Women’s Hoops at Hull-House

Image 1: Hull-House Women’s Basketball Team

Women played basketball at Hull-House. Well…they played basket ball, two words. In bloomers, wearing long sleeves and lace collars, and with hair coiffed into neat buns. Early on, female players of this thrilling new game also competed under the regulation of girls’ rules, which restricted their movement across the court. There were many people in those days who deemed the game unwomanly and fretted about women overexerting themselves. However, women’s basketball at Hull-House quickly got real. What would become one of America’s favorite sports made an early start in Chicago on Hull-House hardwood, and women were on the court from the start. Who knew Jane Addams, in the closing decade of the nineteenth century, helped birth the first generation of female athletes in the city?!

James Naismith invented and promoted the game of basketball in 1891, and two years later women at Smith College were playing it with modified rules to “avoid physical roughness” and to maintain at least the appearance of femininity. When Hull-House resident Rose Gyles became director of the Hull-House gymnasium in 1895, she brought the game to the men, women, and children of Chicago’s Nineteenth Ward. Under her guidance, Hull-House fielded one of the first girls basketball teams in Chicago. At Hull-House, the women’s players shared the facilities right along with the three Hull-House men’s teams. By the late 1890s, Hull-House had two competitive women’s teams, a growing group of interested girls playing the sport for recreation at the settlement, and a winning record in Chicago’s burgeoning basketball league. A generation of “new” women were growing up at Hull-House, and competitive sport played a role in their changing relationships with the world around them. For many Hull-House girls, like reformer Florence Kelley’s daughter Margaret (who was partly raised at the settlement), basketball was a part of their coming-out party.

Image 2: Female Physical Education at Hull-House

Women of the upper classes long had access to organized sports, like tennis, croquet, and archery. However, in the context of a growing belief in the benefits of fresh air, physical fitness, and physical education programs, interest in sports for the masses increased, and basketball became a popular activity. Public and private schools fielded recreational and competitive teams, churches and private organizations like the YMCA offered athletic facilities, city parks built playgrounds and athletic fields, and even settlement houses jumped on the sports bandwagon. Hull-House maintained a gymnasium from the start and continually worked to improve it over the years, offering girls, boys, men, and women in the neighborhood a variety of athletic programs.

Hull-House was famous for its social settlement and reform work, but in Chicago it was also famous for basketball. And at Hull-House, the basketball program, like most all of its other programs, did not discriminate against girls and young women. Hull-House celebrated female athletics. Women’s basketball games at Hull-House were announced in the Chicago papers, encouraging attendance, and scores were published the next day.

Image 3: Hull-House Women’s Basketball Team

In 1906, Jane Addams’s Hull-House girls beat Graham Taylor’s Chicago Commons girls 26-3 in the Hull-House Gymnasium. Over the years, Hull-House sort of owned Chicago Commons where women’s basketball was concerned, and I wonder if Addams ever teased her good friend and fellow settlement worker across town about Hull-House domination. Hull-House teams did not only compete against other settlement houses, however. They also played Chicago high schools, church teams, and other organizational teams, as well.

Jane Addams was herself a proponent of exercise and recreational activities for women. In a speech in 1908, she praised Chicago for establishing and maintaining “fifteen parks with playing fields, gymnasiums and baths, which at present enroll 18,000 young women and girls.” Addams was very supportive of the developing basketball program at Hull-House, although she did question the wisdom of the sports’ less-than-adequate venue. In 1902, when sixteen-year-old Margaret Kelley was injured during a game, Addams wrote her mother: “She hurt her head playing basket ball you know—and I am in doubt as to whether she ought to play in a gym full of posts!”

Image 4: Hull-House Gymnasium, c. 1900.

Jane Addams was, of course, merely joking, and basketball carried on at the settlement. Regardless that male and female athletes might get hurt, the Hull-House gymnasium remained a popular gathering place for basketball players and for spectators, alike. In the first decade of the twentieth century, basketball was a quickly growing sport. It was popular with men and children, but it was also becoming a favorite activity of college coeds. The captain of the University of Chicago women’s team said of the sport in 1896: “It calls into play every muscle in the body, and besides the real benefit we get out of the exercise it is quite the nicest game we play.” Another aficionado of the sport noted that it tended to quiet the nerves of restless young women.

