Dr. Harriet Rice: First Black Resident at Hull-House

Dr. Harriet Rice (1915)

In 1893, an African-American woman with an extraordinary academic background came to live at Hull-House, and she spent a decade of her life in residence at the famous social settlement in Chicago. Her story is not a tale of realizing dreams against all odds. It is not a tale of American exceptionalism, illustrative of the possibilities of equality in a democracy. It is certainly no fairytale. It is, instead, a history of realities. It is a history of human experience informed by the harsh constraints of race and gender in the post-Reconstruction United States. Hull-House was remarkably progressive during the nadir of American race relations, and it provided a space for women to thrive. However, it was not a protective bubble against the prejudices of white America. And the city of Chicago, strictly ordered as it was by race and ethnicity and class, even in many forward-thinking reform organizations, could be cold and bigoted and cruel.

When Harriet Rice, a 27-year-old physician, arrived at Hull-House in the year of Chicago’s great and hopeful Columbian Exposition, she understood it was not going to be easy. She was the first and only African-American resident at the Hull-House settlement, which was located in an impoverished neighborhood of white immigrants, many of whom measured their success and status in juxtaposition with that of African Americans, the city’s lowest caste. Dr. Rice was a smart, ambitious Black woman at a time when society relegated women and people of color to subordinate roles. She knew that a majority of the population in the United States believed Black people were inferior. She knew women had to work harder than their male counterparts to make professional careers for themselves. But she was not looking for easy. She was used to hard work and struggle. She had always chosen challenging paths.

Born in 1866 in Newport, RI, Harriet Alleyne Rice was the daughter of a steamship steward who prospered enough to own a home and to send his children to college. Harriet was a bright and curious girl and a gifted student, and she dreamed of following the career path of an older brother and becoming a doctor. In 1887, she became the first African-American woman to graduate from Wellesley College, and she went straight on to the University of Michigan to join an early cadre of female, Black medical students there. Unfortunately, a health crisis brought on by a debilitating injury derailed her medical studies, but after enduring two operations and a lengthy convalescence, she entered the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. After earning her medical degree in 1891, she completed a year of post-graduate training at the prestigious New England Hospital for Women and Children. Dr. Rice was in a special class of African-American women, only one of 115 who held medical degrees by 1896.

When Dr. Rice settled in Chicago, her plan was to practice medicine, and on Sep. 8, 1893, the Illinois State Board of Health issued her a certificate entitling her to practice medicine and surgery in the state. Yet finding work proved difficult. Most hospitals in the United States did not grant privileges to African-American doctors, and Provident Hospital, established in 1891 on Chicago’s South Side, was the only African-American hospital in the city. As well, many white patients rejected medical treatment from Black doctors, and by 1900 there were only 30,150 African-Americans in Chicago and fewer still who could afford to pay for medical visits and treatments. Rice, who was one of only forty-five African-American physicians in Chicago, faced not only racial prejudice but gendered prejudice, as well. Many male physicians at that time barred women physicians from hospitals, and gender discrimination in all areas of the medical profession was commonplace.

We can only speculate about Rice’s hopes and dreams for herself in Chicago, and the particulars of her decision to live at Hull-House are unknown. But it is likely that Hull-House offered a refuge and an agreeable and affordable housing option. For Black Chicagoans housing was expensive and limited, confined almost exclusively to the city’s “Black Belt,” and much of the housing available to the city’s Black residents was inferior in condition and inconveniently located. There was a growing middle-class in Chicago and a prosperous Black community, but Rice was not possessed of standing and wealth when she arrived in the city seeking to build a better life for herself. When she moved into Hull-House, she might have already been feeling discouraged about her prospects, despite the fact that Jane Addams wanted her to join the settlement and might have even recruited her. Other residents were supportive of Rice, too. Mary Rozet Smith funded a fellowship with a small stipend for her. Florence Kelley shared a room with her at the settlement and, no doubt, offered her advice. And Julia Lathrop helped Rice make contacts in Chicago and counseled her when her medical practice floundered.

