A Japanese Visitor at Hull-House

Every Sunday evening during the winter months, visitors jockeyed for seats in the Hull-House Auditorium. They came for the weekly Hull-House lecture at 8 p.m. They came to hear from diverse speakers, who shared knowledge and enthusiasm for a wide range of topics and used the stereopticon (an early projector) to illustrate their thoughts and ideas.

The Hull-House settlement’s winter lecture series was wildly popular, and every week many people were turned away after the auditorium filled all of its 750 seats. The lecture series was an important part of the settlement’s mission. The lectures were intended to educate, to inspire, to encourage appreciation for the arts, science, and culture, and to foster respect for new people and new ideas. The lectures were free, and working people from the Hull-House neighborhood, predominately men, made up a good share of the audience.

Hull-House Coffee House and Theatre Building, constructed in 1899. The Auditorium was located on the second floor.

On Sunday, Nov. 29, 1903, the speaker was Toyokichi Iyenaga and his topic was “Beautiful Japan.” Iyenaga was a lecturer in political science at the University of Chicago and was an expert on Japanese diplomacy.

Professor Iyenaga was born in Japan in 1862 and came to the United States to study at Oberlin College, where he won a prestigious oratorical contest and earned his degree in 1887. After he completed his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1890, he settled in Chicago, where he was a lecturer at the University of Chicago for nineteen years. Iyenaga distinguished himself as an orator and was a prolific, compelling, and sometimes controversial speaker. At a public lecture in Chicago in July 1903, Iyenaga raised eyebrows by arguing that American women could learn from the women of Japan, in matter of their attire, because Japanese women did not waste their time on fashion and did not, like their American counterparts, endure “the torture of high-heeled shoes or shock the sensibilities of right-minded people by wearing dead birds on her hats.”

Iyenaga was a colorful speaker. He was also, for most people, a curiosity. In 1903, there was only a small number of Japanese people living in the United States, and most of them were settled in the Pacific Northwest. American immigration policy—like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the immigration of Chinese laborers and later the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement between Japan and the U.S. to restrict Japanese immigration—reflected prevailing racist sentiments in America against Asian peoples. As well, racist imagery of “Yellow Peril” exacerbated irrational fears that people from the East represented an existential danger to people in the West. Thus, the Japanese community in Chicago was small and remained small, growing only to about 300 in the city by the 1920s.

One of the quintessential characteristics of Jane Addams’s philosophy as a human being and as a reformer was the importance of intercultural exchange, of face-to-face interaction between people of widely diverse backgrounds, of different races and cultures, religious affiliation, and economic or social class. Critical to that philosophy in the organization and management of Hull-House was providing a forum for all people and all viewpoints. Over the years, Hull-House hosted anarchists, socialists, feminists, labor organizers, and many other people with sometimes controversial ideas and radical rhetoric. Speakers like the Russian anarchist Prince Kropotkin and the African-American leaders W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, who were not welcome in many venues in the segregated United States, were welcome at Hull-House.

Hull-House provided child care, pure milk, economic resources, and educational opportunities. It was a laboratory for social, political, and economic reform. It launched the careers of dozens of progressive reformers. It sheltered people and fed them. It helped poor people navigate charitable, educational, and municipal bureaucracies. It offered spaces for immigrants to celebrate their cultural traditions and to learn ways to embrace their new Americanness, too. But Hull-House also offered a venue for ideas to freely flow, and for diverse voices to speak, to be heard,  and to be respected. It was not so much brave as it was a simple imperative, a nonnegotiable truth in the world view of Jane Addams.

And so, there was Dr. Iyenaga at Hull-House on a winter night in 1903. Not a curiosity or a “Jap,” as a majority of Americans would have described him. Rather, an educated man and a talented orator with an interesting perspective to offer an audience of a mostly poor, immigrant quarter of Chicago.

The more I study Jane Addams and the activities of Hull-House, the more I appreciate the wide and beautiful network of people she cultivated and the open arms of the settlement she led. In the narrative of Hull-House, there was a never ending flow of people with breathtaking stories to tell us about the American past. Toyokichi Iyenaga is one of those stories. He is another person on my growing list of people who came into the Hull-House orbit who are worthy of at least a small spotlight of his own.

