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 Anya Jabour, Regents Professor of History, University of Montana
The subject of my new book, Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women’s Activism in Modern America, worked closely with Jane Addams for decades. The two women, along with other reformers affiliated with Hull House, championed labor legislation, provided services to immigrants, promoted woman suffrage, and advocated for world peace. Together, they were a powerful force for social justice.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Breckinridge came to Chicago to pursue higher education at the coeducational University of Chicago. After earning her M.A. (1897) and Ph.D. (1901) in political science, she graduated with her J.D. (1904) at the top of the Law School’s first graduating class. After completing her coursework, Breckinridge taught a pioneering course on “The Legal and Economic Position of Women” that brought her into contact with the Second City’s labor organizers and social reformers.
Breckinridge’s concern about the plight of working women initiated her long association with Hull House and its head resident, Jane Addams. In 1905, at Addams’s suggestion, she accepted an appointment as Inspector of Yards, investigating the working conditions of women in Chicago’s infamous stockyard district. Breckinridge spent more than four months inspecting the facilities and interviewing the employees of “Packingtown,” mostly immigrant girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 22.Working in cold, windowless rooms and standing on “dirty, blood-soaked, rotting wooden floors” for ten hours a day, the workers “toil[ed] without relief in a humid atmosphere heavy with the odors of rotten wood, decayed meats, stinking offal,” and human waste from the doorless privies that vented directly into the workrooms.Breckinridge found her task exhausting, both physically and emotionally.To Addams, she confessed, “I was getting where I could not sleep—the vision of the day’s work presses in so!Not my own day’s work—but that of the crews of girls I see marching past me now.”
Breckinridge translated her emotional response to women workers’ abysmal working conditions into social scientific scholarship and policy recommendations. In addition to publishing her study on women workers in the stockyards, she reported her findings to the U.S. Labor Department. With the support of settlement house workers, clubwomen, and trade unionists, she helped persuade the department to provide funding for a full-scale investigation. Ultimately, the nineteen-volume report on the working conditions of wage-earning women and children, published between 1910 and 1913, provided the basis for the establishment of two new federal bureaus, the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the U.S. Women’s Bureau. These government agencies would advocate for a ban on child labor and better working conditions for women for decades to come.
Breckinridge’s work with Addams on behalf of working women soon led to an invitation to live and work at Hull House. As Russell Ballard, one of the few male residents of Hull House, expressed it, “a brilliant company of women were drawn to the settlement to pioneer in the promotion of social change. The scholarly and talented Sophonisba Breckinridge joined the company in 1907 to become one of Miss Addams’ closest friends and most helpful associates.” Although her responsibilities at the University of Chicago prevented her from living at Hull House full-time, Breckinridge spent all of her vacation quarters—and much of her limited free time—at Hull-House, where she was listed as an official “resident” from 1907 until 1921.
Breckinridge became one of Addams’s closest colleagues. She helped to raise funds for the settlement, served as a substitute speaker when Addams was unavailable, and assisted Addams with her correspondence. Breckinridge’s papers are filled with hastily scrawled notes from Addams, invariably beginning with the exclamatory greeting “Dear Lady!” and closing, “Hastily yours, Jane Addams.” In response to such letters, Breckinridge assisted Addams in innumerable ways, both large and small, leading Addams to close one typical letter asking Breckinridge to perform a task, “I do hope that I am not putting too many things ‘off’ on you.” Breckinridge always came through for Addams, signing one letter, “Yours to command always.”
Soon after Breckinridge took up residence at Hull House, she joined a special committee investigating the conditions confronting young single immigrant women who arrived in the city, lost and alone and vulnerable to both sexual and economic exploitation. A typical case was that of Bozena, “a nice young Bohemian immigrant girl” who was “so eager for work . . . that she had taken the first job she could find—in a saloon.” As fellow Hull House resident Edith Abbott, Breckinridge’s colleague at the University of Chicago, explained: “The saloonkeeper had abused her shamefully and then turned her out when he found that she was to become the mother of his illegitimate child.”
Hull House residents helped Bozena file charges, obtain childcare, learn English, gain citizenship, and find work. But Breckinridge and Addams soon realized that the problem of “lost immigrant girls”—as well as the difficulties confronting immigrant men and children—was too widespread for existing service agencies to address. As Addams explained the problem:
Every year we have heard of girls who did not arrive when their families expected them, and although their parents frantically met one train after another, the ultimate fate of the girls could never be discovered; we have constantly seen the exploitation of the newly arrived immigrant by his shrewd countrymen in league with the unscrupulous American; from time to time we have known children detained in New York and even deported whose parents had no clear understanding of the difficulty.
