Sunday, May 6, 2018


In so many aspect, the settling of the west began in Europe, most especially from England. One institution came from East London’s Toynbee Hall. Initiated in 1884 by Cannon Samuel A. Barrett, university men were encouraged to “settle” in working- class neighborhoods to assist the poor and learn of their everyday struggle with the goal to return to their world and do good on behalf of those in need. What began as observation and research soon melded into the development of services to overcome the abject poverty, abuse by employers, neglect by public officials and educational/health/social deprivation of the poor.

                                                 TOYNBEE HALL
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By 1886, a similar program was started in New York City. The concept caught fire, initially in the New York/Boston areas large cities. Gradually, more and more such institutions evolved westward with significant modifications: most were led by women, had a focus on newly arrived immigrants, offered English and homemaking classes, well-baby clinics, social activism to improve conditions and the preservation of neighborhood cultural history.
Chicago’s Hull House was founded by two college classmates: Jane Addams (1860-1935) and Ellen Gates Star in 1889. Visits to Toynbee Hall inspired their decision and led them to creatively expand their programs; Miss Addams early reading of Dickens’ novels shaped her philosophy  and dedication to the needs of those less privileged individuals and families. An early desire to become a doctor was thwarted by severe back problems; surgery by her brother-in-law later corrected her conditions, allowing extensive travel and rigorous scheduling of her far-flung activities. Heightened knowledge and understanding of medical concerns, especially for children, continued to mark her efforts.

                                                   JANE ADDAMS

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Child labor laws were woefully inadequate as well as sanitation and pasteurization of milk. Factory labor often required long hours and six days a week under horrendous condition and left families of injured or killed workers without the means to survive.
Statistics and other research efforts at Hull House aided in social activism. In turn, Jane, Board members and others rallied to the identified needs. Addressing community groups, city councils and the legislature helped win changes in labor, political, economic and medical issues not only for immigrants but for all others as well. Jane Addams rose to world fame by diligently speaking and writing wherever opportunity allowed on the issues of import. In 1931, Jane was the first American woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
By 1897,seventy-four settlement houses had spread across the country .In 1910, some 400 settlement houses stretched from coast to coast, from north to south. Over the years, the appellation of such facilities and program shifted to Neighborhood Center. Services expanded to include music, dance classes. Nurseries and kindergartens, cooking and sewing classes added to the schedule while the social and political impact extended to the community as a whole. .By the 1960’s, neighborhood centers turned their attention to the “War on Poverty” often immersed in Headstart and Family School concepts. Graduate students provided counseling and outreach to the disenfranchised, delinquent youth  often showing up in schools and courts to advocate for their clients on all sorts of matters.   The evolution continues.   

When I decided that Grace Pelham (BY GRACE) would make her way to Jane Addams’ Hull House, nothing would do but that I visit the place, source of inspiration for my long career in social work. Follow me to 1899 Chicago when Grace has had to change her name and appearance to elude a would-be killer:
“Armed with instructions from Hilda (hotel maid), Ginny made her way to Hull House.  With several newer buildings complementing the facility, the still elegant fifty-five-year old mansion faced Halstead Street. Hull House was a sturdy brick and mortar reminder of what the neighborhood had once looked like. Other mansions had long since been broken into rooming houses where dirt and grime tore at worn paint. Shanties made of tarpaper and odd bits of lumber and tin didn’t look fit for the basest of animals. Factory chimney stacks puffed unrelenting stinky smoke.
Ginny stood outside for a few minutes, finding refuge from the drabness of the neighborhood in the beauty of Hull House. Brilliant white pillars marched along the Italianate veranda where floor to ceiling windows looked out on the street. Great oaken doors invited the stranger in. Ginny smiled heartily and pushed at the heavy doors.”

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Ginny/Grace moved into Hull House, putting in long hours of service with her artistic skills applied to children preparing scenery and backdrops for a Hansel and Gretel play in the new theater.. A newspaper article got her attention and she learned that her mentor died and that she is wanted for questioning in New York. She soon learns that her nemesis is on her trail. Opening night finds her retreating to the main house in tears and fear. Jane Addams finds her and offers comfort, advice and courage.


References¨1.Addams, Jane, Twenty Years at Hull House.
                    2 .Hansan, J.B.,(2011), “Settlement Houses: An Introduction,” Social Welfare History Project,
                3.Wikipedia, Jane Addams
Images: Google Images

ARLETTA DAWDY writes from Northern California where her 40 year career in Social Work began in San Francisco's Mission Neighborhood Centers and Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association. She was responsible for the development of services to girls' gangs, teen parents and bilingual young families. Social Work informs her writing of family dynamics and the human condition; her books are set in NE Arizona.


  1. Thank goodness for the women who broke the societal molds of their era and worked so diligently to improve living and working conditions for women and children.

    1. Amen to your sentiments, Kaye. I generally write of such women for they have always shown up when needed.

  2. Arletta, this is one of my all-time favorite posts. I look forward to next month and more on this fascinating subject.

    1. Oh my, Caroline! This i high praise and I thank you from the bottom of my heart...and thru my typos!

  3. There is nothing so fearsome and wonderful as a woman who is a dedicated social activist. Imagine where we would be if women didn't get out there and work hard for a deserving cause. Put a dedicated woman on a cause and there WILL be success. Great blog, Arletta.

    1. Thank you, Sarah. I really enjoyed my visit to Hull House and felt the years of service provided there virtually echoed from the walls! It was a wonderful model of tolerance, compassion and love for humankind. Arletta


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