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).   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.

 

“All Very Neatly Enacted”

On May 12, 1902, Jane Addams was aboard the California Limited, traveling on the Santa Fe Railroad line on her way home to Chicago. She had been in Los Angeles for a national convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The California Limited, inaugurated in 1892, was billed as the “finest train west of Chicago.” It featured Pullman sleeping cars, an observation deck, and dining cars, and it offered “the highest attainment in luxurious railway travel.”

Jane Addams was a seasoned traveler, had toured Europe twice, traveled to Paris for the World’s Fair in 1900, and had visited much of the United States. Yet she was often an impatient traveler, and long journeys tended to steal her energy. She accepted train travel as a regular occurrence in her busy life, but riding on trains and waiting on trains sometimes made her tired and cranky. She had been anxious about the long trip to the West Coast and, in fact, might have begged off if she had not promised Florence Kelley she would go. Kelley was a committee chairwoman for the Federation and headed up the panel on which Addams was presenting a paper. Addams went West not for herself, but at the behest of her friend. She wanted to support her old Hull-House colleague, but she had been “quite dreading California.”

To her surprise, however, the journey out to California turned out to be a delightful and welcomed reprieve. It was “very easy,” she wrote Mary Smith, “Mrs Wilmarth, Mrs Ward and I had a state room together and read aloud and united our souls to no end.” Mary Wilmarth and Lydia Coonley-Ward, both active members of the Chicago Women’s Club, were also attending the national convention.

Addams’s time in California was also something of a triumph for her public reputation. At the convention, which was a great success and drew enthusiastic attention, Addams delivered a well-received speech, “The Social Waste of Child Labor.” She also earned praise for the “intense” appeal she made on behalf of African-American women’s clubs, when the Federation, to placate the white southern women in attendance at the convention, effectively voted to bar black clubs from admission to the national organization. Addams also made public appearances and delivered speeches beyond the convention, spending two weeks as a media darling. A reporter who covered her speech at a Y.M.C.A. in Los Angeles, for example, marveled at her “extremely effective presence” and the frequent applause Addams’s speech there garnered. And an early historian of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs noted in her 1912 history that “no woman at the Los Angeles Biennial could have failed to be greatly impressed by the address of Jane Addams of Illinois.”

Still, Jane Addams of Illinois was underwhelmed by the convention. As she wrote Smith, “I met with all the delegates as wise as an owl as to looks, but it all seems terribly remote and save for the color question without any real issue.” Although she was a supporter of women’s clubs, she was not, in her bones, a club woman. As well, she was anxious to get back to work in Chicago, was longing for home, and itching to return to Hull-House, having spent much of the spring on the road.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, May 10, she boarded the California Limited at the Los Angeles train station to embark on the approximately fifty-seven hour journey to Chicago. A successful trip in the books, Addams settled in for the ride, tucked up with a good book and good company.  A “very easy” journey home? Not so much.

Just before 10 o’clock on the following Monday morning, her train was nearing Revere, MO, a few miles northwest of Keokuk, IA, and still nearly 300 miles southwest of Chicago. Addams was sitting in her section of the train with her nephew James Weber Linn, a University of Chicago professor, who was traveling with her. Suddenly, an axel on the dining car broke, the train ran into a switch and crashed into a box car sitting on a side track.  A corner of the dining car was torn off and six of the train’s cars derailed. Addams was “thrown with quite a degree of violence to the side of the coach.”

In the first decade of the twentieth century, train accidents were on the rise. Americans at this time were ninety times more like to die in a train wreck than they were to die in an airplane crash a century later. On the California Limited that day, one man was killed and many passengers were injured. A physician on board attended to Addams, who injured her arm and torso and suffered lacerations on her face from a shower of broken glass from the car’s shattered windows. In a public statement later that day, Addams told reporters: “The same jolt that injured me threw my nephew to his feet, saving him from serious hurts. I was thinking of something else at the time and didn’t have time to make any effort to save myself. The crash came without warning.”

Addams was pretty banged up in the accident, arriving home to Chicago later that night to a group of worried Hull-House residents, who collected her at the train station. She would take a few days to rest and recover, and would experience some lingering aches for the rest of the month. Yet she was sanguine when she wrote Mary Smith a week after the accident.

Dearest: I have had my R.R. wreck at last, the pain, the moment of panic, the thrill, the rescue, all very neatly enacted. The ten days thereafter, [although] containing some very miserable hours, have not on the whole been so bad & I find this morning — the first downstairs — filled with a content so deep that it reminds me of that of the early days of H. H. You have been a saint about writing, three of your letters during the first week and cheered me to the soul.”

Jane Addams was not one to dwell on her difficulties and always as quick to return to her work as possible. Following the train wreck, she cleared her calendar, striking one particularly busy day entirely off, but soon her schedule was full again. On May 26, she hosted friends for a Hull-House play, addressed the Merchants’ Club of Chicago on May 31, and was back on a train in July for a long trip to upstate New York.

Jane Addams was a woman who filled up nearly all her days with her reform activities and her writing. Women in perpetual motion, ever engaged in good work, have no time for a derailment. Not by trains, nor by anything else.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Notes: Mark Aldrich, “Public Relations and Technology: The ‘Standard Railroad of the World’ and the Crisis in Railroad Safety, 1897-1917,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, 74 (Winter 2007): 76-77; Michael Bezilla and Luther Gette, Branch Line Empires: The Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), 219-20; Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Haste, eds., Women Building Chicago: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 183-85, 982-86; Steve Glischinski, Santa Fe Railway (Minneapolis: MBI Publishing, 2008), 35, 139; Mary I. Wood, The History of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (New York: General Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1912), 141-45; “To Chicago and New York; The California Limited—Daily,” Advertisement, The Los Angeles Times, Feb. 27, 1901, p. 1; “Colored Clubs Need Not Apply,” The Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1902, p. 44; “California Limited,” Advertisement, San Bernadino (CA) County Sun, May 11, 1902, p. 4; “Santa Fe Train Is wrecked Again,” Salt Lake (City) Telegram, May 12, 1902, p. 6; “Santa Fe Limited in Wreck,” The St. Louis Republic, May 13, 1902, p. 3; “Miss Addams Hurt in Wreck,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), May 13, 1902, p. 1 (clipping); “Jane Addams Injured,” The Daily Times (Davenport, IA), May 14, 1902, p. 10; “Jane Addams Still Suffers,” The Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1902, p. 2; “The Federation’s Best Brilliancy,” The Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1902, p. 28 (drawing); “Colored Clubs Need Not Apply,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1902, p. 44; Jane Addams Diary, Mar. 15-May 8, May 24, July 4, 1902, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm, 29:796-810, 813, 822; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, April 8, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, April 16, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, May 3, 1902; Statement on Train Wreck, May 12, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, May 19, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, May 26, 1902; Delinquent Children, May 31, 1902; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, August 5, 1904, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

Photographs: Jane Addams, c. 1900; All Aboard the California Limited, c. 1905; both photos courtesy of Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway?

