Irving Kane Pond, "The Life of Architecture", Architectural Record (1905), p. 146-160
Hull House Coffee Room
Hull House Coffee Room
By Denise E. Dedman, Ph.D., MSW
I’ve had the privilege of escorting several groups of social work students to visit the Hull House museum in Chicago, home to Jane Addams and dozens of other social reformers. Many don’t realize that Hull House was where the social activists lived as well as worked. This settlement house began with Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, and expanded as more women and men joined their work and study. Eventually, their community grew to include a 13-building complex that occupied an entire block on Halsted Street in Chicago. They had gyms, theatres, and libraries that served the public, but the apartments were for the activists and visiting scholars.
Upton Sinclair lived at Hull House while researching The Jungle. John Dewey, Paul Kellogg, and Susan B. Anthony visited. Activists who lived there were involved in a variety of projects: Florence Kelley and Julia Lathrop both pioneered work in child welfare that helped end child labor and created juvenile justice programs; the Abbott sisters were social researchers and professors; and Alice Hamilton, one of the first female physicians, researched occupational hazards including toxins and dangerous work processes.
Most of the buildings are now gone. In the 1960s, the whole neighborhood was razed to make room for the University of Illinois-Chicago. Tremendous effort was made to save Hull House and the residents’ dining hall, adjacent to UIC. Because of the success of that effort, we are fortunate to still be able to visit these historic landmarks to this day
Sitting in the residents’ dining hall is an amazing experience. We sit at the tables and realize that the pioneer social workers had dinner there every night. It’s so powerful to hear my students say, “Florence Kelly maybe was sitting here talking youth and factories. Alice Hamilton may have been sitting next to her, talking about occupational hazards to factory workers.” In the dining room, the synergy of such dialogue, the sharing and blending of their individual work, can easily be imagined.
Amazing stuff came about, yet it was dinnertime discussion. In this commonplace act, through interest in each other’s daily life, they strengthened their commitment to reform. In this exchange over dinner, they could talk about their individual successes, and inspired by the little achievements they made, they motivated each other to reach further resulting in decades of progressive social change.
When the students go upstairs to Jane Addams’ small bedroom and see that it was really her only personal space--it was not her mansion, she had one small private area—they’re shocked, and they gain an idea of the commitment of the residents to a greater social cause. Though Addams and other residents ate well, had lovely furnishings, and were surrounded by art and beautiful gardens, it was far from the luxurious homes of the wealthy. They had a very modest lifestyle, living next to their neighbors—the people of the immigrant ghetto.
The 120-year-old Hull House Association went bankrupt and closed two years ago, and many thought that meant the end of Hull House, the museum. Fortunately, it didn’t. The association had moved from the neighborhood long ago, but the museum is still there, a part of the UIC campus. That Hull House still stands is a mark of its ability to connect us to the lives, dreams, and work of a group of social reformers.
I feel renewed each time I go. Hull House is there, inspiring me still. I can share this with my students, and they are part of that synergy. The students return to their various field placements, coming together for seminar each week, and we are still building that community of social workers supporting each other in very hard but meaningful work.
Addams, J. (1912). Twenty Years at Hull House. NY: The MacMillan Company. Retrieved from http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/addams/hullhouse/hullhouse.html.
Simkin, J. (2013). Hull House. Retrieved from http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAhullhouse.htm.
Thayer, K. (2012). Hull House closing Friday. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-01-25/news/ct-met-hull-house-20120126_1_child-care-union-contract-employees.
University of Illinois-Chicago College of Architecture & Arts. (2009). Hull House museum. Retrieved from http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/hull_house.html.
Denise E. Dedman, PhD, MSW, is an assistant professor at Saginaw Valley State University.