With Addams’s enthusiastic support, Breckinridge proposed the creation of a new organization, and the Immigrants’ Protective League was established in 1908. As Abbott recalled: “This problem of the unaccompanied girls proved to be challenging; but nothing that ought to be done seemed impossible to Miss Breckinridge!”
The Immigrants’ Protective League provided essential assistance to Chicago’s immigrants—women, men, and children. One of the League’s first major accomplishments was establishing “a kind of immigration station” to welcome new arrivals. Immigrants who arrived in Chicago by train met with League agents—chosen to represent the nationalities and speak the languages of their clients— who helped orient newcomers to the city. Agents provided new arrivals with information about employment opportunities, social services, and evening classes. One of the principal goals of the League was to protect immigrants from exploitation. At the welcome station, agents helped new arrivals steer clear of unscrupulous cab drivers, fraudulent employment agents, and the ever-present “cadets” who recruited young women into prostitution. Breckinridge also persuaded local women’s clubs to provide funds for the League to provide temporary lodging for young immigrant women. In only four years, the League served close to 80,000 immigrants at its welcome station.
Breckinridge and Addams continued to team up to advance social reform. In 1911, they were elected vice-presidents of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Under their leadership, the Second City quickly became a “stronghold for the cause.” However, internal dissension caused both women to dread meetings of the national board, which Addams compared to being immersed in “boiling oil.”
Tensions came to a head in Fall 1912, when Breckinridge and Addams, in defiance of the suffrage organization’s traditional commitment to non-partisanship, declared their support for Progressive Party presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Addams, Breckinridge, and other activists not only convinced the third-party candidate to support woman suffrage, but also helped to shape the Progressive Party’s agenda. The third-party platform, known as the “Contract with the People,” was modeled on the “Platform of Industrial Minimums” adopted at the 1912 National Conference of Charities and Corrections, where both Breckinridge and Addams played prominent roles. The platform included demands for a “living wage,” unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation for all workers, as well as special protections for women and children in the workforce.
However, Breckinridge and Addams failed to convince NAWSA leadership that the suffrage movement should use party politics to promote either women’s rights or social welfare. Instead, president Anna Howard Shaw publicly denounced “party ties.” This uncomfortable situation led both Addams and Breckinridge to resign their posts after only a year in office.
Although they remained active in the suffrage movement, after leaving office, Breckinridge and Adams shifted their focus away from NAWSA and toward the Woman’s Peace Party, which they co-founded in 1915 in response to armed conflict in Europe—what would later become known as World War I. The Woman’s Peace Party was the first U.S. pacifist group to treat “peace as a women’s issue.” Many members believed that women had a special responsibility to protect life and thus to prevent war. The party preamble and platform called on women, as “the mother half of humanity,” to oppose the “reckless destruction” of human life resulting from warfare. At the same time that they emphasized women’s special responsibility for peace work, feminist pacifists also demanded equal political rights for women. Believing that women’s full participation in the political process was essential to ending global conflict, members of the Woman’s Peace Party worked for both women’s rights and world peace.
As chairperson and treasurer of the Woman’s Peace Party, respectively, Addams and Breckinridge represented the new organization at an international feminist-pacifist gathering known as the International Congress of Women and held at The Hague in 1915. The Congress enthusiastically adopted many of the measures proposed by the U.S. representatives, calling for the creation of an international peacekeeping body, national self-determination for all countries, and equal political participation for women. Following the Congress, two delegations visited political and religious leaders of both neutral and belligerent nations. When Addams, who participated in the visits, returned home, she did so as the first president of the new International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace.
Addams, Breckinridge, and other members of the Woman’s Peace Party took the lead in attempts to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing war. After Addams returned to the United States, she and Breckinridge worked with both male and female pacifists in Chicago and New York to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to intervene in the European conflict as a neutral intermediary. Addams hand-picked Breckinridge for a special committee assigned to consult with other pacifists within and beyond the U.S. on strategies to “make propositions to the belligerenets [sic] in the spirit of constructive internationalism.”
