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. Here’s what she had to say: Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” among many other writings) were exact contemporaries; they were both born in 1860 and died in 1935. Both worked on issues related to women and social reform and their efforts overlapped. They were both involved with the beginning of the women’s peace movement, worked on the feminist magazine The Woman’s Journal, and were active in the American Sociological Society from its founding (Gilman 1997). Their work in sociology and on feminist projects brought them together—Gilman stayed at Hull-House for several months in 1895, and her visit to Hull-House influenced her fictional utopias.
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.