A Tale of Many Cultures: Clara Landsberg’s Experiences at Hull House

This article in its entirety was published in Volume 46, No. 3 Summer 2022 edition of Chicago Jewish History, a quarterly publication of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society and is being reprinted with the permission of the Society.

A Tale of Many Cultures:  Clara Landsberg’s Experiences at Hull House with Eastern European Jewish Immigrants and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Social Workers

by Cynthia Francis Gensheimer

Clara Landsberg, a Jewish-born teacher, social worker, and pacifist, lived at Hull House in the room directly adjacent to Jane Addams’s for roughly 20 years and made significant contributions to the Chicago settlement house. However, scholars have paid scant attention to her story until now, perhaps because she never sought prominence during her lifetime.[1] While researching her connection with Bryn Mawr College as part of a larger project on early Jewish women students at the Seven Sisters schools, I have discovered that shortly after graduating in 1897, Landsberg left Judaism to become Episcopalian. Afterward, she maintained ties with her influential Jewish parents but also became a member of the nation’s Protestant elite and of an international sisterhood of pacifists. Like many leading women intellectuals and social workers of her day, Landsberg lived with her lifelong partner—a woman—in a predominantly female world. This article will provide an overview of Landsberg’s biography, with a focus on her role at Hull House.

Clara was the daughter of a Jewish power couple: Rabbi Max Landsberg and Miriam (Isengarten) Landsberg, leading Jewish intellectuals and nationally known experts on charity administration, with 30 years of hands-on experience in helping the less fortunate in Rochester, New York.[2] Clara’s parents had close working relationships with luminaries Jewish and non-Jewish, including Chicago’s Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, Hannah Greenebaum Solomon, and Jane Addams.[3] Closer to home, Susan B. Anthony attended the Landsberg congregation’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving services and, in 1892, recommended Miriam Landsberg for a statewide position—although that position was ultimately filled by Anthony herself.[4] The Landsbergs helped lead efforts for social good in Rochester with their closest friends: the Unitarian minister William Gannett and his wife, Mary T. L. Gannett. Clara Landsberg followed her parents’ example in many ways.

Clara can be taken as a case study in the difficulties that many Jewish women of her generation would have faced in attempting to achieve the Landsbergs’ highest ideals. Clara graduated from the most intellectually rigorous women’s college on the East Coast and, through her partner, Margaret Hamilton, became a member of one of the country’s most elite Protestant families. Yet even after graduating from college and becoming Episcopalian, she was denied a job at a girls’ preparatory school because she was still considered Jewish. This discrimination against Jews, even those who had left the faith, was leveled against a young woman of eminent qualifications and impeccable manners. It belied her own parents’ fervent wish that Judaism should be considered only a religion, not a race, and that Jews should find full acceptance in American society.

Born in Rochester in 1873, Clara—and her two younger sisters, Rose and Grace—attended Miss Cruttenden’s School for Girls, which offered a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, but also equipped its students for lives of simple refinement. Although their social world was predominantly Jewish, they had Christian friends as well. At Rose’s confirmation, Rabbi Landsberg enjoined the teenagers coming of age in his Reform congregation to take a rational approach to religion and to determine their beliefs for themselves without feeling bound by tradition.[5] As the Landsberg children would have known, Susan B. Anthony and Mary T. L. Gannett had done exactly that by becoming Unitarians after growing up as Quakers.

At Bryn Mawr College, Clara met her future life partner: Margaret Hamilton, daughter of an upper-class WASP family in Fort Wayne, Indiana.[6] Clara also became acquainted with Margaret’s sisters: Alice Hamilton, who would later establish the field of industrial medicine, and Edith Hamilton, who would famously popularize classical Greek and Roman mythology.[7] Bryn Mawr, founded by Quakers, advertised itself as “pervaded by a simple and practical Christianity” and required daily chapel attendance.[8] Clara, the only Jew of the nearly 50 students in her graduating class, lived on campus and studied classical and modern languages, with a concentration in Latin and Greek.[9] After their 1897 graduation, Clara and Margaret studied abroad at the Sorbonne and the University of Munich.[10]

Around 1900, Clara Landsberg moved to Hull House, where she would room with Alice Hamilton for the next two decades.[11] By the time Clara arrived, three-quarters of Hull House’s clientele consisted of Jews from Chicago’s Near West Side and other neighborhoods.[12] These Jews—mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe—came to learn English, attend lectures and concerts, and participate in drama, music, and debate clubs.[13] Despite their apprehensions with respect to Christian proselytizing, they predominated among the 9,000 people who visited Hull House each week.[14] Clara Landsberg earned her living by teaching German and history at a local girls’ school; in her free time, she taught—and later supervised—the evening classes at Hull House.[15]

Jane Addams mentored Clara, who was initially in the unique position of being the only resident who had been born and raised Jewish. Jane Addams called her the “dean of our educational department”—in other words, supervisor of one of the settlement’s core activities.[16] In 1908, a paragraph in the Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Quarterly—likely written by Clara herself—reported that she was living at Hull House to familiarize herself with the problems of immigrants living in “crowded” quarters. Rather than describing her students as Catholic or Jewish, Clara identified them by their various nationalities: “Italian, Greek, Russian, Roumanian, Polish, Armenian, and German.”[17] She explained that they wanted to learn English not only to get good jobs, but also to “study subjects more or less remote from their daily work for much the same reasons that induce people of more fortunate neighborhoods to study Browning, Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Bernard Shaw.”[18] During her early years at Hull House, Clara introduced her students—primarily Eastern European Jews—to some of the classic works of English literature.[19] According to Jane Addams, Clara possessed “an unusual power” as a knowledgeable teacher with an unassuming, quiet presence.[20] In addition, Landsberg had “many friends among the poor people of the neighborhood who are devotedly attached to her.”[21] Two of those friends were Hilda Satt and Morris Levinson.

Hilda Satt’s life was transformed through her long association with the settlement and its residents. Hilda, who had first visited Hull House as a young teenager in 1895, later became a member of one of Clara Landsberg’s reading groups. Certain her mother would disapprove, Hilda had initially declined an Irish friend’s invitation to attend that year’s Hull House Christmas party. In her posthumously published autobiography, Hilda recalled her fear that she would be killed if she attended, because in Poland it had been dangerous for Jewish children to play outside on Christmas. She later wrote, “There were children and parents … from Russia, Poland, Italy, Germany, Ireland, England, and many other lands, but no one seemed to care where they had come from, or what religion they professed … I became a staunch American at this party.”[22]

In one of the first reading groups Clara conducted at Hull House, she ignited a love of English literature in Hilda, who spoke Yiddish at home and had left school after fifth grade to work days sewing shirt cuffs. In addition to the books Clara assigned, Hilda was soon reading “every book I could borrow.”[23] Only a few years earlier, Hilda’s English vocabulary had been so limited that she did not yet know the word “mushroom.” During a meal at Hull House, she had been served a mushroom omelet, of which she would later recall, “I was tortured with the question of whether the mushrooms were kosher.”[24] Soon, however, Hilda counted authors like Dickens and Louisa May Alcott among her friends. Months after meeting Hilda, Clara presented her with a Christmas gift of a copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Hilda would later recall this as her fondest memory of “Miss Landsberg, … a fragile, ethereal, gentle woman … [who] opened new vistas in reading for me.”[25] With Clara Landsberg’s help, Hilda Satt became an exemplar of the path to Americanization and upward mobility that the settlement aimed to encourage.[26]