Throughout the war, Addams, Breckinridge, and other members of the Woman’s Peace Party pressured President Wilson to intervene in the war to produce a “negotiated peace.” Wilson had made initial overtures in this direction at the war’s outset, but his offer was rebuffed. Thereafter, Wilson adopted a pose of watchful waiting. Although he steadfastly maintained his intention to offer mediation when the time seemed propitious, that time never arrived. However, Wilson’s willingness to meet with pacifist delegations, his cordial relationship with Addams, and his assurances that he considered the women’s proposals at The Hague “by far the best formulation” for world peace, encouraged the pacifist women to continue their efforts.
Addams and Breckinridge continued their search for ways to prevent U.S. entry into the conflict, to end the war, and to prevent future wars. In the aftermath of the Lusitania episode, they urged President Wilson to steer clear of what they called “a preposterous ‘preparedness’ against hypothetical dangers” and instead to provide “the epochal service which this world crisis offers for the establishment of permanent peace”—that is, to offer his services to mediate the ongoing conflict. Subsequently, they appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee of Foreign Affairs to express their support for a House Joint Resolution proposal to establish a “Commission for Enduring Peace.”
Despite their best efforts, American pacifists were unable either to halt the ongoing war or to prevent the United States’ entry into it. Once hostilities ceased, Breckinridge and Addams—now part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—sought new routes to “enduring peace.” They achieved a partial victory in the establishment of the League of Nations, which incorporated many of the principles adopted at the International Congress of Women. Although the U.S. failed to join the new organization, Addams and Breckinridge persisted in promoting their vision of a peaceful postwar world. In 1923, they discussed submitting “our” set of principles for the American Peace Award. The plan that Breckinridge and Addams proposed called for the United States to join the World Court and the League of Nations. They also demanded that the U.S. military refrain from defending the interests of private businesses abroad, that the U.S. end both the production and the sale of armaments, and that the U.S. cooperate with other nations in a process of universal disarmament. Finally, they recommended “cancelling or reducing debts due to the United States” from the other Allied countries in return for an agreement to “divide the costs of commissions hitherto charged against Germany alone equally between Germany and the former allies” and offering “a long moratorium to Germany” to allow that nation “eventually to pay the balance on her reparations debt as estimated by an impartial commission of experts to be constituted for the purpose.” Addams’s and Breckinridge’s joint plan thus called for the United States to promote peace not only by agreeing to abide by arbitration in future disputes and participating in a process of universal disarmament, but also by removing the reasons for rising resentment in Germany that would soon allow Adolf Hitler to rise to power. Sadly, their plan was never implemented. Nonetheless, in the years after the Second World War, many of their ideas would be adopted by the United Nations.
Addams and Breckinridge were not always fully successful in their efforts to promote social justice, but they shared a passion for justice that allowed them to persist in the face of difficulties and setbacks. Their collaboration with one another and with fellow reformers also enabled them to meet challenges with strong resolve and good cheer. Together, Addams and Breckinridge were a powerful force for social justice.
Coda: Because Breckinridge’s own papers, while extensive, are comparatively scant for the Progressive Era, to conduct my research on these decades of her life, I relied heavily on the 82-reel microfilmed edition of the Jane Addams Papers and the accompanying “Pink Bible,” the 674-page guide to the microfilm collection, created with the guidance of Jane Addams Papers Project founder Mary Lynn Bryan. I am delighted that future researchers’ work will be facilitated by the next generation of the Jane Addams Paper Project, spearheaded by Cathy Moran Hajo, which will make the Jane Addams Papers accessible in a digital format.
Anya Jabour is Regents Professor of History at the University of Montana. Her books include Topsy-Turvy: How the Civil War Turned the World Upside Down for Southern Children and Scarlett’s Sisters: Young Women in the Old South
Abbott, Edith, and Breckinridge, Sophonisba P. “Women in Industry: The Chicago Stockyards,” Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 19, No. 8 (October 1911), 632-654.
Addams, Jane. “Woman’s Suffrage and the Progressive Party,” Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1912, pg. 9.
Addams, Jane, Balch, Emily G., and Hamilton, Alice. Women at the Hague: The International Congress of Women and Its Results (New York: Macmillan Company, 1915).
Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Peace as a Women’s Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women’s Rights (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1993).
Ballard, Russell. “The Years at Hull House,” Social Service Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec. 1948), 432-433.
Brush, Mary Isabel. “Society Leaders Will Promote Suffrage Cause in Chicago’s Fashionable Circles: National Association to Open Branch,” Chicago Daily Tribune, December 24, 1911, pg. 13.
Bryan, Mary Lynn McCree, et al., eds., The Jane Addams Papers: A Comprehensive Guide (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996)
Buroker, Robert L. “From Voluntary Association to Welfare State: The Illinois Immigrants’ Protective League, 1908-1926,” Journal of American History, Vol. 58, No. 3 (December 1971), 643-660.
