Jane Addams Plays Cupid

Letter from Mary Hill Dayton to Gerard Swope sent from Hull-House.

Letter from Mary Hill Dayton to Gerard Swope sent from Hull-House.

To get in the mood this Valentine’s Day, we here at the Jane Addams Papers Project are getting romantic inspiration from none other than the match-maker herself; Jane Addams.

Hear us out. In between the settlement work done at Hull House at the turn of the century, two residents entered into a courtship. One that was fostered by none other than Jane Addams.

New Jersey Native Mary Hill Dayton came to South Chicago to teach English classes. While teaching, Dayton met fellow Hull House resident Gerard Swope. An employee of GE, Swope was taking time off to teach classes on electronics and algebra.

The two teachers seem to hit it off because when Swope left Hull House in 1899, he and Dayton maintained a long distance relationship via correspondence.

The separation only seemed to strengthen their affections. In their writings they referred to their relationship as “IT.” Dayton wrote that “every time I turn on to Halsted St. my heart warms up about 50° – and I long for a time when we can be on it together.”

Perhaps Dayton worried about if “IT” was indiscrete because this is where Jane comes in. She assuaged Dayton’s fears that the whole house was gossiping about “IT”, confiding to Dayton that she had heard nothing about it.
Dayton thought that perhaps Addams was just being nice or just not in tune with the Hull House water cooler gossip, because Dayton was getting a healthy dose of teasing.

One night Dayton seemed to be slipped a note from fellow resident Julia Lathrop apologizing for teasing Dayton earlier in the day about her relationship with Swope. She closed her note, “hoping we are all best friends.”

By 1900, Dayton and Swope had become engaged. On Valentine’s day of that year, the couple asked Addams to break the news to their parents. And in 1901, Addams who officiated the wedding at Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Speaking at the wedding, Addams predicated, “Knowing as we do something of the character of these two people, somewhat of the temper of their attachment and to form of the expression we may confidently predict that and all life’s journey through to the end is will be illumined…”

Jane was correct about that. The Swopes would go on to live very happy lives. Gerard became the CEO of GE and both he and Mary remained active in social work throughout their lives.

Jane Addams made a huge impact in the time she lived with her charitable and political work. What is so wonderful about these documents is that they offer a glimpse into the personal impact Jane Addams had. If it had not been for Hull House Mary and Gerard Swope may have never met, and would not have led their lives following her charitable model.

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