Hull-House provided numerous services for the poor, many of whom were immigrants, that helped immigrants to learn about American culture and life.
The settlement house movement started in England in 1884 to provide education and assistance to the disadvantaged, while also training teachers and social workers. The first settlement house in the United States was established in 1889 in New York’s lower East Side. At first staffed by men, women’s settlement houses soon followed, giving young educated women an opportunity to use their knowledge and talents. In 1889, Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr established the most famous of the settlement houses, Hull-House, in Chicago’s West Side. Settlement houses, especially in the United States and Canada, were especially important in serving immigrants who came to the cities in great numbers for work. These immigrants were typically part of the urban poor and experienced terrible living conditions.
Although Hull-House was not the first settlement house, it became the model for virtually all others that followed. In 1889, Chicago was the second-largest city in the United States and the sixth largest in the world for industry. It offered abundant job opportunities that attracted large numbers of immigrants. Of Chicago’s one million residents in 1888, approximately 78 percent were either foreign born or the children of foreign-born parents. Because of the number of potential workers, the wages were low and poverty widespread, especially among unskilled workers.
Hull-House was established on Halsted Street in the middle of an immigrant neighborhood in the Nineteenth Ward, an area considered a slum. The thirty-block area surrounding Hull-House was home to at least eighteen different nationalities that represented twenty-six different ethnic groups, including Italians, Germans, Irish, Poles, Russian Jews, Bohemians, French Canadians, and Greeks. The neighborhood contained manufacturing, small houses, apartment buildings, and tenements. City services could not keep pace with the population growth and so this neighborhood experienced the typical problems of lack of sanitation services, polluted water supply, and overcrowded, rundown housing.
Hull-House was designed to specialize in assisting immigrants, who were among Chicago’s neediest residents. Its goal was to add American culture to the immigrants’ native cultures, not to replace them. Serving as a neighborhood center, the settlement house provided a wide range of services. Single working women were allowed to live at the house, where they helped with day-to-day activities. Many immigrants were anxious to become Americanized and eagerly sought English and citizenship classes.
In addition to the social services and educational offerings, the women in the settlement house movement began to fight for social reform after witnessing at first hand the struggles of the poor. The Working People’s Social Science Club offered free weekly public lectures on economic and social issues of interest to working-class people, and broke down the barriers between the middle and working classes. Activists worked to improve the overcrowded public schools, poor sanitation, health care, child labor, housing conditions, and working conditions of women and girls. Additionally, the activists worked to protect immigrants from exploitation, advocating for immigrants’ rights and workers’ compensation.
Addams, Jane. Twenty Years at Hull-House. Edited by Victoria Bissell Brown. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Bryan, Mary Lynn McCree, and Allen F. Davis, eds. One Hundred Years at Hull-House. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Deegan, Mary Jo. Race, Hull-House, and the University of Chicago: A New Conscience Against Ancient Evils. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002. Glowacki, Peggy, and Julia Hendry. Hull-House. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2004. Knight, Louise W. Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Welfare and social services