Hull House

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Hull House refers to the world famous settlement house in Chicago, Illinois run by Jane Addams and characteristic of many of the reform impulses of the Progressive Era. The house itself (previously referred to as the Hull mansion) was built in 1856 by Charles Hull on South Halsted Street in Chicago a mile west of the downtown "Loop"; the building today is a museum and is part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 created the "Hull House social settlement", the locus of many diverse and pioneering educational and social reform programs carried out by Addams and the other residents over four decades. It was the most celebrated and influential representative of the late 19th century settlement house movement in the U.S. The term also applies to as many as six neighborhood and community center sites in the city of Chicago that have inherited the name. [1]

Although the Hull House social settlement was initially modeled on Toynbee Hall the university settlement established on Commercial Street, Whitechapel in the East End of London by Canon Barnett and named for Arnold Toynbee, the Hull House program eventually far exceeded the Toynbee Hall effort in ambition, extent and international influence.

The House That Charles Hull Built

The house itself is a large Italianate brick structure built as a single family dwelling with large front, rear and side yards in 1856 by Chicago real estate man Charles Hull. (Characterizations of the comodious 9-room structure as a mansion may be somewhat overstated.) Owing perhaps to its brick construction, the house was one of the few buildings in the vicinity to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and subsequently served various commercial uses, including as a warehouse and funeral home, before it was rented to Addams in 1889 by Mr. Hull's niece, Helen Culver for $60 a month. Culver had inherited the house and 40 acres of land from her uncle. The house was vacant at the time she rented it. Addams and Starr took occupancy of the house on September 18, 1889 and moved in along with Mary Keyser, who served as housekeeper, cook and general factotum. (It is curious, given the egalitarian inspiration that Hull House has provided for assorted labor, women's and other movements, that Addams and Starr are universally considered co-founders while the invaluable Keyser is accorded a minor servant's role or ignored entirely. It is even more curious that Addams and the otherwise egalitarian-minded Starr contributed to this impression. "Ellen and I live alone with one servant," Addams wrote to her stepmother in the early days of the settlement.[2])

Hull House served as the principal residence, center of operations and home for Addams during the remaining 40 years of her life, until her death from cancer in 1935. It also became the centerpiece of a cluster of more than a dozen other buildings constructed between 1895-1912 on the surrounding land, which was subdivided into 19 adjacent lots in three large parcels, separated by two alleys. All of the buildings in the complex, with the exception of the original house and the dining hall, were demolished in the 1950s to make way for the UIC campus. Charles Hull's original construction and one nearby building, currently serving as a relocated and renovated Labor Museum, remain.

The Hull House That Jane Built

From its early years of operation, Hull House grew from the personal ministrations of the original residents to include other "settlers" in actual residence at the complex, large numbers of participants from the surrounding neighborhoods and a rapidly growing (and sometimes bewildering) program of civic, educational, artistic, residential, engineering, social reform, and other programs, including a significant number of cultural innovations, such as a museum, printery, a day care center, residence for single women, urban playground, electric generator, and much more.

Addams was a highly charismatic personality, and most of those involved in the Hull House operation during her lifetime appear to have routinely deferred to her personal authority. She served as President of the Hull House Association from its incorporation in 1895 until her death.

She also held the title of "Head Resident" of the settlement. Starr eventually became disenchanted with Hull House and moved out.

With Architecture by the Pond Brothers

Allen Pond (1858-1929), secretary of the association for 34 years, was an architect and partner in the Chicago firm of Irving (1857-1939) and Allen Pond, whose firm designed most of the buildings constructed at Hull House, as well as the Purdue University Memorial Union and comparable student unions at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the University of Kansas.[3]. Both Pond brothers were prominent in Chicago society and long-time supporters of Hull House, as well as residents there for an undetermined period of time. Their firm is best remembered for its educational and settlement house constructions, at both Hull House and the Northwestern Settlement and for other contributions to Arts and Crafts style in Chicago.[4]


Despite the reformist, and sometimes more radical, tendencies of its program Hull House was governed throughout its lifetime within the familiar terms of a community cultural institution under the firm and unquestioned control of a powerful founder and a hand-picked board, with the pioneering twist that many of the most powerful and durable actors were college-educated women.


According to Farra,[5] pre-1930s settlement houses in New York City (and presumably elsewhere in the U.S.) were organized on three bases: As limited corporations, as membership organizations or as auxiliaries of other organizations. Holden says that the general practice of settlements on the question of incorporation was mixed: Some were and others weren't. Hull House appears to have originally been unincorporated and established as an Illinois corporation after several years of operation on March 30, 1895. While the reasons for incorporation at this time remain somewhat obscure, it coincides with a gift of the original property (house and land) from Helen Culver to the Hull House project.

The Original Board

The seven members of the original board of Trustees were: Helen Culver, Jane Addams, William H. Colvin, Allen B. Pond, Mary H. Wilmarth, and Mary Roset-Smith. Addams referred to this original board as composed of club women and business men. Culver was the niece (and heir) of C.J. Hull. She had inherited the house and 40 acres from her uncle.

Hull House Board Members, 1895-1935

Only 19 board members served on the Hull House Association board from its formation until Addams' death. The following shows the available information about those board members. The incomplete blocks show the seven members serving at the time Addams died.

