Sad News: Hull-House Closes

One more social service bites the dust. I could let this post become a rant about the economy and the state of the nation and the government, but I’m not going to go there. Mostly because the sadness I feel is less practical. It’s not like I don’t know what cuts are doing to people who really need help, all over the place–not just in Chicago. It’s not like, if you listen to the news, see what’s going on, that this would even come as a surprise.

Still…gut punch.

I’ve spent the last few years doing research, reading, about Jane Addams and Hull-House. I visited the museum (and the museum is not closing) a couple of years ago, and was delighted to find myself not in a stuffy, dark old building, but a light, airy place that I could easily imagine still reflected Addams’ taste and personality, where I could pretend Addams herself might come down the stairs at any minute.

So my response to the news is kind of self-centered, or at least Addams-centered. I’m thinking about how she would have felt to see this end, to see all she worked for–against all odds–go away. As wonderful and well-deserved a memorial as the museum is, I really don’t think it was Addams’ end goal–to have a museum. Her goal was to get to know all these people, the neighbors she “settled” near when she started Hull-House, and to help them. And today, the thing she built, the thing that–if I were talking about someone with less vision than Addams–I would say grew beyond anything she could have imagined, that thing is gone.

Except I can hear her scolding me as I type this, shaking her head, maybe even smiling and laughing at me just a little. Because it’s not gone. You know that everybody involved in Hull-House is miserable about this; you know that they and all the services in Chicago are going to be working to connect up with all the people who still need help.ย  Yes, Jane Addams was a phenomenon, an inspiration, but caring and action didn’t start with her, and they didn’t end when she died. I know this.

Still…such a loss.

This article in the Chicago Tribune talks about the closure, and you can listen to a brief piece on NPR about it, as well. If you want to know more about Hull-House and Jane Addams, of course, you should read her book Twenty Years at Hull-House, if only to hear Jane’s own voice talk about her venture. Another wonderful book is Hilda Polacheck’s memoir I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl. I also highly recommend Louise W. Knight’s Jane Addams: Spirit in Action, which is one of the most interesting biographies I’ve ever read, talking as it does about the people Addams met and the works she read, then dissecting and analyzing how they played into her ideas and idealogy.

Finally, of course, if you’re in Chicago, do stop in at the Hull-House museum. Touch base with Jane Addams, and all that she meant, if only for a few minutes.

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