Jane Addams and Settlement Houses
Frameworks for America's Past
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Jane Addams
and settlement houses

   A settlement house was a kind of community center set up to help people living in crowded immigrant neighborhoods.  They were run by volunteers from middle or upper class families who wanted to help improve life for those at the bottom.

   The most famous settlement house in the U.S. was started by Jane Addams in Chicago in 1889.

   Addams was from a fairly wealthy family.  She was college educated at a time when not many women went to college.  She never married, but by starting a settlement house she became a "mother" to an entire neighborhood in Chicago.

   Addams and a friend started their settlement house in an area of Chicago where mostly poor immigrants lived.  It was named Hull House for the family that originally owned it.

Hull House today

   The photo below shows
Hull House as it looks today.  Almost all of the tenements and other buildings of the old neighborhood are long gone.  The area around the house is now part of a college campus.  Hull House remains open as a museum that honors Jane Addams and the other volunteers who lived there so they could help others.  

Making life better in a poor neighborhood

   The old photos below show some of the ways Jane Addams and other volunteers at Hull House tried to help immigrant families in the neighborhood.  The first photo shows an art class for children.  The settlement house also ran English language and cooking classes, music and drama programs, and even set up sports teams. 

   An important part of the settlement house idea was that Jane Addams and the other volunteers lived at Hull House.  They "settled" right in the neighborhood, among the people they were trying to help.  That's why it's called a settlement house!

A growing success in Chicago

Hull House was so successful that it bought several of the buildings around the original house to have enough space for all its activities.  Many wealthy families in the city donated money for the new buildings and programs.  This photo shows a group of children helped by Hull House volunteers.  The area around Hull House had families from many different ethnic groups, including Italians, Irish, Germans, and others.

A good idea that spread widely!

People inspired by Jane Addams' work started new settlement houses in hundreds of other American cities in the early 1900s.  This photo from 1912 shows a Girls Club meeting in a settlement house in Providence, Rhode Island. 

What happened to the
settlement houses?

By 1915, there were more than 400 settlement houses in cities all across America.  They played an enormous role in helping immigrants adjust to life in their new country. 

   The volunteers who ran them also convinced political leaders in cities to start providing neighborhoods with more parks, playgrounds, local libraries, and kindergarten programs.

   As time went by, the number of true settlement houses with "live in" volunteers fell.  Many continued as community centers, however, with volunteers who ran various programs but went home each day.

   Jane Addams was at Hull House until she died in 1935.  The house itself was closed in the 1960s.  The Jane Addams Hull House Association continued to run many social programs in Chicago until it went bankrupt in 2012.

All images except the color photo of Hull House, the Providence settlement
house, and the photo of Jane Addams are from the Chicago Daily News
collection of the Library of Congress.  The photos of Jane Addams and
the Providence settlement house are from the Library of Congress.
The color photos of Hull House are from Wikipedia, released by
the photographer into the public domain.

Some images have been edited or resized for this page.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright 2009, 2012 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.  As a guide to the Virginia Standards of Learning, some pages necessarily include phrases or sentences from that document, which is available online from the Virginia Department of Education.  The author's copyright extends to the original text and graphics, unique design and layout, and related material.