I live about three hours south of Chicago, and while I don’t pay close attention to the Chicago news I keep a peripheral eyeball on the city’s newspapers. A couple of weeks ago, I saw in the Chicago Tribune a mention of a non-fatal, semi-trailer rollover on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. Heh? The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway? How on the Illinois prairie had I never heard about a tollway named for Jane Addams?

So, it turns out that the Northwest Tollway was renamed the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway in 2007, so I’m fourteen years late to this party. The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway is a section of Interstate 90, which is the longest interstate highway in the United States and is the busy, east-west highway that runs from Boston to Seattle, crossing through twelve northern states, from Massachusetts to Illinois to Washington. The Jane Addams part of the interstate covers seventy-six miles from O’Hare International Airport, northwest of downtown Chicago, to the Wisconsin state border. The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway goes right through Rockford, where Jane Addams attended college at Rockford Female Seminary, and it bends north heading toward Wisconsin about thirty miles southeast of her hometown of Cedarville.

Jane Addams spent forty-six years in Chicago, cleaning up the 19th Ward, assisting poor immigrants, advocating for child labor laws, demanding woman suffrage, and pleading for world peace. While leading a variety of reform movements, writing eleven books, and becoming a Progressive Era icon, Jane Addams also functioned as a matriarch of her extended Cedarville family. Over the years, she spent a lot of time in train cars traveling to and from Hull-House and her hometown, passing through Rockford each time. Perhaps that was a factor in the mind of the history genius or crackpot, depending on your point of view, who came up with the idea and deemed it an honor to name that path for the most famous Illinois woman who ever traveled it.

Is it an honor to have your name attached to a road? Some people think so, I guess. It sure is a popular memorial route (pun intended) here in Illinois. A stretch of Interstate 55 in southwestern Illinois is named for beloved U.S. Senator Paul Simon, and the signs announcing it as such include an image of a bowtie for which he was famous. A Mississippi River bridge connecting Illinois and Missouri at St. Louis is named for Cardinal baseball great Stan Musial (it’s called “The Stan Span” by locals—yes, yes, it is, oh my god). And REO Speedwagon Way, a couple of blocks in downtown Champaign, commemorates the University of Illinois beginnings of the popular 1980s band.

Hull-House and Rockford College held a 150th birthday celebration at the Belvidere Oasis on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway on Sep. 14, 2010. A reporter covering the tollway renaming found it “sensible that an Illinois Tollway is named for Jane Addams because women drive, too.” Okay, well, who am I to diss a highway oasis birthday party for Saint Jane or to argue with the argument that women drive? So let us assume that naming a road after an important person (or band) makes sense. What bothers me is that this road named for Jane Addams, a woman who dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate people around her, is a tollway. Paying drivers only, thank you very much. Today, if I get on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway at tollway plaza #6 at O’Hare and drive it all the way to Beloit at the Wisconsin state line, it will take me ninety minutes if I’m lucky and traffic isn’t horrible and it will set me back $7.90, albeit locals with an I-Pass will pay half that amount. To be honest, I am one of those crazy people who think basic infrastructure, like roads, should be provided for all citizens free of charge, and I suspect Jane Addams would agree with me on that point.

To make this Jane Addams tollway thing even more unseemly to me is the fact that this “honor” renaming of highway happened at the moment the Illinois Tollway authority was “flush with cash” from tollway collections and planning an expensive, long, disruptive construction project to widen and improve the road at a final staggering cost of $2.5 billion. The Illinois Tollway, which operates mostly independent of Illinois state government, was using the good name of Jane Addams for positive spin. In 1907, Addams protested the widening of Halsted Street in front of the Hull-House settlement, and I’m offering this fact as historical evidence that she was an “Anti” in the road-widening movement. My own read on this story is that the Illinois Tollway had extracted too much toll money from previous drivers, widened the road to get more “customers,” named it the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway to make us feel warm and fuzzy, and has been gouging drivers in the good woman’s name ever since.

Paul Simon, Stan Musial, and REO Speedwagon got free transportation memorials. Jane Addams got a tollway. Seriously? Is this a joke?

The signs for the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway feature a logo of sorts, with a dark profile of Jane Addams in front of a simple drawing of a white house (Hull-House, presumably), both contained in a circle. Around that circle are the words “Dedication” and “Advocacy” and “Service.” Those of you who have not had the “pleasure” of traversing the toll roads of Chicagoland will have to take my word for it that they have absolutely nothing to do with dedication or advocacy or service. Jane Addams Memorial Tollway makes me scratch my perplexed noggin, because nothing about traffic congestion, suburban sprawl, concrete spaghetti, or the ca-ching sound of coins being sucked into the change bins on toll plazas sings Jane Addams to me.

Oh, I know, I know. In this big, wide, crazy world, it matters not a bit. Jane Addams is remembered every day at Hull-House, which is not only a museum that contextualizes her life and her work, but is also a soulful, living and breathing organization still dedicated to social justice. Illinois school children learn about Addams and her work every year when they study Illinois History. And the Jane Addams Papers Project is making her documents freely available on the internet. Each of these efforts is a beautiful memorial to Jane Addams and her historical importance. It is really not important that Interstate 90 from Chicago to Wisconsin is named the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway. I am sure most people who drive upon it know it only as Interstate 90, anyway, and even those who might catch one of logoed signs indicating that it is the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, likely pay it no notice whatsoever.

