B12 Solipsism

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Why Hull House Lost Its Way

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Hull House circa 1997
Hull House circa 1997

Cory Franklin thinks the reason that Hull House shut down was that it became dependent upon government money to stay afloat, and Illinois is not flush with cash these days, nor is helping poor people top priority of most politicians…

In 1889, future Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams and her associate Ellen Starr founded Hull House after visiting London’s Toynbee Hall, the oldest settlement house in the world. In England’s class-ridden society, Toynbee’s philosophy was to bring the wealthy and poor together — “to learn as much as to teach, to receive as much as to give” — and create a sense of community between the classes. As Addams expressed it, “to accentuate the likenesses and ignore the differences which are found among the people whom the settlement constantly brings into juxtaposition.”

Hull House provided social and educational support to Chicago’s immigrant poor and dispossessed at a time when class struggle threatened to tear Chicago apart. The 1886 Haymarket riot and the 1894 Pullman strike created social turmoil and class resentment in the city. In that environment, Addams and Starr fostered personal interaction at Hull House between the rich, middle class and the poor.

Tradesmen taught skills. College graduates and the wealthy led artistic and music programs. Social clubs showed immigrants how to assimilate. Hull House was renowned for lively discussions of religion, politics and the arts. People of widely different backgrounds and outlooks learned about each other and worked together for the goals of the progressive movement: child labor laws, unemployment compensation, women’s suffrage and protection of immigrants and minorities.

Hull House was originally financed by private money but then, as now, private money was limited. As Addams wrote in “Twenty Years At Hull House,” “we were often bitterly pressed for money and worried by the prospect of unpaid bills, and we gave up one golden scheme after another because we could not afford it; we cooked the meals and kept the books and washed the windows without a thought of hardship if we thereby saved money for the consummation of some ardently desired undertaking.”

She harbored no illusions about government or politicians. She admired the latter for their ability to gain the trust of the poor. She understood this was often through patronage, which she loathed. However, she would confront politicians when she believed their venality undermined her constituents. She worked with government since she understood it was able to do many things Hull House could not, and she willingly ceded those responsibilities. However, she avoided having Hull House become too reliant on government.

(click here to continue reading Commentary: Why Hull House had to shut down – chicagotribune.com.)


Written by Seth Anderson

February 15th, 2012 at 8:12 am

Posted in government

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