In 1888, while on a tour of Europe, Jane Addams and Ellen Starr visited the university settlement of Toynbee Hall , in the East End of London. Named after the social reformer, Arnold Toynbee, the settlement was run by Samuel Augustus Barnett, canon of St. Jude's Church.
Situated in Commercial Street, Whitechapel, Toynbee Hall was Britain's first university settlement. The idea was to create a place where students from Oxford University and Cambridge University , during their vacations, could work among, and improve the lives of the poor. The settlement also served as a base for Charles Booth and his group of researchers working on the Life and Labour of the People in London .
When Jane Addams and Ellen Starr returned to Chicago in 1889, they decided to start a similar project in Chicago. Helen Culver agreed to rent them Hull House for $60 a month. This large, abandoned mansion had been built by the wealthy businessman, Charles J. Hull, in 1856. Situated in Halstead Street in the run-down Nineteenth Ward of Chicago, most of the people living in the area were recently arrived immigrants from Europe including people from Germany, Italy, Sweden, England, Ireland, France, Russia, Norway, Austro-Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria, Holland, Portugal, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Finland.
Jane Addams and Ellen Starr moved in to Hull House on 18th September, 1889. They began by inviting people living in the area to hear readings from books and to look at slides of paintings. After talking to the visitors it soon became clear that the women had a desperate need for a place where they could bring their young children. Addams and Starr decided to start a kindergarten and provide a room where the mothers could sit and talk. Jenny Dow, who lived in an expensive part of Chicago, agreed to come to Hull House to run the nursery school. Within three weeks the kindergarten had enrolled twenty-four children with 70 more on the waiting list.
Other activities soon followed. Jane Addams ran a club for teenage boys and Ellen Starr provided lessons in cooking and sewing for local girls. University teachers, students and social reformers in Chicago were also recruited to provide free lectures on a wide variety of different topics. Over the years this included people such as John Dewey, Clarence Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, William Walling, Robert Hunter, Robert Lovett, Ernest Moore, Charles Beard, Paul Kellogg, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Ray Stannard Baker, Francis Hackett, Henry Demarest Lloyd and Frank Lloyd Wright .
Inspired by the ideas of William Morris and John Ruskin, the women decided to turn Hull House into an art gallery. While in Europe Jane Addams and Ellen Starr had collected reproductions of paintings and these were now hung in the various rooms of the house. Starr organized art classes and exhibitions as well as developing a scheme where people could borrow art reproductions to hang in their own homes.
Italian, German, Irish and French evenings were also organized. Local people presented songs, dances, games and food associated with their home country. This was probably the most successful of the settlement's early projects as it provided an opportunity for local people to make their own contribution to the venture. As Jane Addams later recalled, it soon became clear that the object of the settlement program should be to "help the foreign-born conserve and keep whatever of value their past life contained and to bring them into contact with a better class of Americans."
In 1890 Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr were joined at Hull House by Julia Lathrop. All three women had been students at Rockford Female Seminary together in the 1880s. Lathrop, who had been trained as a lawyer by her father, the United States senator, William Lathrop, was an excellent organizer, and took over the day to day running of the settlement.
Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr and Julia Lathrop gradually became more involved in the community where they were living. They were shocked by the poor housing, the overcrowding and the poverty that the people were having to endure. Addams wrote to her step-brother that she was "overpowered by the misery and narrow lives" of these people.
In the early days of Hull House, the three women were influenced by the Christian Socialism that had inspired the creation of Toynbee Hall. This was reinforced by the arrival in 1891 of Florence Kelley at Hull House. A member of the Socialist Labor Party, Kelley had considerable experience of political and trade union activity. It was Kelley who was mainly responsible for turning Hull House into a centre of social reform.
The presence of Florence Kelley in Hull House attracted other social reformers to the settlement. This included Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Alice Hamilton, Charlotte Perkins, William Walling, Charles Beard, Mary McDowell, Mary Kenney, Alzina Stevens and Sophonisba Breckinridge. Working-class women, such as Kenney and Stevens, who had developed an interest in social reform as a result of their trade union work, played an important role in the education of the middle-class residents at Hull House. They in turn influenced the working-class women. As Kenney was later to say, they "gave my life new meaning and hope".
Florence Kelley and several other women based at Hull House carried out research into the sweating trade in Chicago and this led to the passing of the pioneering Illinois Factory Act (1893). Kelley was recruited by the state's new governor, John Peter Altgeld, as the chief factory inspector, and two other women involved in the research, Alzina Stevens and Mary Kenney, also became inspectors.
Helen Culver, who owned Hull House, also gave the women other adjacent property. Wealthy people in Chicago contributed money, including Louise Bowen who provided three quarters of a million dollars. This enabled the group to expand its activities. An art gallery was added in 1891, a coffee house and gymnasium in 1893, a club house in 1898 and a theatre in 1899.