After that first Sunday lecture, Professor Iyenaga returned to Hull-House for additional lectures. He attended a teacher’s workshop in Iowa with Jane Addams in 1906, and he worked with her in the peace movement. In 1917, he and Addams attended a peace conference in New York, where he urged the United States to allow Japanese admission to citizenship and argued that “hundreds” of Japanese men in America wanted to enlist to fight Germany but were prevented from doing so. In 1921, he helped fund the attendance of Matsuyo Takaziwaa, a young Japanese woman and Wellesley College student, at the Third International Congress of Women in Vienna, at which Jane Addams presided as president.

Sometime in the 1910s, Toyokichi Iyenaga traded the University of Chicago for Columbia University and moved his wife Yui and son Katsunosuke “Kenneth” to New York. He continued his work as a professor with growing expertise in U.S.-Japanese relations and remained a popular public lecturer. He also published several books, his most prominent Japan and the California Problem, published in 1921. From the limited historical record of his life, Iyenaga’s immigrant story was a successful one. He prospered, won respect as a scholar, and raised his son, who became a small businessman. In 1922, the elder Iyenagas retired to Oneida County, New York, where they were prominent citizens and active in charitable causes. In 1936, Professor Iyenaga was ice fishing on Oneida Lake, fell through the ice, and drowned. He was seventy-four years old, and he left behind a wife, son, daughter-in-law, two young grandsons, and an impressive list of publications.

But that was not the end of his immigrant story. And, sadly, the end of that story was an ugly one, reflecting the depth of racism in the United States, and the sad truth that in some ways not much had changed since Toyokichi Iyenaga was a young professor in Chicago.

On Dec. 23, 1942, a drunk white man announced to his friends in a bar in Sylvan Beach, NY, that he could “get a couple of Japs. I’m not just talking either.”  With his .32 caliber automatic revolver, he walked a mile to the home of Kenneth Iyenaga, the late Professor Iyenaga’s 47-year-old son. The Iyenaga family, five of just 460 Japanese-Americans who lived in upstate New York in 1942, lived in a 1920s house, built from a Sears Roebuck construction kit. There was a photograph of Gen. Douglas McArthur in a front window and a portrait of George Washington hanging in the parlor. The Iyenagas were patriotic Americans. Kenneth purchased war bonds and donated an old car in a local drive for scrap metal. His wife Kei, a Japanese immigrant who graduated from Barnard College, volunteered for the American Red Cross.

The shooter who had come to murder the Iyenagas was Joe O’Toole, a 64-year-old former bartender. He came in the kitchen door with his gun and started shooting. He first hit Kei in the neck, he shot the 77-year-old widow of Professor Iyenaga in the thigh, abdomen, and shoulder, and then he shot Kenneth once in the chest. Fortunately, the Iyenaga’s elder son Yone escaped when the shooting started, and their younger son Kenneth Jr. was not at home at the time.

Kei and Yui survived their injuries, but Kenneth died that day on the kitchen floor. O’Toole confessed his crime. He was proud. “I shot the damn Japs,” he told police.

O’Toole was indicted for murder and assault, but the court excused him of responsibility. Instead, he was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He escaped justice, or perhaps he was dealt the only kind of justice a white criminal justice system in America could see. In 1943. When the country was at war with people who looked like O’Toole’s victims. O’Toole was white, so he was lucky. The Iyenaga family was brown, and not so lucky. A mother lost her only son that day, a wife became a widow, and two boys no longer had a father.

The Iyenaga family’s immigration story represented the best and worst of what America offered and denied immigrants. Jane Addams appreciated the possibilities and understood the difficulties Toyokichi Iyenaga faced in Chicago in 1903  at the time he delivered a lecture about the beauty of his native country at Hull-House. She would have been horrified by the violence his family faced, seven years after she was buried.

During World War I, Jane Addams never wavered in her commitment to peace, paying a high price in reputation and support for Hull-House. I have often wondered if she would have set aside the peace dove when the United States stood up against Hitler in World War II. But I don’t have to wonder about one thing. Based on how she maintained her respect for German people during World War I, I feel confident she would have maintained her respect for Japanese people during World War II. She understood that you could abhor a country’s militaristic behavior and not abhor that  country’s people.