Others believed women should avoid sports like basketball. Some medical professionals argued that the sport was too athletic for women and, according to one University of Chicago physician, the exertion the sport required of women led to “enlarged, irritable, and overactive hearts.” His assertion is, of course, ludicrous from the viewpoint of our modern medical perspective, but it was alarming to many people in the early 1900s. In 1907, the Illinois State High School Athletic Association barred girls from playing basketball, arguing:

“The game is altogether too masculine and has met with much opposition on the part of parents. The committee finds that roughness is not foreign to the game, and that the exercise in public is immodest and not altogether ladylike.”

Fortunately for the female basketball players in Chicago, the ruling did not affect them, as Chicago schools were not members of the state association. Thus, women’s basketball continued on in the city, and women played it with increasing gusto. Early women’s basketball in Chicago had followed Smith College rules, which positioned seven players in designated areas of the court to limit physical exertion. However, in 1903, the Chicago girls basketball league adopted boy’s rules instead, and thereafter five players for each team took the court for each girls basketball game, and the physicality of the play increased. In 1909, the Chicago Tribune reported on a particularly athletic came between the Evanston Girls Athletic Club and the Evanston YMCA team:

“Frizzles, pompadours, marcel waves, psyche knots, corkscrew curls, and Aunt Mary’s wavelets were all mauled in a strenuous context last night…Bangs, rats, and other feminine fixings became segregated from their original compositions and several times it was necessary to stop the carnage to make repairs. The athletic girls won, 9 to 8, but this was merely one of the hair raising incidents.”

In spite of the possible physical dangers of athletics and in the face of public, medical, and media scorn for women who engaged in sports, more and more girls and young women wanted to play games and to be physically active. There may have been a decline in public enthusiasm for the sport as an acceptable pursuit for women, but basketball was still popular with young women, particularly on college campuses. College women were not only playing the sport for healthy recreation, either. They were also gaining a competitive spirit and making demands for proper equipment and equity with men’s teams. In 1902, for example, Northwestern University women basketball players demanded the college provide them with uniforms and allow them to travel outside of Evanston, IL, for games. The woman ultimately won their fight to travel, and the team played in their first away game in Pontiac, IL, the following year.

By 1916, 900 young people were enrolled in programs in the Hull-House gymnasium, many of them girls and women, and many of them playing on sixteen organized basketball teams. Title IX—sweeping federal legislation that sought to equalize women’s access to educational opportunities of all sorts, including sports—was still decades away. In the first half of the twentieth century, there remained, as well, widespread concern that organized sports defeminized women. Society also placed a stigma upon women who dared to step outside of gendered norms which sought to constrain them. However, women and girls played on, at Hull-House, in Chicago, and  across the country.

Women who had the opportunity to engage in physical activities like basketball in the Hull-House gymnasium took those experiences out into the world with them. Playing the sport gave them confidence in their bodies and developed in their spirits courage and grit and gumption. Emma Karstens, a Hull-House basketball player and coach went on to direct other athletic programs in the city, inspiring girls and young women to be physically active and to play sports. In 1920, she was involved with a city-wide sports fest, which encouraged girls and boys to take part in athletics. In less direct ways, girls who played basketball and other games at Hull-House were also shaped by those experiences. The settlement’s early encourage of girls to engage in sports and other activities previously thought to be the domain of men inspired thousands of women and girls to be more, do more, and raise daughters differently than they themselves were raised. Hull-House was on a grand scale a locus of serious social, economic, and political reforms; but Hull-House was also a place where girls could stretch the boundaries of their own imaginations.

Image 5: Hull-House Basketball Team (1907)
Image 6: Hull-House Basketball Team (1909)

Hoops at Hull-House could arguably be credited with establishing the popularity of basketball in the city of Chicago. We might also accurately call Jane Addams one of the mothers of the first generation of female athletes. But one thing is certain. Hull-House offered girls and women opportunities about which they may have never dared to dream. On the hardwood or elsewhere on the settlement campus, girls and women mattered. Girls and women were considered capable. And, most importantly perhaps, Hull-House set the bar high for girls and women and expected them not only clear the bar, but to set it even higher for themselves.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Sad Epilogue: Margaret Kelley was definitely a young woman who grew through her experiences at Hull-House. She was a courageous and energetic young woman when she arrived at Smith College in 1905, determined to take advantage of college athletics even though she had been “cautioned against violent exercise.” Unfortunately, Margaret’s ailing heart failed her, and she suffered a fatal heart attack that year.