Yet, in an era when Americans are reconsidering what place historical memorials have in public spaces, how their meanings change over time, and the costs we pay for getting them so wrong, I wonder what good even the good ones can do us. Some might argue that a highway or a bridge beats a stone statue any single day of the week for its ability to honor what and who matters to a collective national, state, or local us. I wonder if whatever “us” is has, however, become too divided to agree on what makes a good or bad monument or memorial. In the end, I think I’ve decided that statues and roads don’t cement legacies into our shared consciousness, and I believe that good books and museums and accessibility to the historical records that document our past are the best, truest memorials of all. I’m content to let historians, museum professionals, and school teachers do the long-haul driving on this road.

As for Jane Addams, she is well known in Illinois, more appreciated here in her home state than she is anywhere else. She is a favorite Illinois daughter, and that is why the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway exists. As an Illinoisan and as an editor of the papers of Jane Addams, I sometimes get a little sensitive when I meet people who haven’t heard of Jane Addams and then leap to conclusions to recover themselves. But the next time I tell someone what I do for a living and they ask me if Jane Addams is related to the famous Boston Adams family, I will sigh, like I always do. I will offer them a short bio of the woman and her work, like I always do. And then I will roll my eyes in my imagination and say to myself: “Come on, people, even the Illinois Tollway has heard of Jane Addams and knows that she spelled her surname with two “d’s!”

Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Notes: Illinois Tollway, “Jane Addams Memorial Tollway,” flyer, 2016; Jane Dwyre Garton, “76 Years After Her Nobel Prize, A Tollway for Jane Addams,” Huffington Post, May 25, 1911; “Tollway Windfall Spawns Big Plans, Chicago Tribune, Sep. 8, 2007, p. 1; “Celebrating a Radical Social Worker,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 27, 2010, p. 3; “Tollway Contracts Close to $180M,” Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2013, p. 7; “Illinois Tollway Recognized for Its $2.5 Billion Jane Addams Tollway Project,” Toll Roads News, Mar. 15, 2017; “Illinois. (Construction video of part of the tollway); Jane Addams to the City of Chicago Board of Local Improvements, January 10, 1907, Jane Addams Digital Edition.

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.

Hull-House in the Family and in the Stars

Henrietta Swope, the daughter of Gerard and Mary Hill Swope.

When I wrote last time on the “The Other Worldly Orbit of Jane Addams,” I knew I was going to follow it up by writing the story of a particular Hull-House resident, the daughter of Hull-House residents, who became an astronomer and very early in her career discovered 385 stars. This story of a woman named Henrietta Swope began at Hull-House, where her settlement worker parents met. It passed back through Hull-House with her own year of residency at the settlement after her graduation from Barnard College in 1925. And it is as illustrative of the extraordinary list of human beings who had a connection to Jane Addams and to Hull-House as the variable stars Swope studied are of the beauty of the universe.

Henrietta Swope began dreaming about the stars when she was ten years old, and I cannot help but think that at least a little part of the reason she was able to reach those stars was because she had Hull-House in her family.

But more about the stars later. Let’s start Henrietta’s story at the very beginning.

On Tuesday, August 20, 1901, at noon, in a clearing in the woods on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, Jane Addams delivered a wedding speech. It was an unusual venue for the settlement leader to give a speech. But it was an unusual wedding. It was the union of Hull-House residents Mary Hill and Gerard Swope, two young members of the extended Hull-House family. A large contingent of the small wedding party were Hull-House residents, including the bride and groom’s best friends George Hooker and Maud Gernon.

Addressing the couple and the wedding party near picturesque Sugar Loaf Rock, Addams said, in part:

“Knowing as we do something of the character of these two people, somewhat of the temper of their attachment and the form of the expression we may confidently predict that and all life’s journey through to the end is will be illuminated by [that] Love which carries a burden which is no burden, the Love which attempts what is above its strength, pleads no excuse of impossibility for it believes all things are possible to itself.”

It’s a coincidence and not at all prophetic, but I love that Addams used the word “illuminated” and wow, indeed, “all things are possible.”

Mary Hill and Gerard Swope were two extraordinary young people who found their way to Hull-House and who would be forever shaped by the experience. Mary was the thirty-year-old the daughter of a former Harvard president and an 1896 graduate of Bryn Mawr College. She moved to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago under renown educator John Dewey. In 1898, she became a resident at Hull-House, where she taught textile classes and basket weaving, directed the Hull-House Shakespeare Club, and for a time managed the Hull-House Labor Museum. The twenty-eight-year-old Gerard Swope, a native of St. Louis, arrived in Chicago with a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked at the Western Electric Company in Chicago, and he taught English, electronics, and algebra classes at Hull-House and lived at the settlement for a short time in 1897. Mary and Gerard met at the settlement and fell in love.

Gerard Swope George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

Gerard moved to St. Louis in 1899 to become a branch manager there for Western Electric, and Mary remained at Hull-House. The couple maintained a long-distance relationship until their wedding, after which Mary joined her new husband in St. Louis, where she did social welfare work and the couple started their family. Their first child Henrietta was born in St. Louis on October 26, 1902. Three sons—Isaac, David, and Gerard Jr.—followed,  and a fourth son John was born in New Jersey where Gerard Sr. moved the family as his career path led him to the East Coast. In 1919, Gerard became president of General Electric’s new subsidiary International G.E., and the family moved to Manhattan. Gerard was involved with various reform organizations and he worked for quality working conditions which set him apart in the 1920s from many of his contemporary leaders of large corporations. Mary became a member of the board of directors of the Henry Street Settlement, operated by Lillian Wald, the good friend of Jane Addams, and she volunteered at Greenwich House and served as vice-chair of the New York branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Over the years, Mary and Gerard Swope kept in touch with Jane Addams, visited Hull-House, and made donations to the settlement. Gerard became a millionaire and in 1922 became the president of General Electric. The Swopes sent their bright daughter Henrietta off to Barnard College, where she earned her degree in mathematics; and then they sent her off to Chicago. Or perhaps Henrietta herself felt the pull of social work and felt the family connection to Hull-House. Although little is known about Henrietta’s time in that city, she lived at the settlement and worked in a program for the elderly while studying in the School of Social Service Administration (formerly the School of Civics and Philanthropy) at the University of Chicago with two significant members of Jane Addams’s orbit, Sophonisba Breckinridge and Edith Abbott.

But Henrietta Swope was still dreaming of the stars.

