Jane Addams and Hull House:A Personal Reflection
Visiting the Hull House museum provided a revealing view of the great effort it took at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century for social change to happen, not only in Chicago, but also nationally. It was very interesting to learn that when, in 1889, Hull House opened, Jane Addams and her colleague Ellen Gates Starr viewed it simply as a place “to offer art and literary education to their less fortunate neighbors” and that it developed over the years into so much more (“About Hull” n.d.). Although I am not an expert in American history, I found myself surprised that I had never heard of Jane Addams or the work she and the Residents of Hull House did that had such a big effect on America.
I did not go on a guided tour of the museum, although I was able to participate in the Sewing Rebellion, which is part of the current “Unfinished Business: 21st Century Home Economics” exhibit. In the Sewing Rebellion, I used an antique sewing machine to turn an old t-shirt into a shopping bag. I found out that it was not so easy to do. The exhibit itself is designed to show that home economics is different than the stereotypical view that it is the province of women who embrace feminine conventions and that it is more about making the home a space of social change. I was especially interested in the displays, which showed some of the antique utility devices like hand-held mixers and irons that people used when Hull House was open for its original purpose.
Another fact I was surprised to learn was that Jane Addams was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 (“About Jane” n.d.). However, after discovering the long list of accomplishments of Jane Addams and the Residents of Hull House, I was much less surprised to know she received that prize. What began as an effort to bring art and literature to the less fortunate evolved into a social movement that included educational classes such as English lessons and citizenship classes for immigrants, children’s rights issues including America’s first Juvenile Court, labor rights activism, food safety activism, child care, kindergarten, a public kitchen and baths, a theatre, and much more. I was particularly fascinated with Bernardine Dohrn’s “Parking Lot Across the Street” audio recording, which detailed some of the issues concerning the Juvenile Court. Today in America, childhood is seen as precious, and this status owes a great deal to the hard work of Addams and the Residents, who fought for free schools, child labor laws, and human rights for children.
The work Addams and the Residents did in working with immigrants is relevant to both the nation and the world. Without strong advocates for education, safety, human rights, and more, perhaps the nation would still be in a dark age of squalor and ignorance. America as we know it today is largely made up of the descendents of immigrants. People need other people to band together with to improve their way of life, their health, education, safety, and rights. Addams and the Residents of Hull house did impressive work to forward this cause.
About Hull House (n.d.). In Jane Addams Hill-House Museum Website. Retrieved 7 Apr. 2013 from http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/_learn/_abouthullhouse/abouthullhouse.html
About Jane Addams (n.d.). In Jane Addams Hill-House Museum Website. Retrieved 7 Apr. 2013 from http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/_learn/_aboutjane/aboutjane.html
Dohrn, Bernardine (n.d.). Parking Lot Across the Street. Jane Addams Hill-House Museum Website. Retrieved 8 Apr. 2013 from http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/_museum/
Kelley, Florence (1895). The Sweating System. In Hull House Maps and Papers. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 27-48. Retrieved from http://florencekelley.northwestern.edu/historical/hullhouse/#