“Charity Honors for Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1912, pg. 13.
Commission for Enduring Peace: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-Fourth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 6921 and H.J. Res. 32, Statement of Miss Jane Addams and Others, January 11, 1916 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1916),10-12.
“Conditions in Stockyards Described in the Neill-Reynolds Report,” Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1906, pg. 4
Costin, Lela B. “Feminism, Pacifism, Internationalism, and the 1915 International Congress of Women,” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 5, No. 3-4 (1982), 300-315.
Gonzalez, Suronda. “Complicating Citizenship: Grace Abbott and the Immigrants’ Protective League, 1908-1921,” Michigan Historical Review, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1998), 56-75.
Hull House Collection, Special Collections, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Jane Addams Papers, 1860-1960 (microfilm edition).
Leonard, Henry B. “The Immigrants’ Protective League of Chicago, 1908-1921,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn 1973), 271-284.
“Meet of Suffrage Chiefs: Chicago Women to Attend Executive Committee Session Today: Officers Will Be Chosen: Members Enthusiastic in Praise of the Progressive Party,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1912, pg. 5.
Patterson, David S. The Search for a Negotiated Peace: Women’s Activism and Citizen Diplomacy in World War I (New York: Routledge, 2008).
Records of the Immigrants Protective League, Special Collections, Richard J. Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge Papers (microfilm), Breckinridge Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Sorensen, John, ed., A Sister’s Memories: The Life and Work of Grace Abbott, From the Writings of Her Sister, Edith Abbott (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
“Urge Home for Immigrants,” Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1911, p. 5.
Wade, Louise C. “The Heritage from Chicago’s Early Settlement Houses,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Winter 1967), 411-441.
“Warns Women of Illinois: Dr. Anna H. Shaw Advises Suffragists to Avoid Party Ties,” Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1912, p. 5.
“Will Ask Parties for Living Wage,” Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1912, pg. 7.
“Woman Puts O.K. on Neill Report,” Chicago Tribune, June 11, 1906, pg. 2.
I had the pleasure of asking Lorraine Krall McCrary about her new article “From Hull-House to Herland: Engaged and Extended Care in Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman,” (Politics & Gender, August 2018, 1-21). She examines the writings and activities of Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gliman and how the two activists’ opinions on the roles women have in politics, society, and family differed. Continue reading ““From Hull-House to Herland”: Lorraine Krall McCrary’s Guest Blog Post”
To better the lives of poor immigrants and children through Hull-House, Jane Addams often had to involve herself in the issues her residents cared about, such as child labor regulation, establishments of juvenile courts, overpopulated schools, and sanitation. To ensure that the government’s laws heard the voice of the poor, Addams often challenged the status quo, which made political leaders uneasy. Addams specifically butted heads with the corrupt alderman of the Nineteenth Ward, Johnny Powers. Born in Ireland in 1852, Powers moved to America at age 20 and settled in Chicago. He became a politician for the Democratic Party and served as alderman almost until his death in 1930. Since 1892, Hull-House fought Powers to build a new school for neighborhood children, which he opposed. Although ultimately victorious in that fight, Addams tried to get Powers to clean up the garbage in Chicago streets by collecting 1,000 complaints but failed.
This was the start of a political battle between the two. When Addams supported his 1896 opponent, Powers fought back by eliminating the garbage inspector position held by Addams and placing supervision of these activities under the Ward superintendent. This angered Addams because she had previously succeeded in surveying the streets each morning and decreasing Chicago’s litter.
Powers maintained his political influence by purchasing votes. In 1898, Addams wrote: “Last Christmas our Alderman distributed six tons of turkeys, and four or more tons of ducks and geese . . . It is easiest to reach people in the holiday mood of expansive good will, but on their side it seems natural and kindly that he should do it.” Powers often financed and appeared at funerals as well to gain support, earning him the nickname, “The Mourner.” Addams wrote: “If the Alderman seizes upon festivities for expressions of his good will, much more does he seize upon periods of sorrow. At a funeral he has double advantage of ministering a genuine craving for comfort and solace, and at the same time of assisting at an important social function” (1898). Addams argued that this made him seem like a man with virtue; however, he did not strive to help individuals. At the end of the day, the streets were unclean, schools were overcrowded, and parks were unusable.