So she left Chicago to take a job at Harvard to work for the astronomy professor Dr. Harlow Shapley at the Harvard Observatory. While she looked for variable stars and became Shapley’s first assistant, she earned a Master’s degree in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1928. The following year, she became famous when she identified 385 new stars, which helped scientists identify the “hub” of the Milky Way. At the time, Swope was touted as “one of the youngest women ever to have made a comparable mark in scientific research.” During her long, successful career as an astronomer, she studied Cepheid variable stars in dwarf galaxies and M 31, the Andromeda Galaxy. However, her most significant contribution was developing a new method for measuring the universe, using the brightness of stars, which became known as the “celestial yardstick.” I don’t understand any of this, but it sounds amazing. Henrietta Swope was an accomplished and well-respected scientist.

In 1936, Henrietta Swope was a member of the joint-expedition of the Harvard Observatory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study the solar eclipse in Soviet Central Asia. During World War II, she worked in the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory and then served as a mathematician in the Hydrographic Office of the United States Department of the Navy. Swope returned to Barnard College in 1947 to teach astronomy until 1952, when she moved to California to work at the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories. After her retirement in 1968, she continued to work at the observatories. Swope was a member of the American Astronomical Society; she won the American Astronomical Society Annie Jump Cannon Prize in 1968 for her research on photometry and variable stars; and she received an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Henrietta Swope dreamed of the stars, she reached the stars, and then she made certain many generations to come could see the stars. In 1969, when she was in active retirement, Swope donated $650,000 worth of securities to the Carnegie Institution of Washington for the development of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the installation of a 40-inch telescope in the mountains. The Swope Telescope began operation in 1971. Henrietta Swope died in 1980, but the observatory she helped established is still helping people look at the stars.

Now, how’s that for a life story from the otherworldly orbit of Jane Addams?

By Stacy Pratt McDermott,
Associate Editor

Sources: “Swope, Gerard,” American National Biography; Mary Hill Swope Papers, Finding Aid, Special Collections, University of Illinois Chicago; Papers of Henrietta Hill Swope, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; Oral History of Henrietta Swope, August 1977, Transcript, Niels Bohr Library and Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD; Carnegie Institution of Washington, Year Book 67, 1967-1868, 73-74; “Hull House Teacher is Wed,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 21, 1901, p. 3; “Romantic Wedding,” The Daily Herald (Port Huron, MI), Aug. 21, 1901, p. 5; “Wealthy Girl Aids in Finding Universe’s Hub,” The Capital Times (Madison, WI), June 11, 1929, p. 6 (image 1); “Girl Aids in Discovering Hub of Universe,” The Rock Island (IL) Argus, June 13, 1929, p. 12; “Henrietta Swope Wins Distinction,” The North Addams (MA) Transcript, June 24, 1929, p. 8; “Girl in Her Twenties Gets Credit in Major Scientific Discovery,” The Dispatch (Moline, IL), July 26, 1929, p. 31; “Girl Eclipses Stay-at-Homes,” Journal Gazette (Mattoon, IL), July 6, 1936, p. 6 (image 2); “Henrietta H. Swope, Is Dead; Helped to Measure Variable Stars,” The New York Times, Nov. 28, 1980, p. 28; “Studies Gauged Depths of Space,” The Los Angeles Times, Dec. 1, 1980, p. 23; Hull-House Bulletin, 3 (Oct. 1898), 7, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm Edition (JAPM), 53:1051; Hull-House Bulletin, 3 (Nov. 1898), 4, JAPM, 53:1058; Hull-House Bulletin, 4 (Autumn 1900), 3, 4, JAPM, 53:1106-1107; Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:618n5; Jane Addams to Florence Kelley, August 1, 1901; Address at the wedding of Gerard Swope and Mary Dayton Hill, August 21, 1901; Jane Addams to Esther Linn Hulbert, July 16, 1901; Gerard Swope to Jane Addams, January 7, 1905; Mary Hill Swope to Jane Addams, December, 1910; Gerard Swope to Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, January 19, 1923, all in  Jane Addams Digital Edition.

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.

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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 Pratt McDermott, 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.

Jane Addams’ Pragmatist Theories of Democracy and Education

This is a guest post, written by Parysa Mostajir, a Teaching Fellow in Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science at the University of Chicago. She is currently researching the role of experience in diverse human practices like science, art, and democracy, and setting up an academic blog, Woman is a Rational Animal, dedicated to diversifying syllabi in the history of ideas.

 

Jane Addams is deservedly well-known for her tireless activism, having spent her life engaged in efforts to improve her society: She served on the boards of national and international organizations like the International Association for Labor Legislation, she campaigned for the rights of women, children, and workers, and she offered educational, recreational, and organizational resources to the immigrant communities surrounding Hull House. Although she spent most of her time in the world of action rather than the world of ideas, fewer people (including philosophers) give Jane Addams due credit for her role in developing a philosophical movement called ‘pragmatism.’

John Dewey (Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Addams was admired by some of the most celebrated pragmatist philosophers of her time, including John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, and William James. The correspondence of these professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, show that they recognized Addams as an imposing intellect from whom they had much to learn. In a 1908 letter on the Jane Addams Paper Project Digital Edition, George Herbert Mead describes “how deep an impression” Addams’ speech on ‘War and Progress’ made on him and others in the audience. In a 1902 letter, William James describes Addams’ Democracy and Social Ethics as “one of the great books of our time” and claims he “learned a lot” from it. Dewey’s correspondence reveals years of extensive visits and engagements with Hull House, during which he exchanged ideas with Jane Addams, the latter of whom he described as “the most magnificent exhibition of intellectual & moral faith I ever saw” [1894.10.10 (00206): John Dewey to Alice Chipman Dewey]. He even attributed to Addams the first definite statement of the pragmatist thesis “that democracy means certain types of experience,—an interest in experience in its various forms and types” [Volume 1: Political Philosophy, Logic, Ethics p. 2379].

Jane Addams with Hull House children (ca. 1930)

So what is pragmatism, and how does Jane Addams’ work fit in? Pragmatism is a tradition of philosophy that began in the United States in the late 19th century and was characterized by several core beliefs to do with action and experience. Addams’ major contributions to the tradition of pragmatism were her theories of democracy and education, which contained substantial developments on these core principles of pragmatist philosophy. Pragmatists believed that knowledge and theories should be based on our practical experiences, and be constructed in such a way as to take our practical experiences into account. Most striking about Addams’ writings in philosophy is the extent to which she adhered to the pragmatist conviction that knowledge and theories should be consistent with practice. While other pragmatists were involved in practical applications of their theories, such as John Dewey’s founding of the Laboratory School in Chicago, none of them were quite so embedded in everyday society as Jane Addams was at Hull House. Addams’ theories were derived from her practical activities at Hull House, instead of becoming lost in philosophical speculation. It was appropriate and inevitable, she wrote, that her experiences at Hull House would affect her convictions (Twenty Years, p. 308).