Notes: Mary Lynn McCree Bryan and Allen F. Davis, eds., 100 Years at Hull-House (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 73-74 (Image 3); Peggy Glowacki and Julia Hendry, Hull House (Chicago: Arcadia, 2004), 26 (Image 2);  Shannon Jackson, Lines of Activity: Performance, Historiography, Hull-House Domesticity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 306; “The New Athletic Girl and Interscholastic Sports,” in Robert Purter, The Rise of American High School Sports and the Search for Control (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2013), 145-53; “Before the Sports Bra: A Short History of Women’s Sports through the 1970s,” in Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 119-22; Joan S. Hult, “Introduction to Part I,” 6-7; Betty Spears, “Senda Berenson Abbott: New Woman, New Sport,” 24-25; “Clara Gregory Baer: Catalyst for Women’s Basketball,” 45; Lynne Fauley Emery and Margaret Toohey-Costa, “Hoops and Skirts: Women’s Basketball on the West Coast, 1892-1930,” 50, all in Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekell, eds. A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four (Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 1991); Kathryn Kish Sklar and Beverly Wilson Palmer, eds., The Selected Letters of Florence Kelley, 1869-1931 (Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 2009), 134n1; Emma Karstens in 1910 U.S. Federal Census; Hull-House Basketball Players, 1907 and Hull-House Basketball Players, 1909, photographs, Chicago History Museum, Explore Chicago  Collections (Images 5 & 6); “Many Athletic Coeds,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 30, 1896, p. 8; “Talks of New Woman,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), Dec. 29, 1900, p. 12; “’Coed’ Team Wants Uniforms,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 11, 1902, p. 13; “Girls Adopt Boys’ Rules,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 11, 1903, p. 10; “Girls to Play Basketball,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 10, 1903, p. 6; “Athletics at Northwestern,” The Inter-Ocean, Apr. 15, 1903, p. 4; “Drops Dead in Gymnasium,” The Bedford (IN) Daily Mail, Oct. 23, 1905, p. 2; “Hull House Girls Win,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 4, 1906, p. 11; “Hull House Girls, 25; Gads Hill, 13,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 10, 1906, p. 10; “Armour Mission Girls Win,” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 18, 1907, p. 12; “Bars Girls from Basketball,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 3, 1907, p. 25; “Great Wreckage of ‘Fixings,’” Chicago Tribune, Mar. 28, 1909, p. 31; “Women’s Gymnasium,” Suburban Economist (Chicago), May 2, 1919, p. 3; “Chicago Pauses for Day’s Romp with 5,000 Kids,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 10, 1920, p. 11; Selected Papers of Jane Addams,(Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 2019),  3:xxxii (Image 4), 345n6, 346 (Image 1); Hull-House Bulletin 1 (No. 4, April 1896), 5, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm, reel 53:897; Jane Addams to Florence Kelley, December 29, 1902; Hull-House Year Book 1906-1907; Address to the Playground Association, March 31, 1908; Hull-House Year Book, January 1, 1916, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

From Lincoln Rubber Ducky to Addams Signed Note

For the twenty years I edited Abraham Lincoln’s papers, I never had a strong desire to own a Lincoln document. Well, let’s be honest, I never made enough money to buy a Lincoln document. Even a clipped Lincoln signature will set you back a few grand. Instead, my Lincoln collection included a bookcase full of Lincoln mass-market biographies and edited volumes, a nice bust, one significant historic print, a few mugs, salt and pepper shakers, and a weird-but-adorable Lincoln rubber ducky.

My Lincoln collecting was not at all sophisticated, based as it was on a scholarly editor’s pocketbook, but it was great fun and it still gives me much joy.  Looking back on my collection now, I understand  the value of my kitschy Lincoln stuff for the giggle it inspired in me as I conducted my serious scholarly work and for the little breather it provided from the rarified air of academic history. History should be fun, darn it, and part of the reason I think so many Americans find history boring is because they had teachers who squeezed no fun out of history at all.

I am a historian who squeezes a great deal of fun from the work I am lucky to do. I am also a historian who embraces my historical subjects with a big hug, leaning in and opening my heart as well as my head to my work. I am passionate about finding the humanity of the historical figures I study. I think at least in part, the fun I had collecting Lincolniana humanized Lincoln for me and humanized the scholar in me, too. It allowed me to see Lincoln as a man (and a bobblehead), not as a god or a myth, and to allow my work to delight me. My editing work made an important contribution to Lincoln scholarship, but allowing humor and humanity into the work provided me with balance. My joyful approach to Lincoln rooted my feet to the ground, where history actually lives, and kept my head out of the ivory tower, where history is sometimes self-important and inaccessible.