Another of Clara’s students, Morris Levinson, was, like many immigrants, eager to learn English and become an American citizen in the cultural as well as the political sense of the word. With Clara Landsberg as his mentor, he aspired to learn much more than basic skills of vocabulary, grammar, and usage.[27] Landsberg saved two letters that he wrote to her in 1905, while she was home in Rochester convalescing after a serious illness. In broken English, Morris expressed his concern that “Miss Landsberg” was “too sweet, and delicate, to be confind to bed of illness [sic],” reassured her that Ellen Gates Starr had taken him on as a pupil, and told her that he was studying a book she had given him to read: The Boys of 76, a collection of first-hand accounts of soldiers in the American Revolution:

I bolive I should have to know the history of this Country … I have resolved to read it over agan, so that I will remember everything better … Miss Landsberg, I bolive this history will make me a throught citesin.[28]

Morris also confided in Clara. He planned not to live solely seeking fun, “as a great many of people do,” but rather to “try to egicat [him]self as much as poseble” in order to “see the mining of this beautiful world and of the real uman life.”[29] Clara was not only a teacher but a role model for Morris Levinson: someone he admired and to whom he felt a deep sense of gratitude.

Although Hilda, Morris, and Clara had all been raised in Jewish homes, their similarities ended there. Clara’s highly educated, German-born parents spoke fluent English and shunned Yiddish. Like other Reform rabbis, Rabbi Landsberg jettisoned “superstitious forms and antiquated dogmas,” eliminating rituals he considered outmoded, such as Bar Mitzvah.[30] He endorsed the principles adopted by the Reform movement in its Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, but, like Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch of Chicago’s Sinai Congregation, he saw them as only the beginning rather than the end. In 1893, Rabbi Landsberg spoke in Chicago at the World Parliament of Religions, endorsing an expanded role for Jewish women in congregational life.[31]

Clara’s approach to Judaism was virtually the antithesis of that of many of the Jewish immigrants at Hull House. Her father decried Orthodoxy as well as Jewish nationalism. The Jewish immigrants—familiar and comfortable only with Orthodox Judaism—rejected Reform Judaism. Even those atheists, anarchists, and socialists who spurned all religion felt a connection to Yiddishkeit and Jewish peoplehood, concepts rejected by the Landsbergs and most Reform Jews. Did these immigrant Jews nonetheless recognize Clara Landsberg as ethnically Jewish, or did they see her as one of many Protestant residents of Hull House? Might they have accepted her precisely because they had no idea she was Jewish?

Addams and her cohort respected religious differences and tried hard to make Hull House welcoming to all.[32] Yet Jane Addams was motivated by her Protestant faith—especially by the literature and culture of social Christianity, which she described as a “renaissance of the early Christian humanitarianism … with a bent to express in social service and in terms of action the spirit of Christ.”[33] Addams has been criticized for failing to grasp that for many Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Judaism was far more than a religion. On the other hand, features of Hull House that Orthodox Jews would have found off-putting—the Chi-Rho cross Addams always wore, the Christian artwork on display, the lack of kosher food—would not have offended the most liberal Reform Jews such as Clara Landsberg or her mother, Miriam Landsberg.[34]

Miriam Landsberg, Hannah G. Solomon, and other German Jews mirrored mainstream America’s adulation of Addams. One of these Jewish admirers, Sara Hart, called Addams “the single, most influential citizen of my generation.”[35] Miriam Landsberg visited Hull House frequently and helped spearhead efforts among affluent Jews to establish a settlement in Rochester. In 1905, after spending several weeks at Hull House, she wrote: “I do not wonder that any one who has ever lived at Hull House cannot bear to go back to ordinary life.” She described the 21 residents (including her daughter Clara) as a “family” composed of “people of the finest minds” and life at Hull House as “simple, practical, … ideal.”[36]

Settlement work was popular among graduates of Bryn Mawr and similar colleges. Even so, it was not Clara’s first career choice. She and Margaret had wanted to teach at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, but two of the school’s most influential trustees, Mary Garrett and M. Carey Thomas (then president of Bryn Mawr College), refused to hire her because she was Jewish.[37] In 1899, Edith Hamilton (then headmistress of the Bryn Mawr School) wrote to M. Carey Thomas to apprise her of Clara’s conversion:

My sister has just written me that Miss Landsberg is about to become a member of the Episcopal church, and I have wondered whether this would make a difference in your and Miss Thomas’ opinion that we could not offer her a position because she is a Jewess.[38]

Clara Landsberg’s conversion made “not the least difference,” either to Mary Garrett or to M. Carey Thomas, as Garrett explained in her response to Edith Hamilton:

Our objection is one of policy and very few Jews employed in schools or colleges are Jews by religion; it never had occurred to us that Miss Landsberg was really an orthodox Jew. We are wholly unwilling to connect with the school in any capacity a Jew by race, and in view of our feeling of the financial unwisdom of such a step we think that Jews ought to be ruled out of court for the future in consideration of possible appointments.[39]

Yet Clara persisted. In 1900, M. Carey Thomas wrote to Mary Garrett saying, “The Jews enrage me. Is nothing in the world settled? Have Miss Landsberg & the Jews to come up perpetually. It is awfully bad policy.”[40]

Clara remained at Hull House until 1920, when a Quaker organization sponsored her to travel to Vienna to perform postwar humanitarian relief work. Two letters of recommendation finally qualified her as a WASP and (therefore) fit to represent the U.S. abroad. Jane Addams provided a ringing endorsement, and Mary T. L. Gannett was careful to specify: “As a matter of information, Miss Landsberg, during her college course joined the Episcopal Church – and as far as I know is still a loyal member of that Communion.”[41]

When Addams and her partner, Mary Rozet Smith, learned that Clara Landsberg had been accepted to the Quaker program, they both wrote letters of congratulation and farewell. Addams wrote, “I can’t bear to think of H.H. [Hull-House] next winter without either Alice [Hamilton] or yourself.”[42] Mary Rozet Smith wrote: “… no words will express … [our] sense of desolation … when we think of the year without you. … J.A. and I have decided that it is like losing a mother and a child at once. … With Alice in Boston and you in Vienna what will Hull-House be! It is too depressing to face.”[43]

Did Max and Miriam Landsberg know that their daughter was no longer Jewish? In the 1899 letter announcing Clara Landsberg’s conversion, Edith Hamilton had written, “Under the circumstances her family would prefer her not to be at home.”[44] Yet there is no proof that Clara’s parents did learn of her conversion. To all appearances, she maintained a positive relationship with her mother and father throughout their lives. In his final instructions to his children, Max Landsberg wrote, “[M]y life has been one of uniform happiness. The only serious trouble in my whole life has been the loss of my dear wife, your good mother.”[45]

As tolerant as Miriam was toward other beliefs, however, it is likely she would have cared deeply that Clara had left Judaism. At a national conference, as chair of the National Council of Jewish Women’s Committee on Religion, she worried that many German Jews were “given over entirely to materialism and indifference to all Jewish affairs.” She warned Jewish mothers that children raised without religion could “fall prey to … pious sharks … eager for souls.”[46] A few years later, she implored mothers to transmit a love of Judaism to their children “to preserve to our posterity that Judaism which gave Religion to the world.”[47] Despite Miriam’s fears, it is doubtful her daughter would have fallen prey to “pious sharks.” Rather, through exposure to Christianity at school and through her closest friends and role models, Clara rejected the most modern version of Judaism, one carefully crafted by her own parents, in favor of the Episcopal Church, which her father had criticized for what he saw as its strict adherence to ritual and creed.[48]

Part Two of this article will discuss Clara Landsberg’s becoming godmother to Jane Addams’ grandniece, Clara’s travels with Addams, and Clara’s own work as a pacifist, which was deeply informed by her connection with Addams. It will also document her retaining ties to her birth family, even as she joined the Hamilton family as well. And it will describe Landsberg’s trip to Germany with Alice Hamilton just after Hitler had come to power. In a letter to herself documenting the onset of the Holocaust, Landsberg would write, “I am a Jewess.”

