Hull-House, 1908

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HULL HOUSE (CHICAGO): Hull House, one of the first American settlements, was established in Sept., 1889. It represented no association, but was opened by two women, backed by many friends, in the belief that the mere foothold of a house, easily accessible, ample in space, hospitable and tolerant in spirit, situated in the midst of the large foreign colonies which so easily isolate themselves in American cities, would be in itself a serviceable thing for Chicago. Hull House endeavors to make social intercourse express the growing sense of the economic unity of society, and may be described as an effort to add the social function to democracy.

The earliest activities of the settlement were the ordinary ones of children's clubs, kindergartens, receptions, and evening classes. From these larger activities developed which may be described under general headings.

The College Extension courses were established at Hull House before the University Extension movement began in Chicago, and are not connected with it, [although] University Extension courses are constantly given at Hull House and every Sunday evening for many years the Extension Department of the University of Chicago has donated a stereopticon lecture. These are attended by large audiences of men. A helpful supplement of the College Extension courses has been the Summer School, which was held for ten years in the building of Rockford College, at Rockford, Ill. The sum of $3 a week paid by each student for board covers the entire expenses of the school; the use of the buildings, including gymnasium and laboratories, given free of rent.

Hull House hopes to develop a [technique] of teaching especially adapted to adults while utilizing the usual school and college type. Our experience with large classes of immigrants who wish to learn English has resulted in the collection of a special line of text-books and series of pictures.

Organizations which are on the border-land between classes and debating clubs have arranged for a number of public lectures, such as the "Working People's Social Science Club," which was the first body including men to be organized at Hull House. This club was formed through the activity of an English workingman during the first year of Hull House, for the discussion of social problems, and continued to meet weekly for seven years. The discussion was always animated, an every conceivable shade of social and economic opinion was represented, but radicals are so accustomed to hot discussion and sharp differences of opinion, that an almost incorrigible good nature prevailed.

Closely connected with such discussions of economic subjects has been the formal connection between Hull House and organized labor, [although] such connection may be fairly said to rest upon the foundation of personal relations with the organizers of various women's unions, who have lived in the house as guests or residents. Several unions hold their regular meetings at the house, and the Chicago branches of two well-known federal organizations of working women have been formed there: The Women's Union Label League and the Women's Trade-Union League.

Several of the Hull House educational enterprises have developed through the effort made to [page 2] bridge the past life in Europe with American experiences in such wise as to give them both some meaning and sense of relation. The Hull House Labor-Museum was in the first instance suggested by many people in the neighborhood who had come directly from country places in southeastern Europe in which industrial processes are still carried on by the most primitive methods. It was not unusual to find an old Italian woman with her distaff against her homesick face patiently spinning a thread by the simple stick spindle which had certainly been used in the days when David tended his sheep at Bethlehem. In the immediate neighborhood were found at least four varieties of these most primitive methods of spinning and at least three distinct variations of the same spindle put in connection with wheels. It was possible to put these seven into historic sequence and order, and to connect the whole with the present method of factory spinning. The same thing was done for weaving, and on every Saturday evening a little exhibit is made of these "various forms of labor" in the textile industry. Within one room the Syrian, the Greek, the Italian, the Slav, the German, and the Celt enable even the most casual observer to see that there is no break in orderly evolution, if we look at the history from an industrial standpoint. The interest on the part of the classes in dressmaking, millinery, cooling, and sewing in this historic background has been most gratifying.

Closely identified with the Labor-Museum and the classes in pottery, metal work, enamel, and wood-carving, the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society was organized at Hull House and several members of this society live in the buildings on the Hull House quadrangle. The artists find something of the same spirit in the contiguous Italian colony that the French artist is traditionally supposed to discover in his beloved Latin Quarter. Successful classes in drawing, modeling, painting, and lithography are continued year after year, and the space given to the studies has been constantly enlarged. Miss Starr's bookbindery is in the same building with the other shops and is opened to those especially interested in choice books or in the process of making them. Occasional art exhibits have always been held at Hull House and the response to excellence in matters of art has always been gratifying.

The Hull House Music-School was started in the fourth year of Hull House, [although] Miss Eleanor Smith and Miss Hannig, who are its heads, had almost from the beginning held weekly classes there. The Music-School is designed to give a thorough musical instruction to a limited number of children. From the beginning they are taught to compose and to reduce to order the musical suggestion which may come to them. They sometimes find folk-songs in the possession of their old country relatives which have survived through the centuries.

Two years ago a beautiful memorial organ was erected at Hull House, which has greatly added to the resources of the Music School and to the interest of the public concerts which have been given every Sunday afternoon for fifteen years.

Another method of education which has been gradually used more and more at Hull House is that made possible through dramatics, largely amateur, [although] professionals have from time to time been most generous with their services. The first dramas at Hull House were produced in the gymnasium until they seemed to justify the erection of a well-equipped stage in a room erected for a theater.