At first, Rice settled in comfortably and made friends. Madeleine Wallin, who was also a new resident, found Rice “one of the most lady-like and unobjectionable people” at the settlement. Jane Addams assigned Rice to help establish a medical clinic and dispensary at Hull-House, and when the leading physician, a white woman, left the settlement, Addams was hopeful that Rice would assume responsibility for the operation. However, Rice was either uninterested in dispensing medical care to the poor or, more likely, she was unwilling to accept poor treatment by Hull-House’s clientele of white immigrants, many of whom likely mistrusted the young Black doctor. Black Chicagoans would have been accepting of Dr. Rice, but most of the city’s Black residents lived too far from Hull-House to make use of the dispensary or other of the settlements programs and services.

In January 1895, Addams wrote to Mary Smith: “Dr Rice has an awful cold which has hung on for weeks and is perfectly miserable, she is also desperate about her financial situation, she has no practice save the Jane Club and H. H. Sister Lathrop has taken her life in her hand and is trying to induce her to go to the colored hospital. She said that I might find her in fragments upon my return.”

The following month, Addams updated Smith again: “I forgot to mention Dr Rice in my long screed this morning. She has a wretched cold—has lost her voice for weeks and is altogether doing miserably. I do not know what do for her or about her. She is still working on the library but by the time she pays her room rent and her coal probably does not eat enough. She has not the settlement spirit (if there is such a thing) and makes Miss [Annie] Fryar and indeed the rest of us, indignant by her utter refusal to do anything for the sick neighbors even when they are old friends of the House. I am constantly perplexed about her.”

And later in the month, Addams wrote: “Dr Rice’s cold is no better but she is much more human and charming.”

Rice struggled to establish a private medical practice, and she was struggling to find purpose at the settlement, too. Addams arranged for a $25 monthly stipend for Rice to work in the Hull-House branch of the Chicago Public Library, and then Rice ran the Hull-House Dispensary until it closed in June 1896. After that she took a short-term, paid position for the Illinois Board of Charities to organize records of Cook County’s public institutions serving the poor. From 1897-1898, Rice was the only doctor at the Chicago Maternity Hospital and Training School for Nursery Maids.

Jane Addams may have been right. Perhaps Rice did not have the “settlement spirit,” certainly other residents of Hull-House over the years failed to find the spirit in their own hearts. In Rice’s defense, however, she possessed the skills and education to be a physician, and she wanted to be a physician. Running a dispensary for the poor did not fully utilize her talents, and it is easy to imagine the racial hostility she experienced in that role. Addams liked Rice and felt empathy for her financial difficulties and ill health, but whereas she could accuse Rice of lacking the “settlement spirit,” Addams herself seemed to have lacked the spirit of sympathy for the frustrations Rice experienced. Addams likely believed that having Rice at the settlement was evidence of her own open-mindedness and racial equality at Hull-House. However, she either ignored or failed to fully understand Rice’s unique challenges from the standpoint of race. Hull-House was a safe environment for women, but in the early decades the settlement was probably not always a safe environment for a woman of color.

The truth of the matter is clear. Race and racism played a significant role in the experience of African-Americans, and Rice was not immune. Though she had the mental capacity and the training for a lucrative career in medicine, the color of her skin had more bearing on her chances for professional and financial success than did her preparedness for medical work. As a result, since arriving in Chicago, Rice had had to worry about money. All Hull-House residents were required to contribute to the settlement, to have a purpose, to pull their weight. They were also required to cover their expenses, although Hull-House was an affordable housing option for most of its residents. Rice’s attempt to establish a private medical practice was failing, and she was having difficulty making ends meet.

She also suffered poor physical health, perhaps exacerbated by the stress of persistent discrimination. In 1899, an unknown illness became serious enough that she moved back home to Newport to have another surgery and endure another long convalescence. There is no record of how Jane Addams or any of the other residents felt about Rice’s departure. However, when she returned to Chicago in 1901, she went back to Hull-House.