Our thanks to Cynthia Francis Gensheimer and the Chicago Jewish History for allowing us to share this article with you.


[1] Even one of Clara Landsberg’s fellow residents, Francis Hackett, seemingly forgot her surname: “Miss Clara, of Bryn Mawr vintage, valiant, tense, souffrante, at once impatient and remorseful, indefatigable and worn-out.” Francis Hackett, “Hull-House: A Souvenir,” 100 Years at Hull-House, eds. Mary Lynn McCree Bryan and Allen F. Davis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969), 69.

[2] Max Landsberg, born in Berlin in 1845, was a rabbi’s son and a protégé of Abraham Geiger. American Jewish Year Book 1903–1904, 72; http://www.ajcarchives.org/AJC_DATA/Files/1903_1904_3_SpecialArticles.pdf. When Miriam Landsberg, who was born in Hanover in 1847, died, the American Israelite called her death a “loss to American Jewry.” American Israelite, April 25, 1912. Peter Eisenstadt, Affirming the Covenant: A History of Temple B’rith Kodesh, Rochester, New York, 1848–1998 (Rochester: Temple B’rith Kodesh, 1999), ch. 2 and 3; Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Rochester, 1843–1925 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954). At a 1910 meeting of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, during Miriam Landsberg’s term as vice-president, Jane Addams gave the opening address, and Rabbi Landsberg served as delegate representing the Jewish Orphan Asylum of Western New York, which he had co-founded and led for decades. Sixth Biennial Session of the National Conference of Jewish Charities in the United States Held in the City of St. Louis, May 17th to 19th, 1910 (Baltimore: Kohn & Pollock, 1910). American Israelite, February 5, 1914, 3. Rabbi Landsberg was elected president of the New York State Conference on Charities and Correction in 1910, when Miriam Landsberg was the outgoing vice-president. “Conference of Charities Holds Three Busy Sessions,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 17, 1910, 17.

[3] As chair of the Committee on Religion of the National Council of Jewish Women, Miriam Landsberg worked closely with Hannah G. Solomon, the organization’s founder. Susan B. Anthony wrote to Miriam Landsberg giving instructions for a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. and letting her know that Hannah G. Solomon and Sadie American had already arrived. Susan B. Anthony to Miriam Landsberg, February 12, 1899, University of Rochester Archives. After Hannah G. Solomon’s daughter, Helen, visited the Landsbergs in 1902, Rabbi Landsberg wrote to Hannah telling her what a “great treat” it had been to have her visit: “Helen reminds me so much of you, although she looks more like the best husband on earth.” He signed the letter, “With love for your husband and all the sisters within your reach.” Max Landsberg to Hannah G. Solomon, April 2, 1902. Helen Solomon Wellesley Correspondence, Hannah G. Solomon Family Collection, MC 749, American Jewish Archives. For the working relationship among Rabbi Hirsch, Hannah G. Solomon, and Jane Addams, see Rina Lunin Schultz, “Striving for Fellowship: Sinai’s Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch and Hull-House’s Jane Addams, A Not-So-Odd Couple,” unpublished manuscript, February 24, 2015.

[4] Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1898), 2:730. In 1891, Susan B. Anthony, Rabbi Landsberg, and Rev. William C. Gannett spoke at the annual Thanksgiving service. “The Benefits of Unrest,” Democrat and Chronicle, November 27, 1891, 6.

[5] “Rochester, N.Y.,” American Israelite, June 20, 1889, 2.

[6] For background on Bryn Mawr College, see Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women’s Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984) and Horowitz, The Power and Passion of M. Carey Thomas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

[7] For a significant biographical work on the nature of Clara Landsberg’s relationship with Margaret Hamilton, as well as Edith’s connection to Bryn Mawr College and the Bryn Mawr School, see Judith P. Hallett, “Edith Hamilton,” The Classical World  90, nos. 2/3, Six Women Classicists (November 1996–February 1997): 107–147.

[8] Bryn Mawr College Program 1892 (Philadelphia: Sherman & Co., 1892), 77.

[9] Clara Landsberg’s student transcript, Bryn Mawr College Archives. Religious affiliations researched by the author.

[10] Clara Landsberg’s alumna record, Bryn Mawr College Archives. Sandra L. Singer, Adventures Abroad: North American Women at German-speaking Universities, 1868–1915 (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 75, 212.

[11] Presumably by the time that Clara Landsberg moved to Hull-House, she had become a member of the Episcopal church, but evidence surrounding the conversion is scanty, and that surrounding the exact dates of Clara Landsberg’s tenure at Hull-House is contradictory. For Alice Hamilton’s experience at Hull-House, see Alice Hamilton, Exploring the Dangerous Trades (Fairfax, Virginia: American Industrial Hygiene Association, 1995), ch. 4 and 5; Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984), 3–4, 5, 115–136, 139–141, 144–152, 182, 244. Both Hamilton’s and Sicherman’s books are valuable resources that contain references to Clara Landsberg throughout.

[12] Hannah G. Solomon, introducing Jane Addams as a speaker at a national convention of the National Council of Jewish Women. “General Council of Hebrew Women Meets,” The Washington Times, December 3, 1902, 2.

[13] Philip Davis, “Educational Influences,” in The Russian Jew in the United States, ed. Charles S. Bernheimer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The John C. Winston Co., 1905), 217.

[14] Hull-House was not the only center serving immigrant Jews in its neighborhood. German Jews in Chicago organized their own institutions, and in fact Jane Addams mediated between the German and eastern European Jews when the Jewish-run Maxwell Street settlement was established a few blocks from Hull-House. The first organizational meeting, held at Hull-House in 1892, nearly disbanded due to the terrible arguing between the immigrants and the German Jews who convened the meeting. In an essay titled “A Resented Philanthropy,” one of the immigrants at the meeting later credited Addams with reestablishing civility. He said, “The ‘culture’ which was to emanate from the settlement and permeate all corners of the Ghetto was conspicuously absent from the heated discussion of the ‘enlightened’ benefactors.” In 1907, 150 people visited Hull-House weekly to lecture, teach, or supervise clubs. For Hull-House’s purpose, the names of its residents, and its weekly attendance, see Hull-House Year Book 1907, 5–6 (Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/hullhouseyearboo1906hull/page/38/mode/2up?q=jewish).

[15] Clara’s work evolved over time. She worked full-time at Hull-House for one year, but, finding that too difficult, she eventually taught at the University School for Girls (Miss Haire’s). Alice Hamilton to Agnes Hamilton, [mid-June? 1902], in Sicherman, Alice Hamilton, 142–143. Clara Landsberg’s alumna record, Bryn Mawr College.