Pragmatists believed not only that theories should be derived from practical experiences, but that they should be applied to practical experiences in attempts to improve, enrich, and make sense of our lives. Unlike many contemporary philosophers who engaged in highly abstract theories having no relationship to the everyday world, pragmatists believed that theories gained their value by serving as instruments for empowering us to successfully take action in the world—this is the practical aspect of ‘pragmatism,’ from which the tradition derives its name. As a pragmatist, Jane Addams therefore rejected the idea, popular among sociologists of her time, that settlements like Hull House were ‘laboratories’ from which to derive pure theory (Deegan 1988, pp. 34-5; Twenty Years, p. 308). She wrote that her energies were directed “not towards sociological investigation, but to constructive work” (Hull House Maps and Papers, pp. vii-viii). Her pragmatist goal was to use the knowledge she gained from her experiences at Hull House in the application of practical changes and improvements to society and the lives of the people she served, not to derive knowledge for its own sake or out of pure curiosity.

These core pragmatist convictions concerning knowledge, practice, and experience are evident in Addams’ theories of democracy and education. To begin with her theory of democracy, Addams did not believe that democracy was a matter of ticking a ballot box once every few years. In her celebrated book on Democracy and Social Ethics, she argued that democracy was not just “a sentiment” or “a creed,” but “a rule of living,” which needed to be integrated practically with people’s everyday lives (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 6). Many failures of contemporary democracy, she claimed, could be linked to the isolation of different sectors of society from each other, preventing familiarity with each other’s experiences. In order to resolve them and make our democracy more robust, we needed to ensure the connectedness of diverse types of people who shared the same society. For that reason, democracy could not be compartmentalized as a handful of remote political institutions, with the citizens’ democratic participation reduced to a single act of casting a vote. Democracy had to be an active practice for all citizens, embedded in their lived experience as a way of life. This would only be achieved by “mixing” the diverse members of society together and giving them “a wider acquaintance with and participation in the life about them” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 5). Addams argued that it was through exposure to the different ways of life, struggles, and needs of the many people with whom we share our society that we can develop attitudes of sympathy, respect, and a democratic sense of moral obligation towards each other. For example, she mentioned the importance of newspaper and literature in giving people the chance “to know all kinds of life” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 8). This kind of “diversified human experience and resultant sympathy” were, for Addams, “the foundation and guarantee of Democracy” (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 7).

Jane Addams described her views of the Pullman Strike in her 1912 article, A Modern Lear.”

As a true pragmatist, concerned with the connection between theory and action, Addams based her theory of democracy on what she encountered in her practical experiences, and applied her theory of democracy to suggest resolutions to the problems she encountered. For example, Addams was involved in mediating the 1894 Pullman Strike in Chicago, in which the workers of a large factory went on strike to demand better wages. What Jane Addams saw in this conflict was a failure of the democratic practice of connecting with the experiences of others. Pullman, the owner of the factory, had built a town for the use of his factory employees, with parks and recreational facilities, believing that he was acting generously. The factory workers, on the other hand, resented the extension of Pullman’s control into the private lives. When the workers went on strike, Pullman was confused by their anger, and he felt that the factory workers were being ungrateful for the resources he had given them. In her philosophical work, Democracy and Social Ethics, Addams wrote that the “good deeds” Pullman thought he was conducting were in fact incomplete, because they were not conducted democratically. By not “calling upon the workmen either for self-expression or self-government,” he ended up lacking any familiarity with the experiences and desires of the workers (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 143-4), and had operated undemocratically in making his decisions. “To attempt to attain a social morality,” Addams wrote, “without a basis of democratic experience results in the loss of the only possible corrective and guide” for actions—the daily experiences of other human beings (Democracy and Social Ethics, p. 176).

Addams’ theory of education was also deeply pragmatist in its commitment to connecting educational experiences to the practices and experiences of the individuals being educated. At that time, it was common for people to assume that manual laborers had no need of general education. When education was sometimes offered as part of universities’ charitable efforts—for example, University Extension Programs which sent professors to give general courses to the working class on topics like evolution, astronomy, psychology (Twenty Years, Chapter XVIII), or philanthropists who supported children in receiving clerical education—the idea was that such education either gave laborers a temporary mental escape from the mundanity of their work, or gave them the opportunity to leave their lives as factory workers and enter into more respected professions. Such educators did not consider education as having any possible genuine connection to the ordinary lives of factory workers.

Hull House class on immigration, held at the Coffee House, 1920s (Wallace Kirkland, Jane Addams Memorial Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Addams, unsurprisingly, rejected these assumptions. Her pragmatist theory of education was based on extensive practical experience providing educational resources to the working-class neighborhood surrounding Hull House. In Democracy and Social Ethics, she insisted that factory workers could, and should, be provided with education on topics like history and economics which directly connected to their everyday practical experiences. Because of the division of labor, industrial workers spent most of their waking life operating machinery and manufacturing products to which they had no connection. They had no opportunities to understand the history of the invention and development of the machines they operated; they did not know the uses to which the products were put; and they did not understand the sales and distribution aspects of the businesses they worked for. Addams argued that this contributed to the poor quality of life of industrial laborers, and that education in how they fit into the workings of society would help to improve and enrich their daily experiences of manual labor. If educators, the state, and business owners were to take the value of their employees seriously, they needed to provide them with opportunities to connect their own experiences with the wider social, economic, and historical processes of which their manual labor was an important part. Such education would allow workers to make sense of the significance, purpose, and utility of their work, and would positively alter their sense of self, and their estimation of their own worth. In this way, education could be used not as an escape (either as temporary mental relief from monotony, or as an opportunity to move into a different line of work), but as a way of connecting to the ordinary lives of factory workers in such a way as to improve, enrich, and make sense of their everyday practical experience.