In addition to owning two saloons, a gambling establishment, and a nice house, Powers sold city franchises and bought friends in the Council and courts. Addams demanded to know where he got his money from. “To their simple minds he gets it ‘from the rich,'” Addams wrote, “and so as long as he again gives it out to the poor, as a true Robin Hood, with open hand, they have no objections to offer” (1898).
In the 1898 elections, Addams supported Powers’s opponent, Simeon Armstrong. Because one-fifth of the voters’ jobs in the Nineteenth Ward depended on Powers’s largesse, it was a challenge for Addams to sway people’s self-interest towards a vote for Armstrong. She wrote, “If the so-called more enlightened members of the community accept public gifts from the man who buys up the Council, and the so-called less enlightened members accept individual gifts from the man who sells out the Council, we surely must take our punishment together” (1898).
Powers hit back against Addams in Chicago Tribune: “I am what my people like, and neither Hull House nor all the reformers in town can turn them against me,” he boasted. Powers claimed that Hull-House maligned the Ward, threatening, “Mark my word, a year from today there will be no such institution in the Nineteenth Ward.” Anonymous supporters of Powers sent violent letters to Addams during the election; but, others, like Professor William Hill, supported Hull-House, writing, “Those who make that institution their home have always regarded the people of the Nineteenth Ward as honest, hard-working citizens. Instead of standing on his own record, Powers is trying to shift the responsibility for neglected streets and empty houses upon somebody else” (1898).
Powers won the 1898 election. Despite Addams’s support for his opponents, Powers won re-election for the next 30 years. Though she failed to remove Powers from office, Addams learned through the experience. She realized that she needed to better understand and help her neighbors’ lives before wading in. Entering the political world interfered with her connections with Hull-House’s neighbors and made it more difficult for her to assist them and form relationships with them. After the election, she returned to helping her neighbors directly as well as working with the Chicago Bureau of Charities, which began development in 1894.
Addams’s short-lived success in keeping the Ward’s streets clean also taught Chicago residents to understand how their political leaders should work, challenging Powers and his patronage system in a more indirect way. As Ray Stannard Baker wrote in “Hull House and the Ward Boss” in 1898, “If it does not succeed, at least the residents of the ward will have had a stirring lesson in political morality, which will clear a way for success at another time.”
“Defi to John Powers: Antis Accept the Hull House as the Campaign Issue. ” Chicago Tribune, 3 Mar. 1898, p. 7.; Jane Addams, “Why the Ward Boss Rules,” Outlook 58, no.14 (April 2, 1898): 879-82.; Kendall. “Alderman John Powers’ Home Bombed by Political Rivals.” The Chicago Crime Scenes Project, 17 May 2009, Blogger.com, http://chicagocrimescenes.blogspot.com/2009/05/alderman-john-powers-home-bombed-by.html. Accessed 21 Jun. 2017.; “Powers and Cullerton Talk.” Chicago Tribune, 6 Apr. 1898, p. 10.; Ray Stannard Baker, “Hull House and the Ward Boss,” Outlook (March 26 1898): 769-771.; Schneiderhan, Erik. The Size of Others’ Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others. Stanford University Press, 2015.; Scott, Anne Firor. “Saint Jane And The Ward Boss.” American Heritage, Dec. 1960, http://www.americanheritage.com/content/saint-jane-and-ward-boss. Accessed 28 Jun. 2017.; “War on Hull House” Chicago Tribune, 2 Mar. 1898, p. 12.
How many people today know what settlements were? If you have heard of them, they conjure up black and white, or sepia images of large buildings in urban neighborhoods, operated by earnest men and women. Or images of immigrant children in classes or urban playgrounds.
When Jane Addams founded Hull-House in 1889 the idea was a new one and part of her work was in popularizing not only the settlement, but the ideas behind it. The first settlement, and the one that inspired Addams and Ellen Gates Starr to found Hull-House was Toynbee Hall, a British settlement located in London’s East End that was founded in 1884. The first settlement in the United States was Neighborhood house, established in 1886 by Stanton Coit.
The idea of the settlement was simple–to bring education and social welfare to the people who lived and worked in impoverished cities. In the United States, settlements were also known as places that helped stir the melting pot of immigration. What was unique about the settlement movement, compared with other Progressive Era charitable efforts, was that the settlement workers moved in to the slum neighborhoods they sought to help, and they sought to act as neighbors, not distant benefactors to the working poor. Addams and other settlement workers wanted to understand the lives of immigrants and the working-class not be analyzing them, but by living side-by-side and helping when they could.
