The Making of Jane Addams

Her Childhood

College and Her 20's




Hull-House Firsts

Classes Offered at Hull-House

Hull-House Maps and Papers: Sociology in the Settlement

Living at Hull-House

A Community of Women

Jane and Ellen and Mary

Being Saint Jane

The Legacy of Hull-House



Chronology of Jane Addams’s Life


Additional Resources

Jane Addams’s Work Online

Sites About Jane Addams’s Legacy





In the years following the civil war, the United States experienced fundamental changes.  The southern states had been all but destroyed by the war.  Their greatest cities had been sacked, including the infamous burning of Atlanta as Sherman’s forces marched to the sea, and an enormous number of young men had been killed or maimed in the war.  The South had never been industrialised in the same sense that the North had, relying instead on agriculture for its income, and running that agriculture on the “machinery” of slavery, a tool that was no longer available.  Thousands of freed slaves and families who could no longer support themselves on their land moved north to the industrialised cities to find work.

At the same time, immigration into the northern cities was increasing.  There was a demand for people with technological skills in the U.S.  Also, numerous factors in Europe—including the displacement of agricultural workers as factory farming replaced family farming, a wave of pogroms in Tsarist Russia following the assassination of Alexander II, and overpopulation in Italy with resultant low wages and high taxes—drove this influx of people.  In addition, there were already many immigrants in the U.S.  from Ireland, who had come during the Great Famine; and Germany and France, where the society had partially broken down following failed civil wars in the mid-century.  Although the primary causes of this migration were no longer in force, the presence of established communities of compatriots, especially family members, stimulated additional immigration, albeit at a reduced level.1

The cities overflowed with people.  The majority of these immigrants were not literate in English—many did not even speak English—and many were illiterate even in their native tongues.  Many had agrarian backgrounds that provided them few skills to help them earn a living in the city.  They came from small towns with established social structures to a land where they often had no family or friends.  They lived in an “alien culture” that frequently exploited them, and their lives were characterised by hopelessness and misery.2 There were not enough city services to handle them, even ignoring the inability of the civil servants to communicate with them.  There was not enough housing or jobs for them.  In his book The Jungle, Upton Sinclair describes thousands of people standing in mobs outside plants upon the publication of the need for a mere 250 men; and fourteen people sharing a tiny two-bedroom house, including some who slept on plywood laid across the joists of an unfinished attic.3

Sinclair describes an unusual event in his protagonists’ lives.  Juozapas, one of Teta Elzbieta’s sons, had lost one of his legs as an infant when he had been run over by a wagon.  When his uncle Jurgas is out of work, he joins other neighbourhood children in picking over a dump, where trash from the rich lakefront homes is brought.  Here they often find scraps and barely spoiled food.  Although the myth is that the collected food is for chickens, in truth the children eat it themselves.  One day he arrives home with a tale of how

… a lady upon the street had called him.  A real fine lady, the little boy explained, a beautiful lady; and she wanted to know all about him, and whether he got the garbage for chickens, and why he walked with a broomstick, and why Ona had died, and how Jurgis had come to go to jail, and what was the matter with Marija, and everything.  In the end she had asked where he lived, and said that she was coming to see him, and bring him a new crutch to walk with.  She had on a hat with a bird upon it, Juozapas added, and a long fur snake around her neck.

She really came, the very next morning, and climbed the ladder to the garret, and stood and stared about her, turning pale at the sight of the blood stains on the floor where Ona had died.  She was a "settlement worker," she explained to Elzbieta--she lived around on Ashland Avenue.  Elzbieta knew the place, over a feed store; somebody had wanted her to go there, but she had not cared to, for she thought that it must have something to do with religion, and the priest did not like her to have anything to do with strange religions.  They were rich people who came to live there to find out about the poor people; but what good they expected it would do them to know, one could not imagine.  So spoke Elzbieta, naively, and the young lady laughed and was rather at a loss for an answer--she stood and gazed about her, and thought of a cynical remark that had been made to her, that she was standing upon the brink of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs to lower the temperature.

Elzbieta was glad to have somebody to listen, and she told all their woes--what had happened to Ona, and the jail, and the loss of their home, and Marija's accident, and how Ona had died, and how Jurgis could get no work.  As she listened the pretty young lady's eyes filled with tears, and in the midst of it she burst into weeping and hid her face on Elzbieta's shoulder, quite regardless of the fact that the woman had on a dirty old wrapper and that the garret was full of fleas.  Poor Elzbieta was ashamed of herself for having told so woeful a tale, and the other had to beg and plead with her to get her to go on.  The end of it was that the young lady sent them a basket of things to eat, and left a letter that Jurgis was to take to a gentleman who was superintendent in one of the mills of the great steelworks in South Chicago.  "He will get Jurgis something to do," the young lady had said, and added, smiling through her tears--"If he doesn't, he will never marry me."4

The description of this young woman is a highly fictionalised version of many similar visits made to the homes of the poor by a real woman and her confederates.  Her name was Jane Addams, and from 1889 until her death in 1935, she lived in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Chicago, surrounded by the immigrants.  From her home at Hull-House—and from what eventually became a campus of classrooms, dormitories, dining halls, gymnasia, and playgrounds—she sought to help these people improve their lives through education, culture, and legislation enacted on their behalf.  This was the settlement movement, and it made Americans out of a diverse group of newcomers and gave birth to the science of social work.

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1.   “Immigration: 1800-1900.” Teaching History Online. (online 20 May 2001).

2.    Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Champions of Human Rights: Eleven U.S.  Leaders of the Twentieth Century.  Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991.  p.  1. 

3.  Sinclair, Upton.   The Jungle.  1906.  #140 June 1994.  Published online by Project Gutenberg, (online 08 Dec 2000).

4.  Sinclair, Upton.  op.  cit.