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Jane Addams - War On Poverty

house settlement starr poor

Addams journeyed back to Europe in 1887 with her former college classmate, Ellen Gates Starr. In Europe Addams was introduced to the idea of social settlements. These settlements were organized to recreate the conditions of village life within the neighborhoods of a city. In London, she observed the work of Toynbee Hall, a pioneering English settlement house designed to assist the poor. It was an experiment in social reform where Oxford University men resided and socialized along with the poor in London's East End. Addams embraced the settlement idea, since she was deeply disturbed by the urban poverty of the United States.

Addams believed social settlements in the United States would satisfy two needs. First, American cities had large numbers of immigrants who needed help adjusting to life in a big city. Second, she believed many educated and socially favored young people living in the cities needed to use their energies to serve others. Addams liked the idea that the settlement houses benefited both the poor and the favored. She was interested in providing an outlet for the talent and energy of college educated young people, but she also sincerely wanted to help those trapped by poverty. Addams and Starr agreed they would start a settlement in Chicago where Starr had been teaching school and had many friends.

Addams gave speeches in the Chicago area promoting the project while seeking support for settlement housing. Initially most listeners were curious why two well-educated young women planned to live in the slums of Chicago. The cause, however, seemed compassionate and gained support from church groups, civic organizations, and philanthropists (those who give money to good causes).

By the fall of 1889 Addams and Starr had rented a formerly elegant old house on Halsted Street called Hull House. They convinced several women to join them as residents and volunteers in serving a large immigrant community in the surrounding tenements on Chicago's West Side. It was agreed that Addams would be head resident. This decision was partly because her wealth was paying the costs of starting the settlement and also because she was financially self-sufficient through inheritance. She had the time and means to run Hull House.

Soon many socially advanced young ladies mingled with all classes of people without hesitation at Hull House. In the beginning, the women simply responded to the immediate needs of the community. Before long, the house provided classes, clubs, and lectures. Addams and Starr developed a wide circle of influential supporters, and a wide variety of speakers brought their expertise to teach fine arts and literature, as well as practical classes on child and health care. Addams developed educational, cultural, and medical programs for the community while lobbying for improved housing, fair labor practices, and just treatment for immigrants, the poor, and children within the country's criminal justice system.


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