In the December 5, 1905 Toledo Daily Capital, Addams’ theory was described as:
that every man is an individual and equally capable of good. The Hull House idea is to develop the individual. Miss Addams also stated that a much larger number of immigrants could be taken care of in this country and assimilated to advantage than was being done now.
When Addams lectured, she often answered questions about her work. Some questions that were reported included:
What about anarchy in the slums?
I think the cry of anarchy has been greatly exaggerated in America. There is not nearly as much of it as some people seem to think. Much of the violation of law in the slums and among the foreigners is due to ignorance of the law rather than the result of criminal intentions.
How many children are taken care of at the Hull House every day?
We have a day nursery and this takes care of an average of forty children a day.
Are there any day nurses or visitors in connection with Hull House who visit the homes of those in your district?
We never go to any house unless sent for or there is some good reason for our visit. We never make it a practice to invade the homes of the poor.
Is there any religious instruction at Hull House?
No, there are no religious exercises at Hull House on account of the different beliefs of those in the house. We have Roman and Greek Catholics and Jews in addition to other creeds and denominations.
What are the political opinions of the voters of the settlement district?
That depends entirely on which party gets hold of them first. Their political beliefs are easily subject to change. For instance the Italians formerly were almost entirely Republicans. Now, however, they are swimming over to Democracy. The Russian Jews are mostly socialists. Other nationalities have similar political principles. In Chicago there is so much intense interest in ward and city politics that national politics are entirely lost sight of in the shuffle.
Is there any drinking in the Hull House?
No, there is no drinking in Hull House, but there is a great deal of it among certain classes in the slums. Most of the Jews congregate in the shops and little stores instead of in the saloons. Formerly there was very little drunkenness among the Italians when they drank only light wines. Now they are learning to drink the American beer and whisky and drunkenness among them is on the increase.
What is being done to counteract drinking by the Hull House?
We try to counteract it mainly by means of amusements. The social feature of the saloon s what appeals to most of them and so we give Saturday evening parties, dances and socials. The saloon dance hall is one of the great pitfalls of the city and we try to oppose it in particular. We have a big coffee room but it is not a great success for the reason that only a few care for coffee in the evening.
Settlements were one solution proposed by progressive reformers to alleviate the social problems caused by increasing numbers of new immigrants and rapid urbanization. Rather than build walls to keep people out, or hem them into crowded slums, Addams and other social workers sought to learn about them, live with them, and understand their cultures; all in an effort to help them navigate American life. She believed in treating her neighbors with respect and as intelligent and capable individuals who could contribute mightily to American society.
The elegant Hull-House dining room was filled to the proverbial rafters on May 19, 2016 as historians, community residents, and activists shared insights and experience about neighborhood change on Chicago’s West Side. Could any place have been more perfect for this wide-ranging conversation, part of a one-year NEH “Humanities in the Public Square” grant?
As Hull-House Museum director Jennifer Scott noted in her welcoming remarks, the Arts and Crafts dining room was the place where Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr and settlement residents broke bread with visitors while discussing the burning questions of the day, on labor, immigrants’ rights, the criminal justice system. At the heart of the conversation was always the question, “How we can be better neighbors to one another?”
It’s the rare conference that connects the past and the present, but what struck me throughout the day was the way in which history illuminated and deepened the experience of West Siders who are engaged in finding solutions to issues of inequality in education and healthcare and disinvestment in their neighborhood.
You could see and hear nods of recognition from neighborhood activists in the room as Rutgers’ historian Beryl Satter showed images of North Lawndale and discussed her father’s efforts to represent African Americans who purchased homes under the segregated practice of contract buying in the 1950s and 1960s. Her award-winning book, Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America, put a human face these predatory lending practices that devastated the social fabric of the neighborhood and its housing stock.
Rufus Williams of the Better Boys Foundation and Amara Enyia of the Austin Chamber of Commerce argued convincingly that the loss of manufacturing jobs and the closing of public schools has made it difficult to attract development and investors. Indeed, many stores have become vacant lots since the riots along Madison Street in 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In a city with a flourishing downtown and North Side, Williams and Enyia agreed, the challenge is how to get policy makers to see value and equity in the West Side.
The West Side wasn’t always invisible. In fact, just the opposite. In the second panel, historian Rima Lunin Schultz reminded the audience that 126 years ago on May 19, 1890, Chicagoans got their first glimpse of Hull-House in a Tribune feature illustrated with exterior and interior drawings of the settlement. Entitled “Two Women’s Work,” the newspaper story praised Addams and Starr for organizing “lectures and classes and parties [for] the uncultivated.”
