Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hull-House represented an attempt on behalf of middle-class American women to address the needs of Chicago’s inner city, many of whose residents were poor immigrants.

Summary of Event

While traveling in Europe in 1888, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, close friends who had been classmates at Rockford College in Illinois, pledged to live together in a poor urban neighborhood upon their return to the United States. This decision was prompted in large part by their struggle to find meaning in a world that greatly limited opportunities for women. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, many of the first generation of college-educated U.S. women rejected women’s traditional role as mothers and wives but generally were denied careers in business, law, the ministry, and medicine. Hull-House[Hull House] Chicago;Hull-House[Hull House] Addams, Jane Settlement houses Starr, Ellen Gates [kw]Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House (Sept. 18, 1889) [kw]Opens Chicago’s Hull-House, Addams (Sept. 18, 1889) [kw]Chicago’s Hull-House, Addams Opens (Sept. 18, 1889) [kw]Hull-House, Addams Opens Chicago’s (Sept. 18, 1889) Hull-House[Hull House] Chicago;Hull-House[Hull House] Addams, Jane Settlement houses Starr, Ellen Gates [g]United States;Sept. 18, 1889: Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House[5650] [c]Social issues and reform;Sept. 18, 1889: Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House[5650] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 18, 1889: Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House[5650] [c]Women’s issues;Sept. 18, 1889: Addams Opens Chicago’s Hull-House[5650] Hamilton, Alice Kelley, Florence Lathrop, Julia C.

The daughter of a wealthy mill owner and banker, Addams graduated from college in 1881, then dropped out of medical school, spent two years touring Europe with her stepmother, experienced several bouts of depression, and led a rather aimless life. After attending a gory bullfight in Madrid in the spring of 1888, she was appalled and ashamed by her lack of disgust with the carnage and resolved to become involved in the lives of suffering people. While returning to the United States, she investigated several reform efforts in London, most notably Toynbee Hall, a social settlement established in 1884.

Starr had been forced to leave Rockford College after one year because of limited family finances. She then taught a variety of subjects at a fashionable school for girls in Chicago. Like Addams, she was troubled by a sense of futility and searched for direction, a quest that eventually took her from Unitarianism to Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism.

With Toynbee Hall as their model, Addams and Starr rented an apartment in Chicago in January, 1889, and sought to clarify their goals, raise money for their endeavor, and locate a suitable house. They visited society matrons, leaders of Chicago charities, and clergy. They received pledges of support from the Chicago Women’s Club, the Chicago chapter of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, the head of the Chicago Ethical Society, and the city’s most popular minister, Frank Gunsaulus Gunsaulus, Frank . The directors of the Armour Mission, a nondenominational institution founded in 1886 that sponsored many facilities for the city’s poor residents, were especially helpful. Dozens of speeches to clubs, mission boards, and Sunday school classes won Addams and Starr many generous offers of financial support and made them celebrities in the city even before they opened their house.

On September 18, 1889, Addams and Starr moved into the second floor of the old Hull Mansion, built in 1856 on South Halsted Street on Chicago’s West Side. It was surrounded by factories and tenements populated primarily by indigent immigrants. By Addams’s own description, the area had inexpressibly dirty streets, inadequate schools, poor street lighting, miserable paving, unenforced sanitary legislation, and “stables foul beyond description.”

Addams and Starr had originally intended simply to live in an impoverished neighborhood and develop cordial relationships with the residents. Their initial plan was simply to be a presence in the community, both to learn from and to teach their urban neighbors. They hoped that other young, directionless, college-educated women would live with them and find a purpose by interacting with Chicago’s poor. However, Hull-House quickly evolved into an institution that furnished a variety of programs and services to those living on the West Side.

Convinced that the influence of the neighborhood’s more than two hundred saloons, numerous dance halls, and widespread delinquency could be reduced only by wholesome entertainment and activities, Addams and Starr started clubs for girls and boys, a lending library, music programs, and a social science club. Hull-House also provided hot lunches, child care, classes in English, and lectures on art and philosophy. They hung reproductions of great European art in the house, and Starr patiently explained the meaning of these pictures to onlookers. Although their neighbors initially were skeptical, two thousand neighborhood residents soon were visiting the settlement each week.


