Location: The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Expert: Anya Jabour, Regents Professor of History at The University of Montana, Missoula
Why It’s Worth a Visit
Hull-House started out as a two-story brick house in Chicago’s 19th Ward in 1889. Within decades, however, it had become a thriving, multi-faceted complex (encompassing 13 buildings and a full city block) that “functioned as both a social center for the neighborhood and as a home base for social activists,” says Anya Jabour, a Regents Professor of History at the University of Montana, Missoula. Those activists were among the first generation of college-educated American women who chose to forgo a traditional life of marriage and motherhood, choosing instead to dedicate themselves to the cause of social reform.
Hull-House became a key player in the city’s emerging social justice scene, with the Women’s Trade Union League, the Immigrants Protective League and the Juvenile Protective League among the organizations that met there. “Ultimately, the women reformers affiliated with Hull-House shaped both national and international policy,” says Jabour. Its members worked for the creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912 and helped lay the groundwork for the Social Security Act of 1935.
In the early 1900s, nearly 100 volunteers assisted the roughly 30 residents of the settlement, providing events and social services to some 7,000 visitors each week. Activities ranged from plays and English classes, and the settlement housed a fully-staffed day-care and employment bureau. The Hull-House workers were also active outside the building’s confines, tackling projects big (researching toxic chemical risks and investigating factory working conditions) and relatively small (trash collection).
Not every building that was part of Hull-House is still standing, but visitors can see the dining hall where debates on subjects like capitalism, unions and radical activism often lit the torch for new social reforms. Jabour notes that at Hull-House, women outnumbered men about 2:1, making it a rare, active women’s space. “For well-educated, reform-minded women who came of age at a time that women’s activities were restricted by both law and custom, Hull House provided a unique opportunity to engage in meaningful social activity,” says Jabour.
Today, the Hull-House Museum honors Jane Addams, a prominent member who became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Visitors can take guided public tours of the house, viewing exhibits on its history of activism and original artifacts from the turn of the 20th century.
How to Get to Hull House:
Hull House is located in Chicago, Illinois, and is accessible by car and public transportation.
This story is the seventh in a series about amazing historical travel destinations in America. Read expert recommendations on where to go in Ohio, Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts and Kansas and Kentucky.