Jane Addams (public domain photo from bing.com)

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As we wrote in the last issue of the RoundTable, the City of Big Shoulders once harbored two women with national and international clout: Frances Willard of Evanston and Jane Addams of Chicago. 

Frances Willard, the earlier of the two, was the topic of the last article.  Today we visit the famous residence/workplace of Jane Addams. Though more people are familiar with Ms. Addams today, she was not as well known in her time as Frances Willard.

Jane Addams was born in Cedarville, Ill., in 1860 and attended Rockford Female Seminary between 1879 and 1881. With her father’s death in 1881 she inherited a considerable amount of money and was able to explore the albeit limited career opportunities for a woman of her privileged class.

During a trip to England (1887-88) she and Helen Gates Starr visited Toynbee Hall, London’s first settlement experiment and a place where lower-class women could find assistance and shelter. For the two it was a Eureka moment, and in 1889 they founded Hull House on Chicago’s South Halsted Street, a cauldron of immigrant habitation.

The Hull Mansion (architect unknown) was built in 1856 for Charles Hull, a land speculator, on a 40-acre parcel of land about a mile from downtown Chicago. How long members of the Hull family lived in this restored Italianate mansion located at 800 South Halsted St. is a bit of a mystery.

Although it survived the great Chicago fire of 1871 as nearby dwellings did not, the Hull family may have thought it prudent to move elsewhere. If so, they were not alone; many prominent Chicago residents did likewise.

Whatever the reason for their departure, the mansion remained in the Hull family and served a variety of commercial interests until Ms. Addams and Ms. Starr rented it in 1889 from Helen Culver, a niece of Mr. Hull, for $60 a month. By this time the neighborhood had become a tenement district of lower-class workers, many of them recent immigrants.

Although admirably restored to its pre-Civil War appearance in the 1960s, the Hull mansion is not particularly outstanding architecturally, except for its location on very busy South Halsted Street and the somewhat strident contrasting architecture of the University of Illinois Chicago campus surrounding it.

In size and appointments it is similar to many historic houses the Getaway Guys have seen. Typical of its period, the stately first floor has high ceilings embellished with elaborate cornices and intricate medallions containing what appear to be authentic period lighting fixtures converted to electricity.

Additionally, there are numerous fireplaces with ornate mantles in large rooms originally intended for receiving and entertaining guests.

The second floor living quarters are, typically, far more Spartan. But the Hull mansion is not a typical house museum. It does contain furniture and artifacts presumably owned by Ms. Addams and Ms. Starr and a number of very fine portraits of Ms. Addams, but a good portion is dedicated to permanent displays explaining the Hull House mission, with additional space set aside for temporary exhibitions. It is also a research center and archive.

Today “Hull House” is a convenient label affixed to the dedication of Ms. Addams and Ms. Starr on behalf of social welfare. But “Hull House” is singular and does not begin to explain or identify what “Hull House” really was before its demolition for the UIC campus.

Despite Alan’s penchant for knowing almost everything about Chicago history (he was a librarian, after all), both he and sidekick Neil admitted their ignorance about the “Hull House” complex of buildings once occupying almost two square blocks around the original Hull mansion.

Precise construction dates for the 14 buildings that made up the Hull House “campus” are elusive. Built after 1889 and demolished in the 1960s, the Hull “campus” is now gone. The Addams-Starr complex was big; the restored Hull mansion represents only a fraction of what once was.

Admission to Hull House is free, but donations are generously accepted.

Hull House is open to the public Tuesday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

Not unlike Frances Willard, Ms. Addams needed a calling beyond marriage, and for young women of means and education, the settlement movement (i.e., welfare work) provided another alternative. (As an unmarried young woman of means, Eleanor Roosevelt did settlement work in New York City.) 

What Ms. Addams and Ms. Starr thought they were getting into when they rented the Hull mansion in 1889 is not easily answered, because what they idealistically started grew in complexity and services to the less fortunate prior to Ms. Addams’ death in 1935. Like Ms. Willard, Ms. Addams thought a woman’s right to vote was imperative if social reform and America’s potential were to be realized.

Seeing  progress on the home front, Jane Addams turned her attention to world peace, believing it, too, was within the power of enfranchised women. She was justifiably alarmed by the late 19th- and early 20th-century arms race that culminated in World War I.

So in 1915, before U. S. involvement, Ms. Addams (with assistance from Henry Ford) joined other prominent and influential women in trying to bring about an end to World War I through negotiation.

Though she failed, in 1931 she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, the second woman and the first and only American woman to be so honored. (Baroness Bertha Von Suttner, 1843-1914, honored in 1905, was the first.)

Ironically, Jane Addams lived long enough to witness the rise of Hitler and the strong likelihood of another World War.

While the Getaway Guys typically disagree about many things, they agreed on almost everything related to the missions of Jane Addams and Frances Willard.

They came to appreciate the efforts of Ms. Willard and the WCTU with regard to alcohol and its debilitating effects on society, and about both women’s struggle to obtain women’s right to vote.

As to Jane Addams and the former Hull Mansion (now Hull House), the Guys salute America’s first female winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her disarmament advocacy, and, as importantly, for all she did to secure dignity for the less fortunate in our society.

Editor’s Note:  The authors maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, which offers recommended outings to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.