When I started working for the Jane Addams Papers Project in January 2017, I naturally approached Jane Addams in the same way I had approached Lincoln. Joy and a sense of fun balanced my very serious effort to get to know the woman and the social reformer Addams was, to understand her era, and to learn all I could about the fascinating historical contexts of her life. In the beginning of my work with the project, I immersed myself in biographies about Addams, and I studied her surviving correspondence, the speeches she delivered, and the articles and books she published. However, I also immediately coveted the Jane Addams doll that was sitting on a shelf in the project’s offices in New Jersey. All work and no fun is just not my style.

It took a few weeks, but I found said doll on eBay for $10, and Jane the Doll has been sitting next to or on my desk ever since. In her smart gray frock and sensible black hat she stands, with a slight muppet-like smile, holding her memoir Twenty Years at Hull-House under her arm and wearing her Nobel Peace Prize medal around her neck. To me, Jane the Doll is a muse, of sorts, juxtaposed as it is to the ever more solemn nature of the life-changing reform work in which the real Jane Addams was engaged. I also like that the doll is the silly to Jane Addams’s serious. It is, as well, a daily physical reminder that while my work may be a scholarly business, it is also an honor and a pleasure. I actually get paid to do work I love, so why not embrace the passion and the fun within it.

As I did with Lincoln for twenty years, I now do with Jane Addams. I balance the serious with the silly. I admit it is sometimes harder to find the funny bone in Miss Addams than it was to find it in Mr. Lincoln, but that is no bar to my finding levity in the painstaking and labor-intensive scholarly editing work I do. Collecting my subjects is my way of bringing fun into my life as a historian, so it was exciting for me to learn it will be well within my financial reach to collect first editions of each of Jane Addams’s published books (five already down six to go!). Although memorabilia of Addams is far more rare than it is for Lincoln, in my growing collection of Addams kitsch, I have already added a peace poster for the wall, buttons with “I Love Jane Addams” and “I love Peace,” a coffee mug, and a “Peace, Love, and Jane Addams” t-shirt. Only recently, however, did I realize that a Jane Addams document could be available to me for purchase.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Springfield, Illinois, for a Lincoln event and to meet up with a group of people who have come into my life through our shared interest in Abraham Lincoln. One of those people who joined me in the sunny beer garden across from the Lincoln Home that afternoon brought me a surprise from the rare bookshop where he works: a printed calling card signed by Jane Addams! It is not a historically important note or a romantic letter to Jane’s beloved Mary Rozet Smith. It is not large, measuring just a 3½ by 2¼ inches. It is not in perfect condition, either. In fact, it has some damage on the printed side from glue which held it in position in an album or adhered it to matting within a frame, and one blob of gluey residue obscures the printed script of “Hull-House.” However, the handwritten side is pristine and features legible-for-Jane-Addams scrawl and her characteristic loopy signature. It is a humble document, indeed, but its imperfections do not lessen my enchantment with it.

Holding that little note in my hands for the first time tendered a tangible spark through my fingers and up to my heart, sending me back in time 100 years. To noisy, dirty, Progressive-Era Chicago. To Hull-House in the city’s impoverished and overcrowded 19th Ward. To Jane Addams, “the world’s best-known and best-loved woman” of her time, standing in the doorway. Handling a historic document has always been for me a kind of handshake with the historical figure of the past who wrote it. Over the years of searching for Lincoln documents in repositories across the country, I shook hands with Lincoln a great many times. But because I work with digital copies of documents at the Addams Papers, this was the first time I had the pleasure of this special and particular introduction to Addams. My day trip to Springfield got even better when I carried that little scrap of Jane Addams handwriting home for fifty times less than it would have cost me had Abraham Lincoln been the one who had penned it.

It annoys me to know that the manuscript market is as sexist as the world. To deem as practically worthless a handwritten note with a fine signature, written by a woman who was the most significant reformer of the Progressive Era, is, I think, almost a crime. But the market’s misjudgment and loss is my gain, allowing me to own a piece of historical magic. My little Jane Addams note is priceless to me. It is the star of my collection of Addamsiana, and  I plan to have it conserved and encased in a two-sided archival frame. I do not have aspirations to collect additional documents in the hand of Jane Addams. This one will be enough for me (at least for now, I think).  It conjures the handshake, inspires my joy, and provides a palpable human connection to a woman I get to hang out with five days a week.