In 1903 several women associated with Hull House, including Jane Addams, Mary Kenney, Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley and Sophonisba Breckinridge, were involved in establishing the Women's Trade Union League. Union meetings were often held at Hull House and members of the settlement helped support workers during industrial disputes. This resulted in some wealthy people withdrawing their support from Hull House. One businessman wrote that Hill House had "been so thoroughly unionized that it has lost its usefulness and has become a detriment and harm to the community as a whole."
Many of the women at Hull House went on to play an important role in the reform movement and the development of social work as a profession. This included Florence Kelley (first woman chief factory inspector and head of the National Consumer's League); Julia Lathrop (head of the Children's Bureau , 1912-21); Mary Kenney (co-founder of Women's Trade Union League); Grace Abbott (director of the Immigrants' Protective League and head of Children's Bureau, 1921-34); Alice Hamilton (first woman professor at Harvard Medical School); Dorothy Detzer, Executive Secretary of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1924-46); Edith Abbott (director of social research at the Chicago School of Civics and editor of Social Service Review ); Sophonisba Breckinridge (professor of social work at Chicago School of Civics), Mary McDowell (co-founder of Women's Trade Union League), Adena Miller Rich (vice-president of the League of Women Voters) and Jessie Binford (director of the Juvenile Protective Association).
Hull House was also visited by a large number of people who were to later have a profound impact on the development of the modern world. This included John Peter Altgeld, Mary White Ovington, Lillian Wald, Frances Perkins, George Herron, James Keir Hardie, John Morley, J. A. Hobson, H. G. Wells, John Burns, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas and William Stead .
The Hull House settlement received a considerable amount of publicity and soon spread to other cities in the United States. This included Andover House in Boston in 1891 and the Henry Street Settlement in New York, established by Lillian Wald in 1893. In 1897 there were 74 settlements in the United States and by 1900 there were over a hundred. In 1911 leaders of the social settlement movement, including Jane Addams of Hill House, founded the National Federation of Settlements .
The Hull House complex was not completed until 1907. The settlement now had thirteen buildings spread over a large city block. There were around 70 people living in Hull House and it cost the settlement over $26,500 to run the house and its programs. Rents and sales raised $12,000 but the rest had to come from donations.
Elizabeth Dilling claimed that Jane Addams was one of the most of the dangerous radicals in America: "Greatly beloved because of her kindly intentions toward the poor, Jane Addams has been able to do more probably than any other living woman to popularize pacifism and to introduce radicalism into colleges, settlements, and respectable circles. The influence of her radical proteges, who consider Hull House their home center, reaches out all over the world. One knowing of her consistent aid of the Red movement can only marvel at the smooth and charming way she at the same time disguises this aid."
After the death of of Jane Addams in 1935, Louise Bowen, president of the Hull House Association board of trustees, was the most important figure at Hull House. Bowen appointed Adena Miller Rich , director of the Immigrants' Protective League, as Hull House's head resident. Rich established a new Department of Naturalization and Citizenship. The main objective of this organization was to educate immigrants. Another innovation was the formation of the Housing and Sanitation Committee, that attempted to improve living conditions in Chicago .
Adena Miller Rich and Louise Bowen did not have a good relationship and disagreed about staff appointments, the use of funds, and the importance of the different Hull House programs. As Bowen controlled the funds, she normally made the final decisions and in April, 1937, Rich resigned.
Louise Bowen selected Charlotte Carr as the next head resident. Carr agreed with Adena Miller Rich that the most important objectve was help intergrate the various immigrant groups. At that time the Hull House community consisted of eighteen national groups: Italian, Greek, Mexican, British, Scandinavian, Polish, German, Russian, Czechoslovakian, French, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Swiss, Rumanian, Yugoslavian, Belgian, Finnish and Dutch.
Charlotte Carr established the Workers' Education Department and encouraged local people to join trade unions. Under Carr's leadership the Hull House Settlement grew rapidly and by 1940 it was estimated that 1,500 people entered the building every day. However, Carr's radical political views resulted in clashes with Louise Bowen. In 1943 Carr was fired when she refused to resign from the left-wing Union for Democratic Action.
Louise Bowen, whose health was now poor, decided to retire from active duty and instead became honorary president and treasurer. The trustees decided to appoint Russell Ballard as head resident. Ballard, a former school teacher, decided to place the focus on the welfare of children. By 1944 there were 685 children registered for daytime recreation activities and 275 for evening programs.
In 1959 the University of Illinois began looking for a site to build a new campus. The following year the city authorities suggested the area which housed the Hull House Settlement. The fight against this scheme was led by Jessie Binford and Florence Scala .
The struggle against closure was still going on when Russell Ballard decided to retire in February, 1962. Paul Jans became the new head resident but on 5th March, 1963, the trustees of Hull House accepted an offer of $875,000 for the settlement buildings. Jessie Binford and Florence Scala took the case to the Supreme Court but the ruling went against them and the Hull House Settlement was closed on 28th March, 1963. After complaints from long-time supporters of the settlement it was decided to preserve the original Hull House building and turn it into a museum.