When I think of the holidays, I think of family and friends gathering around the fire and sharing stories and laughter with one another. Christmas time is a time for reminiscing, rejoicing, and rekindling relationships, something that Jane Addams knew very well: for her first New Year’s at Hull-House, Addams threw an “Old Settlers’ Party,” which soon became a beloved Hull-House holiday tradition. At this party, former Hull-House and neighborhood residents would return to Hull-House on New Years’ Day to share their stories, connect with old friends, and inspire current residents to create ambitious goals.
Many of the “old settlers,” as they were called, had climbed very high on the social ladder compared to where they started, and part of the goal of the Old Settlers’ Party was for current neighborhood residents to hear the old settlers’ stories of advancement and desire to follow in their footsteps. Many impressive old settlers attended these parties; for example, in 1902, the tenth Old Settlers’ Party had a long list of successful guests. One such guest was E. O. Gale, who had just published his book Reminiscences of Early Chicago and shared his experience of arriving in Chicago in 1835; another was Fernando Jones, who told stories of his schooldays where he was constantly reprimanded by his schoolmaster, who later became President of the United States; and yet another was “ex-chief Swenie,” who served as Chicago’s Fire Department Chief for fifty-one years, and who gave a well-received speech.
According to Jane Addams in Twenty Years at Hull-House, the first old settlers to attend the first few Old Settlers’ Parties did not favor “foreigners,” blaming immigrants “for a depreciation of property and a general lowering of the tone of the neighborhood.” However, these views would slowly disappear as the night of celebration went on; Addams recalled one guest realizing that the immigrants were “buffeting the waves of a new development,” and that old settlers had also once felt this way, they themselves having been new settlers once. This New Year’s celebration at Hull-House was a way of bringing people together and bridging differences, and celebrating the old and the new, all while saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming the new one. The Old Settlers’ Party, much like any New Year’s party, would always end with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
One of my favorite things about the holiday season is how it brings everyone together in a spirit of celebration, and the Old Settlers’ Party was no exception to this. Jane Addams and Hull-House were truly able to celebrate the old and the new through this annual party, which, in my opinion, is the perfect way to welcome the New Year. From the Jane Addams Papers Project, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year!
For more details on the Old Settlers’ Party, see “First Days At Hull-House,” Chapter 5 in Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (New York: MacMillan, 1910): pp. 89-112; “Old Settlers’ Party,” Hull-House Bulletin, volume 5, no. 2, 1902, p. 15; Social Welfare Pioneers, 1986, p. 12.