Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 10. Segment 3
Hull House

Beggars were dying on city streets See It Now - Water Drinkers in the nineteenth century while others, like William Vanderbilt, lived like emperors. Why? Some people blamed the problems of poverty on immigrants. Many of them came to this country without money. Most couldn't even speak English. Some said it wasn't worth the effort to absorb them. They said that the American dream should be just for those who were already here. Or those with a certain color skin. Or a certain religion. But the newcomers and the old-timers shared something. It was the American dream of freedom and democracy and fairness to all. Could there be equal opportunities? It wouldn't be easy, but some people tried to make it happen. One of them was a woman named Jane Addams. See It Now - Jane Addams She once said, Hear It Now - Jane Addams "The struggle for existence is so much harsher among people near the edge of pauperism."

Jane Addams's ancestors arrived in Pennsylvania in the days of William Penn. By the time Jane was born, they were living in Illinois and were wealthy. But that didn't mean Jane had an easy childhood. Jane's mother died when she was two. Then Jane got tuberculosis, a common disease in those days. It left her with a crooked spine that bothered her all her life. Jane went on to become a college graduate. Then she visited a house for the poor in London, England, and her life was transformed. Determined to make her life count, she decided to open her own settlement house in the slums of Chicago. She bought a red brick house, with white columns on the porch. It had been built by a Mr. Hull, so she named it Hull House. She soon was the best-known reformer of her day. One Hull House visitor said this after meeting her: "She is the only saint the United States has produced."

Jane Addams turned Hull House into a place where middle-class and poor residents could learn from one another. See It Now - Jane Addams At Hull House people could get care for their children, learn to speak English, take painting lessons, go to a concert, exercise in a gym, or act on a stage. Check The Source - Hull House Addams started clubs so working boys and girls could have fun and learn, too. She worked to get child-labor laws passed to make it illegal for children to work long days; Chicago built its first public playground because of her efforts. She helped establish the first juvenile court in the United States, so children who had committed crimes didn't have to be treated like adults. Jane became active in presidential campaigns and in a world peace movement, too. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize—the first American woman to be so honored.

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