[16] Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Macmillan, 1912), 437 (A Celebration of Women Writers, ed. Mary Mark Ockerbloom, https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/addams/hullhouse/hullhouse.html).

[17] Italians came to predominate during Clara’s second decade. In 1902, the Chicago Tribune reported on a “Hebrew invasion” in the “crowded west side district”: “As soon as a Jewish family gets a foothold in a tenement other occupants vacate.” “Races Shift Like Sand,” Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1902, 13.

[18] Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Quarterly Vol. 1–2 1907–1909 (Bryn Mawr, PA: Bryn Mawr Alumnæ Association, 1907–1909) (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/214021114.pdf).

[19] Francis Hackett wrote in his memoir: “Russian Jews and Jewesses came in great numbers to the classes at Hull House, and had special leanings toward literature” (72). Some English classes were composed entirely of Jews. Philip Davis, “Intellectual Influences,” in The Russian Jew in the United States, ed. Charles S. Bernheimer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The John C. Winston Co., 1905), 217.

[20] Jane Addams to Anita McCormick Blaine, June 29, 1901, Anita McCormick Blaine Correspondence and Papers, 1828–1958, Wisconsin Historical Society (Jane Addams Papers Project, https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/1015).

[21] Jane Addams, American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC) letter of recommendation for Clara Landsberg, May 1, 1920. AFSC Archives.

[22] Hilda Satt Polacheck, I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 51–52, 66.

[23] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66.

[24] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66.

[25] Polacheck, I Came a Stranger, 66–67.

[26] In 1905, Hilda Satt took over supervision of the evening classes in Clara’s absence. In 1906–07, she taught beginners’ English at Hull-House. Jane Addams to Clara Landsberg, July 4, 1905, Clara Landsberg Papers, University of Illinois at Chicago Library (Jane Addams Papers Project, https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/840); Hull-House Year Book 1906–1907, 8.

[27] Addams noted the frequency with which young Jewish men who had patronized Hull-House also graduated from high school with help from their parents and then managed on their own to go on to college. Twenty Years at Hull-House, 346.

[28] Morris Levinson to Clara Landsberg, May 26, 1905, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, box 13, 83-M175-94-M77, Schlesinger Library. Levinson’s letters are quoted as written, without corrections as to spelling, grammar, or usage.

[29] Morris Levinson to Clara Landsberg, n/d, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, box 13, 83-M175-94-M77, Schlesinger Library.

[30] “Dr. Landsberg’s Closing Lecture,” Jewish Tidings, March 30, 1888, 19.

[31] Max Landsberg, “The Position of Woman Among the Jews,” World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Illinois, 1893 (GoogleBooks, https://books.google.com/books?id=q2U-AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA241&dq=%22max+landsberg%22+%22The+Position+of+Woman+among+the+Jews%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi-3aifgMLPAhUk_4MKHRbLCOIQ6AEIIDAA#v=onepage&q=%22max%20landsberg%22%20%22The%20Position%20of%20Woman%20among%20the%20Jews%22&f=false). When virtually no other rabbi in America would perform an interfaith marriage, both Hirsch and Landsberg did so. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Rochester, 93–94. Tobias Brinkmann, Sundays at Sinai (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 136.

[32] In Twenty Years at Hull-House, Addams explained that over time, she and the other residents abandoned Protestant evening prayer, and their demographic composition at least in part reflected the make-up of the neighborhood, including Catholics and Jews, “dissenters and a few agnostics.” Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, 448–449. Rivka Shpak Lissak has claimed that although many traditional Jews avoided Hull-House, it “had a closer relationship with the marginal Jewish elements, the assimilationists and the radicals.” Lissak, Pluralism and Progressives: Hull House and the New Immigrants, 1890–1919 (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 80.

[33] Rima Lunin Schultz wrote: “For Addams, who affixed a Chi-Rho Cross to her bodice, her work at Hull-House was religious; yet by establishing her settlement as an independent association without ties to any religious organization, university, or other agency, and by not requiring religious worship or religious education, she set out to spread a Christian humanism that she envisioned as cosmopolitan and democratic, inclusive and tolerant. Did this mean that she resolved to exclude religious ideas from Hull-House? I would argue that this has been an area of misunderstanding about Addams’s intentions.” Rina Lunin Schultz, “Jane Addams, Apotheosis of Social Christianity,” Church History 84, no. 1 (March 2015): 207.

[34] Many eastern European Jewish immigrants were strongly attached to Jewish culture and Zionism, even as they lost their connection to Jewish worship. Jane Addams wanted children of immigrants to respect their parents, yet she also saw that many old customs and religious traditions made no sense to the younger generation and in some cases held them back. Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House, 247–248; Rivka Shpak Lissak, Pluralism and Progressives, 80–94. In contrast, on a family trip to Germany when Clara was ten years old, the Landsbergs had appreciated the aesthetic value of medieval Christian architecture such as the Hildesheim cathedral. Clara Landsberg, “Leaves from my Diary,” 1887, 1–4, Additional Papers of the Hamilton Family, 1850–1994, 83-M175-94-M77, box 13, folder 81, Schlesinger Library.

[35] Sara Hart wrote of Jane Addams, “It was my pleasure to know her intimately for more than thirty years.” Sara L. Hart, The Pleasure is Mine: An Autobiography (Chicago, Illinois: Valentine-Newman, 1947), 82. Hannah G. Solomon considered Jane Addams a leader of “all humanity” and  “the greatest woman of our century.” Jane Addams inspired Jewish women at the NCJW’s third biennial in 1902, which Solomon attended as president and Miriam Landsberg as vice-president (Hannah G. Solomon, “Council Welfare Work Forty Years Ago and Today,” 4, n/d, Hannah G. Solomon Collection, Library of Congress, box 11, folder 5).

[36] “Sings Praises of Hull House,” Democrat and Chronicle, March 17, 1905, 10.

[37] To understand Mary Elizabeth Garrett and the early history of Bryn Mawr School, see Kathleen Waters Sander, Mary Elizabeth Garrett: Society and Philanthropy in the Gilded Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2008).

[38] Edith Hamilton to Mary Garrett, April 18, 1899, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 214.

[39] I am indebted to Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, who cites this letter and gives a good overview of M. Carey Thomas’s antisemitism in M. Carey Thomas, 230–32, 267, 486. Mary Garrett to Edith Hamilton, April 24, 1899, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 214.

[40] M. Carey Thomas to Mary Garrett, September 26, 1900, Bryn Mawr College Archives, Papers of M. Carey Thomas, reel 23, nos. 37–39.

[41] Mary T. L. Gannett, letter of recommendation, May 4, 1920, Clara Landsberg’s personnel file, AFSC Archives.

[42] Jane Addams to Clara Landsberg, August 7, 1920, Hamilton Family Collection, 84-M210, box 1, folder 7, Schlesinger Library. Alice Hamilton had just been appointed the first woman professor at Harvard’s School of Medicine.

[43] Mary Rozet Smith to Clara Landsberg, August 7, 1920, Hamilton Family Collection, 84-M210, box 1, folder 7, Schlesinger Library.

[44] Edith Hamilton to Mary Garrett, April 18, 1899.

[45] Max Landsberg to his children, January 16, 1918, Max Landsberg SC 6602, American Jewish Archives.

[46] “The Council’s Report on ‘Religion,’ ” The Reform Advocate, March 24, 1900, 167 (The National Library of Israel, https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/?a=d&d=refadv19000324-01.1.11&e=——-en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI-%22miriam+landsberg%22————-1).