Jane Addams, ca. 1910

Amidst her extensive social, political, and community work, Addams found time to write several books threaded with innovative philosophical ideas and play a key role in establishing the new, pragmatist philosophical tradition in the United States—a tradition which was characterized by its beliefs in the importance of connecting knowledge with action, enriching individual experience, and solving social problems. Because Addams had so much experience taking action in the world, her philosophical writings are, more than any other pragmatist, threaded with connections to social, political, and economic problems, and filled with practical suggestions for how to ameliorate those problems. She remains one of the greatest examples of how our philosophical ideas can impact the practical approach we take to politics, economics, and culture, and how politics, economics, and culture can influence the development of ideas. In a time like ours, when universities are highly specialized and losing touch with the needs of wider society, we can look to Addams as a model public philosopher, who put her theories into action and let her real-life experiences guide her theories.

References:

Addams, Jane. Democracy and Social Ethics. New York, London: The Macmillan Company, 1907.

Addams, Jane. Twenty Years At Hull-house: With Autobiographical Notes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911.

Deegan, Mary Jo. Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School, 1892-1918. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1988.

Dewey, John. Lectures, Volume 1: Political Philosophy, Logic, Ethics. Ed. Koch, Donald F., and The Center for Dewey Studies, 2016.

Jane Addams, Vachel Lindsay, and Me

History is, essentially, the stories of individual people and the interconnectedness of their stories to each other and to the broader history of their communities, their societies, and their world. The intersections of the lives of the historical figures who occupy my historical imagination are fascinating to me, and the people who inspired them are always central to the development of my understanding about their lives and the historical space they occupied. Jane Addams, for example, was an inspiration to an entire generation of female reformers who lived and worked at Hull-House, and the individual work those women pursued made an important impact on Addams’s world view, her writing, and her advocacy for social and economic justice. As well, her fascination with Tolstoy and her childhood memories of Abraham Lincoln offer us insights into the development of her ideas, her ideals, and her visions for reform.

As a historian, I spend a great deal of time thinking about these human connections of the past. The close relationships of the historical figures I study—like the intimate friendship between Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith or the professional relationship Addams shared with reformer and settlement worker Lillian Wald—offer obvious clues about Addams’s personal and professional life. The intersection of these particular personal stories tell me much about the lives of women in the first part of the 20th century, the network of Progressive Era reformers, and the conditions of life in the urban environments of Chicago and New York City. But as an enthusiast of the past, it really gets interesting for me when I chance upon an unexpected or less obvious historical connection. It is particularly thrilling when that connection also resonates in some way with my own personal story or relates to other historical interests I  entertain.

Recently, I was doing some editorial work on a set of documents dated just days after American entry into WWI. One document was a letter to Jane Addams, dated April 9, 1917:

My Dear Friend:

What shall I do? This war breaks my heart. Send me what you have written since [William Jennings] Bryan enlisted — for instance. Are you with Bryan? Do you accept President Wilson’s war message on its face value? Is that final with you?

I hate a hyphenated American. I hate war. But I owe no one in Europe a grudge. I would rather be shot than shoot anybody. If I had been in Congress I would have voted with Miss [Jeannette] Rankin and would have considered it a sufficient reason to say “I will not vote for war till she does.”

Please write me a tract, or send a clipping. With all respect

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay

Vachel Lindsay was a poet and performing artist who is relatively unknown today. He lived and worked in Springfield, Illinois, where I lived and work myself for more  than twenty years;, and, therefore, I am well acquainted with his body of work and the story of his life. When I read his letter to Addams, I recalled that Lindsay had written a poem about her, inspired by her peace trip to Europe in 1915. However, I was unaware he knew Addams personally nor that he had corresponded with her. The Jane Addams Digital Edition includes four letters from Lindsay to Addams, each revealing something of the poet’s respect for and fascination with Addams and with Hull-House. In an October 1916 letter, Lindsay proclaimed: “I have loved you a long time dear lady.”

That love had, indeed, inspired the poem I had remembered, “To Jane Addams at The Hague,” which Lindsay first published in the Chicago Herald  in May 1915 and later as part of his popular 1917 collection The Chinese Nightingale and Other Poems.

In the 1910s, Lindsay spent time in Chicago performing his poems and seeing his literary friends, including the poet and magazine editor Harriet Monroe, with whom Addams was also acquainted. Lindsay frequented Hull-House, where his good friend George Hooker was a resident, and it seems likely he enjoyed at least one or two good talks with Addams. It is unclear when he might have been formally introduced to her, but in April 1916 he wrote her a letter indicating they had been corresponding for some time. That letter was a reply to a letter from Addams, and in it Lindsay sent her his wish that they may soon see a moving picture show together. There are no known extant letters of Jane Addams to Vachel Lindsay, but the content of his letters to her indicates she had some interest in the young man and his work, and in a speech in 1922, she quoted Lindsay’s analysis of the new medium of the movies in modern society.

Lindsay, who was associated with a group of celebrated Chicago writers that included Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg, was a creative and somewhat eccentric young man. He traveled the country on foot, selling his poems to support himself, and he popularized for a time the chanting and singing of poems, often performing them with musical and dance accompaniments. In December 1916, Lindsay invited Addams to one of those performances at the Little Theatre in Chicago. It is unclear if she attended, but there is evidence she invited Lindsay to Hull-House on a few occasions. In October of that year, Addams sent Lindsay a copy of her book The Long Road of Woman’s Memory, and in his letter of thanks he wrote: “I sat down and read it all morning and half the afternoon the minute it arrived. It is a lovely book—the work of a Greek, a woman more Greek than Christian.”

The fact that Lindsay, who was a progressive thinker, admired Jane Addams and her work is not surprising. Addams and Hull-House inspired many artists and writers, as well as reformers and social workers. Nor is it surprising that Lindsay, who spent time in Chicago and who interacted with people in the orbit of Hull-House, had a personal acquaintance with the famed settlement worker. What is surprising, and fascinating, too, is that Lindsay experienced a strong emotional connection to Addams. His friendship with her his touched soul, as one biographer put it. Lindsay looked to Addams for answers about his anxieties related to the war, sought her approval of his work, and shared with her his fears about failure. “Back of it all is the hope that my book shall be a live thing—a piece of ink-dynamite, not just a book pleasantly discussed by people who read my verses,” he wrote Addams in 1916. “With so many books dying before my eyes—I cannot bear to write a dead one.”