Anyway, from the perspective of historical memorabilia, in going from a $1 Lincoln rubber ducky to a signed Addams note worth about 100 bucks, I’ve come a long way, baby. Maybe not the equivalent of Jane Addams getting the right to vote, but still super cool for this historian, who is having way too much fun.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Jane Addams, Mary Rozet Smith, and the Disappointments of One-Sided Correspondence

Mary Rozet Smith was well-loved by a long list of extraordinary, historically important women who came through the doors of Hull-House in Chicago. From 1889, when she first visited the settlement and met its young, then unknown founder Jane Addams, until 1934, when she died suddenly of pneumonia at the age of sixty-five, Smith was an unwavering supporter of Hull-House, its residents, and its activities. She became, along with her wealthy and generous family, one of Hull-House’s most important donors. She was also for nearly forty years the dearest friend and most intimate companion of the incomparable Jane Addams. Yet Mary Rozet Smith remains something of a mystery.

Mary Rozet Smith, c. 1880s (image: Ellen Gates Starr Papers, Smith College)

Despite her importance to the story of Hull-House and to the personal life of Jane Addams, Mary Smith is an elusive wisp of a historical figure. She was, apparently, content in the shadows, wanting nothing more, or so it seems, than to be generous, to be a devoted daughter, to be a cherished friend, and to be a special confidant of Jane Addams. Mary Smith’s proximity to the most famous social experiment in American history could have made her a valuable witness and informant of that history. Instead, she left historians very few clues about her life, and the loss of her letters to Jane Addams deprive us not only of her voice in that relationship but also of her own importance as a Chicago philanthropist. As Jane Addams’ nephew James Linn wrote in his biography of his beloved aunt: “the interests of [Hull-House] remained the center of her own interests, and the friendship of Mary Smith soon became and always remained the highest and clearest note in the music of Jane Addams’s personal life.”

Just after Mary Smith died, long-time Hull-House resident Dr. Alice Hamilton wrote her sister from Chicago: “I can’t look at my grief over Mary because I should lose my grip. When I came out here I told Mary that she must get well, that she could live on without J. A., but J. A. could not live without her.” Jane Addams had suffered a second heart attack and died just thirteen months after Smith, so the statement was, perhaps, prophetic. But more importantly, what resonates in Hamilton’s words and in Linn’s words, too, is the centrality of Mary Rozet Smith to the Hull-House universe. She was embedded in the heartbeat of the institution and its women, and to one woman in particular, Jane Addams, she offered quiet domestic solace to balance the chaos of public life. However, we cannot truly know who Mary Rozet Smith was, because there is so little evidence of her activities found in newspapers, pubic documents, and organizational records; and, most unfortunately, very few of her own words survive her.

As I work on the annotation for Vol. 4 of the Selected Papers of Jane Addams, covering the years 1901-1913, and as I research and write the more than 100 footnotes about Mary Rozet Smith that will appear in the volume, I am missing her voice. When I read any of the seventy-three letters Jane Addams wrote to her during that period, I mourn the loss of her letters to Addams. Not a single letter of hers to Addams survives from those years, and I sometimes curse Jane Addams for destroying correspondence which would, I suspect, provide rich context not only for their relationship but also for Smith’s engagement as a sister of Hull-House. I am editing Addams’ papers and not Smith’s, I know, but I also know we are impoverished in our ability to fully contextualize Addams’ letters without Smith’s corresponding letters. One-sided correspondence is always a disappointment to the historian, who is left by the absent voice of one of the correspondents to answer the historical questions they raise and to ponder the important historical contexts they inspire with half of the pieces of the puzzle missing.

We have selected thirty of Addams’ letters to Smith for Vol. 4, and on their own they are rich, filled with the details of Addams’ reform activities, her writing habits, her ideas, her public speaking, and her daily life. They are also filled with details of the travels of Addams and Smith, of their health, of their shared concern for each other’s families, of their shared network of friends, and of their frequent separations from each other, due to Smith’s illnesses and Addams’ extensive lecturing and involvement in national and international organizations. However, without Smith’s letters, we are left wanting more to fill in the details, gaps, and silences that are an unfortunate characteristic of one-sided correspondence.

When Addams wrote to her “Dearest,” her “Darling,” sometimes her feelings of love and longing for Smith are clear. In a 1902 letter she wrote: “You must know, dear, how I long for you all the time—and especially during the last three weeks. There is reason in the habit of married folk keeping together. Forever yrs.” In a 1904 letter, she opined: “Your letters are the most cheerful things that I have and you must know that I am mightily empty hearted without you.” And in a 1909 letter she offered three little words that she offered to no other correspondent: “I love you.”