Committed to being better neighbors, the Hull-House residents investigated conditions in local sweatshops and mapped thirty blocks east of the settlement as a way “to focus attention on the worst scenario of industrial conditions that immigrant laborers faced.” Part of a federal study of “slums,” Hull-House Maps andPapers was published in 1895 and received widespread acclaim as innovative and influential.
Ironically, noted Schultz, “by defining its neighborhood as the poorest and most disadvantaged, Hull-House unintentionally . . . began a process of urban renewal.”
Continuing the discussion of the role of social scientists and neighborhood change, UIC historian Cynthia Blair characterized the 1895 study as a “map of exclusion that begins to define African Americans in Chicago.” Hull-House Maps and Papers were not free of bias. In the wages map, for example, Blair noted that brothels near the train stations were designated white, even though they employed African American women.
Ohio State University historian Lilia Fernandez recounted the presence of Mexican Americans in the Hull-House settlement, particularly in the pottery program in the 1920s and 1930s. So it is all the more puzzling that the displacement of Mexican Americans by urban renewal and expressway construction is so little known.
Richard Anderson of Princeton brought the conversation full circle in recounting the attitudes of reformers in the 1950s and 1960s who believed that urban renewal was the “surgery” necessary to eradicate “blight and slums.” Often glossed over in accounts of the siting of the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois, for example, is the role the federal government played in terms of public housing and expressway construction. Understanding this history also challenges us to reclaim the work and vision of women activists such as Florence Scala, dismissed as a “housewife” in the battle to save Hull-House from demolition in 1963.
The fourth and final panel of the afternoon featuring Rosa Cabrera, Dave Stovall, Kathy Catrambone, and Quiwana Bell was a powerful reminder that community organizers and activists work on behalf of ordinary people whose voices are not heard in public policy debates over education and health care. As I listened to their stories, I couldn’t help but think of the old saying, “If only walls could talk.”
More than a century ago in the Hull-House dining room, Jane Addams and the Hull-House residents engaged visitors from around the world who were eager to debate solutions to the thorny problems of poverty and workers’ rights. What I heard on May 19th was something else: historians and community activists grappling with the legacy of Hull-House and the challenge of making the West Side, once again, visible.
For a look at how Jane Addams and the Hull-House residents celebrated the Christmas season, we have reproduced Amalie Hannig’s 1911 article “Christmas at Hull-House,” which was published in the Ladies Home Journal. Hannig was the co-founder and director at Hull-House’s Music School, which was opened in 1893.
Christmas at Hull-House
The activities at Hull-House cover a wide field at any time of the year. About nine thousand people come to us each week during the winter months. But when Christmas approaches Hull-House appears like a huge ant-hill where all the inhabitants are turning their efforts with great intensity into one channel–into making this particular Christmas better than any of its predecessors.
To begin with the small people: A Christmas play, performed by children for all the club children, is given in our theater and the same performance is presented three times before different audiences of at least two hundred and fifty wide-eyed and breathless children each time, and when the performance is again twice repeated for their parents there is no loss of interest. It is difficult to find a suitable children’s play that brings in good old Santa Claus and a Christmas tree. But usually this is done by using a fairy tale that is elastic enough to admit a Christmas touch at the end.
If anybody happens to see our large drawing-room on the day before Christmas he will be inclined to believe that he has accidentally dropped into a grocery store. His nostrils, too, will be greeted by all the characteristic odors. Rows of market-baskets fill the middle of the large space. In one corner of the rooms stand barrels filled with chickens, sacks of potatoes and onions, boxes of various groceries–as coffee, tea, sugar–boxes of apples, oranges and candy; another corner is stacked with small Christmas trees; and all these things send forth and mingle with their particular odors. On large tables and on all available chairs packages containing warm, comfortable wearing apparel, dress goods or shoes and an endless variety of toys are awaiting distribution. Soon many hands begin to sort and label, and by noon three hundred baskets are filled, varying according to the sizes of the families to whom they are addressed.
By the evening all baskets have disappeared; the little Christmas trees alone are still waiting. But at about nine o’clock a most delightful and mysterious activity begins. Each little tree, accompanied by candles, tinsel and all sorts of fascinating decorations, is brought forth and carried to some household in our neighborhood where an expectant, smiling mother is ready and waiting. The children are safely asleep; the small, and for the most part very poor, dwelling is clean and shiny and shows itself at its best; a table is ready to receive the tree and the presents. Quickly the tree is trimmed and the candles are put on the safe branches, and, after a friendly exchange of Christmas greetings, “Santa Claus” retires, leaving the rest to Mother. Back he goes to Hull-House to fetch another tree and place it in another home. Sometimes it happens that the last “Santa Claus” returns from his errand at about one or two o’clock in the morning. Twenty-eight trees were sent out last Christmas.