Name Appointed Term Ended Years Reason
Addams, Jane 1895 1935 41 Died
Butler, Edward 1895 1912 17 Term Ended
Culver, Helen 1895 1920 25 Resigned
Colvin, W.H. 1895 1897 2 Died
Pond, Allen 1895 1929 34 Died
Smith, Mary Roset 1895 1934 39 Died
Wilmarth, Mary 1895 1907 12 Resigned
Dewey, John 1897 1903 6 Resigned
Bowen, Louise deKoven 1903
Hutchison, Charles L. 1908 1924 24 Died
Rosenwald, Julius 1912 1931 19 Died
Ewing, Charles Hull 1920
Avery, Sewall L. 1926 1936 10 Resigned
Blair, Mrs. Wm. McCormick 1929
Harrison A. Dobbs 1932
Haskins, Mrs.Dorothy North 1934 1935 1 Resigned
Regerny, William H. 1934
Abbott, Grace 1935
Chandler, Henry P. 1935

Hull House Organization

Social settlements were primarily residential and neighborhood institutions and typically displayed relatively non-hierarchical or non-bureaucratic schemes of organization. Under the leadership of the charismatic Addams, such was certainly the case with Hull House.


The original statement of purpose in the charter of the Hull House Association (1895) defined the role of Hull House as civilizing, educational, philanthropic, research and social intervention: "To provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises, and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago."

Elshtain (2002) says that the language of this legal document "fails to capture the spirit and the manifold activities of Hull House." She notes that near the conclusion of The Second Twenty Years at Hull House, Addams sought to restate the mission as "It was the function of settlements to bring into the circle of knowledge and fuller life, men and women who might otherwise be left outside."[6] All of the Hull House activities pointed to one goal, she says: "the building of a social culture of democracy."[7]

Hull House Programs

Those accustomed to thinking of Hull House as a social service, or even in terms of a contemporary neighborhood house are often surprised at the range and diversity of the program offerings that arose at Hull House. Thus, a 1990 tribute in Life Magazine[8] described Hull House as a "center for providing meals, job training, education and even a home for Chicago's immigrant poor." As Elshtain notes, this makes "Hull House sound more like a Great Society-era program rather than the complex intercultural space that it was."

Notable Program Initiatives

From the very start, Addams and particularly Starr placed great emphasis on the arts at Hull House, seeking to create "a place of interior beauty and grace, on teaching the arts and giving children the opportunity to participate in a variety of artistic activities."[9]This covered a broad range of fine arts, including visual arts, music, theater, and literature as well as applied arts such as bookbinding.

The Butler Art Gallery, which opened in 1891, was visited by 3,000 people a week. [10]

The Hull House Players are believed to be the first community theater company in the U.S. Edith de Nancrede was director of the Marionettes, one of several Hull House theater and dance groups. [11]

Hull House residents initiated the first urban playground. Julia Lathrop the first juvenile court (1899), one of the first summer camps. In addition, the Jane Club was a pioneering effort to rent rooms to single young women alone in the city. The labor museum was one of the earliest programs at Hull House, organized by Addams and Starr in 1890. Starr later established a notable book-binding program at Hull House prior to her departure. An 'engine house' generator which sold electricity to the Chicago power grid and the coffee house were certainly among the first nonprofit social enterprises anywhere.

Starr's enthusiasm for the arts was matched by her enthusiasm for labor. She was an active, and aggressive union organizer of strong socialist convictions and wrote the chapter on "Art and Labor" for Hull House Maps and Papers (1895).

Other Programs

Other programs included a laundry, music school, dancing class, gym, boy’s club, children’s club, and the Hull House band.

Some of the program innovations were mundane but essential: Elstain (2002) notes that many immigrants visiting Hull House "were dirty because of so few bathrooms in the crowded tenaments. Seeing this, Addams built five bathrooms in the rear of Hull House and made them available to the neighborhood. The bathtubs were as popular as the art gallery: They were constantly in use." Addams reports 980 bathers in one month, along with 30-40 children daily in the nursery. [12]

The labor museum was not the only connection to workers' concerns. Elshtain reports that at least four unions for women met there regularly: the bookbinders, the shoemakers, the shirtmakers and the cloakmakers[13].

The Hull House Construction Program

During her lifetime, Addams, along with the architectural firm of Irving and Allen Pond, oversaw construction of a substantial number of new buildings in the Hull House complex, which grew into a sort of campus around the original dwelling.

Theater at Hull House began with construction of a stage in the gymnasium (circa 1897) and later moved to the Bowen Theater (not to be confused with the Roy Bowen Theater in Columbus OH), which was constructed on the Polk Street side of the Hull House campus, between the Boy's Club and the Gymnasium and featured a 750-seat auditorium. As it's name suggests, Mrs. Louise DeKoven Bowen, later a Hull House Association board member and president, was the principal patron of the theater which Elshtain refers to as "the mother-house of Chicago theater."[14]

Hull House Politics

Residents living at Hull House represented a broad spectrum of political views. Addams herself was a registered Republican who was an active supporter of Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Republicanism through the "Bull Moose" campaign of 1912, following which she largely withdrew from electoral politics.


  1. Jean Bethke Elshtain. Jane Addams: The Dream of American Democracy. New York: Basic Books. 2002.
  2. Elshtain, 2002, 90
  5. Katherine Farra. “Organization and Administration.” Social Settlements in New York: Their Activities, Policies and Administration. Albert J. Kennedy, Katherine Farra and Associates. Columbia University Press, for the Welfare Council of New York City. 1934, p. 486.
  6. Elshtain, 2002. p. 92.
  7. Elshtain, 2002, p. 100
  8. Elshtain, 2002. p. 22
  9. Elshtain, 2002, p. 127.
  10. Elshtain, 2002, p. 99
  11. Elshtain, 2002, p. 10
  12. Elshtain, 2002. p. 100
  13. Elshtain, 2002, p. 100
  14. Elshtain, 2002, p. 136