A Storyteller for the Past

When I first heard the Jane Addams Papers Project had come to Ramapo, I was beginning my sophomore year. I had just been thinking about research opportunities for history majors, so it seemed almost like fate when I saw posters around campus advertising for the JAPP interest meeting. Next thing I knew, I was part of the JAPP team as a research assistant and still am part of it as I begin my senior year.

Sara Catherine Lichon is a senior history major and international studies minor, working at the JAPP as a research assistant.

I’ve always had a passion for research and the past, so I knew when I enrolled at Ramapo that I wanted to be a history major. As I advanced in my academic career, I added a minor in international studies, developing an interest in how the past has led to current events. For both my history and international studies classes, I’ve researched international current events and the history behind them, and as a member of Ramapo’s Honors Program, I’ve attended numerous regional and national conferences to present my research. This past June, I published a paper titled “Identity Crisis: How the Outcome of the Cold War affects our Understanding of the Crisis in Ukraine” in the undergraduate research journal The Augsburg Honors Review. Currently, I am working on my Honors senior thesis, focusing on Scotland’s reaction to Brexit and how the historic relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom contributed to this reaction. To gain a better understanding of Scotland’s culture and history, I studied abroad in Edinburgh over the summer, taking a Scottish History course and exploring the country from the cities in the Lowlands to the small towns in the Highlands. I even climbed Ben Vrackie, a mountain 2,759 feet above sea level, and visited Loch Ness during my travels!

Mary Miles Minter, an actress who was a suspect in the unsolved murder of her lover in 1922.

As a lover of research, when I heard about the JAPP, I was immediately drawn to it. I began at the project by transcribing documents but soon realized that I preferred to research the people who made appearances in Jane Addams’s life – and I’ve been researching them ever since! I love uncovering the stories of their lives, and I especially love the challenge of digging for information on people who weren’t well-known. It’s very exciting when I can find information, and I feel like a detective! Sometimes I come across people with fascinating lives; recently I just wrote the bio for actress Mary Miles Minter, who was a suspect in the unsolved murder of her lover in 1922. I have even found myself writing the bios of people I’ve come across before, such as Victor Moore, an actor who starred in one of my favorite movies, It Happened on 5th Avenue. The stories of those who came before us are something that I can never get enough of, and at the JAPP I’m able to gather and share the stories of so many people, writing them into a narrative that will be accessible for years to come.

Outside of history and international studies, I have a passion for music, theater, and the arts. I sing, play ukulele, and am a member and business manager of Orchidstra, a barbershop quartet. I am also a Global Roadrunner, a member of Ramapo’s French Club, and in Phi Alpha Theta (history honors society), Sigma Iota Rho (international studies honors society), and Alpha Lambda Delta (first-year honors society). In addition, I enjoy photography, hiking, and spending time in the great outdoors.  I spent two summers interning at the Washington Township (Morris County) Municipal Building, and after graduation, I plan to pursue a career in government.  But while still at Ramapo, I continue to research and write the stories of various historic people, and I am loving my role on the JAPP team.

New Year’s and the Old Settlers’ Party

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.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

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.

catastropheAccording 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.