[47] Miriam Landsberg, “Report of Committee on Religion,” The Reform Advocate, January 3, 1903, 452 (The National Library of Israel, https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/refadv/1903/01/03/01/article/29/?srpos=12&e=——190-en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxTI-landsberg+committee+on+religion————-1).

[48] Max Landsberg criticized Episcopalians for requiring members to “believe in the forty-nine articles of faith” and Presbyterians for the Westminster catechism. “What is Judaism?” Democrat and Chronicle, November 22, 1899, 11. The Hamilton sisters, whose family Clara Landsberg joined, had been reared in the Presbyterian congregation founded by their grandfather, but, as children, they preferred the small Episcopal church on Mackinac Island, where they spent their summers. For a thorough discussion of the Hamilton sisters’ religious upbringing, see The Education of Alice Hamilton, eds. Matthew C. Ringenberg, William C. Ringenberg, and Joseph D. Brain (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019), esp. 13–14, 23–24. For a discussion of religion among the residents of Hull-House, see Eleanor J. Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation, and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997).

 

 

Saint Jane and the Wicked Wicks –An Audio Musical

Exciting news! On Thursday, August 26 at 8 pm CST, Saint Jane and the Wicked Wicks, an audio musical  written and composed by Evanston playwright Kristin Lems, will open to the public at the  website www.SaintJanePlay.com. The two-hour musical play, which can be enjoyed in one  sitting or in four separate installments, is free, asking for a voluntary donation with a suggested  sliding scale. After the site goes live, listeners may attend the show any time on demand.

Saint Jane and the Wicked Wicks is set in Chicago in the decade of the 1893 World’s  Fair. It is about the friendship between Hull House founder Jane Addams and Nellie Wicks,  Kristin’s great grandmother, in the years 1890-1905, during the early years of Hull House.

Prize-winning Chicago dramatist Douglas Post is the director, with musical direction by  Diana Lawrence and mixing and editing by Dan Dietrich. Piano arrangements and performances were created by Tom Cortese of Champaign, Illinois.

The cast consists of well-known area actors and singers, including Kathy Cowan as Jane  Addams, Rebecca Keeshin as Nellie Wicks, Monica Szaflik as Ellen Gates Starr, Maddie Sachs  as Julia Lathrop, Patrick Byrnes as George Wicks and John Dewey, Frankie Leo Bennett as Gene  Wicks, John B. Leen as Jim Wicks and Sol Friedman, Kingsley Day as Richard Crane, and  Therese Harrold as Addie Wicks. The professional, non-equity cast was auditioned and selected  in December 2020 and recorded in the early months of 2021.

The “audio musical” is a new genre. The singer-actors rehearse their parts together on  zoom, but record and upload them individually to a single destination without being in a  recording studio. Then, the scenes and songs are reviewed, mixed, and edited by the director and  recording engineer. The final product is similar to an audiobook or radio play, but there are also  songs, in this case, 17 original songs including “The Hull House Rag,” “Straight to Hell in Chicago,” and other memorable numbers. The new genre enables artists to release entertaining  musical theatre work while keeping both performers and audience safe.

The musical will open on Women’s Equality Day, August 26, to celebrate the 101st anniversary of American women winning the right to vote. Jane Addams was active in the  suffrage movement 10 years after the time of the play, along with many activist women of Hull  House. Two key organizers, Ellen Gates Starr and Julia Lathrop, are characters with key roles in  the show.

Kristin Lems has won many accolades as a writer, composer, and performing artist, but  this is her first full-length musical. Lems was inspired by stories about the unusual friendship between the two women, told by her mother, musician Carol Lems-Dworkin (1924-2019), and  along with primary materials, including a handwritten diary by Nellie Wicks, two full length  unpublished novels written by Nellie’s eldest daughters, recorded oral histories, and an  autographed picture given to Nellie by Jane Addams shortly before Addams died. Lems also  researched Jane Addams, Hull House, and Chicago history with a 2017 sabbatical from her  employer, National Louis University, where she is a professor.

Many other outstanding talents helped design the trailer, iconic poster, website, video  product, and script, and many people deserve thanks and praise for moving this ambitious project forward to this day. For information about the cast, members of the pre-production, production,  or post-production team, or to contact Kristin Lems, please email saintjane2021@gmail.com.

Segregation At Hull-House: A Closer Look

In June, Addams biographer and Project Advisory Board member Lucy Knight got in touch with a query regarding a claim that Hull-House was a segregated space until the 1930s. The claim first made by Thomas Lee Philpott in his 1978 work: The Slum and the Ghetto: Housing Reform and Neighborhood Work in Chicago, 1880-1930.  It  was repeated by Khalil Gibran Muhammed’s Condemnation of Blackness (2010), and then repeated by me in a 2015 blog post reporting on Khalil Muhammed’s talk at Ramapo College. Lucy wanted to know more, because the claim had begun appearing all over the web. Since then she has gathered evidence that refutes the statement.

I wrote that blog post a few weeks after launching the project at Ramapo and did not question the statement. I probably should have, but assumed that given the time and the place it was likely true. Today I want to give the question a little more light and attention.

There is no smoking gun document — one in which a policy of segregation was clearly established. Without that it can be extremely difficult to prove whether or not African-Americans were welcome at Hull-House or in its programs and sponsored clubs. A majority of the records of Hull-House have not survived, which makes it unlikely that we will ever be able to definitively confirm or debunk the statement.

There are a couple of layers to the question. First, was Hull-House itself a segregated space? To that question, the answer is clear. It was not.  Dr. Harriet Alleyne Rice (1866-1958), a Black physician and graduate of Wellesley College, started working at Hull House as early as  1893, working with the Hull-House branch of the Chicago Bureau of Charities and tending to the poor.

Addams invited Black speakers to Hull-House, including prominent figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, who gave the speech “The Souls of Black Folk” at Hull-House on Lincoln’s birthday 1907 (Hull-House Year Book, 1906-1907). A year earlier, Atlanta newspaperman J. Max Barber spoke about the Atlanta race riot to a Hull House “audience mostly composed of negroes.” (Chicago Tribune, October 8, 190-6,. p. 3).  Addams invited  Ida B. Wells to visit and dine at Hull-House. And in 1912, Addams hosted a meeting of the interracial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on the Hull-House grounds.

Hull-House hosted a reception for the delegates of the NAACP meeting in Chicago on April 30, 1912.

A more complicated question was whether Hull-House’s clubs and groups welcomed people of all races. Few if any spaces in Chicago were integrated during Jane Addams’s life.  By 1910, the vast majority of African-Americans lived in Chicago’s South Side in what was known as the “Black Belt.” They formed their own organizations to empower their communities, much as other ethnic and religious groups did. African-Americans who came to Chicago during the Great Migration found opportunity, but also oppression.

Hull-House was located in the Near West Side, a overcrowded community that featured a wide range of European immigrants. The area was filled with ever changing languages and customs as Irish, German, Czech, and French immigrants were replaced by Jews from Russia and Poland, Italians and Greeks. In 1895, Hull-House workers surveyed the area showing the cultural (if not racial) diversity. It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that African-Americans and Mexican became a more significant presence in Hull-House’s neighborhood.

Nationalities Map of Polk Street to 12th Street in the Near West Side (Hull House Maps and Papers, 1895).