Lindsay had experienced his first hallucinations in 1904, initial signs of the future mental illness that would ultimately cost his him his life; and his breakup with the poet Sara Teasdale in 1914 had been emotionally traumatic for the poet. But by 1916, Lindsay was enjoying considerable literary success, winning awards and selling books. Although four letters is far, far, far from enough evidence to evaluate the emotional importance Lindsay may have been attaching to his friendship with Addams, a close reading of the letters, however, evokes a whisper of the mental distress that was coming. There is a breathless quality to the words and the sentences, and the letters leave me wondering what kind of advice or encouragement Jane Addams may have offered Lindsay in their face-to-face interactions with each other. It is unlikely we will ever know.

What I know for certain, however, is that the relationship between Lindsay and Addams, despite what it may have meant to her on a personal level, is an example of the richness of the interconnectedness of human stories, the broader sphere of one person’s influence in the world. In this case, it speaks to the significance of Jane Addams as an inspirational figure. But it is also one of those delightful connections I am happy to chance upon, which light a spark in my historical imagination and connect my own story to the stories of the past.

Notes: Anna Massa, Vachel Lindsay: Fieldworker for the American Dream, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970, 17, 46, 100-101, 202; Eleanor Ruggles, The West-Going Heart: A Life O Vachel Lindsay (New York: W. W. Norton, 1959), 240, 247, 258; “Lindsay, Vachel (1879-1931), American National Biography; Vachel Lindsay to Jane Addams, October 15, 1916; Vachel Lindsay to Jane Addams, October 29, 1916; Vachel Lindsay to Jane Addams, April 9, 1917; Vachel Lindsay to Jane Addams, June 26, 1917, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition. William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a Democratic politician from Nebraska. In April 1917, he offered his services to the government in the war effort. American National Biography. Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), a peace activist and Republican politician from Montana, was the first woman to serve in Congress. She voted against the American declaration of war against Germany in 1917. American National Biography; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. The image of Lindsay is courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The Politician and the Old Women of Hull House

Once upon a time in Chicago, there was an ambitious little politician who decided to make a name for himself by picking a fight with the women of Hull-House. For a man who built things for a living, perhaps he should have known better than to employ a political strategy of burning down the house. But he was new to politics, and he did not know better. He saw his path to power in the persona of “Battling Peter,” who would rattle the foundations of the city’s social reform structures to raise his voice above the progressive din. His political strategy was to attack social reformers in the city, particularly the female ones, and the institutions they supported.

Peter Bartzen, a 61-year-old proprietor of a mason and carpentry business, was that politician. The office he sought was President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. During the fall of 1910, the fiery Democrat campaigned for that office by denouncing what he called the “hypocritical horde of reformers,” particularly the women of Hull-House. Politically ambitious with his eyes on a future gubernatorial run, Bartzen was a political novice. His only political experience was a four-year stint as an appointed building commissioner. To be governor, he needed a political victory and a message to launch his political career. With an “aggressive personality,” Bartzen decided to make a name for himself by whipping up foment against his city’s “child savers” and meddling do-gooders.

Bartzen was not a popular candidate, but the incumbent he hoped to unseat was not all that popular, either. Bartzen, who was not widely known, won the election on the coattails of a historic Democratic sweep, the county Democrats upsetting Republicans who had held power for sixteen years. The women Bartzen had maligned during his campaign for office had no direct say in the election, because women in Chicago, in Illinois, and in most states across the country, could not vote. No doubt that is precisely why Bartzen was so comfortable in his attacks against them. But when Bartzen took his seat, many prominent women reformers in Chicago set their watchful eyes upon the pesky, provocative politician.

During his first year in office, Bartzen did much to earn the disdain of Chicago reformers. For instance, he took aim at many of the county’s social service institutions, arguing that they were doing more harm than good to the county’s children and their families. In particular, he launched a full-scale investigation of the Chicago Juvenile Court in July 1911 in an effort to dismantle it. At the same time, Bartzen wholeheartedly embraced the long Chicago tradition of the spoils system by appointing his political allies to various posts under his authority, including some within the court itself. When Bartzen removed the juvenile court’s chief probation officer John Witter, a professional hired through the civil service system, he renewed his personal attacks against Hull-House, as well. In a public statement about Witter’s firing, Bartzen said: “It looks as if Mr. Witter has been under the influence of Hull-House. He ought not to be listening to a bunch of old women all the time.”

The “Old” Women of Hull-House (Julia Lathrop and Jane Addams with friend Mary Wilmarth, who was, actually, kind of old, but she didn’t live at Hull-House)

That bunch of old women was led by the 51-year-old Jane Addams, a nationally respected and beloved social reformer, and the 53-year-old Julia Lathrop, who helped found the influential Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and was one of the city’s most prominent proponents of the Chicago Juvenile Court. Both of the women were a decade younger than Bartzen, but he dismissed them as members of the weaker sex, with no right to their opinions let alone their influence.  Bartzen’s position was a powerful one. He presided over a fifteen-member board that controlled some $10 million and managed much of the county’s infrastructure and its public institutions, including its civil service system. But the city’s community of social reformers was also powerful, and Bartzen underestimated the women who led them.

In September 1911, Bartzen’s fight with the women of Hull-House escalated. When he made a particular play to discredit the work of the Chicago Juvenile Court and the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, Julia Lathrop fired back. In a public speech, Lathrop responded: “Both attacks have been made for the purposes of political capital…The noble minded women who have been working for the salvation of Chicago’s children made some errors. They were not serious errors, but they were enough to give politicians a peg on which to hang an investigation.” The court had suffered some growing pains, but the court’s founders and supporters were willing to recognize problems and work to correct them. As well, the Chicago Woman’s Club and the Juvenile Protective Association, which included some very well-heeled and outspoken women, loudly reaffirmed their support of the institution in the wake of what they believed were unwarranted, politically motivated attacks against it.

