When Progressives looked to immigrant neighborhoods, they saw society’s flaws acted out in juvenile delinquency–child labor, poor housing and education, poverty, and a lack of public entertainments.  Fixing the problems did not start with the individual or with the immigrant community itself. Addams called for education as the only means of:

organizing a child’s activities with some reference to the life he will later lead and of giving him a clue as to what to select and what to eliminate when he comes in contact with contemporary social and industrial conditions” (p. 109-110).

Addams and other Progressives saw that when groups of people had trouble adjusting to society, it might be that society had to change or adapt. We are undergoing another period in which we need to address the social problems of inequality and the lack of opportunity, especially with regard to race and the criminal justice system. The first step is understanding how we got here.


For more, see

Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, (1909)

Carolyn Eastwood, Near West Side Stories: Struggles for Community in Chicago’s Maxwell Street Neighborhood (2002), 139-40.

Khalil Muhammad’s “Playing the Violence Card,” New York Times, April 5, 2012.

Wanda A. Hendricks, Gender, Race, and Politics in the Midwest: Black Club Women in Illinois (1998), pp. 56-59.

Bill Moyers interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad from 2012 on “Confronting the Contradictions of America’s Past.”

The Search is On (Again)!

Between 1976 and 1983 the original staff of the Jane Addams Papers Project, led by Mary Lynn Bryan, undertook a massive search for Addams documents, searching thousands of archival collections and locating documents in 574 of them. These documents, microfilmed in 1996, will serve as the base of the new Jane Addams Digital Edition. We estimate that they found almost 20,000 letters from the period between 1901 and 1935. They also found evidence that not everything had been preserved. Some documents were lost, but others were deliberately destroyed.

No historian likes to hear stories like this:

According to Ellen Starr Brinton, Curator of the Swarthmore Peace Collection, “A chance call on Jane Addams in Hull House, Chicago, just when she was burning personal papers on the fireplace was the beginning of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.”(1)

or to see what Addams wrote to her nephew and biographer, James Linn shortly before her death:

Jane Addams, ca. 1935.

I have been going over a box full of letters of mine to Mary Smith. They quite filled a drawer of her desk–all sorts of notes. I am destroying a good many and sending others–a lot in fact–on to you. Not that you will want to use them, I hope, but they will give you a certain ‘feel’ of the 1890s, etc. Among those am I destroying are the purely family ones–of her family or mine–but I am sending a few on to you that you may want to read first. Please ‘read–destroy.’ (March 8, 1935)(2)

We are grateful that Linn didn’t do it–what little correspondence remains between Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams survives because of Linn’s disobedience.

The Addams Papers editors searched archives and libraries, located private collections, found articles published in newspapers and locked away in attics and basements. As they did so, they identified other holes in the Addams archive, the most prominent being:

  • All but two of Hull-House’s complex was razed to build the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle in 1963.

    Some key Addams’ diaries are missing, including the ones that chronicled her visit to Toynbee Hall, where she and Ellen Gates Starr hit upon the idea to open Hull-House.

  • Manuscripts for many of her books have not been found.
  • Many of Hull-House’s records were destroyed accidentally when a basement they were stored in flooded during construction.
  • After Addams’ death, her family sold or donated various parts of her papers and the family papers to a number of archives, scattering the Addams archive.

As any researcher knows, you can never find everything. Even if you search all known collections for Addams materials, the day that you stop looking, a new collection will be deposited at an archive or an existing collection will finally be processed (described and organized by archivists) and reveal new Addams documents.

As we embark on building a digital edition of Jane Addams’ correspondence and writings, it is time to do another search.

A New World

The last Addams search was done 30 years ago and a world away when you think about it in terms of technological advances. As we begin our search, we have so many research tools that the editors in the 1970s and 1980s  did not.

All right, it wasn’t quite that bad!

We used to consult incomplete printed guides to locate archives and libraries that might have holdings. The NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections) was organized by state and city, and editors used to tackle a few pages at a time, writing letters (yes, actual letters!) to them seeking information about their holdings. Smaller libraries might not even be listed. Now we can search the web to find libraries and archives and use databases like ArchiveGrid that provide information and links to specific archival collections, in many cases letting us see the finding aids that describe them. These guides are often so detailed that we can simply e-mail the archives and ask them to look in specific folders and send copies.

We actually had one like this at the Margaret Sanger Papers in the 1990s.
We actually had one like this at the Margaret Sanger Papers in the 1990s.

To locate newspaper articles written by Addams, or about her activities, editors had access to very few indexed newspapers, and often had to scan old newspapers on microfilm, hoping to find coverage.  Looking for journals was a bit easier, as many were indexed, but obtaining copies from them could take months as we relied on inter-library loans and letters (again!) to libraries and archives. Now many journals and newspapers, especially those published before 1923 are available online, through large sites like Google Books, the Digital Public Library of America, the Hathi Trust, or the Internet Archive. Old newspapers are becoming more easy to access, through sites like the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America, though many sites require subscriptions. The Addams Papers has access to ProQuest’s historical newspapers, Newspapers.com, and a number of other databases that we will be able to search, both for missing Addams documents, and for details on her life and travels.

Count of microfilmed correspondenceWhat happened in 1923?

Some things have not changed. It is still a complex process, but one that technology helps us to master.  Creating visualizations, like the graph below, have shown us a new potential gap in the collection–the sudden reduction of documents written by Jane Addams in 1923. A serious decline in her usual production might mean a box of documents was lost or destroyed, perhaps she wrote less because she was traveling the world, or because she became ill. Using databases to enter all potential sources of new Addams documents allows us to track our progress in contacting them and obtaining materials.  In many cases, we will still have to do the leg work of visiting the archives, checking through boxes and boxes of material, and making copies and scans.

We have started by listing the archival collections that do not appear in the microfilm. We will search these, by e-mail and in person, and then check the documents found against what was filmed on the microfilm (some could be duplicates). We plan to search digitized newspaper sites and e-journals looking for Addams articles that might have slipped through the original search, and will also look to European archives, which are also far more accessible using digital tools than they ever were before. With luck, we can add to the substantial work done to build the Addams microfilm to make available even more of Jane Addams’s documents.


Sources:

(1) Mary McCree Bryan, The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide, (1996), p. 68.

(2) Mary McCree Bryan, The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide, (1996), p. 69.