In July 1901, Jane Addams wrote Mary Smith: “The Bureau of Charities has absolutely no money and we have been more of a relief bureau than any thing else — but — [though] relief was needed Dr Rice is most amiable and charming and likes the work.”

Jane Addams still wanted Rice at Hull-House and, perhaps, felt an obligation to her. In 1902, Rice took a flat in the new apartment building at Hull-House, her salary as postmistress at the settlement’s Post Office allowing her to afford the flat and take her meals in the settlement’s Coffee House. From 1902-1904, Rice’s circumstances were secure, but perhaps she was restless or disappointed that a career in medicine was eluding her. After serving briefly as the Hull-House cashier, Rice left the settlement for good in 1904. If she kept in touch with Addams in the early years after her departure, no correspondence survives to document it. If she had hard feelings for the settlement, we cannot know, although later evidence suggests that Rice did not look upon her years in Chicago as successful, nor particularly pleasant ones.

WWI Medal of French Gratitude Image Courtesy of the American Medical Women’s Association.

We don’t know much about what happened to Rice after she left Hull-House, but there is evidence she continued to be restless. In 1910 she was an assistant in a Boston dispensary’s pathology laboratory, and sometime after that moved to France to live with her brother. She was in Europe when war broke out, and she was one of two African-American women who served in WWI, finally getting a real chance to practice medicine. Rice worked in a French military hospital for most of the war. In 1919, she was awarded the bronze medal of French gratitude, the Reconnaissance Française, for her meritorious medical service. Her WWI years were “happy years,” perhaps the most professionally fulfilling years of her life, years that proved to herself and illustrate for the historical record Dr. Rice’s capacity to be an skilled physician.

After the war, Rice returned home to Newport, where she lived with her sister, and she made another attempt at private medical practice. She also returned to the same old discriminatory circumstances she had faced in the past. When her sister died in 1925, Rice wrote to Wellesley classmates to share the bad news and some of her personal disappointments, as well. “I’m a lonely wonderer on the face of earth, without friends, without home, or settled employment of any kind,” she wrote. She was 61 years old and feeling lost. She was also, she added, “looking forward without hope, and backward only, with regret.”

In December 1928, when she was living in Boston, Rice wrote to Jane Addams, and her letter is a heartbreaking illustration of her sorrows. Having read in the newspaper that Addams had been in town for a lecture, she wrote: “I do wish I might have seen you. I should have been so glad to see you once more—although I hardly imagine that you would have been the least glad to see me. I’ve never forgotten once hearing a southern doctor tell about seeing again his old “colored Mammy” and how glad she was to see him; but on his side there seemed to be nothing.”

That sentence of the letter is replete with bitterness, but there is some tenderness in the letter, as well. Rice alluded to a less than amiable final departure from Hull-House, but she was hopeful that the years had softened any hurt there may have been between her and Addams, and also between her and Mary Rozet Smith, who had sponsored her residency at Hull-House all those years ago. “So,” Rice concluded, “please do let me wish yourself, and Miss Mary and Miss Eleanor [Smith] all the best wishes of the Christmas tide—health and good cheer and all the happiness possible in this dreadful world.”

Despite her accomplishments, which were unique and impressive, Rice saw the world through the lens of disappointment. The “dreadful” world had been for her, in large part, cold and bigoted and cruel. The character of race was a living, breathing entity, shaping her life and drawing her experiences; and it is hard to blame her for feeling frustrated and wounded. As for Jane Addams, it is impossible to know what she would have said to Rice to counter her negative narrative or to console her. If she replied to Rice, the letter is lost. But I suspect Addams, who was usually keen to reconnect and keep in touch with previous Hull-House residents, would have taken the time to see her old colleague in Boston had Rice requested a meeting when she was in town.