Mary Rozet Smith and Jane Addams (c. 1896) (image: Swarthmore Peace Collection, Swarthmore College)

Jane Addams’ letters to other women among her close circle of friends and Hull-House residents, such as Lillian Wald and Julia Lathrop, were filled with affection. Addams wrote with the intimate language that was the natural and ordinary way of letters between women during this period in American history, when half of all college-educated women did not marry and the kinship of female friends was loving and strong. In a precious few letters, the reader cannot help but to see Addams’ particular tenderness for Smith. However, in most of her letters, Addams’ language is more muted, her tone more guarded, and the content merely practical and informative, many the hasty missives of a busy woman. In those less intimate letters, Addams almost always addressed Smith as “Dearest,” a moniker of affection she reserved for her alone, and she closed all letters with very tender words, but these letters offer far fewer clues about the relationship between the two women and the various contexts of their lives together.

I wonder if the language Smith employed in her letters to Addams mirrored the language Addams used. Was there a tonal difference in her letters to Addams than what she employed in letters she wrote to their mutual friends? What words did she use to express her feelings for Addams? What terms of endearment did she choose to begin her letters to Addams, and did she often write “I love you.”? When Addams shared with Smith her doubts and fears about a book manuscript or an important speech, did Smith respond with a pep talk, a gentle critique, or some soothing, emotional refrain? Did Smith share her own doubts and fears with Addams in her letters, and did she share her hopes and dreams and opinions on the reform topics that occupied the minds of Jane Addams and other Hull-House residents? Did she provide details of her asthma attacks and nervous anxiety and other philanthropies, as well and her travels, and did she offer gossip or news that might explain a vague reference we cannot define and may never define without her letters? What was the character of the letters Smith sent that Addams reported as “a great comfort,” and what were the words Smith offered to soothe that others could not?

Maybe Jane Addams destroyed Smith’s letters because they were too intimate or too emotionally embarrassing. Or maybe she destroyed them because she was a private person, despite her celebrity, and she wished to keep her special relationship with Smith from the prying eyes of the modern world that was pressing in on Hull-House in the early 1930s. I don’t really care what her reason was, but I am quite mad at her for doing it. I can’t help it, but it makes me sad to know so little about the woman to whom Jane Addams spent so much of her personal life.

I do not bemoan the loss of Smith’s letters to Addams simply because I think they would for certain answer the big question about their relationship. Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, and then again if they did we would still have to be very careful about projecting our modern notions of female sexuality onto women of the past. As an editor, who contextualizes historical documents as windows to the past, it is not for me to interpret the nature of the relationship that existed between Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith. Whether they were the dearest of platonic friends or enjoyed a sexual relationship is not for me to decide. No matter, besides, because in the historical record of their relationship, there are far more questions than answers. That fact is, after all, the frustrating reality of one-sided correspondence.

I am missing Smith’s voice and her words for what they might have brought to the big Jane-Addams-Hull-House party. If we had Smith’s letters to Jane Addams, I would use Smith’s words to answer Addams’ words, to balance Addams’ particularly romantic phrases, to provide our readers with the dialogue between two women who were emotionally close to each other for four decades. But I would also use them to better understand Smith’s role in the Hull-House community, to glean some clues about who she was as a person, what she believed in, what intrigued her, and what made her smile. I would employ them to understand for myself why she was so dear to all of the extraordinary women who knew and loved her.

From Hull-House financial records, we know the scope of Smith’s contributions to the settlement and its activities. From the correspondence and personal accounts of her friends, we know something of her kindness, deportment, gentle nature, and the various physical and emotional illnesses from which she suffered. And from the extant letters Jane Addams wrote to her, we can understand a little bit about her emotional importance to the woman who is the subject of our documentary edition. Ah, but alas, there is so much of whom Mary Rozet Smith was which is lost to us because her letters to Jane Addams are lost to us. Mary Rozet Smith may well have been the “highest and clearest note in the music of Jane Addams’s personal life,” but why she was and who she was as a person will likely remain elusive. She is a woman whom historians have defined entirely by her relationship to Hull-House, and that is all well and good, I suppose, because Hull-House needed her thrive.