I also feel confident that Jane Addams would have been a vocal opponent of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Not only because she knew Toyokichi Iyenaga, but because she understood that democracy or peace or anything that is worth holding requires an acceptance that all people are entitled to their humanity.

by Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Sources: Michael D. Albert, “Japanese,” in Richard Sisson, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton, eds., The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 253-55; Masako Osako, “Japanese Americans: Melting into the All-American Melting Pot,” in Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 409-37; Greg Robinson, The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2016),  276-77; “Japanese,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; Report of the Third International Congress of Women (Geneva: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1921), 165; 1920 U.S. Federal Census; 1940 U.S. Federal Census; Toyokichi Iyenaga Gravestone, Verona Beach Cemetery, Verona Beach, NY; Cap and Gown (University of Chicago Year Book), (1904), 25; “A Jap Carries off a Prize,” Gibson City (IL) Courier, Jan. 28, 1887, p. 2; “Finds Fault with American Women,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 25, 1903, p. 3; “The Jap, Toyokichi Iyenaga,” Bureau County Tribune (Princeton, IL), Aug. 11, 1905, p. 6 (image 1 of Iyenaga); “Iyenaga Tells of Women in Japan,” The Dispatch (Moline, IL), Feb. 22, 1906, p. 5;  “Good Program Is Prepared,” The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), Oct. 5, 1906, p. 5; “Toyokichi Iyenaga, Ph.D.,” The Buffalo Sunday Morning News, Nov. 30, 1913, p. 37 (image 2 of Iyenaga); “Charges Hibben Is in Pay of Greece,” The Boston Globe, June 1, 1917, p. 10; “Toyokichi Iyenaga, Former Lecturer at U. of C., Drowns,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 1936, p. 1; “Ex-Bartender Held in Killing of Jap at Rome,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), Dec. 24, 1942, p. 28; “Slaying of Jap Laid to Insanity of Man Tested Here,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), Mar. 17, 1943, p. 17; “Tragedy That Struck the Iyenaga Family,” Syracuse (NY) Herald American, Aug. 11, 1985; Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 429-31; Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:606 (image of auditorium); Hull-House Bulletin, 6 (Mid-Winter 1903-04), 1, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm (JAPM), 53:1170; Hull-House Year Book 1906-1907; Jane Addams to W. E. B. Du Bois, January 26, 1907; Mabel Hyde Kittredge to Jane Addams, May 18, 1921, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

Teaching Jane Addams in High School AP Classes

We are delighted to announce that, with a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, we will be working with a group of New Jersey high school  teachers and an educator from the Jane Addams – Hull-House Museum to explore ways to use the Jane Addams Digital Edition in high school AP classes.

The award, Developing Digital Educational Modules for High School AP Courses, will support a series of virtual meetings between Addams Project staff, and a select group of high school teachers from around the state. We are especially excited to also be working with Michael Ramirez, the Education Manager at the Jane Addams – Hull-House Museum in Chicago.

Two Ramapo College teacher-education students, Allie Cheff and Marina Kaiafas, will work with the teachers and Addams staff to develop primary-source-based educational materials that draw from the digital edition.

Jane Addams’s work during the Progressive Era and early 20th century was wide-ranging, and available topics range from her work in establishing social settlements, professionalizing social work, fighting against child labor and the persecution of immigrants and African-Americans, working to win support for woman suffrage, and her efforts for peace and social justice through the Woman’s Peace Party and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

We will hold a virtual symposium at the end of the grant to talk about what we learned and make publicly available to the materials on the project’s Education hub. We will also develop a guide for archives and other editing projects to help them create similar resources based on their holdings.

Teachers invited to participate are from all over the state and have extensive teaching experience. They are: Staci Anson (Ramapo High School), Yvonne Beatrice (Mahwah High School, ret.), Katherine DeVillasanta (Clearville Regional High School), Joseph Dobis (Franklin High School), Joseph Dwyer (Nutley Public Schools), Angela Funk (Indian Hills High School), Keri Giannotti (Bloomfield High School), Scott Kercher (Sparta High School), Faye Johnson Brimm Medical Arts High School), Allison McCabe Matto (Red Bank Regional High School), Louis Moore (Red Bank Regional High School), Frank Romano, Jr. (Perth Amboy Public School), Robert Schulte (Neptune High School), and Patricia Yale (Hillsborough High Schoo).

