The Hull House, Chicago

Cars rushed by as I balanced on the median’s narrow kerb. I half expected someone to shout through an open window, “You know what happened to that paparazzo chasing Bieber, don’t you?” The sun slanted weakly from my left in the late afternoon. The light changed to red, the cars stopped, I snapped a picture of the Hull House Museum.

Jane Addams, a graduate of the Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford College), and her friend Ellen Gates Starr opened Hull House in 1889. Their goal was to provide literacy and art education to the poor residents of the neighborhood. The area surrounding Hull House is now the University of Illinois at Chicago and Greektown, an historically Greek neighborhood that is now the location of restaurants, cafes and the National Hellenic Museum. When Addams and Starr opened the Hull House, the area was the home to mostly Greek and Italian immigrants.

Hull House was part of the settlement movement, which began in 19th century England as a response to widespread poverty. Addams took an holistic approach to social reform. Hull House operated social programs to teach immigrants English and hygiene, promote art, built the first playground, provided childcare and healthcare. They were active in the Arts and Crafts movement; the house’s interior decorating reflects that.

Jane Addams’ gift was bridging the gap between educated women in Chicago who needed something to do and poor immigrants who needed an end to poverty. The bored, educated women with money proved receptive to Addams and Starr’s fundraising efforts. Gail Collins, author of America’s Women, writes, “The immigrants may have been drawn to her [Jane Addams] because she was not judgmental  and she was a good listener, interested in understanding how her neighbors viewed things. When she became a renowned speaker later in life, she was their interpreter.”

Addams’ legacy is remarkable and continues to influence social reform. Although the Hull House stopped operating as the headquarters for the organization in the 1970s, its work is alive throughout Chicago. The museum chronicles social justice movements throughout the 20th century and captures the Hull House Settlement’s influence in exhibits about current social justice efforts like fair trade and recycling.

Below is a list of books related to poverty, immigration and feminism. I can only recommend books I’ve read, though I can think of countless others on my to-read list. If you have other suggestions, please post them in the comments.

Books on Poverty: Savage Inequalities & Amazing Grace (Jonothan Kozol); Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo); Where We Stand: Class Matters (bell hooks); Half the Sky (Nick Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn); Educating Esme (Esme Raji Codell); Inside Mrs. B’s Classroom (Leslie Baldacci)

Books on Immigration: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman); The Middle of Everywhere (Mary Pipher)

Books on Feminism: America’s Women & When Everything Changed (Gail Collins); When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (Paula Giddings); Feminism is for Everybody (bell hooks); The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler); The End of Men (Hanna Rosin)

Jane Addams Hull House Museum

The University of Illinois at Chicago

800 S. Halsted Street

Chicago, IL 60607

Take bus number 8 or the Blue Line of the El/Subway. The El stop is UIC/Halsted.

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