But darnit, I wish Jane Addams would have allowed us the chance to know her dear friend better. I wish we had Mary’s words to tell us a little bit more about Jane, and to tell us a little bit about herself, as well. I wish I had thirty or ten or even two of Smith’s letters to Addams to enhance the thirty letters to her we have chosen to annotate. They would not likely answer all of the questions I have, nor would they likely fill in all of the gaps and silences in Addams’ letters; but I suspect they would fill in a whole lot of missing details and offer a nuance or two. I know they would enlighten, enrich, and contextualize, because back-and-forth correspondence usually does. And I bet they may even offer some evidence of those highest and clearest notes in the music.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Sources: Allen F. David, American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 85-91; Gioia Diliberto, A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams (New York: Scribner, 1999), 182-87; Jean Bethke Elshtain, Jane Addams and the Dream of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 23-24; Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 217-18; James Weber Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1935, 147; Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 817-19; Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 346-47; Eleanor J. Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 158-66; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, May 26, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, August 13, 1904; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, October 5, 1904; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, February 12, 1909, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, and Racial Injustice in America

Jane Addams made the acquaintance of renown African-American journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells in the summer of 1899. The circumstance of these two extraordinary women in Chicago engaged in different but overlapping endeavors to make the world a better place is one of those remarkable and inspirational historical coincidences that reinforces my fascination with the past. Continue reading “Jane Addams, Ida B. Wells, and Racial Injustice in America”

Jane Addams and the News Babies of Chicago

In the early twentieth century, newsboys were a characteristic of the urban landscape, a ubiquitous presence on big city street corners across America. Boys and girls as young as five or six peddled penny and two-penny papers in the wee morning hours, during the school day, and long, long, long after dark. On muggy and sunny summer days and on blustery winter nights, children sold the news and collected their pennies. In 1900, there were ten major, general-circulation newspapers in Chicago and dozens more specialty publications, as well; and at least 4,000 newsboys and newgirls sold them from established newsstands, from pull carts advertised with newspaper mastheads, from makeshift box displays, and from right out from under their own little arms. The exuberant voice of the newspaper crier, which cut above the chaotic din of the bustling Chicago streets, was more often than not the voice of a child.

And where there was the voice of a child on the streets of Chicago, there was, of course, Jane Addams. In a number of speeches in the early 1900s, Addams argued that “something should be done to take the babies from the streets.” Through her work at Hull-House, Addams witnessed firsthand the dangers faced by children who earned a living on the urban streets. Popular culture has romanticized the newsboy as a “saucy, chattering” chap, whose smudged, little face and crooked Gatsby-hat belied street smarts and worldliness that made him wise beyond his years. Yet Addams would never have succumbed to such romance, for her experiences had shown her otherwise. So while Chicago’s newsboys raised their voices to sell Chicagoans the news, Jane Addams raised her voice to protect them.

Many programs at Hull-House kept children off the streets, maybe even keeping some from resorting to the sale of the evening news. Addams spent a lifetime lobbying for child labor laws, and her hard-hitting articles and widely attended speeches raised public awareness about the difficulties of life for poor children, particularly those of Chicago’s immigrant families. But as was the way of the world in the Progressive Era, many children in the inner city had few choices; and for some, the freedom of movement and money in pockets made selling the news quite an alluring prospect. There were a few newsboys who made $3-5 dollars a day. One small Italian boy named Antonio, who operated two stands on the corner of Clark and Monroe streets, sold 1,000 newspapers a day. The thirteen-year-old Antonio had inherited the prime location from his father, and he benefited from a corner monopoly at a very lucrative location. Antonio was one of the lucky ones, however. Most newsboys were fortunate to take in a fraction of Antonio’s income, as typical pay was just 50 cents per 100 penny papers sold each day; and most did not have the luxury to stand still in one spot and sell such a large quantity of papers. Instead, they lugged heavy, wheeled carts, toted bulky satchels, or secured their product under their arms, as they searched the streets for customers. And it was those roaming newsboys who were, of course, most vulnerable to the dangers and temptations of the city.

Children selling papers at rush hour, at dark, in terrible weather, and without protective supervision faced many perils. In June 1903, Cornelius Scanlan, a twelve-year-old newsboy was selling papers to street car travelers on 47th street when he was hit and killed by a northbound train. Many newsboys were orphans or from poor families and were inadequately attired for Midwestern rains and for Lake Michigan cold. One newsboy named Peter was found sleeping in News Alley at 2 a.m. on one of the coldest days of the winter. He claimed to be an orphan who came to Chicago from Milwaukee. Weather was a constant problem for those who worked and lived out of doors. Newsboys were also frequently the victims of crime. William Cullen was a blind newsboy who was “a familiar figure” at Blue Island Avenue and Twelfth Street. He sold newspapers from a small wagon and with the protection of a dog, but one night as he slept two men stole his newspaper stand, jeopardizing his means of subsistence.