In the immediate vicinity of Hull House is a large colony of Greeks, who often feel that their history and classic background are completely ignored by the Americans in Chicago, and they therefore welcome and opportunity to present Greek plays in the ancient text. Two of these plays have been remarkably successful; they were carefully staged by Miss Barrows, and the "Ajax" of Sophocles was a genuine triumph to the Greek colony. The little Hull House stage has presented many Italian plays and a few in other tongues, but, of course, the Hull House Dramatic Association present their productions in English and have gradually built up a little clientele of admirers from all parts of the town, and the members have developed in the course of years some genuine dramatic ability. This association gives two carefully prepared dramas each winter. They have presented Ibsen and Shaw as well as melodramas and classic plays. There are also Junior Dramatic Associations.

Gymnasium instruction, with the help of limited apparatus, was provided from the first years of Hull House, but not until 1893 was a separate gymnasium building erected, supplied with a complete system of shower-baths and a running-track.

The Jane Club, a cooperative boarding-club for young working women, had the advice and assistance of Hull House in its establishment. The original members of the club, seven in number, were a group of girls accustomed to cooperative action. The club has been from the beginning self-governing, the officers being elected by the members from their own number, and serving six months gratuitously. The two officers of treasurer and steward have required a generous sacrifice of their limited leisure time as well as a good deal of ability from those holding them. The weekly dues of $3, with an occasional small assessment, have met all current expenses of rent, service, food, and heat. There are various circles within the club for social and intellectual purposes. The atmosphere of the house is one of comradeship rather than of thrift. The Jane Club seven years ago moved into a house built expressly for its use. It provides bedroom space for thirty members twenty-four of them single rooms, with a library and a living-room, and a dining-room large enough to use for social gatherings.

The Culver Club is a residential club of thirty working boys who occupy two upper floors of the Hull House Boys' Club Building. They are self-sustaining and most generous in their services to the social life of the Boys' Club house.

The Hull House Men's Club was organized in 1893, and incorporated under the state law. They rent from Hull House a building for their exclusive use, which is open to members every day and evening. The club holds a monthly reception during the winter and arranges for occasional public debates. The purpose of the club is educational as well as recreative. [page 3]

The Hull House Woman's Club is housed in a building of its own. It has exclusive control of the library and sewing-room, but the large hall, which seats 800 people, is used for many other purposes. The membership is 600. The "Year Book," which is issued in advance each September, shows a full program of lectures on current topics by distinguished speakers, discussions by club members, and musical afternoons by the club's own chorus. The club sustains a visiting-nurse, who lives at Hull House. The club contributes regularly to the Juvenile Court and to the vacation schools and other public undertakings.

At present thirty-five social organizations meet weekly at Hull House, composed of young people who elect their own officers and prepare their own programs under the approval of their "directors." Some of these clubs are purely social, others do serious educational work. Dancing-classes, which are always well attended, have been established in connection with social clubs.

The Hull House Boys' Club of 1,500 members occupies its own building, equipped with bowling-alleys, billiard-tables, athletic apparatus, shops for work in iron, wood, and printing, library and class-rooms. The house is open to members every day from three to ten P.M., and its preservation and good order are carefully guarded by the club members themselves.

Every afternoon after school hours all the available rooms at Hull House are filled with children's clubs, which are designed to be social and recreative in character, [although] some serious study is done by groups in sloid, in sewing, in clay modeling, in cooking, and in gymnastics. The membership of the various clubs and classes consists of 1,500 school children. Summer outings are arranged for them as well as Christmas entertainments and moving-picture shows.

The Coffee-House was opened in 1893 on the basis of a public kitchen. An investigation of the sweat-shops of the neighborhood had disclosed the fact that sewing-women during the busy season paid little attention to the feeding of their families, for it was only by working steadily through the long day that the scanty pay of five, seven, or nine cents for finishing a dozen pairs of trousers could be made into a day's wage; and that the women, therefore, bought from the nearest grocery the canned goods that could be most quickly heated or gave a few pennies to the children with which they might secure a lunch from a neighboring candy-shop.

One of the residents made an investigation, at the instance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, into the food values of the dietaries of the various immigrants, and this was followed by an investigation made by another resident, Miss Hunt, for the U.S. Department of Labor, into the foods of the Italian colony, disclosing the fact that the constant use of imported products bore a distinct relation to the cost of living. The result of these various studies led to the opening of a public kitchen modeled after the New England Kitchen of Boston. The sale of cooked foods, however, has never been popular, [although] the restaurant aspect of the Coffee-House developed rapidly. This performs a mission of its own and has become something of a social center to the neighborhood. Business men from the adjacent factories, and school teachers from the nearest public schools, use it constantly. Every evening students and club members sup together in little groups or hold their reunions and social banquets, as do organizations from all parts of the town to a certain extent. The Coffee-House has been self-sustaining from the beginning, and of later years has been able to pay an adequate rental to Hull House.