As a neighborhood-based settlement, Hull-House represented its surroundings, which meant that in its early years, the majority of its clientele were white immigrants. Photographs of early activities show this clearly.

A group of toddlers outside Hull-House in the 1890s. At this point the neighborhood was predominately comprised of Southern and Eastern European immigrants. (Seven Settlement Houses — Database of Photos, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Many of clubs and associations that operated out of Hull House were developed around ethnic affiliations, which was a way to retain community and customs in a time of rapid change and Americanization. The range of clubs at Hull-House was vast, and the numbers of people in and out of the Hull-House grounds reached nine thousand per week between 1906 and 1916. The clubs and associations were organized and operated by their members, some, like the “Greek Olympic Athletic Club,” were made up of Greek immigrants interested in athletics; others like the Hull-House Electrical Club, was made up of men who worked in electrical occupations. There were Greek and Russian social clubs, a 19th Ward Socialist Club, and the Jane Club, which was a co-operative boarding club for young women that operated its own house with thirty bedrooms. There were also general Men and Women’s Clubs, Boys and Girls’ Clubs, and educational programs in art, practical employment skills, and English language classes.

I find it unlikely that many of these clubs or programs were multi-racial in the first decades of Hull-House’s existence. Among the photographs of Hull-House activities located in archives at the University of Illinois at Chicago, photos from before 1920 depict what appear to be white groups.

This photograph, dated only “ca. 1920s” by Wallace Kirkland, shows a group of neighborhood children preparing to leave for the Bowen Country Club. (Hull-House Photograph Collection,University of Illinois at Chicago)

There is some evidence of Black participation in clubs and groups at Hull-House before the 1930s.  In 1913, the Chicago Defender wrote an obituary of George Williams, “the only Negro boy connected with Hull House as a member. He was a member of the band and took part in all the active branches of the settlement. Miss Jane Addams praised him to the highest. The day of his funeral the full band was out and his casket was borne by three Italians and one Jewish boy.” (Chicago Defender, September 20, 1913.)

An African-American women’s club was formed at Hull-House in 1925, first called “The Colored Mothers’ Club,” and later the “Community Club.” They met on Monday evenings and held monthly interracial meetings which the Chicago Defender characterized as “not only harmonious and satisfactory, but very helpful.”

This photo from around 1927 depicts the Hull House Community Club, composed of African-American women. (Hull-House Photograph Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago).

The Defender continued:

In and around Hull House a large number of the foreign population moved into other neighborhoods, and their places have been taken up by our group. The residents of the famous social settlement are still living up to their ideals of helping the people in the neighborhood to adjust themselves, and our boys and girls are urged to join all of the classes, and with their elders are cordially invited to take part in all the activities of the place. (Chicago Defender, December 11, 1926, p. 5.)

But, does this one newspaper article tell the whole story? By 1937, the Defender characterized the Community Club as the medium through which Hull-House worked among the African-American community. The club was affiliated with the National Federation of Colored Women and its focus was on bettering conditions for African-Americans in their community. (Chicago Defender, September 25, 1937, p. 19.) Did Hull-House push African-American activity off to the side into one or two clubs? Did African-Americans feel welcome in the late 1930s when they walked into the settlement?

Dewey Jones, the Assistant Director of Hull-House in 1938 reported during a 1939 speech that one long-time member of the Community Club had complained that its members were not invited to take part in general community events. In 1941 a caption on a photograph depicting Black women at the Jane Addams Memorial Lilac Ball on May 24, 1941 noted that “Director Charlotte Carr insisted that African Americans be invited to the Ball.” The fact that Carr’s action was noted, makes it appear that it was not the norm.

The Jane Addams Memorial Lilac Ball was held May 24, 1941 at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago. (Hull-House Photograph Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago).

Florence  Scala (1918-2007), an Italian-American resident of the West Side  and a volunteer at Hull-House from 1934 to 1954, recalled that though the Near West Side had a great mix of ethnic groups, “there were no blacks, blacks were not active in the Hull-House programs when I was going there.” (Carolyn Eastwood, Near West Side Stories: Struggles for Community in Chicago’s Maxwell Street Neighborhood (2002), p. 139.)

By the 1930s and especially by the early 1940s, photographs of Hull-House activities show the changing composition of the neighborhood.  There were Mexican fiestas, and pottery classes, and photographs of integrated children’s activities at the Joseph T. Bowen Country Club.

A Mexican fiesta was held at  Hull-House on June 13, 1941 for the purpose of bettering relationships between Mexicans and American in s the Chicago area. (Chicago Tribune, June 8,. 1941, p. 41. Hull-House Association Photograph Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago).
Boys at the Bowen Country Club camp run by Hull-House, ca. 1946. (Hull-House Photograph Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago).
Photos like these, with no clear date, save the “1920s-1930s” offer evidence of Black families participating in Hull-House programming, but not enough detail.  (Hull-House Photograph Collection, University of Illinois, Chicago).

So we are left with conflicting recollections and reporting. Did Florence Skala have a very different experience at Hull-House than the children who attended the Bowen camp in the 1940s? Were the adult activities more racially divided, broken into clubs that kept to their own kind? Without additional documentation, it is hard to make a determination that includes all the voices we have.

We can close with a look at what African-American reporters said at the death of Jane Addams in 1935.  In an obituary written of Addams in 1935, Thyra Edwards of the Pittsburgh Courier focused on Addams and Hull-House with regard to race.

Jane Addams had no ‘attitude’ toward the Negro. To her he was just one of the citizenship, one part of the whole. She recognized that the distinction of color exposed him more easily to attack and discrimination at the same time, adding a moral responsibility upon Americans to work against extraordinary exploitation because of color.

When Negroes moved into Hull House, there was no ‘consultant’ as to whether they should be accepted and in what proportions. Quite simply, new neighbors had come to Hull House and they found their way into whatever classes or groups they chose. (Pittsburgh Courier, June 1, 1935, p. 9.)

Another tribute to Addams was published in the Chicago Defender, where Eugene Kinckle Jones remarked:

Jane Addams made no special effort to lead the Negro to the Promised Land but by no act or thought did she eliminate this race from the classes or groups most in need.’ At Hull House, they had no set place but they were eliminated from no place. In her condemnation of crime, she condemned lynching. In her belief in the extension of suffrage to all, she included the Negro in her ‘all.’ (Chicago Defender, June 29, 1935, p. 3.)


Thanks to Louise Knight for her research into the question which she graciously provided.

The Otherworldly Orbit of Jane Addams

I grew up in Illinois where the life and legacy of Jane Addams is widely known and appreciated. Illinois School children learn about Addams and Hull-House, and she is a perennial favorite topic of their book reports, term papers, and history fair essays and display boards. As a historian of Illinois history in the early years of my work, I came to know and appreciate Jane Addams at a deeper level, too, understanding better her contributions to social reform, her lobbying for protective legislation for workers, her modern arguments for woman suffrage, her importance as a philosopher, and her unwavering advocacy of world peace, even when it threatened to harm all she had built at Hull-House.

Yet the more I study the ways in which Jane Addams supported, nurtured, and inspired the women around her, and the ways in which she drew on the spirits, intellects, and achievements of those women, the more convinced I am that Jane Addams created and existed in an otherworldly orbit. An orbit where innovation and creativity and fearless determination flourished. An orbit which attracted women of myriad backgrounds and life work—educators, business women, artists, social scientists, doctors, writers, and lawyers, as well as social workers and reformers. An orbit which drew in some of the most talented and inspirational women of the era. An orbit that energized and empowered young women to find their talent and become inspirational leaders in their chosen fields and disciplines.