This grant builds on work that we did a few years back, also funded by the NJ Council for the Humanities, that developed National History Day guides and lesson plans using the digital edition for middle school students. Renee Delora, who led that effort, has joined this project to provide support to the student workers.

Hull-House of Possibilities

Children Practicing at the Hull-House Music School. (Photo courtesy: Jane Addams Memorial Collection, Special Collections, University Library, University of Illinois Chicago).

On February 21, 1901, little Blanche Ebert performed big musical compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven and Stephen Heller on the piano at a concert at Hull-House. She was a student of the Hull-House Music School and one of four gifted pupils who performed that day. Blanche was nine years old, and her passion for music just blossoming, but her education at Hull-House, a settlement dedicated to expanding the definition of the possible for young people, must have given her early confidence, both as a pianist and as a girl.

Hull-House Music School offered “serious musical training to talented children,” admitting them based upon aptitude tests; and Blanche was no doubt gifted from the start. But as she hailed from a poor immigrant family in the 18th Ward, just north of Hull-House, Blanche was also at least a little bit lucky, too. Most poor children did not have access to the musical instruments, private lessons, and concerts, like those offered at the Hull-House Music School.

Blanche Ebert Seaver, 1916. (Photo courtesy David Stoddard Atwood Collection, California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, CA).

In a brochure circulated to raise funds for the Hull-House Music School in the late 1890s, Jane Addams said: “We realize afresh that it is the business of youth to reaffirm the beauty and joy in the world.” In order to succeed in that business, girls and boys deserved cultural nourishment, Addams believed. Much of the focus of the activities at Hull-House revolved around children, each one an effort to expose young people to a world beyond the tenements and dirty streets of urban Chicago, to organize activities to bring art and music and beauty to people in the settlement’s neighborhood. At Hull-House, children were deemed worthy of attention and nurturing in the arts, and activities like private piano lessons , gave them remarkable opportunities to redefine their futures.

Blanche Ella Theodora Ebert was born on Sep. 15, 1891, in Chicago, the tenth child of Norwegian immigrant parents. Her father supported his large family as a painter, and in 1901 Blanche was one of seven children still living at home. We cannot know how Blanche felt as she took the stage to perform the opening piece of music by Beethoven for the Hull-House concert in 1901, but we can imagine something of what the opportunity to play a piano and perform for an audience meant to an underprivileged kid on a cold Chicago day in the early twentieth century. And we do know that Blanche Ebert took full advantage of the opportunity, charting for herself an unlikely and brave career as a pianist and composer.

Until about 1906, Blanche was a piano student and assistant music teacher at Hull-House. Her natural talent and her education at Hull-House afforded her entry into the Chicago Musical College from which she graduated in 1911. In 1912, she felt bold and moved west to Los Angeles, where she became a music teacher at the Egan School of Music and Drama. She also performed as a pianist in a variety of venues in southern California and became a “noted” accompanist. By late 1914, she was teaching at Blanchard Music School in Los Angeles and playing piano for silent films shown at the Majestic Theatre.

One day while riding the streetcar downtown, Blanche met Frank R. Seaver, an attorney eight years her senior. The couple married in Chicago on Sep. 16, 1916. They lived in California for a while before moving to New York, where Frank was stationed during WWI. In New York during that time, Blanche became a successful musical arranger and composer, writing and selling dozens of songs, many to popular artists of the day like the Irish singer John McCormack. Her most famous songs were “Calling Me Back to You,” composed during the war, and “Just for Today.”

In the 1920s, the Seavers lived in Mexico City, and it was there where Blanche discovered a second passion, philanthropy. She established a society to help homeless Mexican children, and that was the start of seventy-years of generous living. The Seavers moved back to the United States in 1928, settling  permanently in Los Angeles. Frank Seaver made a fortune in the oil business, and Blanche became a well-known philanthropist.