Some of us remember how on one Christmas Eve a tree and some presents were taken to an Irish mother who supported her six children and three of her dead sister’s children by scrubbing day and night. Even on this evening she was not expected back in her three-roomed home until half-past twelve. When “Santa Claus” appeared at this late hour, loaded down with gifts for ten, he found six children sleeping peacefully in one bed–three at the foot and three at the top–in one room, and three others were in another room. Nine stockings were hanging up; and who would be surprised to learn that some of them showed holes so big that an orange was dropped in first so that other articles might not fall through? “Santa Claus” had to move on tiptoe, hardly daring to breathe, while he made his arrangements in the same room with the sleeping children.
Out Italian friends gladly receive the American “Santa Claus.” Their homes are made to look festive and bright. The freshly scoured floor, still damp, is covered with newspapers, a little altar adorns the wall, the lamp of devotion is lighted, and when the little tree, gaily trimmed, stands on the floor before the altar the Virgin and Child seem to crown it with their blessed presence.
One feast at Hull-House fills hosts and guests alike with deep satisfaction. The Friendly Club, consisting of whole families of our people, come to a Christmas dinner, a real turkey dinner where everything is “grand” and “delicious.” Here are parents and their children dining with a joy that might make the chief cook of a King envious. Such a precious fowl as a turkey is an event to all of the diners. Last year about two hundred and sixty guests were placed in our spacious coffee-house, and when thirty-five late comers found all seats occupied the children politely gave up their legitimate places to the older people and stood between the chairs.
An effort is made, however, to observe Christmas in such a way that is shall not consist solely of presents and dinners and parties, but that the spiritual side shall also be accentuated. Handel’s “Messiah,” rendered every year through the courtesy of a chorus from Evanston, has been a source of great pleasure to our neighbors, to those of the Christian faith and to many of our Jewish friends. Perhaps the most spontaneous celebration of the birth of Jesus finds expression in our own Christmas concert, which has been given for eighteen years on the Sunday before Christmas. On this page is printed a recent program.
This concert consists of folk songs, carols and canons through which the people of many lands have for generations striven to express their joy and devotion, and is rendered by young people of the many nationalities represented in the Hull-House neighborhood. Possibly it is the spirit of Christmas, possibly it is the influence of music which holds together the souls of these people, but certain it is that, although most of the songs are of a religious character, Russian and Polish Jewish children participate with the consent of their parents.
An eminent author who has made a study of immigrants, especially of the Jews, said after he had listened to one of those concerts: “It is wonderful to see people, who in Russia would have died rather than speak the name of Christ, here singing these dongs, and their families in the audience enjoying this music.” Nobody who knows the principles of Hull-House will accuse us of trying to influence the religious convictions of our friends; but the fact that all these people are united in the true spirit of Christmas may perhaps be a genuine expression of “Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men.”
This Christmas Carol was composed by one of the older pupils in the Music School, and, given for the first time at one of these concerts, was sung by a group of his younger brothers and sisters.
After the concert the children, with their families, take supper together in a spacious room lighted only by the tapers of a large Christmas tree. This “Music-School Tree” is always the same and unlike any of the others which flourish at Hull-House. It is a large fir tree which reaches from floor to ceiling and is fastened to a secure stand. To the top is tied a star made of silver tinsel wound around a frame of strong wire. Many “icicles” of glass are attached to conspicuous branches, and a large number of candle-holders are made of unpainted tin. Then we carefully spread soft fluffy asbestos or a new German non-combustible cotton over all the thicker and finer branches to make them look as if they were snow-covered. Twelve packages of plain silver-tinsel thread are also put on, starting at the top so that the tinsel covers the tree like a silver veil. The threads are laid on the branches almost singly and must not be in the least tangled. White candles are placed in the holders and holly is laid on the floor around the tree. After the candles have been lighted–beginning at the top–all lights in the room are turned out. There it stands in wonderful, mysterious, silent beauty, like the Spirit of Christmas, glittering softly in green, white and silver.
This perhaps is the climax of our Christmas celebration, although the holiday week is full of all sorts of jollifications, ending with the “Old Settlers” party on New Year’s Day.
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.
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.
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.