Between 1928 and 1933, Rice worked in Philadelphia and later in New York City, where she found employment in a laboratory at the Columbia Medical Center. Apparently, her financial circumstances were often precarious in those years. In June 1933, she wrote Mary Rozet Smith for help. In America’s Great Depression, her position at Columbia was in jeopardy. She hated to beg for work, but she had no choice. “This is a man’s world and they won’t let a woman get farther than they can help—or hinder.”

In 1935, Rice received a questionnaire sent to Wellesley graduates. Many of the questions pertained to marriage and family and did not pertain to her, but one of the questions provoked a passionate response. To the question “Have you any handicap, physical or other, which has been a determining factor of in your activity,” she wrote: “Yes! I’m colored which is worse than any crime in this God blessed Christian Country!”

Racial prejudice and discrimination had not subsided in the 1930s. Jim Crow still reigned in the South, “Sundown Towns” restricted the movements of African Americans in the Midwest, and most northern cities were increasingly segregated. There is little evidence of Rice’s later years, but at some point she settled in West Somerville, MA, outside of Boston to live in retirement. She was living there when she died at the age of 92 on May 24, 1958. Although she faced unimaginable difficulties, she had accomplished much in her long life, including a few historical firsts as an African-American woman. Before she died, I hope she gave herself the credit she deserved for reaching beyond what the society in which she lived proscribed for her. I suspect at the end of her life, however, she was still disappointed about the ways in which her country failed her. And it makes me angry that in death she suffered one final indignity, being buried in a public cemetery in her hometown of Newport in the area designated for African Americans.

I was born exactly 100 years after Dr. Rice, and I wish I could tell her things are different now. And they are different; and, in many ways, they are better. There are far fewer obstacles today for bright and curious little girls like Harriet had been, and Black women have greater access to college and professional careers than those who lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Still, I suspect, Rice would be disappointed to learn that only 36 percent of doctors today are women, and less than 3 percent are Black women.

By Stacy Pratt McDermott,
Associate Editor

Sources: Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 3-15, 23-30, 57, 97, 103; Irving Cutler, Chicago: Metropolis of the Mid-Continent, 4th ed. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), 156-60; Linda Gordon, “Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women’s Welfare Activism, 1890-1945,” in Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol Dubois, eds., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2000), 214-41; Rayford Whittingham Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (New York: Dial Press, 1954); Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 740-42; Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 387-88; Ann Oakley, Women, Peace and Welfare: A Suppressed History of Social Reform, 1880-1920 (Chicago: Policy Press, c/o University of Chicago, 2018), 53; Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 12, 14; Kimberly Jensen, “Uncle Sam’s Loyal Nieces: American Medical Women, Citizenship, and War Service in World War I,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 67 (Winter 1993): 680; “African Americans,” Encyclopedia of Chicago;  Florence Kelley to Nicholas Kelley, June 29, 1902, transcribed in Kathryn Kish Sklar and Beverly Wilson Palmer, eds., The Selected Letters of Florence Kelley, 1869-1931 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 113; 1910 U.S. Federal Census; 1920 U.S. Federal Census; Maria Aspan, “Black Women Account for Less than 3% of U.S. Doctors,” Fortune, Aug. 9, 2020; “New Physicians for Illinois,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 9, 1893, p. 4; “George Addison Rice,” Fall River (MA) Evening News, Mar. 10, 1894, p. 4; “New England News in Tabloid Form,” Newport (RI) Mercury, Sep. 24, 1921, p. 5; “Dr. Harriet Rice, 92, Native of Newport,” Newport (RI) Daily News, May 27, 1958, p. 2; Selected Papers of Jane Addams (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019), 3:233n2, 3:241, 3:270n24, 3:454n6; 415n21; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Jan. 15, 1895, in Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:411; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Feb. 3, 1895, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm (JAPM) 2:1656-58; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Feb. 24, 1895, JAPM, 2:1673; Harriet Rice to Jane Addams, Dec. 7, 1928, JAPM, 20:608; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, July 19, 1901; Harriet A. Rice to Anita McCormick Blaine, Aug. 31, 1904, both in Jane Addams Digital Edition.

Segregation At Hull-House: A Closer Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Defender continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“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.