Reformers in Chicago were eager to defend the court and its mission to help disadvantaged youth escape the harsh justice of the criminal courts. They were growing particularly concerned about Bartzen replacing qualified probation officers working with the juvenile court with political hacks. Just days after Lathrop’s defensive stand against Bartzen, Dr. James A. Britton, the chief medical officer of the city’s juvenile home, resigned his post in protest. He charged that Bartzen was thumbing his nose at civil service law, which provided qualified professional probation officers to the juvenile court, and that Bartzen was “loading up the county service with political friends.” Britton was a Hull-House resident and the husband of Gertrude Howe Britton, another Hull-House resident, who was also affiliated with the Juvenile Protective Association. Mrs. Britton was just 43-years-old, but Bartzen no doubt dismissed her, and likely her husband, too, as meddling Hull-House do-gooders. Bartzan was leaving in his political wake a long list of scorned old women at Hull-House.

During the next year, Bartzen did not change his colors, and neither did the old women of Hull-House. Bartzen continued to undermine the civil service system and threaten the life of the city’s social institutions; and the city’s reformers grew increasingly certain Bartzen was a dangerous political incumbent. In the fall of 1912, Jane Addams decided to beat Bartzen at his own game: politics. She led a group of the city’s reform-minded citizens, most of them men with political clout, to select a candidate to defeat Bartzen in the November 1912 election. The committee chose Alexander A. McCormick, a former newspaper editor and progressive thinker. In August, Addams sent a telegram home to Chicago while she was vacationing in Maine, indicating the reformers’ choice: “Social workers have much to do in persuading A A McCormick to run for president of county board.” Addams believed a failure to defeat Bartzen would spell the “destruction of juvenile court.”

Jane Addams (at right) in a parade for woman suffrage.

McCormick agreed to run on a Progressive Party ticket, and Addams’s political committee went to work. The campaign against Bartzen was ruthless, focused as it was on exposing him as a danger to the county’s most vulnerable citizens. Women led the charge, giving speeches and writing letters. On Nov. 2, 1912, on the Saturday just before the election, Addams and her committee behind McCormick published in the Chicago newspapers a signed circular entitled “Call to Public Service in the Interest of the Poor, Sick, Aged and Injured, and the Helpless Children of Chicago and Cook County.” The document skewered Bartzen’s policies, accused him of wasting public funds, asserted his guilt in “crimes of neglect and mismanagement of the Cook County Hospital,” and called his attack on the juvenile court “misleading and fraudulent.” In summary, the circular cautioned readers: “A vote for Peter Bartzen means a vote for the continued demoralization of all the public service institutions of the county, on which Bartzen and his henchmen have feasted while the dependents of the county have starved and been neglected.”

It is true that 1912 was a weird political year, with the role of a spunky third party mixing things up at the local, state, and national levels. The “Bull Moose” factor definitely influenced the Cook County elections. However, Bartzen’s particular reelection chances appeared to have lost traction on the heels of Chicago’s old women weighing in so loudly on his political record. Bartzen’s political strategy of picking a fight with Hull-House and Chicago’s most respected citizen backfired, and he lost the election.

The ambitious little politician had underestimated the old women at Hull-House and the political power they could garner, even without the right to vote for themselves. Bartzen not only lost this election, but he did not become the governor of Illinois, either. Even his obituary in 1933 dismissed his brief political career as minor, remembering his tenure as “anything but peaceful.” In the end, “Battling Peter” lost his battle against the battle-tested old women of Hull-House. While those women continued to make their positive marks on the history of Chicago, history resigned Bartzen to the political dustbin.

In 1914, Jane Addams published an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal in which she hailed the value of women over the age of fifty. “The weariness and dullness, which inhere in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when such gracious and gray-haired women become a part of it,” she wrote. “Ever-widening channels are gradually being provided through which woman’s increasing moral energy may flow, and it is not too much to predict that in the end public affairs will be amazingly revivified from those new fountainheads fed in the upper reaches of woman’s matured capacity.”

In the article, Addams shouted praise to “old” women like Ella Flagg Young, the Chicago Superintendent of Schools; novelist Edith Wharton; and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the long-running president of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. Jane Addams knew the fight that resided in the hearts of experienced, capable, older women. She understood the beautiful extent of possibilities for women who used their talents for the betterment of their communities and the world. Peter Bartzen probably didn’t read that Ladies’ Home Journal article, and he may have never admitted to himself or to anyone else that he had been undone by women. Who knows if he harbored any regrets about his brief political career or the choices he made to conduct it.

The story of the politician and the old women of Hull-House is not a fairytale in which the villains are defeated and heroes in the story live happily ever after. Real life is more complicated than that. But this story is, perhaps, a fable Aesop himself may have written if he had lived in Chicago during the Progressive Era, when Jane Addams and scores of smart, capable, and commanding older women roamed the city’s dirty streets in order to clean them up. The moral of that fable is this: Beware the people you look past in your blind ambition; beware the people who seem to be precisely what you assume, unthreatening and unworthy of your respect. They might just turn out to be the clever, unrelenting, powerful force that becomes the fatal obstacle you never expected.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor

Notes: David S. Tanenhaus, Juvenile Justice in the Making (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 82-110; Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., Book of Chicagoans, 1911 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1911), 42-43; Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947; Witter v. County Commissioners, 256 Ill. 616 (1912); “Editorial Musings,” The Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), Nov. 4, 1910, p. 1;  Letter, Nov. 5, 1910, “Busse-Deneen Ring Is Smashed in Cook County by Democratic Victory,” Nov. 9, 1910, p. 1; “Would End Juvenile Court,” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1911, p. 7; “Fight New Child Court Idea,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 1, 1911, p. 4; “Bartzen Scored by Julia Lathrop,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 24, 1911, p. 5; “Physician Quits Bartzen Regime,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 26, 1911, p. 3; “Call to Public Service,” Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Sociologists Say Bartzen Is Menace,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Chicago Women, In Humane Plea, Flay Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 2, 1912, p. 1; “Save the Helpless From Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 4, 1912, p. 6; “Old and New County Board Presidents Shake Hands,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1912, p. 3; “Peter Bartzen, Old Political Battler, Dead,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1933, p. 1; Jane Addams to Julia Clifford Lathrop, August 7, 1911; Endorsement for Alexander McCormick for Cook County Board of Commissioners, 1912; Jane Addams to Alexander Agnew McCormick, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Charles E. Merriam, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Raymond Robins, August 21, 1912; Raymond Robins to Jane Addams, August 22, 1912; Need a Woman Over Fifty Feel Old?, October, 1914, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

From Lincoln Rubber Ducky to Addams Signed Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Stacy Pratt McDermott, Associate Editor