A Day Nursery was opened because of the many mothers who were obliged to work and who quite simply asked the kindergartner to "keep the baby for the day." A small apartment was taken across the street and turned into a day-nursery, which was later moved into a cottage on the nearest side street, and [although] a second kindergarten was started here, the earlier one in the drawing-room continued. Later a building called the Children's House was erected for the purpose of housing all of the activities of the children with special reference to the Day-Nursery and Kindergarten. The former averages thirty children a day, and because it is inadequate to the needs of the neighborhood, still another building is in process of erection in which a day-nursery will be maintained by the Chicago Relief and Aid Society. Facilities are also provided in this building for teaching the immigrant mothers the beginnings of wage-earning occupations.

From the beginning a constant effort was made to hand over to public authority every activity that had been initiated. Shower-baths had been maintained in the basement of the house for the use of the neighborhood and they afforded some experience and argument for the erection of the first public bath-house in Chicago, which was built on a neighboring street and opened under the care of the Board of Health. The reading-room and Public Library Station which was begun in the house is continued but a block away. The lending collection of pictures has been incorporated into the Public School Art Society of Chicago, of which Miss Starr was the first president.

Hull House has always held its activities lightly, as it were, in the hollow of its hand, ready to give them over to whomsoever would carry them on properly, for there is among the residents a distrust of the institutional and a desire to be free for experiment and the initiation of new enterprises.

It was, perhaps, significant that the only political office ever sought was that of garbage inspector for the Hull House ward. The poor collection of refuse throughout the city made the greatest menace in the Nineteenth Ward, where the normal amount was much increased by the decayed fruit and vegetables discarded by the Italian and Greek fruit-sellers, and it seemed quite probably that this condition had some connection with the high death-rate so persistent in the ward. One of the residents held this office of inspector for three years, and while many of the foreign-born women of the ward were much shocked by this abrupt departure into the ways of men, they were finally convinced that if it were a womanly task to go about in tenement-houses in order to nurse the sick, it might be quite as womanly to go through the same district in order to prevent the [page 4] breeding of so-called "filth diseases." Moreover, the spectacle of eight hours' work for eight hours' pay, the even-handed justice to all citizens irrespective of "pull," the dividing of responsibility between landlord and tenant, and the readiness to enforce obedience to law from both, was, perhaps, one of the most valuable demonstrations that could have been made. Investigations have also been made into the causes of truancy and juvenile delinquency in their relation to housing. The moral energy of the community is aroused only when people realize that they may become part of the general movements which make for the reform and healing. In illustration of this theory the neighborhood cooperated most generously in a careful investigation of the sweat-shops of the neighborhood which was made in 1892 by Mrs. Florence Kelley, one of the early residents, appointed to do the work by the Illinois Labor Bureau. The report brought a special commission from the legislature to look into the matter, and the recommendations of this committee resulted in the passage of the first factory law for Illinois, which dealt largely with the sanitary conditions of the sweat-shops and the regulations of the age at which a child might be permitted to work, and Mrs. Kelley was appointed the first factory inspector with a deputy and a force of twelve inspectors.

So far as Hull House residents have been identified with public offices, it has been in the attempt both to interpret the needs of the neighborhood to public bodies and to identify the neighborhood energies with civic efforts. This has been true of Miss Lathrop's long experience as a member of the State Board of Charities, with the work of another resident officer as a member of the Chicago School Board, and with the work of four different residents in their official connection with the Juvenile Court of Cook County.

No university or college qualification has ever been made in regard to residents, [although] the majority have always been college people. The organization of the settlement has always been extremely informal. Residents are received for six weeks, during which time they have all privileges, save a vote at residents' meeting. At the end of that period if they have proved valuable to the work of the house, they are invited to remain. The expenses of the residents are defrayed by themselves on the plan of a cooperative club, under the direction of a house committee. An apartment-house, which shelters twelve families, gives a chance of growth in the residential force, and also provides more convenient quarters for old friends and neighbors of the house who are glad to occupy them. The residential force numbers thirty-four, equally divided in number as to men and women, [although] others are most constant in their service. The people from other parts of town who contribute single days or evenings number approximately 100 a week.

It is estimated that 7,000 people come to Hull House each week, either as members of clubs or organizations, or as parts of an audience. The total attendance of the various clubs and classes varies from year to year, only as we are able to provide more room, and it sometimes seems as if nothing but available space could limit it. The residents, however, are convinced that growth either in buildings or numbers counts for little unless the settlement is able to evoke valuable resources of moral energy and social ability from the neighborhood itself.