Image: Children Painting at the Hull House, 1910. UIC: Urban Experience in Chicago
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” -Jane Addams
Jane Addams (1860-1935) was a sociologist, author, peace activist, and co-founder of the Hull House, a large 13 building-complex located in the Near West Side of Chicago. This famous public homeplace, modeled after Toynbee Hall in London, welcomed 9,000 European and Latin American immigrants weekly to use multiple facilities for personal care and to share skills and arts and crafts from their motherlands.
Addams, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, nurtured the seeds of social pluralism and tirelessly worked to create a sense of community between people of differing classes and backgrounds. She advocated for a vision of social reform that celebrated people’s strengths, especially those marginalized due to poverty. Health was promoted by advocating for environmental changes such as municipal sewage, water, and trash pick-up as well as establishing after-school programs, parks and outdoor playgrounds. Addams many social reforms included a successful fight for effective child labour laws.
A series of art studios built in a quadrangle at the Hull House located in a run-down part of the inner city joined a permanent art gallery which featured the crafts and arts of immigrants who lived in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Metal and woodworking, clay, and painting studios, along with a stage for theatre dance, music concerts and poetry readings formed a free and accessible multi-cultural center.
Another hallmark of Addam’s vision was hosting free discussions called, “The Working People’s Social Science Club,” which met weekly for seven years and brought together University of Chicago researchers and the vocational and cultural strengths of the people of the community.
By 1891, there were six settlement houses and by 1900 over a hundred, and a decade later there were 400 across the United States. As the Hull House continued to form university alliances, a social work education developed based on advocacy and the strengths of individuals and families living in impoverished environments. Much to Addam’s chagrin, as the social work profession grew it replaced its original social justice mandate with a medical model that focused on individuals’ responsibility for social situations (Carson, 1990).
The social movement is criticized for not transferring power and leadership to the neighborhoods it supported. Rivka Lissak, in her book Pluralism and Progressives: Hull House and the New Immigrants 1890-1919, stated there was little lasting success that the Hull House contributed to influencing the immigrant communities surrounding the settlement. Another perceived failure of this liberal social reform project was a lack of promotion for the rights of African Americans which exposed settlement worker’s prejudices and white supremacist ideology. (See Lugenia Burns Hope and Southern Settlement House Movement)
Addams, J. (1960). Twenty Years at Hull-House. New York: NAL Books.
Belenky, M.F., Bond, L.A., Weinstock, J.S. (1996). “Public Homeplaces: Nurturing the development of People, Families, and Communities.” In Knowledge, Difference and Power by Goldberger, N.R., Tarule, J.M., Clinchy, B.M., Belenky, M.F., 393-431. NY: BasicBooks.
Carson, M.J. (1990). Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement 1885-1930 Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Lissak, R.S. (1989). Pluralism & Progressives: Hull House and the New Immigrants 1890-1919. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Contributed by Janis Timm-Bottos