Inspired and grateful for the education she received in Chicago, Blanche focused her giving on educational institutions. She and her husband donated money to the Harvard Boys School in L.A., the University of Southern California, Loyola Marymount University, Claremont McKenna College, Pomona College, Rockford College in Illinois, and Pepperdine University. After Frank’s death in 1964, Blanche continued her giving, helping Pepperdine establish its Malibu campus and dedicating the Frank R. Seaver College there in 1975.

Throughout her life, Blanche, who never had children, continued to share her love of music and was an active patron of the arts and a supporter of children’s charities. She supported the Los Angeles Music Center, the Los Angeles Symphony, the Los Angeles Pops Orchestra, and the famous Hollywood Bowl. She also founded the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild and served as a member of the Board of Directors of Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. In 1963, the Los Angeles Times named her “Woman of the Year;” and MacMurray College in Illinois and Pepperdine University awarded her honorary doctorate degrees in 1973 and 1980, respectively.

Blanche Ebert Seaver died on April 14, 1994, ninety-three years after playing Beethoven at Hull-House. Her story is a second-generation American story. Her hard-working immigrant parents could only have dreamed of such a robust life for their children. But Seaver’s story is also a story of what Hull-House could offer little girls and little boys with talents and courage and dreams. Jane Addams could not write such a story as Blanche’s for every child who took advantage of the programs at Hull-House. But every single day, through its programs and activities, the settlement exposed young people to the arts and made a difference in the lives of the children in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. Blanche’s story is one shining musical example of how Hull-House was a house of possibilities.

Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Sources:  Los Angeles City Directory (1915), 757; Blanche Ebert and Frank R. Seaver Papers, Finding Aid, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA; 1900 U.S. Federal Census; 1910 U.S. Federal Census; Blanche Ebert Baptismal Record, U.S. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969; Ebert and Seaver Marriage Record, Cook County, Illinois, U.S., Marriage Index, 1871-1920; “Chicago at a Glance,” Chicago Tribune, June 17, 1900, p. 50; “Reception to Pianist,” Los Angeles Express, Oct. 19, 1912; “Egan Recital Will Be Given Tomorrow,” Los Angeles Express, Jan. 8, 1913, p. 7; “The Festival Choir,” Los Angeles Express, Mar. 21, 1913, p. 10; “Whittier Choral Society,” The Whittier (CA) News, Mar. 24, 1914, p. 3; “Coronation of Queen Thelma Chamber Music Featured,” The Daily Telegram (Long Beach, CA), June 6, 1914, p. 5; “Important Musical,” Hollywood (CA) Citizen, July 3, 1914, p. 5; “Lost and Found,” Los Angeles Express, Nov. 27, 1914, p. 17; “Brahms Quintet Will Give Concert,” Los Angeles Express, Feb. 25, 1915, p. 6; “Majestic,” The Los Angeles Times, Mar. 31, 1916, p. 16; “Seaver-Ebert Nuptials, Chicago Event,” The Bulletin (Pomona, CA), Sep. 17, 1916, p. 9; “Mac to Confer Five Honorary Degrees at Commencement,” The Jacksonville (IL) Journal Courier, May 20, 1973, p. 36; “Blanche E. Seaver, Major Donor to Colleges, Dies,” The Los Angeles Times, Apr. 13, 1994, p. 206; “Seaver, Blanche Ebert,” The Los Angeles Times, Apr. 17, 1994, p. 164; Hull-House Music School,” pamphlet, c. 1935, Jane Addams Papers, Microfilm Edition (JAPM), 36:78-81; Hull-House Bulletin, 4 (January 1-May 1, 1901), 4-5, JAPM, 53:1123-24; Hull-House Bulletin, 5 (Semi-Annual, 1902, no. 1), 5, JAPM, 53:1141; Hull-House Bulletin, 6 (Autumn, 1904, no. 2), 4, JAPM, 53:1193; Hull-House Bulletin, 7 (1906-1906, no. 1), 6, 53:1219; Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:421, 473n3; Jane Addams’ Own Story of Her Work: How the Work at Hull-House Has Grown (Third of Three Installments), May 1906; Hull-House Year Book 1906-1907; Hull-House 1889-1909, 1909, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.