Particularly troubling was the potential for sexual assault. The Chicago police collected evidence on one adult news dealer who had a prosperous corner on Halsted Street. He made eight boys who worked for him come to his room to receive their pay “and there committed violence” on each, most under the age of 14. One-third of the newsboys sent to one reform school in Chicago had venereal disease, an unfortunate reality for many kids who risked life and health on the streets. Of course, even those who were not abused suffered lung ailments and other sicknesses that went untreated; and if they became too unwell to sell papers, they lost income, as well. Sadly, too, adults who should have protected them were often the perpetrators of mistreatment. Many parents, some desperate themselves, pressed these children into the newsboy “economy.” Police officers were sometimes guilty of harassment, as some in Chicago took payoffs from newspaper companies to guarantee particularly lucrative corners, muscling away newsboys who “trespassed” upon those monopolies, and even arresting others for loitering.

In 1902, a group of some 200 newsboys organized the Chicago Newsboys’ Protective Association. This union tried to mediate the conditions of newsboy employment with newspaper publishers, to lobby for better conditions, and to help members who were sick or injured. Strides were minimal, and the streets were no less dangerous. As well, newspapers in this era had multiple editions, and papers were published at morning, at noon, and at night. As such, days for newsboys were often long; and truancy from school was a common problem. Working on the streets also exposed newsboys to the temptations of gambling, smoking, and other vices that resulted from a vagrant lifestyle. Some of these kids were runaways. Edward Fink, a twelve-year-old from South Bend, Indiana, took $30 from his mother and traveled to Chicago on a freight train. He was selling papers on the streets of Chicago and living with other newsboys when he was arrested and returned to his parents. Another boy, a sixteen-year-old from Texas moved to Chicago to work as a newsboy because black newsboys were not allowed in his town. But when he arrived in South Chicago, police arrested him for vagrancy.

In 1903, Jane Addams was part of a two-day investigation into the lives of newsboys in Chicago. Commissioned at the behest of the Federation of Chicago Settlements, a committee of twenty investigators hit the streets to interview 1,000 newsboys (including 20 newsgirls) in Chicago’s “Loop.” They reported that “while favorable to the legitimate features of the newspaper industry” their investigation confirmed their “impression that Chicago needs a city ordinance which would obviate many of the abuses now apparent in the news trade.” The committee printed a 28-page, illustrated pamphlet, which outlined the work and social conditions of the children who sold newspapers and offered proposals for child labor laws to protect them. The investigation in Chicago reported that the newsboys they interviewed had ranged in age from 5-22 and that 127 of them (12%) were under the age of 10. Among the number, Italian, German, Irish, and Jewish immigrants were numerous. The investigators turned up one five-year-old child and five other kids who were just six. The report noted that “the small boy, under ten years of age, is on the ragged edge of the newspaper business.” No doubt, younger newsboys faced the most hardships and dangers, too.

The pamphlet garnered some attention, but six years later Addams was frustrated. In a speech in March 1909 about children and street trading, she complained that newsboys had fallen in the category of “merchant” and were not subject to child labor regulations. Addams was annoyed that even as Illinois had enacted a child labor law, which should have limited the working hours of all children and protected them from harsh labor conditions, it did not apply to Chicago’s newsboys. “So far, we have been unable to secure any legislative action on the subject,” she lamented. “It is a very disgraceful situation, I think, for Chicago to be placed in while the Illinois child labor law is so good. The City of Chicago is a little careless, if not recreant, towards the children who are not reached by the operation of the state law.” And so, Jane Addams’ battle for the safety and wellbeing of all children would continue.

The remarkable, illustrated pamphlet that Jane Addams and her group published is now a part of the Jane Addams Digital Edition, where you can read the document in its entirety. You will also, no doubt, enjoy the poignant photos of real newsboys and newsgirls who worked on the gritty streets of early twentieth-century Chicago.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Assistant Editor

Sources: Jane Addams, “Address to the Merchants Club, March 8, 1902,” Jane Addams Digital Edition;  Jane Addams and Federation of Chicago Settlements, Newsboy Conditions in Chicago (1903),” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed March 31, 2017; Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 May 1903, 3:1; 24 June 1903, 1:6; 9 October 1903, 4:3; The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL); 5 August 1903, 9:5; 13 September 1903, 25:1-7; Aaron Brenner, Benjamin Day, and Immanuel Ness, eds., The Encyclopedia Strikes in American History (New York: Routledge, 2015), 614; “Chicago Newspapers,” https://chicagology.com/newspapers/; Myron E. Adams, “Children in American Street Trades,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 25 (1905): 23-44. The photos featured here are included in Newsboy Conditions in Chicago.