(University of Illinois at Chicago, University Library, Jane Addams Memorial Collection)

A gifted group of women, including Julia C. Lathrop Lathrop, Julia C. , Florence Kelley Kelley, Florence , and Alice Hamilton Hamilton, Alice , soon joined the Hull-House founders. To improve the urban environment, these women campaigned for more effective garbage collection, cleaner streets, public baths, parks, playgrounds, and better schools. By means of their experiences, discussion, debates, publications, and reform activities, they advanced both the theory and practice of social welfare in the United States.

Hull-House was not the first settlement house in the United States. That honor belonged to the Neighborhood Guild (later called the University Settlement), founded by Stanton Coit on New York’s Lower East Side in 1886. Several months before Hull-House opened its doors, two of Coit’s associates established College Settlement, also in New York New York City;College Settlement . The roots of these early social settlements were complex. They lay in British Christian socialism, the Social Gospel movement Social Gospel movement in the United States (an effort of many Protestants to apply biblical social teachings to urban, industrial, economic, and political life), the humanitarian desire to help newly arrived immigrants adjust to life in the United States and the poor to escape indigence, concern for social control, and the rise of sociology as an academic discipline.

Settlement houses were part of a larger crusade aimed at improving working and living conditions in U.S. cities, which included hundreds of institutional churches, civic organizations, and reform agencies. As more and more people moved into congested urban areas, settlement workers strove to replace the long-standing view of cities as dens of iniquity that should be abolished with a vision of cities as centers of commerce and culture that could be reformed through better housing, sanitation, transportation, employment opportunities, and recreation, and by creation of a sense of community.

Hull-House and other settlements also sprang, in part, from the broader quest of U.S. women to improve themselves and their society. This campaign gave birth to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union Women’s Christian Temperance Union[Womens Christian Temperance Union] , the Social Purity League, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and numerous other reform and philanthropic organizations. Moreover, settlements both reflected and contributed to the growing belief that poverty was not simply a result of individual flaws and failures but sprang from larger institutional and social forces that society must seek to change.


For a variety of reasons, including the remarkable residents and visitors it attracted, the many facilities it developed, and Addams’s zealous efforts to publicize its philosophy and programs, Hull-House became the nation’s showcase settlement and the prototype for the four hundred other settlements founded during the next two decades. By 1906, only the University of Chicago Chicago, University of had more buildings and programs in Chicago than Hull-House. Those associated with the settlement made it a center for urban research and social reform. Journalists, scholars, and welfare workers flocked to Hull-House to study its success and advance its aims.

In 1895, Addams and others issued Hull House Maps and Papers, a detailed survey of the conditions of the nineteen different nationalities who lived in close proximity to the settlement, which stimulated further research on Chicago and other cities. Much of the settlement’s fame, however, stemmed from the national reputation Addams achieved as a result of her many books, articles, and lectures, and her participation in various reform crusades. By the early twentieth century, Addams was considered by many to be the leading lady of the United States. She was widely regarded as a sage and a saint, a rare exemplar of both practicality and spirituality.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Addams, Jane. The Jane Addams Reader. Edited by Jean Bethke Elshtain. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Selection of writings by Jane Addams, the cofounder of Hull-House.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Twenty Years at Hull House. Edited by Victoria Bissell Brown. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Scholarly edition, with additional autobiographical materials, of a book that Addams first published in 1911. Provides a detailed account of the establishment, operation, and philosophy of Hull-House.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryan, Mary Linn McCree, and Allen Davis. One Hundred Years at Hull-House. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990. Collection of primary sources about Hull-House, including numerous photographs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carson, Mina. Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Extensively documented examination of the contribution of U.S. settlement-house workers to the development of social welfare. Provides a historical and ideological context for the work of Hull-House.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">________. Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890-1914. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Overview of the origin, guiding principles, activities, and accomplishments of American social settlements during their early years.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Deegan, Mary Jo. Race, Hull-House, and the University of Chicago: A New Conscience Against Ancient Evils. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Study of Hull-House between 1892 an 1960, with special attention to its place within the wider context of racial and ethnic issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glowacki, Peggy, and Julia Hendry. Hull-House. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2004. Well-illustrated study of Hull House, which is discussed in the context of its surrounding community.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levine, Daniel. Jane Addams and the Liberal Tradition. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Useful discussion of the background, context, daily operations, institutional growth, and community influence of Hull-House.

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Categories: History