It was this otherworldly orbit of women that was Jane Addams’s super power.

Hull-House Dining Hall; Jane Addams head of table at the far left, surveying her orbit.

Hull-House was a social settlement offering important educational and cultural programming for immigrants and working-class people. It was a place dedicated to social, economic, and political change to benefit all people in a society reeling from the excesses and inequalities of American industry and politics. Hull-House was also a remarkable planet of women, full of purpose and promise. And Jane Addams was the gravity that held these women together, bolstering their courage and making them so much greater than the sum of the individuals who at some point in their lives called the settlement on Halsted Street their home. Jane Addams dedicated her life to making the 19th Ward, Chicago, her state of Illinois, the United States, and the world better places to live. That work and dedication set her apart. But I believe, this orbit of women that Jane Addams created at Hull-House was what made her truly extraordinary.

One of my greatest privileges of editing the papers of Jane Addams is daily introduction to the fascinating women in Jane Addams’s orbit. Although it is only a qualitative observation, I assert that few (if any) other institutions in American history so beautifully nourished more women to do so much good in the world than did Hull-House. I suspect this inspirational characteristic of Hull-House was in part due to Addams’s feminine, motherly or sisterly guidance of her juniors and her peers, as well as the more generous hearts of women in collaborate work. But I would also argue it was the brilliance of Jane Addams to understand that women of all backgrounds had something to offer to the narrative of reform and possessed voices worthy of projection. It was the brilliance of Jane Addams to create an atmosphere of open-minded curiosity and respectful discourse for women. It was the brilliance of Jane Addams to fill up that atmosphere with as many bright and shining female voices she could find and who could find their own way to her and to Hull-House, as well.

It would be hard to overstate the significance of the long list of extraordinary women connected with Hull-House and Jane Addams. Many of those women, like Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, and Dr. Alice Hamilton were well-known in their lifetimes and remembered by history today. One scholar likened some of those women to “stars” in a constellation around Jane Addams. I prefer to think of those female “stars” as existing in an otherworldly orbit with Jane Addams and with a breathtaking list of incredible women that history has largely forgotten. As a tribute to my joy in discovering the women in Jane Addams’s orbit and to amplify, like she did, the voices of the lessor known, I am going to offer a series of blog posts about some of the women you may not know who found their way to Hull-House and became a part of the wide influence of the settlement in the world far beyond Halsted Street.

**********

On Oct. 21, 1902, Jane Addams penned this letter:

My dear Miss Monroe
     The twenty [minutes] will be perfectly convenient for us and affairs have so adjusted themselves that the little room now vacant may be yours so long as you care to keep it. The word little however is used advisedly—perhaps it would be better for you to see it before you decide on your belongings.
                                                   Faithfully yours
                                                                                       Jane Addams

The letter was to Harriet Monroe, a 41-year-old poet from Chicago. Monroe, who became a Hull-House resident for a brief time, delivered a public lecture about Milton on Dec. 3, 1902, at the settlement. She became a Hull-House teacher, offering an advanced class on English poetry and establishing a reading club at the settlement. Monroe was born and raised in Chicago, where her father was a successful lawyer before the Chicago Fire, after which his financial situation deteriorated. From a young age, Monroe developed a love of literature by exploring her father’s library. Although her family was not Catholic, she was educated at the Georgetown Visitation Convent in Washington, DC.  In the 1880s, she lived in New York City, from where she wrote articles on the arts for the Chicago Tribune, before returning to her hometown in 1889.

In 1902, when she arrived at Hull-House, Monroe was not a well-known poet, not a household name, nor a novelist, as she had reported her occupation to the census taker in 1900. She struggled to make a literary name for herself,  although she had published a few poems and penned a special verse, “The Columbian Ode” to open the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Poor health and failure to attain critical acclaim for her literary work frustrated her, but she kept writing and developed a widening circle of literary friends, which would come to include Robert Louis Stevenson, Eugene Field, Richard Watson Gilder, and Vachel Lindsay. In the years after her time at Hull-House, Monroe supported herself as a journalist, writing more than 200 articles for the Chicago Tribune, mostly on the arts, and she published sporadic freelance pieces in popular publications like Atlantic Monthly and Century Magazine. It was a meager existence, but Monroe remained committed to writing, bemoaned modern American society’s general disinterest in poetry, and began to articulate the need for poetry in American cultural life.

As was typical with most Hull-House residents who came and went, Monroe maintained her connection to the settlement and to Jane Addams years after her departure. She was a frequent guest at the settlement, made donations and offered gifts, and in 1905 wrote “The Troll’s Holiday,” an operetta set to music by Hull-House music teacher Eleanor Smith and performed at the Hull-House Music School. Over the years, the letters between Addams and Monroe reflect a respectful, friendly relationship infused with admiration and staunch support for one another’s work. In 1908, Addams wrote Monroe about her poetry: “It seems to me very remarkable, to be able to express the subtler side of the background of life as you…” In 1910, Monroe praised Addams’s latest book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets: “It seems to me profoundly thought out and beautifully done; thought and done with fine intelligence and exquisite sympathy. Surely it will have a far-reaching affect.”

Women supporting women was the foundational characteristic of the orbit Jane Addams cultivated, and that super power of hers became the super power of other women, too. To be in Jane Addams’s orbit was to remain there, to want to stay close to the spirit of the woman, to feel the pull of the supportive energy of Hull-House, no matter the time or the distance. To have experienced Jane Addams’s orbit was to wish to create your own orbit of inclusion and support and purpose beyond the self.

I suspect Harriet Monroe either learned at Hull-House the lesson of going beyond yourself and connecting your talents to others, or while there she practiced the lesson which was already in her own heart. Because ultimately, Harriet Monroe’s greatest contribution was not her own poetry but rather her fierce support of the art form and the poetry of others. At the age of 52, Monroe conceived of the idea to create an American journal of poetry, to seek out great poets and good work, and promote that work in the pages of a popular magazine. In October 1912, Monroe published the first issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. When she launched the magazine, Monroe sent Jane Addams a complimentary subscription. Addams would not have it, however, writing in reply: “I am not in the least willing to have my name stand on an honorary list. Please let me send the enclosed and assure you that I have seldom subscribed to a magazine with more pleasure.”

Poetry was an immediate critical and popular success. For the remainder of her life, Monroe edited the magazine, raising American interest in poetry and launching the careers of many of America’s greatest poets, like Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot. Eighty-four years after Monroe’s death in 1936, Poetry magazine is still in publication, still a venue for new poets, still a vehicle for a great American art form. Hull-House and Jane Addams may or may not have directly inspired Monroe’s direction in life. I dare not give either the credit for Monroe’s brilliant vision and stunning contribution to modern American poetry. But in reading more and more stories of the lives of people who were in the orbit of the woman and the settlement, even for very short periods of time, one cannot dismiss the excellence of that orbit, either in what it may have inspired or the inspirational figures it drew into its remarkable sphere of influence.

Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor

Sources: Eleanor J. Stebner, The Women of Hull House: A Study in Spirituality, Vocation, and Friendship (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997); Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 598-600; “Monroe, Harriet,” American National Biography; 1900 U.S. Federal Census; Hull-House Bulletin, 5 (Semi-Annual, 1902, no. 2), 3-10, passim, Jane Addams Papers, Microfilm Edition (JAPM), 53:1156-63, passim; Hull-House Bulletin, 7 (1905-1906), 18, JAPM, 53:1231; Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, October 21, 1902; Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, May 13, 1905; Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, June 27, 1905; Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, May 23, 1908; Harriet Monroe to Jane Addams, January 31, 1910; Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, December 2. 1912; all in Jane Addams Digital Edition. Images courtesy of Poetry Magazine, the Poetry Foundation, and Richard J. Daley Library Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Chicago. Click this link to explore the correspondence between Jane Addams and Harriet Monroe.

From Lincoln Rubber Ducky to Addams Signed Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor

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

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

Poet and Con-Artist: The Story of Scharmel Iris

Scharmel Iris (Lyrics of a Lad (1914)

Sara Catherine Lichon is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.

As a student, I’ve heard many a time that academic honesty is of the utmost importance, and that plagiarism can end one’s academic career. But back in the early 1900s, plagiarism was responsible for the rise of poet Scharmel Iris’s career, who made a living by fooling others.

Iris was born in 1889 with the name Frederico Scaramella in Castelcivita, Italy. When he was three years old, his mother married a man who helped them immigrate to the United States where they settled in Chicago. Iris changed his name and in 1905, when he was sixteen years old, his first poem was published in a Chicago Catholic newspaper. Soon his career skyrocketed as he was published in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, received positive reviews from Chicago newspapers, and published his own collections of poems. He received most of his funding and notoriety with the help of other famous poets and artists, such as T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Salvatore Dali, and Picasso, who wrote praise-filled letters to Iris’s patrons.

There was one major problem with Iris’s success, though…it was based entirely on lies. Rather than being a great poet, Iris was simply a con-artist. Letters and praise from Eliot, Yeats, and Picasso were forged by Iris himself, and Iris even wrote about himself to publishers and patrons under the pseudonym Vincent Holme. Forgery and plagiarism, rather than talent, provided the base for Iris’s career and fame.

Jane Addams’ letter to Harriet Monroe, Jan. 20, 1913. Addams stated that Iris had “no right” to claim she advised him to reach out to different poets.

Jane Addams herself was a victim of Iris’s scams. Iris spent part of his life as a Hull-House resident, and when he published Lyrics of a Lad in 1914, he supposedly received praise from art critic John Ruskin and poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Edmund Gosse. In January 1913, Addams wrote a letter to Harriet Monroe describing how Iris claimed she had told him to reach out to Gosse and even Yeats. Addams stated, “Poor Scharmel Iris really has no right to say that I advised him to write to Miss Guiney, or to Edmund Gosse, or to Mr. Yeats.” Words had been put in Addams’ mouth by Iris, and she was only one of many.

Iris’s scams even extended to his living situation. He lived at Lewis College, a Catholic school near Joliet, despite not working or teaching there. He stayed there until he was asked to leave in 1966, and he spent the remainder of his life at St. Patrick Retirement Hotel. He died in 1967.

A poem by Scharmel Iris, published in Poetry in December 1914.

Regardless of Iris’s talent as a poet, it’s hard to deny that he had a talent for fooling others. Iris’s entire life and career was built on plagiarism, yet he lived the life he had always dreamed of — that of a successful, well-known poet . . . even if it was actually a lie.

 

 


Sources:
Announcement of Lyrics of a Lad by Scharmel Iris, 1914.
Inventory of the Scharmel Iris Papers, 1911-1964, The Newberry Library.
Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, January 20, 1913.
Nina C. Ayoub, “Forging Fame: The Strange Career of Scharmel Iris,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2007.

Jane Addams and the News Babies of Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stacy Linn, Assistant Editor

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

Quit Clowning Around

Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)
Charles Cramer, alias Conway, the clown
with a wooden leg, in a postcard photo with his
wife, circa 1911 (Mysterious Chicago)

“Clowns Gathering in the Woods,” blares CNN. “Creepy Clowns: Serious Matter or Sick Joke,” asks The Guardian. It all started in South Carolina, where groups of children swore that clowns, lurking in the shadowy woods, and attempted to lure them to an abandoned house deep within the forest. Police could not find any clown paraphernalia at the scene, but that did not stop another group of children from seeing a shady clown just one week later on the other side of town. Once again, police could not find any hard evidence of red noses, water-squirting flowers, or tiny cars that can somehow fit ten people inside.

Americans chuckled to themselves, “Oh those South Carolinians are too much!” Then the clowns went national. They started showing up all along the East coast, from Florida to Maine. Then, in some sort of clown-manifest-destiny, the clowns traveled West to Texas, Colorado, Utah, and eventually were found scaring fish and surfers in California. It is not known if any clowns have swam across the Pacific to haunt Hawaii.

Scary clowns are not unique to the fall of 2016. Oh no. As I was reading through old newspapers from 1912 Chicago in an attempt to find out more information about a specific correspondent, I stumbled across an incredible byline on the adjacent page. It was about a murderous clown, living in Chicago not far from Hull-House, where Jane Addams was busy toiling away, and his vaudeville singer wife who plotted the downfall of their wealthy roommate.

In early October, 1912, a Baltimore heiress named Sophie Singer came to Chicago with her fiance, Will Worthen. They were met at the station by a “Mrs. Conway” who suggested that they all get a flat together instead of a hotel. “Mrs. Conway” was really Mrs. Louisa Cramer, wife of Charles N. Cramer (alias Charles Kramer, alias Charles Conway). The couple was part of a traveling circus, he as a human cannonball and a clown, and she as a singer and a lion tamer. Oh, and he had a wooden leg, too.

The three moved in together, and were shortly joined by Mr. Cramer. The Cramers, under the alias of the Conways, were dirt poor and only lived off the wealth of their heiress roommate and her well-to-do fiance. All was well until Ms. Singer decided that she would move back to Baltimore, leaving the Conways with no well of money to draw from. This did not sit well with the carny couple, and one night while Mr. Worthen was away gambling, the one legged clown made his move.

Worthen came back to find the key-hole stuffed. Breaking down the door, he found Sophie’s tangled legs sticking out from under their bed. She had clearly been strangled to death; her hands were tied with thin wire and Cramer’s handkerchief was shoved so deep into her throat that police needed pincers to remove it. Her jewelry had been stolen.

sophiesingerphotoheadline
A sketch of Sophie Singer, Beatrice Conway, and Charles Conway (1912)

Several months later the Cramers were caught in Lima, Ohio. Mrs. Cramer quickly confessed and threw her husband under the bus as well. Charles would eventually confess as well, though he insisted that his wife had nothing to do with the murder.

During the arrest and subsequent trial Cramer the Clown decided to lighten things up with a couple jokes. “Say, Captain?” he asked during the trial. “Do you know that in this case you can’t hang a man with a wooden leg?” When the Captain said he’d never heard of a law like that, Cramer said “You have to use a rope!” Ba Dum Cha!

Charles was sentenced to life in prison, and only narrowly avoided the gallows. As he was led away, he vowed that he would “get out of this,” and twelve years later he made good on his promise. In 1925, despite his assumed lack of running ability owed to that wooden stump on his left side, Cramer ran away from a work farm in Joliet, Illinois. He was never seen or heard from again.

The next time you hear about a clown sighting in your neighborhood, you may want to exercise extra caution. Who knows? Maybe its Conway the Clown, 100 years old and still chasing people with his stump leg.